To The Rescue
District Attorney is city’s best hope for recovery
By R.E. Graswich
For reasons I don’t understand, some people have a hard time figuring out Thien Ho. They think the district attorney wants homeless people thrown in jail. Or they think he enjoys “going to war” with city officials, an unfortunate exaggeration while real warfare compounds elsewhere.
Disingenuously, they claim he’s behaving like a politician.
For me, there’s nothing mysterious about Ho and his entanglements with Mayor Darrell Steinberg and other sinners on City Council. Ho wants to do his job. And he wants Steinberg and friends to do their jobs.
Ho has better ways to spend his time than jousting with Steinberg and eight City Council members. But negligence on the homeless front, a disease that metastasized since the mayor’s 2016 election, forced the district attorney to take action.
The steps Ho took followed three basic escalations of law enforcement familiar to every police cadet: You ask for compliance. Then you tell them. Then you make them.
First, Ho laid out the problem in a letter to city officials. He described how Sacramento must proceed with enforcement of camping regulations. He laid out a roadmap to compassionately deliver clean, safe streets.
The mayor and City Council ignored the letter.
Next, Ho sued the city. He listed 14 homeless camps where unhoused people terrorize neighbors, brandish weapons, brutalize animals, start fires, sell drugs and commit violence against other homeless people.
In each case, Ho describes the city’s failure to act. The examples end with police or City Hall telling victims, “Nothing can be done.”
There’s the problem Ho wants to resolve. For seven years under Steinberg, the city ignored its own laws. Civic authorities made homeless people exempt from rules. As a result, the homeless population grew by 250% since Steinberg was elected.
On Sacramento streets, anything goes. Word gets around. Mayhem thrives.
Ho asked and is now telling the mayor and City Council to do their jobs. To force compliance, the district attorney went to court.
Ho doesn’t want money from the city. He’s not asking for damages. He’s not trying to embarrass Steinberg and colleagues. He wants city authorities to live up to their responsibilities.
Next will come subpoenas to expose the actions city officials took to prevent police and code enforcement from writing citations, making arrests and clearing homeless camps.
Now we have the spectacle of one elected official trying to force others to perform their duties. Civic life should never reach a point where depositions and document discovery precede clean streets and political accountability.
Motivations are important here. Ho fulfilled his oath to uphold the law. Steinberg and the City Council were called out for breaking their oaths and lying to voters.
Imagine if Steinberg told the truth during his campaigns of 2016 and 2020. Imagine if he said:
“I will make Sacramento the homeless capital of California and encourage tent communities to flourish on sidewalks across our city. I will ignore violence, drug sales, drug use, open fires, crime and antisocial behavior. I will work to ensure no homeless person gets prosecuted for violating city ordinances or state laws involving health and safety, civil and penal codes.”
The mayor didn’t say those words. He didn’t tell the truth. Neither did City Council members Katie Valenzuela, Mai Vang and Caity Maple. They told other stories. In 2016, Steinberg promised to resolve homelessness.
Once sworn into office, stories shifted. Officials fought against enforcement. They created environments where the tragedy of being unhoused carries immunity from society’s laws, where living in a doorway or sidewalk or vacant lot is supported by city authorities.
The mayor and City Council wrecked local businesses and drove residents to despair. They made Sacramento a national example of how not to run a city.
When Thien Ho arrived to help the mayor and council recover their civilization, they accused him of playing politics.
If Steinberg and Valenzuela, Vang and Maple are smart, they will follow their rescuer home. My bet is they stay lost and lose a landmark lawsuit.
R.E. Graswich can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: @insidesacramento.