Next time, let’s leave the politics to the professionals. Amateur interference just creates a mess. At least with pros, outcomes are transparently based on self-preservation, greed and vengeance.
The latest example of mud pies created by amateurs at City Hall involves the redesign of City Council districts. This exercise commences around the turn of every decade, in alignment with census upheavals.
Officially, the process is called “redistricting,” but that’s a word I’ve sworn never to write or speak. It’s deadly for anyone trying to hold an audience.
Now we know how Darrell Steinberg’s political story ends. The mayor doesn’t fade away to cheers from sports fans thankful for the soccer stadium he coaxed into existence. There is no stadium. He doesn’t salute a revitalized embarcadero along the Sacramento River. There is no new waterfront.
But there are 11,000 homeless people.
After years of parliamentary gamesmanship, passionate speeches, tax hikes and wasted opportunities, Steinberg will be remembered for one thing—how he took Sacramento and turned it into the capital of homelessness.
The sights on lower X Street did it for me. Coming off the freeway, I saw wrecked cars and busted campers and people standing around, a pitiful procession pinned against the gutter like a forlorn carnival that took a wrong turn. Somebody stuck two orange traffic cones partway into the street, warning motorists to steer clear.
Lower X Street, home to warehouses and body shops, never delivered a welcoming hug to visitors who enter the city from river’s edge. Now it arrives with a punch in the face.
Pity the company town. Dependent on one big employer and lacking economic diversity, it soars and crashes on lonely shoulders. The company town flies without a safety net. It’s all or nothing.
Sacramento is a company town that never learns its lesson. A dozen years ago, the Great Recession furloughed state workers, shrank government paychecks and wrecked businesses along J, K and L streets.
The recession exposed the city’s economic vulnerability and over-reliance on government workers. Did Sacramento respond by diversifying its economy? No. The city became even more dependent on state employees. In the last 10 years, the local state workforce has grown by about 17,000. Now it’s up to 82,000.
Back in March, when my friend and saloonkeeper Simon Chan died from COVID, I wanted to figure out what Simon meant to Sacramento. I contacted another friend and saloonkeeper, Randy Paragary. “Simon was here for the best of times,” Randy told me. “Not as much fun now.”
Five months later, Randy was dead from a virulent pancreatic cancer. Simon’s death was drawn out over months with hospitalizations and respirators. Randy went fast, barely four weeks from diagnosis to last breath. Sacramento was at its best with them and will never be as much fun without them.
The last Sacramento mayor who moved onto bigger and better things was Dr. Henry L. Nichols. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, that’s because Mayor Nichols served only one year. It was 1858.
Nine years after he left City Hall, Dr. Nichols became California secretary of state. He was on the job when the Capitol building was finished, and climbed to the top of the new dome and stuck the golden ball in place. It’s still there.