Sounds of Silence
Carr exits, wants council to stop talking
By R.E. Graswich
Leaving the City Council this month will mean blissful deliverance for Larry Carr. He will savor the sounds of silence.
Since replacing the late Bonnie Pannell in a 2014 special election, Carr has represented District 8, the city’s southeastern suburb that includes Meadowview, Parkway and North Laguna. The district is home to some of the city’s more challenged neighborhoods and underserved residents.
Carr led the City Council to adopt a progressive police use-of-force policy, banning chokeholds and no-knock warrants, and requiring officers to intervene if fellow cops use excessive force. “I’m really proud of what the city has accomplished,” Carr says.
There were disappointments. He lost the fight to protect Meadowview against Mayor Darrell Steinberg’s determination to build a homeless shelter near the Pannell Community Center and swimming pool. Carr’s efforts to encourage discipline and oversight among council colleagues also fell short.
“We have a totally dysfunctional system,” Carr says. “The City Council likes having the power to direct the entire city workforce to do whatever they want. It’s parochial and not effective. They have no idea the impact that has on staff. It drives staff crazy.”
The problem, Carr believes, is the council’s inability to shut up. He says, “I have a theory, when people get elected, they think they’re expected to know everything about everything. Not knowing something would be a sign of weakness. So they speak. And they speak. It’s like they’re getting paid by the word.”
All those words, he says, come down to one: “Gibberish.”
Carr learned to limit his words in the Army, where he spent 23 years climbing from second lieutenant to lieutenant colonel. “You couldn’t go into the general’s office and speak to him for 15 minutes,” he says. “You could bring in three slides, option A, option B and the expected outcome. He’d make a decision. That was that.”
The Army wasn’t unique in its disciplined approach. Carr found similar attributes at SMUD, where he served as a board member for 16 years. The difference between the SMUD board and City Council was significant. SMUD trustees thought collectively. They put the utility first. Councilmembers think politically and parochially. They worry how issues will play with special interests.
“Here’s the difference,” Carr says. “At council, a member says, ‘I want a new community center and swimming pool.’ Then we argue about that. Instead, we should say, ‘Every kid in the city should be within 5 miles of a swimming pool.’ Then all staff needs is a tape measure to make it happen.”
The city’s response to homelessness left Carr deeply disappointed. He characterizes the approach as misguided, financially wasteful and ultimately doomed: “We shoot the gun before we know what we’re aiming at.”
The city’s mistakes on homelessness have deepened the crisis, Carr believes. Some people become homeless because their car breaks down and they lose their job. Their trajectory can be turned around with modest cash benefits. At the other end of the spectrum are chronically homeless people with mental and physical illnesses and long-term addictions.
“Our philosophy has been to show we can handle the hardest cases first,” he says. “Why didn’t we start with the easiest cases? You will notice communities that provide no homeless services have no homeless people. And the reverse is true. We’ve become a magnet. Build it and they will come.”
Carr is popular in District 8. He could have easily won re-election this year. But at 74, he’s seen—and heard—enough.
“The past five councilmembers who represented District 8—Bob Matsui, Patrick Donovan, Lynn Robie, Sam and Bonnie Pannell—they’re all dead. I want to go on living,” he says. “And it’s time to get out of the way. Young people won’t get any experience if the old guys are blocking them.”
When the coronavirus subsides, Carr will hit the road. He toured Central and South America, Europe and the Pacific in the Army. But he missed the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone. He wants to see America and visit places where a person can think without talking so much.
R.E. Graswich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.