Homeless Site Canceled
East Sac says no to ‘Safe Ground,’ plans recall
By Cecily Hastings
Soon after a local redistricting committee appointed her as new City Council member for East Sacramento in December, Katie Valenzuela embarked on a mission.
Her goal: build a “Safe Ground” homeless camp either in Sutter’s Landing Park or near Union Pacific railroad property on Lanatt Street.
Valenzuela’s “Safe Ground” plans flopped. A community meeting drew more than 150 residents and business owners angered by the prospect of a city-sponsored homeless encampment near their backyards.
Valenzuela got the message. She withdrew her East Sac proposals. Then she used social media to label her new constituents as NIMBYs for rejecting “Safe Ground.”
It seems Valenzuela didn’t do her homework. She apparently announced the “Safe Ground” without vetting the site for complications. Given the location’s proximity to the old city dump and numerous easements, permits from multiple agencies would have been required.
Moreover, she didn’t win the trust of local residents and neighborhood associations. Being new to East Sac—Valenzuela was elected to serve Land Park, Downtown and Midtown, not East Sac—her “Safe Ground” move looked like a rookie’s miscalculation.
“The East Sacramento Improvement Association is very concerned about the proposed placement of a ‘Safe Ground’ site in Sutter’s Landing Park,” said Tricia Stevens, ESIA president, before Valenzuela withdrew the site.
“The placement is very close to the existing dog park and the skate center, both of which are frequently used by youth. The placement is immediately adjacent to the former city landfill, which is continuing to emit toxic vapors that would negatively impact the health of the unhoused occupants.”
McKinley Village residents also organized against Valenzuela’s “Safe Ground” plans. More than 100 neighbors criticized the homeless camp at a meeting with Valenzuela before she withdrew her proposal.
Several McKinley Village residents formed a group called “Safe Neighborhoods and Parks,” believing the councilmember will continue to try to locate a “Safe Ground” camp in their community. Neighbors are organizing a recall campaign against Valenzuela, who won’t face voters until 2024.
A recall requires signatures from 20 percent of registered voters in the district. The new East Sac district, including Midtown and Downtown, has 39,170 registered voters, so almost 8,000 valid signatures would be needed. Once recall papers are filed, the group has 90 days to collect signatures. The measure could be scheduled on the November ballot.
Recall elections are up or down votes on the officeholder, along with a choice of replacement candidates.
Jeff Harris, twice elected as East Sac’s councilmember, instantly became ineligible to represent his community after the city’s reapportionment committee arbitrarily erased his River Park address from the East Sac district boundaries.
Harris will remain on the City Council representing South Natomas until December. He wants Cal Expo as a homeless site. While many residents agree with Harris, some members of the Arden business community oppose the state fairgrounds as a location for homeless people and their vehicles.
“We support using Cal Expo for a ‘Safe Ground’ site, and we urge the city to move forward on the Haven for Hope model in Sacramento,” said Stevens, the East Sac Improvement Association president. “We appreciate the efforts the city is taking and hope that good solutions come forward to not only house, but also seriously provide mental health and drug rehab services for those on the streets.”
“Safe Ground” provides places where homeless people can camp or live in vehicles without being cited and removed by authorities. Bathrooms, showers, running water and rehousing services are provided.
Drug tests and COVID-19 vaccinations are not required at “Safe Ground” sites. The camp under the W-X freeway was recently closed after it was overrun with campers and vehicles far beyond the planned capacity.
In February, a woman with her children was attacked in McKinley Park. Police arrested a suspect. They described him as a homeless man living at the H Street underpass.
For more information on the recall contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cecily Hastings can be reached at email@example.com.