Revolving Door

Changing times bring a new City Council

By R.E. Graswich
March 2022

As a guy who enjoys change, I love the Sacramento City Council. This council is all about change.

Two members, Angelique Ashby and Jay Schenirer, are leaving this year because they want new challenges, the state Senate for Ashby, retirement for Schenirer. Jeff Harris doesn’t want to go, but he’s leaving because a reapportionment committee stole his council district out from under him.

Another councilmember, Eric Guerra, wants to leave, but will stick around if he can’t catapult himself into the state Assembly. Katie Valenzuela, who represents East Sacramento despite never having been elected there, is thought to have eyes for the mayor’s office or Assembly. She tells me she wants to keep her council job. We’ll see.

Speaking of the mayor, Darrell Steinberg will move onto other challenges and not seek a third term in 2024. Steinberg is tired of being mayor. Who can blame him? My guess is he would have a tough time getting re-elected even if he was full of energy.

That leaves three City Council members certifiably happy in their jobs—Rick Jennings, Mai Vang and Sean Loloee. Jennings is running for a third term this year without significant opposition. If readers aren’t familiar with Loloee and Vang, that’s understandable. They are relatively new and represent the city’s eastern frontiers, north and south.

There are many reasons why people want to leave City Council after two or three terms. The job can be numbingly boring and repetitive. Read any council agenda and imagine plowing through material such as “Rehearing—Third-Party Appeal: Curtis Park Village Fuel Center.” That’s a real agenda item.

Life is too short for “Rehearing—Third-Party Appeal: Curtis Park Village Fuel Center,” especially when you understand the Curtis Park Village Fuel Center is a perpetual controversy that started soon after the streets were raised in response to the 1862 flood. It’s the local edition of Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce.

One reason councilmembers leave is they learn they don’t have power to make big changes. For example, Steinberg and Valenzuela took ownership of the homeless crisis. They campaigned as uniquely qualified to create housing for all. How has that turned out? Not good.

Steinberg and Valenzuela made a basic political mistake: They wrapped their careers around a problem they can’t solve. They told voters they had solutions where none exist. For their next trick, Katie and Darrell will make the Sacramento River flow backward.

Their intentions are sincere, but muddled strategies made the homeless situation worse. Moreover, they infuriate residents who vote and pay taxes, neighbors who justifiably believe their serenity and security have become irrelevant next to the attention and money Steinberg and Valenzuela devote to the unsheltered.

Wiser politicians would have promised less and remembered who put them in office.

The City Council can be a launch pad to slightly bigger political jobs in the state Legislature. Phil Isenberg, Lloyd Connelly, Deborah Ortiz, Dave Jones and Kevin McCarty were councilmembers who became legislators. Steinberg went from the council to the Legislature and boomeranged back again. Bob Matsui went from City Council to Congress.

But even politicians who reach the state Capitol get restless. Jones left the Assembly to become California insurance commissioner, the perfect job for someone who wants to be forgotten. Unfortunately, Jones woke up and realized he wanted to be remembered. Now he’s waging an uphill battle against Ashby for state Senate.

Having worked around City Council members for 30 years, I love the ones who do their jobs, keep a low profile and know when to leave.

I feel bad for members who stick around so long voters get tired of them, such as Steve Cohn, Heather Fargo and the late Robbie Waters. I worry about those who think they can play God and fix humanity’s eternal suffering, such as Steinberg and Valenzuela.

Basically, the city’s job is to maintain a reasonable veneer of public safety, collect the garbage, make toilets flush, mow the grass in parks and fill potholes. If restless councilmembers conquer those mountains and need something bigger, looming in the dreamy half-light is always the Curtis Park Village Fuel Center.

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

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