Craft beer is booming in Sacramento, California and the nation! According to the Brewer’s Association, craft beer has grown to 4.2 times its 2004 size in the ensuing twelve years. Board of Equalization data acquired by Sacramentality shows that California was ahead of the curve so has grown a little slower to 3.5 times its size, although that drops to 2.7 times if breweries recently purchased by macro conglomerates are omitted.
Sacramento (represented by a Kings flag, both because the current flag needs replacing and because the data represents the metropolitan area, not just the city) was hit hard by the recession, dropping to half its 2004 size by 2009 and growing slowly through 2013, but has exploded since, more than tripling in the last four years. We will delve deeper into the local brewing numbers in a subsequent piece, but the decline was caused almost entirely by Sacramento Brewing Company’s descent into oblivion.
Craft brewers are not the only ones brewing in California. Driving over the causeway, you’ll see a prominent billboard with the good folks of Anheuser-Busch pointing out that Bud Light, despite its strong association with St. Louis, MO is brewed in California.
Perusing Board of Equalization data, we see that this is true. Very, very true.
Most (56%!) of the beer accounted for in the Board of Equalization Beer Manufacturer Tax Reports (provided graciously by BOE staff, thank you for that) was brewed by the good folks at everyone’s favorite Belgo-Brazilian mega-conglomerate, Anheuser-Busch InBev. Add in South African-Canadian-American mega-brewer, MillerCoors and the macro brewers collectively top 80 percent of California’s locally produced beer. Budweiser tops 400 million gallons, while MillerCoors hovers around 190 million gallons. While the macro brewers continue to dominate the shelves, their numbers have been slipping, leading the big guys to take a ‘if you can’t beat’em, join’em’ approach.
Coming in third is California’s largest craft brewery (and, coincidentally, the nation’s third largest – behind Yuengling and Boston Brewing), Sierra Nevada. At 34 million gallons, Chico’s finest accounts for nearly five percent of California’s beer, nearly as much as the next three, Lagunitas (14.6 M), Ballast Point (12.2 M) and Stone (11.8 M), combined. Firestone Walker (11.5 M) rounds out the top group. There’s a large jump to the next group of breweries, with fourteen totaling between one and four million gallons (Anchor, Gallo, Bear Republic, Green Flash, Gordon Biersch, Lost Coast, North Coast, Golden Road, 21st Amendment, Anderson Valley, Karl Strauss, Coronado, Pizza Port and Hangar 24).
These seventeen breweries collectively account for 96.5 percent of California’s brewing. The remaining 600 plus breweries total less than Sierra Nevada brews alone.
With so much of California’s craft brewing consolidated in a handful of its largest breweries, it is not surprising that its brewing is largely consolidated in five regions:
Northern California: over 80 percent of which is produced by Sierra Nevada
San Diego: two-thirds by Stone and Ballast Point
North Bay: nearly 80 percent by Lagunitas
Central Coast: nearly 90 percent by Firestone Walker
Bay Area: two-thirds by 21st Amendment, Anchor and Gordon Biersch
Today, Sacramento remains among the smaller brewing regions, but that may soon change. Our region has been the fastest growing since 2011, increasing production by more than five times over. Check back in a few weeks and we will delve into and celebrate the enormous growth Sacramento’s brewing scene has experienced the last several years. With great breweries like Moonraker, New Glory, New Helvetia & Mraz continuing to push the envelope, an expansion announced by Device, recent newcomers including Flatland and Claimstake beginning to tickle our taste buds, highly anticipated openings in the New Year in Urban Roots and Moksa and larger, established breweries like Track 7 and Knee Deep, I think we can all agree that Sacramento’s brewing scene is Flippin’ Good!
From where your body can be buried to how we fend off those pesky mosquitoes, the County of Sacramento has over 100 special districts serving your needs that you never knew you didn’t care about. But that’s what we’re here for.
So, what even is a special district? According to the California Special Districts Association (yes, there truly is an association for everything), “Special districts are a form of local government created by a local community to meet a specific need…nearly 85% of California’s special districts perform a single function such as sewage, water, fire protection, pest abatement or cemetery management.” Some exist to provide services consolidated over multiple jurisdictions. Most provide services in unincorporated areas that are typically provided by cities.
Today I’ll be taking you on a trip through all of the types of special districts provided to us.
Do you ever wonder who makes sure the air we breathe is not toxic, filled with pollutants, or just downright smelly? Yeah, me neither.
But as it turns out, Sacramento County has it’s very own Metropolitan Air Quality Management District that does just that. This 14-member board, first created in 1959 by the County Board of Supervisors, develops plans and regulations, monitors air quality, enforces on the bad actors, provides incentives to clean up pollution, and reviews land and transportation projects for their impact on air quality. That board consists of all five Sacramento County Supervisors, four members of the Sacramento City Council, one member each from the cities of Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Folsom and Rancho Cordova, and one member representing the cities of Galt and Isleton.They meet the 4th Thursday of every month at 9:30 a.m. in the Board of Supervisors Chambers if you ever want to pop by for a visit.
Now, that’s a breath of fresh air.
People die. It’s a fact of life, ironically. While whether we live or die is not up to us, how we choose to lay our dead to rest, is.
Fun macabre fact of the day: Sacramento County has four different cemetery districts to serve your burial needs. These appointed boards manage the day-to-day operations of cemeteries, and some are quite old. For instance, the Fair Oaks Cemetery was first created in 1903. Though burial privileges are limited to current or former district residents/taxpayers or former residents/taxpayers that purchased lots or plots while they were taxpayers/residents, family members of those eligible for burial and veterans are still allowed. Also, if you’re strapped for cash, the County can foot the bill of burial.
The Elk Grove-Cosumnes Cemetery District, founded in 1949, meets every 2nd Thursday of the month at 7:00 p.m. in the District Office. The Fair Oaks Cemetery District, founded in 1926 meets every 2nd Wednesday of the month at 9:15am in the District Office. The Galt-Arno Cemetery District, founded in 1949, meets every 4th Wednesday of the month at 3:00 p.m. in the District Office; and the Sylvan Cemetery District, founded in 1926, meets every 2nd Tuesday of the month at 7:00 p.m. in the Cemetery Office. Drop by and give them a visit next time you’re around the cemetery.
Side note: this may seem unintuitive, but the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery is in fact NOT a special district, but a city park. While folks are still able to bury their loved ones there, it’s only in existing familial plots.
When it rains, it pours, but is your County equipped to deal with that excess water? You better believe Sacramento is.
Our very own Drainage Districts, housed under the Stormwater Utility, provide drainage and flood control services. While this may not seem like a huge priority in a place where rain can be scarce, all you need to do is take one look at how many feet of water we would be under if our floodplains systems, like Natomas, failed. Pretty serious stuff. These districts maintain and operate water channels, drainage pipes, investigate systems and design problems, develop programs to reduce pollutants in drainage, and manage regional flood control projects, among other important tasks. This is often done in tandem with the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA).
This seems particularly relevant given recent fires that have ravaged other parts of California. We are fortunate to be protected from flames by the fire departments of the cities of Sacramento and Folsom, as well as eleven Fire Protection Districts. While fire protection has been a necessity since man first harnessed its power to burn stuff, coordination of services has taken a convoluted path to get to where it is today.
Back in the day, just a short seventy or so years ago, fires were fought primarily on a volunteer basis. While some fire districts started forming, such as Galt in 1921 and North Highlands in 1951, there still wasn’t a great need for sophisticated coordination across the county. As the need became more pronounced, several studies conducted in 1968, 1972, 1977, and 1981, helped determine how to best manage the myriad districts with outdated and weird boundaries. Alas, through a very long series of consolidations, we have the advanced fire protection system we know today. What a day to be alive.
This is a no-brainer. If you live in Sacramento, you’re likely writing checks for gas and/or electricity to one of these each month. That’s right, good old Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).
According to the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), the Sacramento PG&E district was established in 1917, is governed by a board of directors, and is regulated by the Public Utilities Commission, Energy Commission, and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Now, that’s a lot of bosses.
SMUD was founded just a few years later in 1923, and is governed by a 7-member board of directors that are elected during the November General Election. Come say “hi” at their next board meeting held on the 1st Thursday of every month at 7:00 p.m. and the 3rd Thursday of every month at 9:00 a.m. in the SMUD Headquarters Building.
Joint Powers And More
As you know, things are usually done better when people work together. While governments don’t always do this well, they can make a big impact when they do.
Sacramento has several Joint Powers Agencies(JPA), which are entities that formed so that two or more entities can work together to do similar things, and play nice in the figurative government sandbox. These include waste management and recycling, employment and training, housing and redevelopment, public libraries, and transit, among others.
Here’s a list of JPA’s and other authorities for you:
Oh yes, the bane of my existence. Aside from being possibly the most annoying creature on the planet, mosquitoes can also put our lives at risk. In fact, mosquitoes are considered one of the more dangerous creatures on the planet because of their ability to spread deadly diseases, including Zika Virus, Malaria, West Nile Virus, and Yellow Fever. No, thank you.
Luckily for us, the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District, founded in 1946, is here to ensure we’re not victims of mosquito-borne illnesses. This district is governed by a 13-member board of trustees which are appointed by the legislative bodies in Woodland, Winters, Sacramento, Isleton, Davis, Galt, Folsom, Citrus Heights, West Sacramento, Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova and Sacramento and Yolo Counties.
Parks and Recreation
Who doesn’t love to recreate? I sure do. I enjoy spending my summers paddle boarding on Lake Natoma, riding on the American River Parkway, and hiking around on my favorite local trails.
If you’re like me and never wondered who the heck manages all of the outdoor spaces we love, then you’d probably be surprised to find out that it is done by five different types of governmental entities: dependent park districts, independent park districts, county service areas, cities, and the County Regional Park System. Some are quite small, such as the Arden Manor Recreation and Park District which only spans one square mile, while others like the City of Sacramento park and community services department encompasses ninety-four square miles. Dang, that’s a lot of recreation.
Yeah, I thought the same thing when I read “Reclamation District”…what the heck is that? As it turns out, these districts are the oldest in Sacramento County. Most were formed prior to 1900, and some are over one hundred years old. That’s a trip.
These districts were created to maintain and reclaim land threatened by flooding, and use it for the purposes of agriculture, residential, commercial, or industrial use. Beginning around 1864, large parts of the Delta region were reclaimed by land investors and over the course of about 30 years, turned the region into one of the most rich agricultural areas in California. While it’s difficult to know just how many reclamation districts exist because historically little reporting has been required, there are eighty-four on record, with about twenty-one of them thought to be still active.
The Dust Bowl isn’t just a name for a Brewery in Turlock (they’ve got a great IPA, though), but also a dark time in America’s history. With little understanding of the value of preserving our soils, the introduction of large-scale agriculture, with almost no regulation, depleted the land of moisture and nutrients. By the 1930’s, much of the agricultural land across the midwest had become a barren wasteland.
Thus, the federal government sprung into action to preserve this land and avoid another dust bowl disaster, and in 1933 the Federal Soil Conservation Service (FSCS) was founded. Unable to address the needs of individual land owners, the FSCS pushed for the creation of local districts to help individuals get on board with taking care of the soil. This lead to the creation of Sacramento’s four Resource Conservation Districts, each with a five-member elected board of directors that work directly with the FSCS.
I’ve often pondered which direction the water actually should swirl in the toilet, but I have to admit that I’ve never given any thought to where that water (and waste) goes, or who is responsible for its disposal. Good thing someone has already thought of that for me. The Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District(SRCSD) provides wastewater collection, treatment, and disposal services to the major urban areas of Sacramento. Some of the more rural areas, such as Galt, Isleton, and Rancho Murieta, manage their own sewage services.
We all know the typical horror movie scene where a character is randomly walking through a dark alleyway at night, because of course they are. Inevitably that person gets kidnapped, attacked, or chased by something creepy. It’s funny because most of us would not walk down a pitch-black alley at night, and recognize the value of well-lit streets!
We’re fortunate to have street lighting in the urbanized areas of Sacramento, provided independently by cities. In addition to those, County Service Area No. 1 was founded in 1986, which includes all the unincorporated areas of the County of Sacramento and City of Rancho Cordova. This district does just about everything you would guess; it purchases, installs, and maintains all street and highway lights. In total, that’s 23,140 street lights and 3,770 highway lights. It is governed by the Board of Supervisors.
We’ve all got places to go, people to see; and in all the hustle and bustle we may sometimes take for granted the transit systems Sacramento has in place and the value that public transportation brings to our lives. There are currently four special transportation districts which are responsible for public busses, light rail, paratransit, and other ways of getting around town.
The Sacramento Regional Transit District was founded in 1973 and currently operates over 60 bus routes covering 418 square miles, as well as an extensive light rail system. It is governed by an 11-member board of directors, all consisting of county supervisors and city council members. The Sacramento Transportation Authority was founded in 1988 by the initiative Measure A, with much of its funding earmarked for the construction of highways, streets, and roads, increased light rail service, expanded services for the handicapped and elderly, and air quality programs. It is governed by a 15-member board of directors; 5 elected officials appointed by the County Supervisors, 5 elected officials appointed by the Sacramento City Council; 1 elected official appointed by the each of the following city councils: Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Folsom, Galt and Rancho Cordova.
Throughout this journey we’ve learned about how Sacramento manages its cemeteries, water, and lights, and even how fires are fought. I always knew government was complex and expansive, but by diving deep into just one county, it’s clear the tentacles reach far beyond what I had expected.
**Author’s Note: the majority of the data provided in this article is from the Sacramento LAFCo website on special districts. Some information may outdated or missing, please contact them directly for the most up-to-date information.
The concept of Black Friday emerged in Philadelphia in the 1950s, an unhappy day when the city was overrun by crowds and petty crime, forcing police to work long hours and creating the unhappy name. It remained a local tradition until emerging nationally in the late 1980s with the reimagined (and typically untrue) story that it represented the happy day when retailers finally became profitable, while offering consumers rock bottom prices.
Cyber Monday was the next shopping tradition to emerge. Coined in 2005 by Shop.Org to describe the trend, it seems to have emerged more organically than its cousin shopping days as America’s workforce returned from the Thanksgiving Holiday less than eager to dive head-on into the week’s work, instead preferring to peruse the rapidly expanding world of e-commerce.
Five years later in 2010, American Express (a very large business) began promoting Small Business Saturday. The credit card company relies on small business owners as a major component of their portfolio and it proved both good marketing and a good cause as President Obama and other elected leaders began to lend their support the following year.
Two years later the family was finally complete, when Giving Tuesday emerged from the 91st Street Y in New York City, seeking to encourage giving and not just consumerism in the holiday season (Additionally, a great example of the value of including all Americans holidays in this happy season, since it was the Young Men’s Hebrew Association that brought our country together in the spirit of giving). A number of online vehicles and corporations got on board and it caught on quickly.
Which brings us to today.
There are no shortage of incredible local, national and international causes that will do great work with your hard earned dollars. There are also more than a few that won’t. For example, from CharityNavigator.org:
Giving money to organizations like these is benefitting only the executives’ yacht funds, not the first responders, veterans or children they are named for.
Of course, ratings like those are not the be-all-and-end-all of the quality of non-profits. At the extreme, they tell us who the worst swindlers are, but they do not necessarily tell us much at the margin, especially with service providing non-profits. For groups that exist primarily to raise money to disperse it to service providers, researchers, etc., these overhead-based efficiency ratings make a lot of sense because the money is all there is.
For groups that provide services directly, the money is not the point, the impact is.
While impact is not always easily quantified, especially in a way that leads to easy comparisons, the information should be readily available on the organization’s website. For example among some of our great local non-profits: My Sister’s House provided over 5,000 nights of shelter to women and children fleeing abuse; Reading Partners successfully taught 89% of their 400 students foundational reading skills; and the Front Street Shelter has taken in nearly 9,500 dogs and cats in 2017 through October, with nearly 2/3 adopted or returned home. A personal favorite of our family, is Fairy Tale Town providing incredible family fun while encouraging reading to over a quarter million visitors in the region in 2016. And, of course, the Sacramento State Alumni Association, whose board I serve on, held more than 475 events, engaged over 2,300 volunteer hours and awarded $37,000 in scholarships. Internationally, the Daraja Academy in Kenya, that a friend raises money for locally, does a particularly good job of sharing their impact:
(These are by no means all of the charities having a great impact in our community, just a handful of good ones that came to mind.)
So while we at Sacramentality would very strongly encourage that you give generously to charities in our community, we hope in doing so that you give smart. Know the mission you are supporting and know what how much good you are buying for the world with your hard earned dollars. If a charity you are considering supporting does not make this information readily available, you may wish to consider supporting another instead.
This post is a continuation of the story of Luella Johnston, Sacramento (and California’s) first elected councilwoman. I strongly recommend starting with Part I, where I discussed Luella’s civic and political activism in Sacramento, culminating in her successful 1912 campaign for a seat on the Sacramento City Council. In Part II, I discuss her first year on the City Council.
Tacoma Times (1912)
Rallying behind Luella’s candidacy, Sacramento’s women helped sweep local Progressives to victory in the 1912 city elections. It was a landmark year for Sacramento’s reformers, who had finally succeeded in kicking out the political machine that had long dominated city politics. Now came the challenge of governing.
The New Government: One of Business & Efficiency
Official City Seal (1912)
1912 was unlike any prior year for another reason: The five freshman councilmembers would be the first to serve under the new city charter. Prior to 1912, Sacramento had a traditional “Strong Mayor” form of government with a part-time, nine-member City Council and a full-time elected mayor acting as the city’s chief executive officer. Under the new charter, the office of the mayor had been eliminated and the City Council – renamed the CityCommission – was reduced to a five-member, full-time board. Under this “Commission” form of government, the Commission as a whole continued as the city’s legislative body but, instead of a unified executive, each councilmember – renamed a commissioner – was also individually assigned supervisory powers over a different city department.
The Commission Form was the cutting edge of early twentieth century municipal reform. The drafters of the new charter had promised it would bring about a more “efficient and business like administration.” Popularized in Gavelston, Texas, and refined in Des Moines, Iowa, Commissions were thought to promote better management, as commissioners had every incentive to specialize in their assigned policy areas, and better accountability, as the voters could more easily identify and defeat any commissioner whose departments were found lacking.
Sacramento’s charter had five commissioner positions. They were:
Commissioner of Public Works
Commissioner of Streets
Commissioner of Public Health and Safety
Commissioner of Finance
Commissioner of Education
While the voters elected the five commissioners, the commissioners decided for themselves their departmental assignments.
Commission Minutes (1912)
By unanimous vote of her colleagues, Luella was appointed Commissioner of Education. While Luella’s election broke gender boundaries, the education assignment was a (disappointingly) safe choice in line with the era’s social norms. Luella had, however, campaigned for the assignment and, given her background as a teacher and her prior successes around curriculum reform, it was certainly a good fit.
It was also a deceptively powerful post, responsible for a good portion of the city’s budget. Under the charter, the Commissioner of Education had supervision “of all school buildings, property and grounds, and of the construction, maintenance, and repair thereof.” The former Board of Education had also been merged with the new Commission; by virtue of her assignment, Luella also served as Board president whenever the Commission reconvened as that body to decide school matters.
The scope of the Education Commissioner’s duties extended, though, even beyond the schoolhouse doors. The Commissioner supervised all parks and playgrounds; the municipal employment office; all libraries, art galleries, theaters and places of amusement; humane and reformatory boards; and “all matters affecting the intellectual and moral advancement of the city, other than police and sanitary regulations.”
As local historians Elaine Connolly and Dian Self observed, the Education Commissioner’s assignments “sounded like the script [Luella] wrote for the Tuesday Club in 1900.”
The Commission’s First Year: Sacramento Awakened
Commission Chambers (c. 1917)
Under complete Progressive control, the Commission’s first year was a whirlwind of activity as reform-minded Commissioners proposed large infrastructure investments to bring the city into the modern era and set about undoing prior municipal give-aways to the city’s public service corporations.
Luella had pledged that flood control would be her top priority; true to her word, one of the Commission’s first acts was to propose to voters a bond (which passed) to raise city levies and construct the Sacramento bypass at Bryte Bend. Other improvements followed, including extending water mains and sewer lines to the annexed neighborhoods; building of a Hall of Justice including a hospital, court, and jail; purchasing an asphalt-mixing machine to pave the streets; securing land downtown for new state buildings that promised to bring hundreds of jobs Sacramento; and creating a municipally-owned electrical distribution system to light city streets and parks through a combination of construction and eminent domain. The later proposal stoked the ire of the Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), the city’s private electricity provider, which furiously fought the associated bond.
Like the street light bond, many ordinances the Commission passed took direct aim at the city’s powerful public services corporations. For decades the city’s largest corporations, like PG&E and the Southern Pacific Railroad, had backed and bribed local party bosses and city officials and reaped generous city contracts and franchises, or even a municipal blind eye to their activities, in return. No more. In just one year, half-century streetcar franchises granted by the prior City Council were rescinded as too long; gas rates and telephone deposits were ordered cut; maximum rates for water, electricity, gas, phone, and other private utilities were set or planned; and a new “rental” tax was imposed on all the services corporations that used city streets and alleys to run their pipes, wires, or streetcars — supposedly the first such tax in the state.
The Commission seemed well on its way to delivering on its strident promise of a modern government where the municipality called the shots and not the corporations. “It is evident that the progressive spirit of The People has been awakened,” said Luella, “and that henceforth Sacramento is to take its place among the wide-awake and enterprising cities of the country.”
“A Very Successful Administration”
Sacramento Bee (1913)
Luella was busy with her executive duties as Education Commissioner, too. In fact, probably busier than any other commissioner.
The city charter had been written so that, each year, a different commissioner would be up for re-election. To accomplish this, the inaugural 1912 commissioners were elected to either one-, two-, three-, or four-year short terms or a five-year full term, with higher vote-getters receiving longer terms. Luella had received the fewest votes of the five winners and so would face the voters first: with the clock ticking, she knew “I shall just have to work that much harder to crowd into my present one year term all the improvements of which I am capable.”
The city’s 24 schools, her main charge, seemed to do well under her watch. Attendance increased and teachers received an across-the-board pay raise. Although costs were up as a consequence, and state and county appropriations had decreased over the previous year, Luella’s department still came in under budget. Open bidding requirements for supplies and services, in particular, had cut costs and reduced opportunities for graft and cronyism.
She responded competently to a major crisis in office. When a fire burned down the Capital School, displacing dozens of students and overcrowding nearby schools, Luella ordered the construction of seven portables so classes could quickly resume until a new site was found.
She also celebrated a number of successes. She cleared out the crony hires at the city cemetery, a notorious landing site for supporters of the old political bosses. With a donation from Weinstock, Lubin & Co., she opened the city’s second playground at South Side Park – thousands of kids attended. Library membership grew by several thousands and 11,000 new volumes were added to shelves. Finally, she scored a personal and professional victory when the Southern Pacific agreed to enroll its “shop boys” in night school, demonstrating the value of her longtime vision for integrating vocational training into the curriculum.
Luella took seriously her charter-mandated duty to advance city morals and squelch vice as well. She fought to curtail illegal gambling, prostitution, and saloons that the prior council had ignored and, of her own initiative, went after “spooning” by youths in the park. Not all of her efforts have aged well. When fighting broke out at a local play over “near-nasty musical numbers,” she threatened to create a Board of Theatrical Censors to “pass upon the moral nature of the shows.”
But, judging her record on the whole, it seems hard to disagree with the Bee’s assessment that Luella had run “a very successful administration.”
A Woman’s Place
Bee Cartoon, lampooning some men’s fear of equal suffrage (1911)
In the lead up to the 1911 election on women’s suffrage, opponents argued that allowing women to vote would destroy society because, next, they would be moving out of the home and demanding greater social, professional, and political responsibilities. Thankfully they were right about that later part. Only a year after gaining the vote, Luella ran for and won a seat on the City Commission. A year out, she had proven that women could participate and excel in what had been the very male worlds of politics and governance.
Decades later, in 1948, Luella was asked to reflect on Belle Cooledge’s election to the Sacramento City Council and historic appointment as Mayor — the first woman mayor of a major American city. In an era where most women were housewives, Luella stuck to her defiantly egalitarian views. “Man or woman has nothing to do with the case,” said Luella, age 88.
You have to do with women what you do with men – balance up their capabilities then judge. … If that type of woman[, i.e. one of Cooledge’s caliber,] is willing to assume the added responsibility of mayor, in my judgment, she is fitted for it.
In thinking about the sexism Luella had to overcome to win a seat and be successful at City Hall in 1912, it is hard to ignore recent headlines documenting the sexism and harassment women still confront in the State Capitol, just a few blocks and a hundred-plus years away. It is also hard to ignore that women remain underrepresented at all levels of elected government, including Sacramento’s nine-member City Council which, once more, has only one councilwoman. We still have far to go.
Even so, I think Luella would be proud of the women leaders following her that have continued to tear down those barriers and insist that people be judged based on their capabilities and not their gender.
Stay tuned for my third and final post on Luella, where I discuss her hard-fought re-election campaign and later years.
In putting together this account of Luella’s time in office and 1910s Sacramento I drew heavily on, and am indebted to, the following sources:
Our toddler freshly asleep, my wife and I sat down to watch a bit of TV before bed last night. The Simpsons popped up at the top of the “My Shows” list. Now, I have not watched the animated classic much the last few years, but I figured, “why not?” A few minutes into Homer discovering that Maggie could whistle, I had my answer. How did this incredible show that wove so much timely humor through important issues in economics, religion,philosophy,American politics,political theory,parenting and so much else become such a boring, pointless exercise? I thought the show had hit rock bottom when it made an episode starringMoe’s bar rag. That was 123 episodes ago.
But instead of further calls to put the once iconic show out of its misery, I thought I might draw attention to some classic episodes (including a list of my personal favorites at the end of this article) that could provide some insight into challenges we as both Americans and Sacramentans are facing today and, perhaps more importantly, add some levity to difficult times.
Hard as it is to believe, the June 2018 Congressional midterms (and city council elections!) are right around the corner and candidates are already busy passing around the hat and dusting off their talking points. The Simpsons first waded into the art of political pandering with “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish.” Appearing early in Season 2, we see the Billionaire Montgomery Burns deciding it is more cost effective to run for Governor and change the laws than comply with environmental regulations to protect against, among other things, the creation of three-eyed mutant fish. In an attempt to overcome his massive unpopularity, Burns pours millions into a smear campaign against his female opponent and appears on the verge of victory before Marge forces him into a televised gaffe, saving the day.
Another political gem was the Simpsons 200th episode, which featured U2 guest playing a concert on a trash heap while the inimitable Steve Martin played the hard working, committed public servant Ray Patterson. Patterson brought a professional seriousness and the expertise that comes with well-earned experience to the position of Sanitation Commissioner. His experience and spotless track record proved inadequate when Homer decided to run against him. Bringing bluster, unrealistic promises (“Can’t Someone Else Do It”) and a woeful disregard for budgetary math and even basic facts, Homer is elected in a landslide and disaster ensues.
We, as voters in the real world, have a responsibility to do better than the people of Springfield. The actions of our elected leaders have consequences and if we continue down the current path:
Homer Badman proves that the Simpsons can also get it wrong, while (I suspect inadvertently) providing important insight. After a gluttonous trip to the candy convention, Homer sets off to drive their graduate student and feminist activist babysitter home. As she gets out of the car, he sees the Venus de Milo candy he had pilfered stuck to her pants. Overcome by his lust for the “sweet candy” he plucked it off of her rear end and from there is swept into a whirlwind of public outrage and over the top trashy journalism. By the end of the show the babysitter had realized she had falsely accused Homer, a clear victim of an overzealous, dishonest media and feminist activism.
“Two, four, six, eight, Homer’s crime was very great! ‘Great’ meaning large or immense, we use it in the pejorative sense!”
We all need to be more aware of it than Homer Simpson, because nearly all of us have done it. (#MeToo) We may not have realized it. We may have thought it was just a collegial joke or a friendly compliment. But we did it. We hurt people. And we need to do better.
In “Last Exit to Springfield,” out of sheer greed, Mr. Burns decides to eliminate his employees’ dental plan. The witless employees running the nuclear plant celebrate the short-term trade off of a keg of Duff Beer until Homer realizes that without the dental plan, he’ll be forced to pay out of pocket for Lisa’s expensive dental care — an important warning to any ‘young invincibles’ excited at the prospects of new high deductible Trumpcare plans — Homer leads the plant employees to strike. After a hilarious serious of foibles in attempting to run the plant without workers and wonderful Grinch-inspired efforts to crush the union have failed (And lacking any real substantive consequences), Mr. Burns relents and agrees to reinstate the dental plan.
“We’ll march ’till we drop The girls and the fellas. We’ll fight ’till the death Or else fold like umbrellas.”
In “The PTA Disbands,” we get a more pointed look at the reality of negotiations in the public sector setting, as expressed by Principal Skinner: “What’s the point? There’s no more money, unless you’ve got some magic new source of revenue.” Seeking “a small cost-of-living increase and some better equipment and supplies for your children” and goaded on by a mischievous Bart, eager to escape class, the teachers go on strike. The schools continue to operate, with classes taught by members of the community … some of whom advocate corporal punishment and cannot keep their beards from being caught in the pencil sharpener. None prove adequate replacements. Once having his mother as a substitute teacher ruins Bart’s fun, he tricks the principal and teachers into negotiating and they come up with a magic new source of revenue — housing prisoners in the school.
In Sacramento, we are facing a similar situation. The teachers are on the verge of a strike, asking for a number of improvements, including smaller class sizes, filling vacancies and increased salaries to bring them in line with other districts in the region.
The teachers believe that the District has adequate funds to cover these improvements, citing high levels of reserves and increased administrator salaries. The district counters that teachers are paid competitively within the region, with modestly lower pay but more generous benefits. The reality is that meaningful apples-to-apples comparisons are challenging. Each district’s pay scale is different in regard to rewarding experience and, especially, rewarding varying levels of education.
This dispute, though, exists in no small part because California spends less than average on education. While making an apples-to-apples comparison is complicated, recent estimates have California between $614 to $1,961 below average in per student spending. D’oh! No matter the source, no matter the methodology, it is clear that California spends less on education than other states.
Perhaps then, the solution is a simple one: spend more money on education. Given the structure of education funding in California, local districts do not have the option of shifting around local spending priorities, so the only option is to increase taxes.
There are, of course, trade-offs to every tax but the reality is that for less than $20 per parcel per month (author’s calculation based on Measure G revenue estimates and 2,200 FTEs), we could provide every teacher in Sacramento City USD a ten thousand dollar raise. Such a raise would make our schools the most desirable destination for the best teachers in the region, which has been shown to increase the number of applicants and, more importantly, the quality of hires.
While money is tight in our growing household, my family would be thrilled to have the opportunity to invest in this way in our local schools, our children’s future and the future of our region’s economy. I suspect many families around our district would feel the same and, moreover, despite the recent narrow failure of Measure G, local education parcel taxes have a very strong track record at the ballot box … purple monkey dishwasher.
While it seems pretty likely that the Simpsons production team cannot do better at this point, here in Sacramento, I know we can. In some ways we already are doing better. Our County is in the process of implementing the Voter’s Choice Act, which will make it easier for every citizen to fully participate in our democracy. And if you are interested, I happen to be holding a forum on the Voter’s Choice Act next week:
Devin’s Simpsons Recommended Viewing
As a proud member of theOregon Trail Generation (those of us who straddle Gen X and Millenial cut-offs, who, being able to remember a world without computers, but having adopted them in childhood are fundamentally different from both), I sometimes run into difficulties communicating with younger colleagues because my speech is often peppered with Simpsons references. (Perhaps a better reference than Oregon Trail would be First-wave Simpsonists?) In order to help overcome these challenges, I came up with a list of recommended viewing including the best and most culturally important episodes (in the oh so humble opinion of this author), which is included at the end of the article. Enjoy!
Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish, Season 2, Episode 4
Homer Defined, Season 3, Episode 5
Flaming Moe’s, Season 3, Episode 10
Homer at the Bat, Season 3, Episode 17
Homer the Heretic, Season 4, Episode 3
Homer’s Triple Bypass, Episode 4, Season 11
Duffless, Season 4, Episode 16
Last Exit to Springfield, Season 4, Episode 17
Cape Feare, Season 5, Episode 2
Treehouse of Horror V, Season 6, Episode 6
Homer the Great, Season 6, Episode 12
Lisa’s Wedding, Season 6, Episode 19
Two Dozen and One Greyhounds, Season 6, Episode 20
The PTA Disbands, Season 6, Episode 21
Lisa the Vegetarian, Season 7, Episode 5
King Size Homer, Season 7, Episode 7
Twenty-Two Short Films About Springfield, Season 7, Episode 21
Much Apu About Nothing, Season 7, Episode 23
You Only Move Twice, Season 8, Episode 2
El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer, Season 8, Episode 9
When we first started Sacramentality in January of this year, I knew I wanted to do more than talk about the vivid present and unfolding future of Sacramento. I also wanted to write about the hazy and forgotten local icons – the heroes, villains, and indifferents – who shaped our city’s identity. Perhaps because the presidential election had so recently concluded, there was one name, of an early political figure, I kept returning to: Luella Johnston.
Luella was an early twentieth century society grande dame who metamorphosed into a local political crusader. She had a transformative impact on Sacramento politics and policy, helping to propel our city into the modern era of municipal governance. She was also a pioneer in the march towards gender equality as California’s first elected city councilwoman.
Like many of her era, Luella Johnston (née Buckminster) was not originally a Californian. She was born in New Hampshire in 1861, the daughter of a Union soldier who died in the Civil War. She moved West to California as a child in 1869, ultimately becoming a teacher in San Francisco in her teens before marrying Alfred Johnston in 1884.
Alfred ran a successful Sacramento printing business, the A. J. Johnston Co. He was by contemporary accounts a self-made man and his business flourished. So much so that, by 1891, the Governor appointed him Superintendent of State Printing. A short time later, that position was converted into an elected office, which he won in 1894 and won again in 1898.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the Johnstons were wealthy, well-travelled in political circles, and, thanks to Luella, among Sacramento’s leading socialites.
High Society & The Club of ’99
San Francisco Daily Call Society Page (1899)
Luella had a knack for organizing people, events, and parties. In 1899 she founded the “Club of ’99” to entertain the wives and daughters of state elected officials. Newspapers recount lavish soirées with distinguished guests, catered suppers, and orchestral accompaniment. These were light and fun affairs receiving the same type of coverage we might read in People Magazine today. “Mrs. A. J. Johnston wore a dress of blue taffeta, silk trimmed, with white satin bowknots and lace,” gushed one account.
The Club of ’99 was purely social, and might even be described as frivolous. It embodied the acceptable role for high-society nineteenth century women. And while the ladies may have been surrounded by politics, they weren’t themselves to participate in politics.
From Socialite to Activist: The Tuesday Club & the Emergence of Women as a Political Force
But that was about to change. With the turning of the century, America’s women were becoming more political. There’s a notable shift in the historical record when Ms. Johnston’s interests moved on from parties to politics. The socialite became suffragette and civic reformer.
At first, the Tuesday Literary Club was just another entry in Luella’s social calendar. Founded in 1896, the club was originally a weekly reading group for prominent Sacramento housewives. But, as club ranks swelled from a few dozen to a few hundred, members started discussing, studying, and engaging with the problems of the day in Sacramento.
Painting of the Tuesday Club Clubhouse (circa 1912)
Luella Johnston’s 1899-1901 club presidency, reports the Center for Sacramento History, was the catalyst that “changed the mission and direction of the organization.” Under her tenure, the club started getting involved in civic affairs and – heavens! – even lobbying city officials for change. A reading group no more, the club shortened its name to the “Tuesday Club” and adopted a mission statement to “encourage all movements for the betterment of society.”
City vice became the Club’s primary target. Early twentieth century Sacramento had not quite shed its Wild West past. Prostitution was rampant, writes Sacramento historian Steven Avella. Similarly, “saloons, gambling, illegal lotteries, opium dens, and bars that stayed open all night were as hard to erase as original sin.” Who better than women, then-regarded as the “moral guardians” of the home and society, to take on these mostly male failings? The club scored its first victory in 1900 when, under Luella’s leadership, it convinced the city council to ban any new bars in residential areas, improbably besting the politically-powerful saloon owners. The law became known as the “Tuesday Club Ordinance” and lasted until its obsolescence with Prohibition.
Sacramento Bee Cartoon (1911)
Other successes quickly followed, reports the Center for Sacramento History: “The club petitioned the city trustees for a matron at the city jail, started a cooking school for young girls, [and] convinced the city to establish McKinley Park in East Sacramento.”
The Tuesday Club had become everything the ’99 Club was not: a political player.
An Organic Union: The Woman’s Council
These accomplishments galvanized other women’s groups in the city. In 1904 Luella organized a coalition of 30 women’s clubs known as the “Woman’s Council” to act as a more purposefully political, sister-organization to the Tuesday Club. (Thereafter the Tuesday Club retreated to being once-more a primarily social and philanthropic organization. After a 117-year run, the Club disbanded in 2014.)
Woman’s Council’s Constitution
The Council was an immediate success. The log of its early activities report win-after-win in early Sacramento’s rough-and-tumble politics. For example, in 1904 the Council proposed and helped pass a bond to create a high school. In 1905, the Council successfully petitioned for the city hospital to hire a receiving matron. In 1906, the Council convinced the city to add name plates to every street in the city.
Luella was president of the Woman’s Council from 1907 through 1909. These were energetic and successful years. Contemporary Council log books report that, “again and again,” local elected officials, business associations, and neighborhood organizations asked the Council to “plan and promote campaigns for City improvements,” including street electrification, installing public drinking fountains, adding residential mailboxes, working on city canals, and building a public swimming pool.
The Council pushed the city administration to be more modern and to professionalize. For example, in 1907, at Luella’s instigation, the Council brought University of Chicago professor Charles Zueblin to Sacramento to deliver lectures on the new science of city planning. His lectures enthralled the business community and launched Sacramento’s “modern period of city planning” as a succession of planners were hired to map out the future of different city neighborhoods. (For his efforts Zueblin, for a time, became known as the “father of Sacramento’s civic planning.”)
But of all Luella’s accomplishments with the Council, she was personally proudest of having convinced the city’s schools to require the teaching of “manual training” (e.g. woodworking) and “domestic science” (e.g. cooking) courses to all children. A former teacher, Luella viewed education as her lifelong calling. This was a sweet victory: she had been advocating for practical education since 1901, when, under her presidency, the Tuesday Club launched a free girl’s cooking class to, in her words, “further the education of women for the responsibilities of life.”
Single Mom & Businesswoman
Alfred had passed away in 1906, just prior to Luella’s Council presidency. The Governor, Secretary of State, and State Printer all closed their offices for a day in his honor. At age 45, Luella became a single mom of five children, three of whom were still minors.
She also became the head of the A.J. Johnston printing empire, undoubtedly one of the few women in the city actively running a major company.
It’s hard to imagine how someone could find the time to be a single mother, executive, and civic reformer with only 24 hours in a day. I get the sense that Luella simply felt she had no other choice: there was too much that needed to be done.
The Fight of a Generation: Women’s Suffrage
Postcard: “California [Was] Next” (sent 1918)
1911 had the potential to be a life-altering year for California’s women and Luella was not going to sit it out. For the second time, the men of California would be deciding whether or not to give women the vote.
A decade and a half prior, in 1896, California voters (all men) voted down a proposed amendment to the state constitution which would have granted women the right to vote in state and local elections. The campaign for women’s suffrage had fared particularly poorly in major cities in the northern half of the state, including Sacramento where 60% voted against. Saloonkeepers and liquor interests, influential in working class areas, had staunchly opposed the initiative, fearing (correctly, as it turns out) that enfranchised women might push for prohibition.
Success in California in 1911 would be a springboard for a national constitutional amendment to secure for women the right to vote in all elections. A second defeat might devastate the movement.
Recognizing the need to reverse the vote in the northern cities, state suffrage organizations reached out to the Woman’s Council to co-lead the campaign in Sacramento. According to late Sacramento historian Dian Self, Luella was a “leader of the get-out-the-vote effort” for the campaign. The Council allocated funds for outreach and conducted an extensive persuasion campaign: it included street oratory, sending speakers to church groups and civic clubs, placing campaign materials in storefronts, distributing handbills to homeward-bound schoolchildren, house-to-house canvassing, and concerted lobbying of labor unions.
In the evening of October 10, 1911, the polls closed. They had done it: women had won the franchise. Sacramento County voters, reversing their prior opposition, voted 52% in favor.
The women of Sacramento had once again shown their political muscle, but this time in direct political campaigning. It was experience that would soon come in handy.
A Singular Moment: Progress Seizes Sacramento
Late 1800s to early 1900s California politics were dominated by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The “SP” was one of the most powerful economic forces in the state. It had an interstate rail monopoly in Northern California and jealously guarded this prize against competition or government regulation. Politicians were greased to support the railroad’s interests, and opposed them at their peril. As one late nineteenth century journalist wrote,
it didn’t matter whether a man was a Republican or Democrat. The Southern Pacific Railroad controlled both parties, and he either had to stay out of the game altogether or play it with the railroad.
By 1901, author Frank Norris nicknamed the railroad the “Octopus” because its tentacles of influence reached to every area of the state. “The Southern Pacific,” notes the Economist, “bribed and cajoled legislators, judges, journalists and mayors.”
The Wasp Cartoon (1882)
This included Sacramento local politics, where the SP was particularly influential. Sacramento was strategically important to the railroad. The SP’s sprawling Sacramento railyards employed more than 2,000 workers and, per local historian William Burg, “produced everything from hand tools to full-sized steam locomotives and was the main repair and supply facility for Southern Pacific’s national system.”
City Hall at the time was controlled by a political patronage machine lead by Mayor Marshall “Boss” Beard and Councilman Edward Carraghar. Both were firmly in the railroad’s pocket. In 1907, for example, the council thwarted an effort by the Western Pacific to build a new rail line into the city which had threatened the SP’s monopoly.
However, across the state and in Sacramento, the tide was beginning to turn against the Southern Pacific. Hiram Johnson, a Sacramento native, was elected governor in 1910 promising to curtail the power of the railroads and to move the state forward “calmly, coolly, pertinaciously, unswervingly and with absolute determination, until the public service reflects only the public good and represents alone the people.” The Progressives, as they came to be known, swept into power in 1911 and enacted a series of wide-ranging reforms intended to blunt the SP’s power.
Locally, Progressives were also riding a string of victories. They had recently passed a referendum, over the Council’s objections, to let the Western Pacific into the city. And, although they had failed to defeat Beard and Carraghar in the last election, they had passed a new city charter, significantly changing the structure of Sacramento city government and its elections.
1912 would be the first election under the new charter, and the Progressives, mobilized as the “Municipal Voters’ League,” were eager to evict the SP cronies who had held office for so long. “The question” for voters, wrote the sympathetic Sacramento Bee, “is between the forces of the Machine and the forces of Good Government.”
Block-by-Block: The 1912 Campaign
Map of Sacramento (1913)
The 1912 election was marked by many firsts. In descending order of importance, this was the first city election that:
Women could vote in.
Included the newly annexed suburbs of East Sacramento, Highland Park, and Oak Park.
Would be held under Sacramento’s new charter, which created a five-member council with greatly expanded executive powers.
Add to that another first: Luella was the first candidate that year, man or woman, to pull candidacy papers for city council.
Suffragettes had sometimes run for office, for example Mayor, Governor, or President, to make a rhetorical point about gender inequality; these were half-hearted campaigns at best because they had no delusions of actually winning. Luella’s was not.
Her whole life had prepared her for this moment. On paper, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect candidate: leading citizen, business owner, former president of two of the city’s largest civic organizations, accomplished reformer, and conversant in all the major municipal issues.
Perfect, of course, except for her gender. One Bee story reported the difficulty she was having in overcoming the “peculiarity of some male temperaments – they will not admit that a woman has brains enough to hold public office.” Like many women before and since, Luella would repeatedly have to justify her intrusion into the male world. “My interests in civic questions has taken me out of the usual lines,” she once acknowledged, “for I have worked on the clear water problem, levee improvement, economy of administration, fire protection and general civic issues of importance to the whole city.”
Her stump speech centered on eternal political themes; it could just have easily been delivered in 2012 instead of 1912. She pitched herself as a law-and-order candidate, citing public safety as her top priority and pledging firm enforcement of all city laws (a possible allusion to unenforced bans on gambling and prostitution). She told the Union that bolstering the Sacramento River and American River levees must “come before every other consideration.” (Still an important cause today.) Her platform encompassed many issues, reflecting how attuned she was to the municipal challenges of the day. She campaigned on municipal ownership of utilities; developing William Land’s land gift as a great park; and adopting the latest reforms in public education.
Finally, to the city’s women, she promised to “do all in my power and within my province to maintain the laws bettering the condition of women, and will bend every effort in that direction.”
The Municipal Voter’s League quickly endorsed her, praising both her civic accomplishments and her “marked executive and constructive ability and well-balanced judgment.” The Women’s Council also publicly endorsed her, then promptly held a tea party with “fashionable gowns and picture hats” to begin registering women to vote. Campaigning can be fun. The Sacramento Bee, a vocal enemy of the incumbent council, lavished her campaign with positive coverage, praising Luella “as a woman of progressive ideas and sound judgment, level-headed and full of energy.”
Complementing and perhaps dwarfing these endorsements was Luella’s own formidable organizing prowess. She assembled a “Women’s Precinct Organization” to run her campaign and drive newly enfranchised women to the polls. Sixty-four women – a veritable campaign army, even by today’s standards – enlisted as precinct captains for her campaign. On election day, her volunteers staked out polling stations to hand out endorsement cards and organized automobile house calls to bring women to the polls.
And go to the polls they did. The Sacramento Call reported that “the big vote in the residence district was due largely to the fact that the women got out in force.” Female turnout exceeded expectations. One poll-worker joked to the Sacramento Union that women were only voting for the free car rides; a female voter overheard him and “immediately emerged from the [voting] booth, went up to the clerk, took him to task for his remarks and demanded an apology. … That ended the talk about joy riding for the afternoon.”
With the dust settled and the votes tallied, the Municipal Voters’ League’s slate had prevailed with a clean sweep. Luella was elected. It was a stunning victory for local Progressives and the city’s women. As one paper effused,
The women of this city have taught the men a lesson in practical politics. By organizing a machine of their own, they routed the professional politicians, defeated all five candidates put up by the Southern Pacific Machine … and swept into office the five commissioners of their own choosing. … Among them is Mrs. Luella B. Johnston, head of the women’s machine…
Sacramento Bee Cartoon (1912)
An Historic Win
Luella was the first woman elected to the Sacramento City Council. More than that, “Mrs. Johnston is the first woman elected to city office in the state,” reported the San Francisco Call. (While records are sparse, she may even have been the first woman elected to the city council of any major American city.)
Luella was not the first woman elected to public office in California; but I would argue her election was of greater societal importance than her predecessors. Prior to 1912, women were prohibited from running for all state and local offices except one: women were permitted to run for (but not vote in) elections for county education offices. (For example, Sacramento County’s first female Superintendent of Schools was Minnie O’Neil, elected in 1907.) This accommodation was, however, sexist in its own way, reflecting contemporary gender norms that women should be the primary caretakers and educators of children.
What Luella and Sacramento had done was something new.
For the first time, the voters entrusted a woman with general governmental power.
It was the start of a new era.
The Recently Completed City Hall (photo circa 1912)
Stayed tuned in the coming weeks for Part II, where I continue my short biography of Luella by examining her first year in office.
In putting together this account of Luella’s life and 1910s Sacramento I drew heavily on, and am indebted to, the following sources:
Parking “modernization” as a concept has raised eyebrows and sometimes scorn. Although presented by some as something of a free lunch (‘No New Taxes!’) in funding the Arena, the reality is that we are paying for that truly wonderful building through increased regular garage and meter rates as well as expanded operating hours and greatly increased rates during Kings games and other major events.
This was the plan our elected representatives agreed to, for better or for worse. I have found evening parking to be a pain (on the rare occasion this father of a toddler has needed it), especially theextended 2 hour enforcement. I also appreciate that funding the arena through parking revenue was a reasonably effective strategy to primarily raise revenue from the individuals who benefit from the arena itself and from surrounding developments. Moreover, it is likely the only strategy that could force regional users to pay and not allowing them to free ride on the City, as they so often are able to do.
Still, there are few things more upsetting in the moment, than returning to your car to find that you had inadvertently left it in a 2 hour zone or metered spot a little too long.
As frustrating as tickets are for those of us parking for short periods downtown before returning to our wide open residential neighborhoods, for many central city residents they are practically a way of life. Dodging street sweeping days and finding parking within the small area your residential permit covers is a challenge for lower income resident who aren’t able to afford off-street parking. Moreover, these are among the folks least likely to attend expensive games or concerts at the arena. This leads to a reasonable worry: does more difficult street parking increase costs for the folks least able to afford it? (It’s worth noting that Councilman Hansen points out that this would violate state law.)
Allaying these concerns, we find that year over year (YoY) revenue from citations has declined an average of almost 3-1/2 percent over the first third of 2017. This follows average declines of 2 percent in 2016. This suggests the City of Sacramento has not been padding its revenue and funding for the arena through increased parking enforcement; in fact, (to a small degree) the opposite has happened. Perhaps attention paid to the issue has made parkers more careful. Alternately, having more time of the week to enforce may have left the City’s 49 parking enforcement officers (the number has remained steady since at least 2013-14) spread thin. Regardless of the reason, citation revenue has been in decline the past two years.
Despite the small dip in citation revenue, overall parking “modernization” has proven fruitful for the City. Forecasting the last third of the months based on average YoY in 2017, we see revenue up over 15 percent from last year, which represented a 13 percent increase on 2015. This followed a dip in garage revenue (presumably) due to the closure and demolition of the mall and the parking structure beneath it. Over the last two years, garage revenues have nearly returned to pre-demolition levels, with the net increase in revenue driven by parking meters. In fact, the net increase over pre-arena parking levels exceeds required arena financing cash flow by 50 percent.
“I never quit until I get what I’m after. Negative results are just what I’m after. They are just as valuable to me as positive results.”
Too often in research and journalism only the sexy outcomes that show surprising or upsetting outcomes get published. They make the news and drive the eyeballs but, frequently, misrepresent the overall truth.
In this case, the City seems to be doing a good job delivering the system it promised. It also did a good job in relatively promptly providing the data underlying this article. So with that, I will tip my proverbial hat, and thank the City for a job well done.
As a lobbyist for a variety of industries, I have to admit that working within the cannabis space is thrilling. It is not often that one gets an opportunity to actively influence an entirely new sector, particularly when so much is happening so quickly.
And it can be kind of a whirlwind to understand if you’re not immersed in it.
At this point, most folks are aware that the people of California legalized recreational cannabis with the passage of Proposition 64 last November. What they may not be aware of, however, are the deliberative steps the City of Sacramento has been taking to ensure that it’s done right — and they’re doing a lot.
Let’s start with how we got here.
The medical sale of cannabis to qualified patients has been legal for quite some time, 21 years in fact. The industry was left largely unregulated during those years, and it wasn’t until 2015 with the passage of a package of bills entitled the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) that a more formalized regulatory structure was put in place. These laws set forth the requirements for everything from packaging and labeling, to taxation, to what licenses are available including dispensaries, distributors, and cultivators. Then Proposition 64 passed in 2016, and suddenly the state, cities, and counties were handed a very tight timeline to figure out how to regulate recreational weed too.
Now, it’s 2018 or bust.
According to the law, California has until January 1, 2018 to develop a process for licensing both medical and recreational cannabis businesses. In the last few months, the Governor and Legislature passed two bills that helped streamline the process. The first combined medical and recreational laws into one in order to avoid duplicative work and inefficiencies (there’s really no need for two separate processes). The second clarified the issues that remained unaddressed in the first, such as whether or not businesses can sell both medical and recreational cannabis in the same location (they can).
Now that these laws are in place, the agencies in charge of creating the detailed regulations – such as how much cannabis you can sell to one person, or how much security you’re required to have – are fiercely writing away to ensure those are in place before January of next year. So, we’re all good, right? Seems like the work is underway and we can all go buy special brownies to celebrate in January…well, not exactly.
This makes things very, very complex if you’re a business that’s hoping to operate statewide. The law requires that you submit proof of local authorization (i.e. that you’re allowed to be there) in order to obtain a state license. That is a huge road block considering many local governments haven’t even begun the process of deciding whether or not they will allow cannabis sales, and many more are waiting to see what others do first.
Luckily for us, the City of Sacramento is not waiting, they’re leading.
Sacramento’s Cannabis Czar (more formally known as the Chief of Cannabis Policy and Enforcement), Joe Devlin, has no enviable job. While simultaneously waiting for the state to determine their rules, the city has also been charting its own path into the unknown, and there’s no guide book. Sacramento currently has 30 storefront dispensaries (and that number is unlikely to change any time soon), and is accepting applications for both cultivation and manufacturing.
After months of community stakeholder meetings and hearings, they are set to develop plans for delivery and distribution in the coming months, and may even hold discussions for on-site consumption and the potential of “cannabis cafes” as soon as early 2018. These are “high times” (pun intended) for the industry, city officials, consumers, and city coffers alike. Dispensaries alone brought in millions of additional revenues last year.
So, I can buy recreational weed in January, right?
Nope, sorry. And there is no clear timeline for when that might happen. While the city is a leader in regulating medical cannabis, they are also taking precautions. It appears that city officials would prefer to finish laying out what the rules will look like for medical first before tackling the recreational market. So, while it is legal to consume cannabis without a doctor’s recommendation, the City of Sacramento will not be the place to buy legal recreational weed…at least any time soon.
Is it too late to get involved in the process?
Quite the opposite. There are still many opportunities to have your voice heard on the sale and use of cannabis in Sacramento. The city is currently holding community discussions in each council district, stakeholder meetings at city hall, and will vet each proposal through the law and legislation committee, budget and audit committee, and planning commission before being voted upon by the city council. The Planning Commission will be discussing delivery dispensaries, distribution, and background checks at their October 26th meeting, and those are expected to be voted on by the city council on November 21st.
Since the results of the presidential election, I’ve met a lot of Sacramentans who want to get more engaged in local politics and public policy. This is wonderful news! Generally, few people pay attention to what’s going on at City Hall, even though local decisions – be it on land use, policing, or street maintenance – have a very direct impact on residents’ day-to-day quality of life.
For example, a recent study by the Advancement Project found that only one-in-ten Californians contacted a public official in the past year; nine-in-ten Californians had not even attended a “meeting where political issues are discussed.”
That’s a lost opportunity for a number of reasons. First, citizen engagement can make a big difference at the city level. No really. In a recent survey of California city officials, over 80 percent agreed that “preferences emerging from public deliberation had an impact on final decisions.” I’ve witnessed and heard the same from councilmembers.
Equally important, if civically-minded citizens never show up, someone else will fill that vacuum. In the same survey, 76 percent of city officials report that public meetings are “typically dominated by people with narrow agendas.” Yikes.
Finally, civic engagement can be personally fulfilling! Again, really. Science even says so. Civic engagement, particularly when done with neighbors or as part of a group, builds community and can increase people’s sense of life satisfaction.
And, the good news is, in Sacramento it is especially easy for citizens to advocate for local policy change. So, as someone who works in the government transparency field, here’s my quick primer on how to make your voice heard at City Hall.
Meet Your Councilmember.
One of the very best ways to affect change is to speak directly with your councilmember. On any given day your average councilmember has dozens of policy issues jostling for their attention: a one-on-one conversation can elevate your issue above the noise. A 30-minute conversation can also cover more ground and leave a more lasting impression than a typical letter.
Unlike your congressperson or state legislator, who represent so many residents that substantive personal contact with constituents is near mathematically impossible, I’ve found Sacramento city councilmembers and their staff to be very accessible. Most are eager to have coffee with a constituent they have not had the opportunity to hear from before. To request a meeting, call (916) 808-5300 and ask to speak to your councilmember’s scheduler. Try and set things up at least two to three weeks in advance and understand they are doing their best to fit you into a very busy schedule. You will probably be asked to email over a one to two paragraph description of what you’d like to discuss to help make the meeting as productive as possible.
Sometimes councilmembers just will not have time to meet. Don’t get discouraged! Many councilmembers have community office hours or attend neighborhood meetings (often noticed in their newsletter, which you should sign up for!) where you’ll have an opportunity to speak with them without a formal meeting. In addition, each councilmember has two to three staff who advise them on policy matters: a meeting with staff can be equally valuable, especially because they will often have more time to consider your concerns.
Email your councilmember.
The fastest way to let your councilmember know what you think is to email or call them. Most councilmembers personally read the email you send them, unfiltered by staff, so this can be a very effective way of letting your direct representative know your concerns. Here is the official contact information for every councilmember:
What’s that — not sure who your councilmember is? Don’t worry, you are far from the first. The city has a helpful council district locator tool here. Simply enter your street address and the tool will spit out your district and councilmember!
Speak at a Council Meeting.
Most changes in city policy are decided by the city council at a public meeting. If the change is being done through a city ordinance, it will first have to be discussed at the city council’s Law & Legislation Committee (affectionately called “L&L”), which vets policy changes before they go to the full City Council for a vote. With both City Council and L&L meetings, the public is given the opportunity to directly address decision-makers on any item before they vote.
The hardest thing is to know when an item you are interested in is coming before the council. City council and standing committee agendas are posted five days in advance on the city’s website. In this case, that means on Thursdays by 5:00 p.m. for both the City Council and L&L. Unfortunately, there is presently no way to subscribe to council agendas by email (RSS is available), so you either need to monitor the council’s agenda weekly or, if there’s a particular upcoming issue you are interested in, ask your councilmember or the city clerk when they expect that issue to come before the council.
You must appear in person to speak at a meeting. The city council generally meets weekly on Tuesdays at 5:00 p.m. in the New City Hall council chambers, located at 915 I St. The Law & Legislation Committee typically meets every second and fourth Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. also in council chambers. The city clerk maintains an up-to-date calendar of council and standing committee meeting dates online.
To comment, you must first complete a speaker slip and hand it to a city clerk staffer who will be conspicuously seated at a desk on the left side of the room, in front of the council dais. Speaker slips and pencils are available on a counter at the back of the city council chamber. However, you can also download, print, and complete a speaker slip at home and bring it to the meeting. The most important thing is to look up the item number you want to speak on in the agenda and mark it on your speaker slip; otherwise the city clerk will not know when to call you up to speak. If you are at all confused, there are lots of staff around who are happy to help.
When you are called, you will have two minutes to speak. A timer on a screen in front of you will count down the time you have left. Once your time is up, you need to quickly wrap up your comment in about 5-10 seconds or the meeting chair may cut you off. Remember that council meetings can drag on late into the night and it’s hard to predict when an agenda item will come up … be prepared to wait a few hours and bring a good book!
Submit a Written Comment.
Another way to get your views before the council at a meeting is to submit an electronic comment. The “eComment” feature is conveniently located next to where the agendas are posted. Simply click on the eComment button, scroll down and select the agenda item you wish to comment on, and then write your message. Electronic comments are made available to councilmembers at the dais as agenda items come up. Because it is fully electronic, you can even submit an eComment up to 15 minutes before the start of the meeting and it will be included as part of the official record.
eComment presently only accommodates 1,000 characters of text (or about 7 tweets), so keep your comment pithy.
Join a Group!
As the saying goes, there is strength in numbers. There are many groups that are active in trying to make the City a better place. Joining a group is a good way to become aware of what’s going on, be a part of a community, and effectuate change. There are so many groups out there for people of every political stripe, here are just a few your Sacramentality Team are proud members of:
League of Women Voters: For the past few years I have been a member of the local chapter, which works to promote honest, ethical, and transparent government. We recently partnered with the City Council and Common Cause (where, full disclosure, I work!) to create a City Ethics Commission, Ethics Code, and Redistricting Commission — one of the most significant local governance reform packages in the state.
Local Democratic Clubs: Sacramento is a Democratic town, and as the state capitol an especially political town. The County Party has a list of almost two dozen local Democratic clubs, many of which are active at the City level. For example, Caity is the Fundraising Director for the Fem Dems of Sacramento, which recently advocated for the City to take a closer look at its diversity practices to ensure its workforce is diverse and equitably paid.
Neighborhood Associations: Want to meet your neighbors, beautify your street, get speedbumps installed, and discuss the City’s crime prevention strategy? The City has dozens of neighborhood associations across the City that do just that each year. Associations tend to have close relationships with councilmembers and can be good catalysts for change. For example, Devin co-founded and is a board member of the Pocket-Greenhaven Community Association, where he has hosted a number of community events and advocated for funding for community priorities.
As this short list indicates, there are so many ways to be civically active in our City. How are you civically active in Sacramento?
Is there a tip that should have made this list? Let us know in the comments below.
I was born here in California. We were not wealthy, but my parents had adequate economic opportunities available to them to provide for our family, I had good schools available to me and the community was reasonably safe (although anyone complaining about crime today must have forgotten the early/mid 1990s). Today I have a very good job. My neighborhood has excellent schools and is the safest in the city (more on that later). I have no reason to go anywhere. I love my son more than anything in the world and I cannot imagine how I would feel if I were unable to provide a good life and good opportunities for him here in Sacramento.
I worked hard and made (mostly) good decisions along the way. I have faced and overcome some adversity. But most of my success can be attributed to having born to educated (white) parents in the greatest place in the world. I feel incredibly blessed.
Many have not been so lucky. Their situations were so dire, they made the choice to leave behind the only life they’ve ever known, to risk everything in hopes of giving their families a better life. All because of the luck of the draw of where and when they happened to be born. Some were forced to flee their homes because of violence and economic ruin driven by the drug cartels that thrive because of American demand and our failed War on Drugs. I cannot imagine what it is like to live that why. I cannot imagine facing the choice that Aaron Sorkin so perfectly described:
With the clothes on their backs, they came through a storm. And the ones that didn’t die want a better life. And they want it here. Talk about impressive. – President Bartlet
43 million American residents were born somewhere else, tackling either enormous bureaucratic challenges or a border with 20 thousand agents patrolling it. Impressive. About one-in-four (11 M) are undocumented. Most came as adults, some were brought by their parents as children. About one-in-ten (1.1 M) of the undocumented population were eligible for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, allowing these Dreamers to live and work without fear of deportation, in two year increments. About four-in-five (790k) of the eligible Dreamers are currently enrolled, including 223 thousand in California and 8 thousand in Sacramento. (Author’s estimate: Local data has not been updated publicly since the first year of the program, but California’s statewide proportion has remained steady, so it seems likely that Sacramento’s share has as well. This estimate is based on that assumption.)
Our region is lucky to have them. Allowing Dreamers to work could be worth $200 billion to $400 billion nationally over the next ten years, which translates to $2 to 4 billion in Sacramento (Author’s estimate: Assuming a proportional share). In discussing the lower estimate, the conservative CATO Institute wrote that the estimate “is driven by the fact that the ‘Dreamers’ tend to do well in school and as a result do well in the job market after they complete their education.”
Of Sacramento’s 8,000 Dreamers, about 1,000 are currently enrolled and doing well at Sacramento State (A university known for advancing its students economic prospects). Those students will be allowed to continue to attend school and California, which will continue to charge them in-state tuition because that is simply the right thing to do. But without DACA they will no longer be allowed to work legally. Funding college these days is hard enough. Telling students they cannot work and earn the money they need to pay tuition is simply heartless.
Just as I cannot imagine having to make the choices these Dreamers’ parents had to make, I also cannot imagine the challenges these students must be facing or the fear of returning to the shadows or facing deportation. I have had too privileged of a life for that.
Even so, I hope to be able to help. I am asking friends, my fellow alumni and the Sacramento community to join me in making a contribution to Sacramento State’s Dreamer Resource Center. The Center provides a wide variety of legal, academic, personal and financial support to Dreamers at Sac State.
Please join me and tell these students that you have their back. Tell these students that all of the hard work they have put into succeeding in school and making it to college was not for nothing. Tell these students that you believe in their American Dream.