Fresh Start

Desmond eager to work as supervisor

By Scot Crocker
January 2021

Rich Desmond is ready to join the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors as the representative from District 3, which stretches from Sacramento State University to beyond Hazel Avenue.

Desmond is excited but knows the challenges. He says his father would have offered this advice: “Always remember who you are and what you represent.”

For the newly elected supervisor, those words mean doing the right thing and helping the less fortunate.

The elder Richard Desmond was a local attorney who ran for the California Assembly in 1978. “He loved campaigning because it gave him a chance to see how many wonderful people live in our community,” Desmond says. “It’s an experience I felt during my own campaign.”

Desmond’s grandfather, Earl Desmond, served nine terms in the state Assembly and Senate. He wrote the bill to establish Sac State as part of the state university system. The school honors him with Desmond Hall.

Despite his family’s legacy, Desmond admits his run for supervisor had its struggles. The campaign was primarily virtual—a challenge for a novice politician. Desmond is a lawyer who spent his career with the California Highway Patrol.

“There’s not going to be one silver bullet to the problems in the county and within the district,” he says. “We need to bring all people together.”

Desmond is ready to tackle complex issues and find efficiencies as he learns the jumble of jurisdictions, mandates, regulations and programs that comprise county government. He must establish his balance after a campaign that showcased our highly partisan political era.

“I’m an independent and not aligned to Democrats or Republicans,” Desmond says. “However, the election put me under the microscope and I’m not sure I was ready for the campaign experience I was going to face.”

Supporters of his opponent, SMUD board member Gregg Fishman, tried to label Desmond as a supporter of Donald Trump. Desmond wondered whether he should respond negatively, which he promised he wouldn’t do.

“I question one of my own mailers, which skewed negative, and I’m not sure I should have hit back,” he says. “I want to be friendly and represent all sides. That includes some of the trade unions who were against me. They threw a lot of money into the election and I know their views. I was a member of a labor union for 25 years. We’ll find common ground and I hope to have productive conversations with Gregg. Even with our differences, we can have a beer together and talk about common ground.”

Significant challenges face District 3. The district covers mostly unincorporated areas. The Sheriff’s Department provides most of the law enforcement. The district includes diverse neighborhoods and underserved communities. There are budgetary constraints. And the pandemic response exposed deep rifts within leadership.

“In the end, I won’t be led around by the nose,” Desmond says. “I can work with the city and other stakeholders and do what’s best for the county and my district. We needed to have better transparency for CARES money from the federal government to pay for pandemic relief programs. We had $181 million and I think the Board of Supervisors should not have given control of those funds to the county executive. The supervisors should have brought county management together with health officials, small business and nonprofits to forge a plan. It wasn’t good government and the optics looked horrible.”

Besides managing the affordable housing and homeless crises, Desmond hopes to attract investment to communities in District 3.

“We need good land-use decisions,” he says. “If we can have bigger employers and successful small businesses, we can start to improve the blighted areas.”

He sees jobs as part of the solution to homelessness and affordable housing. For people who can’t work, he plans to engage stakeholders to find locations for treatment and access to social services.

And Desmond desperately wants to clean up homelessness on the American River Parkway. “I share this concern about the parkway with Supervisor Phil Serna,” he says. “On that issue, we can find common ground.”

He gives credit to retiring supervisor Susan Peters, who he will replace. “When I wanted to take a run at the election, I went to Susan first,” Desmond says. “She actually was hoping the district would elect another woman.”

Prior to Peters, Muriel Johnson represented the district from 1992 to 2004.

“After we shared our thoughts and ideas about the district, Susan gladly endorsed my candidacy,” Desmond says. “I’m going to do my darndest to meet the needs and concerns of the community. I’m a product of this community. I love this community. I love talking with people about what I can do to help them live better lives.”

Scot Crocker can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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