True To Herself

Valenzuela won’t listen to anyone, but runs again

By R.E. Graswich
December 2023

Soon after winning her City Council seat in 2020, Katie Valenzuela made a decision that set the tone for her neophyte political career. She hired a man who made violent threats against the mayor and city manager.

As it turned out, Skyler Henry wasn’t violent. But his presence at City Hall prompted Mayor Darrell Steinberg and City Manager Howard Chan to seek a restraining order against Henry. The order was denied, but Chan changed several locks at City Hall to prevent Henry from wandering around.

When I asked Valenzuela why she would hire someone known for making threats against public officials, she said Henry was merely exercising his First Amendment rights. Refusal to hire him, she said, would make her a hypocrite, someone who disrespects free speech.

I told her she was disrespecting Steinberg and Chan. But her mind was made up. Henry held his staff job for a while, caused no problems and left City Hall.

The rocky start became a bumpy first term for Valenzuela, who is running for re-election March 5 against Phil Pluckebaum. In her first three years, Valenzuela demonstrated a contradictory approach to municipal governance.

She argued the city needs more housing, but voted against housing plans when she learned developers didn’t use union labor. She proposed hefty fees on developers, which drove developers away from the city.

She tried to solve homelessness by not enforcing camping ordinances, which produced more homelessness. She spoke about safe streets and worked to defund police. She survived two recall attempts.

Valenzuela, who ignored interview requests for this story, is an incumbent in name only. The district that elected her three years ago no longer exists. Disastrous advice from the city attorney created a new District 4 with only partial representation after the city’s 2021 census reapportionment.

Land Park, Little Pocket, Midtown and Downtown were Valenzuela’s original neighborhoods.

Now she hopes to represent East Sacramento and River Park residents who hardly know her, plus Downtown and Midtown, where she lives. Pluckebaum lives in East Sac. That’s where the race will be decided.

Homelessness dominates Valenzuela’s time at City Hall. Upon seeing her new district boundaries, Valenzuela held community meetings to discuss the proliferation of tents on East Sac streets and parks.

Her solution involved two new homeless shelters in the gentrified neighborhood. The shelters were never built, but residents hated the idea. They immediately gathered signatures to recall Valenzuela, only to learn she didn’t really represent them. Nobody does until December 2024.

Valenzuela ran in 2020 as a Democrat but considers herself a democratic socialist. Even as the City Council moves leftward with new members and a lame duck Steinberg, no member marches with Valenzuela’s intense progressive philosophy.

She celebrated May Day in Cuba, posting photos of herself boozing while colleagues were in Washington, D.C., on a lobbying trip to secure federal funds for regional projects.

Her political passion seems to revolve around income inequality and climate change, a tough fit for an elected official whose constituents expect her to ensure police and fire calls are answered, garbage gets picked up and toilets flush.

Without irony, her biggest success involves a homeless camp. Valenzuela convinced colleagues to create an authorized settlement for campers at Miller Park. Eventually, the state donated trailers for the tiny community.

The camp was supposed to be temporary. It disrupted recreational activities in Miller Park. But Valenzuela argued to keep the site open, housing about 45 people. It’s a fitting metaphor that her grand accomplishment is a homeless camp.

In some ways, Valenzuela’s 2020 election reflected voter disappointment with the incumbent, Steve Hansen, now running for mayor. Hansen opposed public access to the Sacramento River Parkway levee in Little Pocket. Valenzuela supports parkway levee access.

She walked Land Park and Little Pocket and won election with strong numbers in river-adjacent precincts.

At the time, Valenzuela told me she would follow her beliefs, be true to herself. She didn’t care if she was rejected by voters after one term. I thought she was being naïve and self-righteous. Now I think she really means it.

R.E. Graswich can be reached at

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