Fresh Start

Pluckebaum steps up where Valenzuela stumbles

By R.E. Graswich
February 2024

Many years ago, Ray Kerridge, then city manager of Sacramento, invited me to lunch. Between his salad and my cheeseburger, he asked a profound question.

If I were on City Council, where would my loyalties stand—with the district that elected me, or the entire city?
I fumbled for an answer and made up something diplomatic. If I didn’t look after people in my district, nobody else would. But my City Council decisions would impact everyone in town, not just one council district. My loyalty goes to the city.

Ray’s question has been on my mind as I think about the City Council District 4 election between Katie Valenzuela and Phil Pluckebaum. Ballots are in the mail for the March 5 primary. With only two serious contestants, there shouldn’t be a runoff.

If Pluckebaum wins, the community will judge how he answers Ray’s question—whether he puts the city or district first. Pluckebaum served on the planning and design commission but never had to worry about the impact of a City Council vote.

Valenzuela is another story. She was elected to City Council in March 2020, nine days before COVID-19 lockdowns. She beat a two-term incumbent and arrived with zero municipal experience.

But Valenzuela had something priceless—the opportunity to lead her community through two generational crises, a pandemic and homelessness. Success would depend on her answer to Ray’s question.

Valenzuela could have chosen to put the city first. Or she could have concentrated on the disgrace illustrated by tent villages across her district.

She picked a third option. She decided to represent herself.

There’s nothing unusual about politicians who represent themselves and ignore the people who elect them.

Some politicians go to selfish extremes. They accept bribes or secure civil service jobs for family members and friends. Others set themselves up for higher offices or lobbying jobs.

Valenzuela is different. Her self-representation took a philosophical path.

As a strident democratic socialist, she decided to serve as a proselytizer for her faith. She made decisions based on radical political beliefs, not caring what constituents thought.

She knew few of the 40,000 or so people in District 4 shared her extreme views. But that didn’t matter. She won the election. She knew best.

Valenzuela, who stopped speaking to me more than a year ago, is easy to like. She began her political career by ignoring political pros who told her to forget her challenge to Steve Hansen. She campaigned mostly alone. She knew nothing about City Hall.

She ran because she felt the city wasn’t doing enough to support new housing and reasonable rents for young middle-class residents with jobs in government or hospitality or health care. People similar to her.

She didn’t hide her democratic socialist beliefs. Nor did she shout them. Voters found her earnest and eager.

Immediately, there were problems. Valenzuela made it clear the energetic wannabe who surprised everyone with her victory was consumed by global issues far beyond apartment rents.

Attending remote council meetings from home—City Hall was closed—she launched into rambling, incoherent monologues. She couldn’t shut up. She lectured and scolded. Her passions veered toward climate change and global income inequities.

After unrest triggered by George Floyd’s murder left dozens of local shops smashed and vandalized, she wanted police defunded. As for the homeless problem, her answer was simple. Leave them alone. Or give them free houses and support.

For many constituents, Valenzuela became the councilmember from Mars.

Now she’s running for reelection with a massive disadvantage. The 2021 reapportionment disaster orchestrated by City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood stripped Valenzuela of much of her distinct.

The new map pushed her into neighborhoods where, if residents know her at all, they hate her.

Valenzuela can’t play energetic newcomer in East Sacramento and River Park. People in those neighborhoods heard her monologues on the evils of public safety budgets. They saw her defend homeless camps.

They realize she’s an ideologue, a party of one, ready to force her political views on everybody in District 4.

This time you know what you’re getting.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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