Hansen’s Secrets

Who did councilman meet—and why?

By R.E. Graswich
January 2020

People talk. They share rumors. Some of the most interesting chatter in Little Pocket last year involved Sacramento City Councilmember Steve Hansen.

Rumors placed Hansen at several meetings with about 40 residents who own property along the Sacramento River levee. The meetings were private, the rumors said. Hansen instructed his audience to write nothing down. No emails.

Rumors of Hansen’s secret meetings began to make their way to me last summer. I was writing about Hansen and his bizarre crusade to prevent the Sacramento River Parkway from being finished in Little Pocket.

I couldn’t understand Hansen’s obsession with banning cyclists and runners and folks out for a stroll on the levee in Little Pocket. His hatred of levee recreation made no sense.

In 1975, city officials made the levee parkway part of the general plan. The current City Council is unanimous in support of finally making good on the 1975 promise. Hansen is the holdout. The parkway is fine, he says, but not in Little Pocket.

Of course I asked Hansen for an interview. He refused—five times. So I filed public records requests to see Hansen’s emails and correspondence on levee access. The city said there were no such documents. Finally, I asked for Hansen’s calendar to see whom he met with while conducting the public’s business. The city said I would get the calendar in January, four months after I requested it.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, the city sent me another notice. I would not be getting Hansen’s calendar after all. “In this case, the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record,” the anonymous records staff wrote. There was more:

 

“Even routine meetings between an elected official and other lawmakers, lobbyists or citizen groups might be inhibited if the meetings were regularly revealed to the public and the participants routinely subjected to probing questions and scrutiny by the press.”

Really? So much for transparency. So much for open government.

There are many problems with Hansen’s refusal to share his calendar. The biggest one:

He’s violating the State Constitution. In 2004, a constitutional amendment called Proposition 59, the “Sunshine Law,” reached the state ballot. It passed with 83 percent approval.

The first paragraph says, “The people have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business, and therefore, the meetings of public bodies and the writings of public officials and agencies shall be open to public scrutiny.”

The law couldn’t be more straightforward. It means what it says.

There are legitimate reasons for withholding some information. Certain scheduling disclosures might create security risks. Personal medical or family information should stay private. Personal phone numbers and addresses should not be released.

But my request to see Hansen’s calendar focused on his work as a councilmember. I don’t care about his private life. I want to know why he opposes public access to the river in Little Pocket—why he’s willing to destroy his political legacy for about 40 property owners who don’t want you on the levee. And I want to know if the rumors about secret meetings are true.

Hansen is a lawyer, but he doesn’t show much respect for the law. In October, he tried to stop a photographer from Inside Sacramento, Aniko Kiezel, from taking photos at a public “town hall” Hansen held in Little Pocket.

Hansen told Kiezel she needed his “consent” to take photos. He and his staff tried to intimidate her. Kiezel ignored them and took pictures, confident in her First Amendment rights to attend and record a public forum. But that’s the kind of politician Hansen is.

I could sue and get Hansen’s calendar. It’s all but certain Proposition 59 would prevail. But lawsuits are expensive and wasteful. And the real problem isn’t the calendar.

The real problem is an elected official who works in secret and hides what he’s doing for reasons he refuses to discuss.

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

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