After a decade of looking for encouraging news about Sacramento’s homeless crisis, I’ve found some: Compared to downtown Los Angeles, Sacramento has no homeless crisis.
I visit downtown L.A. every couple of months and have watched its vibrancy sink into an abyss of misery, poverty, crime and wasted lives. Tents, doorway sleepers and garbage are everywhere. Recovery will take years. If L.A.’s anguish makes Sacramento look hopeful, it also carries a warning. As Mayor Darrell Steinberg says, “Los Angeles is a cautionary tale.”
Before the pandemic, about 4,600 homeless people lived in L.A.’s dystopian wasteland east of Main Street between Third and Seventh streets. The slum covers 50 blocks and almost 3 square miles. Welcome to Skid Row.
Eager to appease a noisy gaggle of citizens who don’t like cops, Mayor Darrell Steinberg and his City Council colleagues blundered into a policy that threatens to endanger the public and demoralize the Sacramento Police Department.
With the city’s new policy, Steinberg and the council decided there’s no such thing as active shooters or ambushes. The mayor and council believe every 911 police emergency features an opportunity for de-escalation and negotiation, a chance for reasonable people to calm down and talk things over.
Every few years, Sacramento’s insecurities sneak up and deliver a punch to civic pride. A recent example is the storyline that Bay Area residents can’t wait to move to Sacramento.
Here’s the thing about Bay Area residents, gleaned from personal experience: Unless they come from Sacramento, Bay Area people are clueless about the capital city. They believe it’s the boondocks, a place to bypass on the way to Tahoe. Their ignorance is deep, their indifference generational. They don’t care about Sacramento. They never will.
A life in politics turned Mayor Darrell Steinberg into a wordsmith. Commanding center stage at City Hall or running a remote City Council meeting, the mayor builds his arguments like a master of semantics. His sentences launch and soar and land without a stumble.
But sometimes even a wordsmith slips. This can happen when Steinberg navigates the swamps and hedgerows that impede the city’s response to the homeless crisis. Earlier this year, the mayor was reduced to one word, repeated four times: “Where, where, where, where,” he said.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg calls Daniel Hahn the “best police chief” in the United States. The praise comes with a hyperbole warning. The U.S. has about 12,300 police departments, which means maybe Steinberg overlooked someone better than Hahn.
Or not. This time, the mayor could be right.
It’s not easy to win support from a mayor who tries to withhold funds from your police department. But that’s Steinberg. He wants it both ways. The mayor can gush about his favorite police chief while arguing against requests for police hiring, training and internal affairs.
Like a truck speeding downhill with imbalanced brakes, the plan by Mayor Darrell Steinberg to cure homelessness by giving a roof to every unsheltered person is poised to jackknife and skid out of control. The rubber is already starting to burn.
The Steinberg plan, revealed in January, rests on three cornerstones. First, the proposal requires all eight City Council districts to identify and prepare shelter sites for homeless people. This expectation spreads the pain and creates a veneer of egalitarian sacrifice.
Second, the proposal is designed to limit neighborhood objection. Sure, City Hall is conducting outreach. But Steinberg envisions one decisive City Council vote in June to launch his $100 million housing balloon. It’s all or nothing.