Running For Change
Valenzuela has plans for Hansen’s council seat
By R.E. Graswich
Katie Valenzuela saw people struggling to pay rent and buy groceries. She saw taxes going up. She heard promises from City Hall. But the promises were empty. And the problems got worse.
For solutions, she looked to her City Council member, Steve Hansen. She heard only excuses.
“He always says there’s no money,” Valenzuela says. “But I’ve read the budget, and we just passed Measure U. There is money. But the process is opaque. I had to ask myself: Who is Steve Hansen representing? He’s not representing anybody I know.”
The frustration led Valenzuela to make the ultimate political decision. She strategized with family and friends to raise $10,000 and declared herself a candidate for Hansen’s District 4 council seat in the March 3 primary. Recruiting volunteers and hiring a treasurer, she began to walk neighborhoods, ring doorbells and speak to voters in Midtown, Downtown, Land Park and Little Pocket.
“I’m amazed by what I hear,” she says. “People who supported him eight years ago say they haven’t seen him since. They see problems with housing costs and homelessness, and he’s nowhere to be found. They are very frustrated, and who can blame them?”
Valenzuela has never run for public office, but she is not a political novice. She moved to Midtown a decade ago while completing her master’s degree in community development at UC Davis. During those 10 years, she was married and divorced, bought a home, lost a home and worked as a consultant to the state Legislature on climate change.
Today, she oversees policy and political affairs for the California Environmental Justice Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of grassroots organizations. She understands politics and knows how to read a budget. She knows what numbers reveal and what they hide.
More than anything, she has learned to love Sacramento and its core neighborhoods—the network of diverse, historic and enlightened communities that comprise District 4.
“I love this city,” she says. “I grew up in Kern County, a place called Oildale. Not long ago, I was back visiting family, and my father said, ‘You’re not coming back, are you?’ I had to say no, I am not.”
Valenzuela’s background and experience make her a perceptive candidate. She has worked in state politics but has not grown cynical. She is supported by the Sacramento County Democratic Party, but is not beholden to special interests. Over coffee at Weatherstone, her comments are punctuated by laughter as she considers the challenge of toppling a two-term incumbent.
“I’ve had elected officials say they want to endorse me, but they had to endorse Steve for political reasons,” she says. “Some people say, ‘Why don’t you wait until he moves onto the next office?’ But I say, how long am I supposed to wait? He’s had eight years and things have gotten worse. We can’t afford to wait.”
Valenzuela focuses her campaign on housing and homelessness, but she also wants to complete the bike trail along the Sacramento River Parkway levee. Hansen has blocked completion of the levee trail through Little Pocket, where about 40 property owners insist on locking out the public.
“When Hansen supports a few property owners over everyone else, it’s indicative of how he operates,” Valenzuela says. “How could a City Council member oppose completing the river parkway? It makes no sense.”
Hansen says the city lacks money to finish the parkway in Little Pocket—a false claim Valenzuela easily knocks down.
“When a cyclist and pedestrian got hit on Sutterville, he said there was no money to improve the intersections,” she says. “Right after that, he votes to spend $27 million to support the soccer team. Don’t tell me there’s no money.”
R.E. Graswich can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.