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.
Summer brought an unwelcome spectacle to City Hall when an unknown who became somebody let an even bigger nobody crash her political career.
The first nobody is City Councilmember Katie Valenzuela, who rose from obscurity last year to bounce incumbent Steve Hansen into retirement. Valenzuela is a tireless campaigner who benefited from personality traits absent in Hansen—humility, sincerity and the willingness to listen and learn. Voters liked her passion for community issues. They also liked the fact that she wasn’t Steve Hansen.
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.