‘Where Do I Sign?’
Signature drive underway to recall Valenzuela
By R.E. Graswich
More than 300 strong, they knock on doors and talk about the trouble with Katie Valenzuela.
They describe Valenzuela’s support of squatters in a vacant Land Park home. They dissect her refusal to help clear homeless camps near Sutter Middle School.
They want Valenzuela gone from the City Council.
And they don’t want to wait until 2024, when the rookie councilwoman’s term expires.
For the first time in 30 years, a City Council member faces an organized, well-funded recall threat. Each day, volunteers with recall petitions fan out under the banner of “For a Better Sacramento.”
They visit Land Park and Little Pocket, Downtown, Midtown and west Natomas. They need 8,000 signatures to qualify for a special election next March to remove Valenzuela from her District 4 seat.
The group has until Sept. 7 to reach the 8,000-signature threshold. Organizers expected to hit 4,000 by late June.
After that, “For a Better Sacramento” is ready to hire professional crews to speed the recall effort. The group has enough money to cover signature-gathering expenses.
Three realities brought Valenzuela to this point: homelessness, crime and redistricting.
In her eagerness to create city-sanctioned homeless camps in neighborhoods around Land Park, Downtown, Midtown and East Sacramento, Valenzuela infuriated residents who believe she’s more concerned about unsheltered people than taxpayers whose lives are disrupted by camps, violence, crime and public drug use.
“She thinks she’s helping, but she’s really harming the community,” says John Frias Morales, who helps organize “For a Better Sacramento.” “She has a completely different set of values. Many of her constituents are poor, and by making our neighborhoods less safe, by wanting to defund police, she’s not helping them.”
Dan Tibbitts, brother of murdered Land Park resident Kate Tibbitts, is among the volunteers ready to remove Valeneuzla. A homeless parolee is charged with Kate’s murder and rape.
Speaking about Valenzuela, Tibbits says, “She clearly values the homeless and drug user’s well-being more so than our well-being, the hard-working, law-abiding citizens and her constituents. And she refuses to hold these drug users and homeless people accountable when they commit crimes.”
When Valenzuela emerged from anonymity to defeat two-term incumbent Steve Hansen in 2020, she campaigned against high housing costs. The housing issue won support in Midtown, where Valenzuela lives.
In Land Park and Little Pocket, she promised to fight for access to the Sacramento River Parkway levee area, where illegal private fences blocked the public for nearly 50 years.
Skyrocketing rents and river access resonated with many voters in 2020. Hansen helped by barely campaigning until the final weeks. He assumed re-election was automatic.
Two years later, the ground has shifted beneath Valenzuela. Homelessness and crime are critical problems for homeowners and renters alike. Valenzuela, who calls herself a Democratic Socialist and celebrated May Day in Cuba, ruined her connection with many constituents.
“When we began gathering signatures in Midtown, anytime we went to a street that was near a homeless camp, it was super easy to get people to sign,” Morales says. “People would just say, ‘Where do I sign?’”
Controversies over homelessness and crime might not have pushed Valenzuela to the precipice of a recall election without redistricting.
Last December, City Attorney Susana Alcala Wood announced Valenzuela was suddenly East Sacramento’s representative on City Council under new boundaries drawn by a citizen’s redistricting commission.
In East Sac, residents revolted. Recall talk began overnight.
The city attorney bungled the law. Under state rules, Valenzuela is not East Sac’s representative. She can’t serve or be recalled in neighborhoods where she wasn’t elected.
The recall brought attention to state redistricting laws. Without East Sac’s outrage and eagerness to remove Valenzuela, the city attorney’s mistakes would have passed unnoticed.
Now recall work focuses on communities where Valenzuela defeated Hansen. East Sac residents may volunteer, but can’t sign petitions or vote in the recall election.
Even worse, thanks to the city attorney’s botched understanding of the law, East Sac won’t have a City Council representative until the 2024 elections.
Another redistricting fiasco inspired the last City Council recall election in 1992. Councilman Terry Kastanis, who lived in Valley Hi, was drawn into Pocket and Greenhaven. Residents in those communities forced Kastanis into a recall election. He prevailed with 56 percent of the vote and quit City Council two years later.
R.E. Graswich can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.