Who’s paying income taxes in Sacramento?

The Los Angeles Times recently published an article pointing out the disproportionate share of state income taxes paid by our millionaire and billionaire friends that can still afford to live in Silicon Valley.  This got me wondering how the map looks here in Sacramento. While our region does pay quite a bit less than the Silicon Valley, the four counties considered do add up to nearly $3 billion dollars. (Caveat: this data is based on zip codes, which do not perfectly align to geopolitical boundaries, so modest variation may exist)

Sacramentality-CAIncomeTaxbyZip2017DMLThe top taxpayers in our region are concentrated in El Dorado Hills ($170 million), Folsom ($163 million) and Granite Bay ($120 million). Granite Bay tops the region in effective tax rate, paying 7.4% of Adjusted Gross Income in state income tax. El Dorado Hills pays 6.1% and Folsom, a “relatively paltry” 5.0%.

Among zip codes with a significant population, Arden’s 95864 pays the second highest effective tax rate at 7.3%. It is nestled in just behind Granite Bay in total tax payments at $110 million. Neighboring Carmichael (95608) and Fair Oaks (95628) rank sixth and seventh in total tax payments — and we see a clear concentration of wealth emerging in these river and lake adjacent suburbs.

Within the City of Sacramento, my own 95831, primarily encompassing the Pocket-Greenhaven neighborhood, is the top tax-contributing zip code, topping $72 million in 2017. Several core zip codes do pay higher effective tax rates, but have fewer taxpayers.

Enjoy playing with the data visualization — hover over zip codes in the map to get the full details — and let me know any takeaways you notice in the comments!

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Comic Book Ban Update!

Comic Ban 2.pngA few weeks ago, I published a post on old and odd Sacramento laws that, decades later, are still technically on the books. One of the most surprising was a 1949 ban — never repealed — on selling crime-fighting comic books to minors.

Well, last Tuesday Councilmember Hansen asked the Law and Legislation Committee to review this provision of the Municipal Code for potential clean-up, which bodes well for young comic book lovers across our city.

The story was picked up in a great little piece by CBS 13 News, and features your own humble editor — check it out here!

 

Rent Is Too Damn High in Sacramento

I don’t think there are many who would argue that Sacramento has not been hit hard by a statewide housing crisis. Indeed, the city had the third-highest overall rental increase in the nation in 2017 – and that has not gone unnoticed by its citizens. Unaffordable rents, compounded with stagnant and eroding wages and overwhelming student loan debt, among other factors, have left people of all ages (particularly young people) screwed…for lack of a better term.

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They’re pissed and ready to do something about it, too.

At the state level, one such effort is a ballot measure that will be voted on in November. If passed, the initiative would overturn the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, passed in 1995. The law essentially makes it difficult for cities and counties to enact rent control policies in the state. While for some the jury is still out on whether or not rent control makes a meaningful impact for renters in the long-term, it is a clear sign that renters are ready for relief now.

There is also an effort at the local level in Sacramento called the Sacramento Renter Protection and Community Stabilization Charter Amendment. Pushed by a coalition of tenant rights organizations called Housing 4 Sacramento, as well as Organize Sacramento, this measure would, among other things, provide financial support for renters who are displaced, limit what landlords can evict tenants for, and cap rent hike percentages per year. Mayor Steinberg has openly opposed the rent control initiative, but has proposed his own plan which includes raising the sales tax a full cent, creating a rent stabilization fund for displaced renters, and encouraging more development.

So, this begs the question of who’s protecting the interests of renters in Sacramento.

There’s the Sacramento Housing Alliance, which according to their website, “advocates for safe, stable, accessible, and affordable homes in the Sacramento region”. The organization’s priorities include fighting for affordable housing for veterans and homeless individuals, as well as advocating for the local rent control effort.

There’s also the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, which “was created to ensure the ongoing development of affordable housing and to continuously fuel community redevelopment projects in the city and county of Sacramento”. The organization helps develop and fund affordable housing opportunities and maintains rental assistance programs, among other things.

And then there’s CADA, which develops and maintains affordable housing units for renters in Sacramento. According to their website, they are the largest affordable housing developer in the central city and focus on sustainable, transit-oriented, community-minded dwellings. In many ways, CADA is its own animal in that it “is tasked with meeting challenging government mandates in a business model closely paralleling a private real estate management and development company.” This model includes having at-will rather than civil service employees, maintaining competitive market rate housing to help fund investment into affordable housing, and cultivating public-private partnerships.

Anecdotally, I have heard from many of my peers just how difficult it is to make it onto the CADA waitlist, which apparently has been impacted for years. This is no surprise as the demand for such units has increased dramatically.

Over the years organizations like CADA have faced many challenges, including the dissolution of California’s redevelopment agency, which has led to decreased funding to build and manage projects. Despite the growing demand for affordable housing, they are often left to make difficult financial decisions in order to continue moving forward.

One such decision occurred recently at a July 19th CADA board meeting, where the board voted to sell one of their properties to the development firm Cresleigh Homes. The project on the corner of N & 14th streets will not only displace current tenants within the 30 units to be torn down, it would allow the developer to sell 32 1-bedroom units for $748 per sq. ft. ($608k/avg per unit), 53 2-bedroom units for $443 per sq. ft. ($964k/avg per unit), and two 3-bedroom units for $347 per sq. ft. ($1.875mil per unit).

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On its face, such a decision appears to directly contradict the public need by demolishing currently available affordable rental housing in lieu of pricey market-rate homes for sale; however, accordinging to the staff analysis, this will “satisfy CADA’s the long-held strategic goal of providing more home-ownership opportunities in the Capitol Area”. We can only hope the revenues generated from such a deal will eventually provide more affordable rental units for not only those who will be displaced, but those in need who have yet been able to access.

More broadly, it is imperative that state and local governments work together to develop long-term solutions and re-invest in bolstering the housing supply. It is a complex issue that involves the intersection of everything from local zoning ordinances to environmental impact assessments, and of course, finding the money needed to make it happen. I defer to those much smarter than I on the right solutions – but it is clear that the timing is now for the well-being of Sacramento and California as a whole.

We’re in a housing crisis, after all.

Happy 4th of July!

We hope you are having a wonderful time surrounded by family and friends.

We know many of our friends around Sacramento may not be feeling especially patriotic these days, but we choose to celebrate anyway, because as our 18th President (That’s a West Wing reference, you’re welcome.) reminded us:

TRSacramento“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”
― Theodore Roosevelt (Did you know he gave a speech in Sacramento? The Mayor he refers to in the speech was George H. Clark.)

Or as Mark Twain put it:

“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”

Most important, enjoy your celebrations safely:

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Showdown at the Shops: The 1894 Pullman Strike

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Guest Post by William Burg

On July 4, 1894, two companies of Sacramento militia, bayonets at the ready, faced three thousand strikers at the Southern Pacific passenger depot on Second and H Street, main entrance to the Southern Pacific Shops. The soldiers, all Sacramento residents, stared down their rifles at neighbors, friends, family and coworkers. Their orders were to retake the Shops from the American Railway Union (ARU) strikers, by force if necessary. A third company of Sacramento militia had refused orders and remained at the armory. The strikers, unarmed, had only their bodies to stop the militiamen. “You wouldn’t put that steel through me, would you, Bill?” said one striker to his brother in uniform. “Go ahead, Jack; jab your bayonet through me, and make your sister a widow,” said another. “Go ahead boys, and run us through, we might as well die here as to starve.”

California_National_Guardsmen in Capitol Park

California National Guardsmen in Capitol Park

The Sacramento militia commander, Brigadier General Timothy Sheehan, considered the situation. Behind him were San Francisco guardsmen, exhausted after an overnight trip to Sacramento, poorly fed, and entirely unused to Sacramento’s scorching summer heat. In front of his soldiers were strikers unwilling to yield. And on July 4, any random firecracker could be misinterpreted as a gunshot, setting off a bloodbath. Upon his arrival at the Shops, he saw that the strikers included women and children, even babies, and an atmosphere that seemed more like a picnic than a strike, until his soldiers arrived with fixed bayonets. Sheehan asked strikers to disperse. Major Harris Weinstock, partner in the Weinstock & Lubin department store and Sheehan’s executive officer, repeated the command. The strikers answered in chorus, “You can never enter here unless you do so over our dead bodies.”

The nerve of the militia broke first. Some unloaded their weapons, or even handed their rifles to the strikers. Another company from Stockton retreated to nearby shade, accepting an offer by ARU strikers of iced lemonade (the entire unit was later dishonorably discharged and imprisoned.) Sheehan reported the situation to his superior officer, who turned command over to U.S. Marshal Barry Baldwin. Baldwin dispatched the Sacramento companies to guard the bridges over the Sacramento and American rivers, and climbed atop a locomotive cab, hoping to persuade the strikers with force of oratory where arms had failed, to no avail. The Shops workers cheered as the soldiers returned to the armory at Sixth and M Street, but their victory was short-lived.

Strikers jeer US Marshall Barry Baldwin

Strikers jeer US Marshall Barry Baldwin

The struggle at the Shops began on June 28, 1894, spurred by events half a continent away, at the company-owned town of Pullman, Illinois, home of the Pullman Palace Car Company. Pullman’s patented “sleeper” passenger cars were synonymous with long-distance train travel and used on nearly every railroad. An 1893 depression brought on by railroad bankruptcies and resulting bank failures meant a dramatic drop in Pullman car sales. Pullman cut their employees’ wages by 30%. These wage cuts outraged workers. The company also refused to lower rent in their company-owned housing, and the cuts came just as stockholders received an 8% dividend. Pullman employees, members of the ARU, voted to strike and walked out on May 11, 1894.

On June 27, the strike was still unresolved, and ARU president Eugene V. Debs called on all members belonging to railroads west of Chicago to stop any train with Pullman-owned cars—in other words, nearly every passenger train. The ARU was a new union, founded in 1893 and not officially recognized by the railroads. Some railroad workers, including engineers, firemen and brakemen, already had their own unions, but many, including boilermakers, blacksmiths, and car builders, did not. The ARU was open to all railroad employees, attracting thousands of workers in cities like Pullman and Sacramento, who built or serviced railroad equipment but lacked union representation. In August 1893, the fledgling ARU forced the Great Northern Railway to roll back wage cuts, its first and only victory. The Pullman strike was the second major effort by the new union to exercise its strength, with dramatic results that stopped trains across half the continent.

In 1894, Sacramento was almost as much a company town as Pullman: Southern Pacific employed about one-third of the city’s workforce. SP traditionally had excellent labor relations, but the railroad was far less popular with the general public and the press, who objected to SP’s high rates and monopoly on California traffic. Sacramento Shops employees were not allowed to join existing railroad unions, so ARU membership became very appealing to local workers who sought the benefits that union membership brought their fellow railroad workers. The ARU’s success against Great Northern strengthened that appeal. By the 1890s, California was already one of the most urbanized and industrialized states in the country; only one-fifth of the state population was rural, and new immigration promoted enormous industrial growth in California’s cities, including Sacramento. Even the state’s agricultural resources were organized around industrial production rather than small family farms, using migrant labor on massive corporate farms called “factories in the field” by labor writer Carey McWilliams. The “Panic of 1893” and resulting depression meant many of these workers were unemployed or underpaid.

In April of 1894, only a few weeks before the Pullman strike, “Coxey’s Army,” sometimes called the Industrial Army or the Army of the Unemployed, had passed through Sacramento from the Bay Area on its way to Washington DC, intended as a national protest against economic inequality and unemployment. This group was still marching towards Washington when the Pullman strike started, but California business and government leaders were already alarmed by growing protest and labor unrest throughout the country.

Railroaders across the western United States joined in the boycott. The strike paralyzed railroad traffic across California, including Los Angeles and Oakland, but Sacramento was the hub of the California railroad network and had the largest representation of ARU members. About 2100 of the Shops’ 2500 workers joined the strike, part of an estimated 125,000 strikers nationwide, and hundreds of nearby ARU members came to Sacramento to join the strike. Its timing in deep summer, peak fruit packing season, meant that cars full of fresh fruit rotted on freight platforms and in stopped trains.

Strikers gained a propaganda coup when Jane Lathrop Stanford, widow of former Southern Pacific president Leland Stanford, was stranded in her private railroad car in northern California and wished to return home to San Francisco. She met with the strikers in Dunsmuir and received direct permission from Eugene V. Debs to run her train through Sacramento to her home. Crews decorated the train as a giant pro-strike banner, replacing “SP” (Southern Pacific) on the side of her car with “ARU” spelled out in flowers. Public opinion was swayed, more by antipathy to the railroad than support for the strikers.

Debs and the ARU offered to reopen traffic to non-Pullman trains, but Southern Pacific president Collis P. Huntington refused, and deliberately attached Pullman cars to every train. Huntington saw the chance to eliminate the union by breaking the strike, while compromise would further legitimize the ARU. SP vice-president Henry Huntington (Collis’ nephew) urged other railroad leaders to stand firm: “This is the first strike we have ever had here and as we are making history, [I] think we ought not to take a step backward and make such concession that we will hereafter regret them.”

Another method used by the railroad to avoid compromise was federal leverage. Since many trains included Railway Post Office cars, the strike interfered with the federal mail system. After convincing a U.S. District Court that it was impossible to operate any trains without Pullman cars, Collis Huntington asked for federal help to break the strike, on the grounds that interfering with mail delivery was a federal offense.

In Sacramento, this support came in the form of U.S. Marshal Barry Baldwin, who asked Governor H.H. Markham (marooned in Los Angeles by the strike) to call up the state militia. Troops quickly retook the railroads in Los Angeles, but Sacramento was a more daunting task. On July 3, Baldwin and his marshals tried breaking the strike with a group of deputies, assembling a train in the Southern Pacific yards intended to run through the blockade. Just as the train was assembled, strike leaders gave a pre-arranged signal and strikers rushed the train, disassembling it in a few minutes and thwarting Baldwin’s efforts. Railroad superintendents Wright and Heintzelman were physically removed by strikers when they attempted to start the locomotive. Baldwin tried to break through the crowd and draw his revolver, but was disarmed by strikers. After losing his sidearm, Baldwin gave up and left the depot in strikers’ hands.

Militia marching past Sixth and L Street

Militia marching passed Sixth and L Streets

Strike leaders disavowed violence, but behind the scenes strikers attacked scabs and skirmished with railroad supporters and police. In addition to the guns taken on July 4, strikers took arms from the Bersaglieri Guard, a local Italian militia organization with a small armory. Some thought that the Pullman strike might become the first wave of an armed revolution of Populists and union laborers against the federal government and private industry. Public support for the strike waned as these fears mounted. On July 7, the leaders of the ARU in Chicago were arrested, leaving the strike leaderless as federal forces gathered strength. President Grover Cleveland authorized regular Army troops to relieve the state militias, like the Sacramento soldiers who failed to fire on their friends and family when ordered to do so. More disciplined professional soldiers would have no such qualms.

On July 11, 800 U.S. Army troops arrived in Sacramento via the steamboat Alameda. Colonel Graham of the San Francisco Presidio led two troops of cavalry, five batteries of light artillery, six companies of marines, and one company of regular infantry. Marching up Front Street from the Y Street levee, gunfire was exchanged between strikers and militia, about fifty shots, but without significant casualties.

Soldiers bivouacked at SP Shops

Soldiers bivouacked at SP Shops

Upon arriving at the depot, the soldiers discovered the ARU had abandoned the Shops the previous night, so they secured the Shops and set up defensive positions. The strikers knew that federal troops would be harder to convince than local militia, and abandoned the Shops on the night of the 10th. The first train west left Sacramento for Oakland later that day, under heavy guard, but was derailed two miles before reaching Davis. Saboteurs had removed spikes and fishplates from the rails, causing a wreck that killed the train’s engineer and three soldiers. On the 13th, troops guarding a train were attacked by gunfire. The soldiers’ return fire killed one striker and wounded another. Popular opinion turned against the strikers in the wake of the sabotage, and by July 18, the Southern Pacific Railroad was back in operation and the Shops reopened. The next day, Debs telegraphed the strikers to open negotiations with the railroad, and the strike formally ended on July 22.

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Sabotaged train following Shops strike

During a month of occupation by federal troops, seven people were killed by sabotage or incidents attributed to vengeful soldiers. After the strike, Southern Pacific quietly fired ARU members and blackballed them from future employment. While the strike’s failure was a serious blow for organized labor, only steady nerves, the bonds of community, and perhaps luck prevented a bloody massacre at the entrance to the Southern Pacific Shops.

In the strike’s aftermath, Eugene V. Debs was sent to prison, despite an impassioned defense by Clarence Darrow, a former railroad lawyer who became a labor lawyer after his defense of Debs. Debs ran for President as a socialist, including one campaign run from his prison cell, and founded a new organization, the Industrial Workers of the World, in 1905. Henry Huntington, Collis’ nephew, moved to Los Angeles after the Southern Pacific board of directors did not make him the new board president following Collis Huntington’s death. Major Harris Weinstock was deeply affected by the events of the strike, and wrote a study on labor relations for the State of California, urging employers to negotiate with workers, improve worker conditions, and recognize their right to unionize. In reaction to the failure of local militias to retake the shops, California’s militia system was professionalized into the reorganized California National Guard, including a new Guard armory at Twelfth and X Street. The new Guard and armories were a direct response to labor unrest of this era, including the Pullman strike.

In The Incorporation of America, historian Alan Trachtenberg described the Pullman strike as the victory of corporate power over organized labor, a watershed moment in American labor. Sacramento’s Southern Pacific Shops became the West Coast’s greatest battlefield during that pivotal event in history.

Odd Sacramento Laws

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In ancient Rome, it was illegal to wear purple. Needless to say, that would not be a popular law in Sacramento Kings country. Times change, people change, and we expect the law to keep up.

And it usually does, except when it doesn’t. When you’re a city that’s more than a century old like Sacramento, a few oddities are bound to be lingering through inattention in the mustier pages of the city code.

So, out of curiosity, I decided to go spelunking to see just what I could find. Sacramento’s Municipal Code (SMC) did not disappoint. Here are the three most interesting artifacts I uncovered…

Comics Generally: No Laughing Matter

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Pictured: Not a violation of SMC 9.12.010 … yet.

Kerpow! Bang! Zing! Many young boys and girls love reading superhero comics. Judging by box office receipts, the exploits of Marvel and DC’s caped crusaders are fairly mainstream American entertainment these days. I mean, who doesn’t like catching up on the latest of Spider-Man’s amazing adventures, or Wonder Woman’s derring-do, or Black Panther’s virtuous acrobatics?

Well… the City of Sacramento, apparently.

According to Sacramento Municipal Code (SMC) Section 9.12.010,

“It is unlawful for any person to distribute … for use by persons under the age of eighteen (18) years any … comic book … which depicts… the crimes of arson, assault with caustic chemicals, assault with a deadly weapon, burglary, kidnapping, torture, mayhem, murder, rape, robbery, theft or voluntary manslaughter.”

That’s right, in Sacramento it is illegal to sell (or even give) a minor any superhero crime-fighting comic book. So if Batman and Superman, in the comic pictured above, were to leave the basketball court for one second to stop a bank heist … verboten! The law was enacted in 1949 to, of course, protect “children of tender years.”

Interestingly, Sacramento was ahead of the curve on this moral panic: by the 1950s, concerns that comics were corrupting the youth would lead to bans across the country and ultimately prompted the industry to self-regulate by adopting the Orwellian Comics Code, which censored the storytelling of the next several generations of comic writers and illustrators.

So, next time you’re stopping by Oblivion Coffee & Comics or Big Brother Comics, just know that you have entered a wretched hive of scum and villainy that should probably have bouncers at the entrance.

Misplaced Expectations on Expectorating

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Pictured: Gaston, upon reading SMC 9.04.040, probably.

Speaking of cartoons. Those of us who grew up in the 1990s, or raised children growing up in the 1990s, will remember Gaston, the cleft-chin villain of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast who is 90% pectoral muscles.

Girls: For there’s no one as burly and brawny…

Gaston: As you see I’ve got biceps to spare…

Lefou: Not a bit of him’s scraggly or scrawny…

Gaston: That’s right! And ev’ry last inch of me’s covered with hair!

Do you remember, though, his distinguishing talent that earned the admiration of the village ladies? He boasts, “I’m especially good at expectorating — Ptooey!” To which the crowd cheers, “Ten points for Gaston!”

Now, you may be thinking, expecto-what? Expectorating is a fancy way of saying “to spit.” And it’s illegal. So illegal.

That’s right. While Gaston’s ability to launch his saliva to great distances earned him the admiration of his peers in his “poor provincial town,” in Sacramento it would earn him a citation.

Specifically, SMC 9.04.040 provides that:

“No person shall expectorate … on any sidewalk in the city.”

This law, by the way, is ancient in city terms. I trace it at least as far back as 1896 in the city codes. (Necessary aside: demonstrating that Looney Tunes was really a PSA, another ordinance from that time, since repealed, prohibited throwing banana peels on the sidewalk!)

Spitting is of course unsightly, and might even be considered rude, but it seems pretty Victorian to prohibit what comes naturally to baseball players and 15 year-old boys. Obviously, Sacramento would not actually enforce this law.

Except that the City does! To my great surprise, from 2014 to 2016, the city issued five citations for expectorating. So, mind your Ps and Qs out there, and tell Gaston he’s probably better off staying in France.

Skee Ball: The Silent Killer

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Pictured: Pure, Unregulated Chaos without SMC 5.48.010.

You may be thinking at this point that old-timey Sacramento, when most of these laws were passed, did not want people to have any fun. You are correct.

Okay, okay, so Sacramento isn’t quite the town that banned dancing in Footloose, but we do require a lot of special licensing for recreational activities that don’t seem to pose any special health or safety risk. For example, does your business have a coin-operated pool table? That’s a ($700!) license (SMC 5.20.010). How about four or more arcade video games? You better believe that’s a license (SMC 5.12.010).

Some of these decades-old licensing statutes are delightfully hyper-specific. For example, did you know that it is illegal in Sacramento, per SMC 5.16.010, to practice, without a license, “the business or art of astrology, palmistry, phrenology, fortune-telling, cartomancy, clairvoyance, clairaudience, crystal gazing, mediumship, prophecy, augury, seership, or necromancy”? So remember kids, when you want to pay someone to help you talk to the dead, make sure you insist upon a city-licensed necromancer. Because quality matters.

But my favorite license required by the City of Sacramento is for the privilege of operating a skee ball machine (and other “mechanical amusement devices”). Skee ball is the popular arcade game where you roll balls along a curved ramp and try and get them to land in rings assigned with different point values. You know the one.

What tickles me is not so much that you need a license to have a skee ball machine, which is admittedly pretty odd in itself, but the strict regulations that licensed skee ball machines must conform to. Behold. Under SMC 5.48.010, it is illegal, in Sacramento, for any skee ball machine:

  • to give “the player, for actual play, only one ball;”
  • to charge more than “twenty-five cents” per game; and, the kicker,
  • to reward high-scoring players with “coupons or tickets.”

To review: one-ball skee ball? Illegal. Charging 50 cents for skee ball? Still illegal. Giving kids tickets for scoring 200+ points that they can turn in for erasers? Oh, most definitely illegal.

The Chuck E. Cheese animatronic rat is probably sweating right about now.

The skee ball law dates back to 1954; why it was needed, I’m not sure. But I choose to believe that a councilmember at the time visited a licensed crystal ball-gazer, who foretold of a dark future involving a dystopian children’s restaurant that enthralled the youth with ticket-spewing machines and singing giant animal cyborgs, and he said “not in my city, not on my watch.” (But, he failed, there’s a Chuck E. Cheese’s on Arden Way.)

The Lessons of Time

So, what to take away from all this? Well, first and foremost, don’t open that Old Sac Comics & Skee-Ball Fancy Arcade you’ve been dreaming of, the one with the period-appropriate sidewalk spittoons. Just a bad idea.

Second, City leaders might consider revising three sections of the Municipal Code…

But, third, we should all begin to think of policy obsolescence as a natural process and consider how to manage it. Sacramento is not unique in having some dated laws in its code. It could have been far worse. Just a few years ago, progressive-minded Oakland discovered that it still had a 131-year ban on cross-dressing on the city books.

The truth is that any city that’s more than a generation old is at risk of finding archaic, unhelpful, and/or deeply embarrassing laws in place. But even older laws that are not obviously out of step with the times deserve periodic revisiting, if only to ensure they are working.

One way to do this is to build studies and sunset dates into newly-enacted laws. This builds in a period of calm reflection, after whatever excitement caused the law to be enacted has passed. But, this approach is probably too administratively burdensome to put in place for every law; moreover, policy obsolescence often takes a generation or more, generally beyond any reasonable sunset date.

A more promising approach might be to mimic the state. California has a permanent Law Revision Commission whose mission is to review state statutes “for the purpose of discovering defects and anachronisms in the law and recommending needed reforms” to the Legislature. A local commission could take a deep dive into the SMC without the City Council itself having to devote inordinate time to the task. The city code is also much shorter than the state’s statute books, so a local commission might meet for just one out of every ten years. Some other California cities, like Roseville, have similar decennial commissions to study and suggest clean-ups to their city charter.

And just think, if we did set up a commission, it is entirely conceivable that kids could buy comic books in Sacramento by 2030!

 

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Skee ball image credit: Scott S

Sacramentality’s Summer Book Club

Alas, summer is upon us, the mercury is headed north and many of us are headed east to the mountains or west to the beach to escape Sacramento’s sometimes squelching heat. Since we will all need a book or two to read as we fly or drive to our destinations (or if we are instead staying home, to kill time while the networks are all on reruns), your friends at Sacramentality thought you might appreciate a recommendation or two, so we enlisted some of our friends, civic leaders from around Sacramento, to provide them. Feel free to share your thoughts and your own recommendations in the comment section and be sure to log your books at the Sacramento Public Library’s Summer Reading Challenge.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suziki

Robert Nelsen
President, Sacramento State

A closed mind, an expert’s mind, is not open to innovation and experimentation—a closed mind does what it has always does.  Today’s world’s problems cannot be solved doing what we have always done. We must be open to possibilities and to change.”

The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu & Douglas Abrams

MulvaneyJoyPatrick Mulvaney
Chef and Owner, Mulvaney’s B&L

“Two old friends talking about love and happiness. And needling each other at the same time, a great read.”

Channeling Patrick’s recommendation both Councilmembers Angelique Ashby and Eric Guerra say The Book of Joy is at the top of their summer reading lists.

The Wisdom of Sundays by Oprah Winfrey

Angelique Ashby
Councilmember, City of Sacramento

“The Wisdom of Sundays is my all time favorite inspirational book. I have read it many times, loaned it out, given it as a gift and recommended it to anyone who will listen. Each time I read it I imagine myself having coffee with Oprah and asking her tons of questions about what she has learned in all her interviews and experiences over the years. This book feels like advice from a friend. It’s inspiring and hopeful and honest. Easily my favorite reread.”

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Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis

Rivkah Sass
Executive Director, Sacramento Public Library

“The gods are at it again. Hermes and Apollo wonder if animals imbued with human intelligence and communication skills will be happier at life’s end or if that intelligence will simply lead to misery. Fifteen dogs in a veterinary clinic and readers everywhere are given the opportunity to find out.”

Good to Great by Jim Collins

Rhonda Staley-Brooks
Executive Director, Nehemiah Foundation & President Sacramento State Alumni Association

“My favorite book is authored by Jim Collins, Good to Great.  What is even better, there is a smaller version for us Do Gooders, Good to Great for Social Sectors!  Collins states ‘The difference between successful organizations is not between the business and the social sector, the difference is between good organizations and great ones.’”

Rhonda Books

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber

IMG-6287Isaac Gonzalez
Tahoe Park & YMCA Advocate/Gadfly

“I read this book once a year, because even though I work mostly in the non-profit space, there are many good practices and processes that successful businesses use to create efficiencies and scale up. High recommend it to anyone who feels like they’re working hard but not moving in a positive direction or encountering too many setbacks.”

Big Plans By Bob Shea

Joe Wagoner
Vice President, Sacramento Republic

“I have a five year-old daughter and seven year-old son. Most of my recreational reading revolves around ‘Big Plans’ By Bob Shea. In fact, that book was a contributing factor to the creation of Republic FC. That read is much more interesting than my numerous recommendations about sports business analytics!”

Although perhaps we are usually short on opinions, the Sacramentality team offered some recommendations of our own as well:

Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy by Tim Harford

Devin Lavelle
Parks Commissioner, City of Sacramento & Senior Researcher, California Research Bureau

“Light enough to consume at the beach before swimming, split into bites that can be enjoyed despite interruptions, Tim Harford tells the tale of how inventions as diverse as barbed wire, infant formula, double-entry bookkeeping, leaded gasoline and index funds have fundamentally transformed the world we live in in ways most could not imagine. Whenever I pick up this book, ideas begin simmering about the way different ingredients transformed the recipe that is modern life.”

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1984 by George Orwell

Caity Maple
Ann Land & Bertha Henschel Memorial Funds Commission Commissioner, City of Sacramento & Lobbyist, The Quintana Cruz Company

“Be eerily reminded of elements of the current political system, and keenly aware of our tendencies to follow rather than lead. A great read and reminder of the power of opening our eyes and taking a look around!”

The Great Thirst: Californians and Water: A History by Norris Hundley, Jr.

Kevin Greene
Ethics, Transparency & Good Governance, City of Sacramento

“The History of Water in California is the history of California. This is a fascinating, and surprisingly quick read at almost 800 pages, that thoroughly and clearly describes the water wars, (politically, legal and violent) and how water has shaped California and its population growth.”

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

Devin Lavelle
Father of Boys

As the author I’ll choose to exercise a point of personal privilege here and recommend a second book as well. Every night my oldest son Henry picks two books to read before bed. One he chooses frequently is The Lorax and I love that among the last words he hears before drifting to sleep many nights is, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

With that, I leave you with a short poem and my sincerest apologies to Dr. Seuss:

So catch! Cried Sacramentality, as we let something fall.
It’s a list of books.
The best books of them all!
Choose a new book. Read it with care.
Read it near water. Or in a room with conditioned air.
Read it online. Protect it from hackers that hack.
Then the autumn and all our wonderful weather
may come back.

 

Summer Book Club Supplement

In addition to her recommendation, Councilmember Ashby shared with us her entire summer reading list from last year, which we thought our readers might enjoy:

“My favorite summer read last year was First Women. I read this one over our family vacation along the California coast. It was fantastic. If you are at all curious about the type of relationships First Wives of our Presidents have with each other and with their staff and their husband’s staff, this book will be a delight.

The stack of books (plus First Women) is my summer reading list from last year. All are great. I recommend any of them – it just depends on what you’re looking for.

I like Nicholas Sparks when I want to read a love story or cry or disappear into fiction (I like Jennifer Weiner too for that purpose – but I didn’t read any of her books last year, probably because I have read most of her work already).

Calm is another great book to read and reread – it will help you feel relaxed (there is a companion meditation app to this book, also called Calm, that is a fantastic tool for slowing down and taking note of all that is happening in our lives).

Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is great (better than you might think). I am already a bit of a minimalist so this book speaks to me – but it’s worth a read if motivation to organize and reduce clutter are on your to do list.

Little Book of Lykke is a study into happiness across countries and communities with analysis of what makes neighborhoods happy. It’s interesting and full of creative concepts from across the globe. I enjoy these type of reads because they feed my desire to think beyond our current measures.

All of these books are good reads for different reasons. Each one fed my spirit in one way or another. Should you choose to take one in, I hope it does the same for you.”

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Love a Library!

Here at Sacramentality we love libraries. Not just because this author happens to work for the California State Library or because the Sacramento Public Library was integral to Nicolas’ Luella series, but because, quite frankly, libraries are great!

That is a statement that the large majority of American adults agree with … even if most of us haven’t set foot in one in the last year. The truth is, I probably went about six or eight years between public library visits, when I last needed to get some information from a journal for research I was doing for a prior employer, to a few years ago, when I rediscovered all of the amazing things libraries are doing, both here in Sacramento and around the state, and started to realize they are so much more than just books (cue argument with myself about whether the phrase “just books” is appropriate). But the transition did recently lead California State Librarian Greg Lucas to ask, “What the hell is a 21st century library?

Since this is National Library Week, we at Sacramentality thought we might take the opportunity to remind you, our loyal readers, of the many, many ways that libraries contribute to our community, a few fun examples brought to you by the letter H:

  • Hacker Lab
  • Hangout on rainy days
  • Home to amazing celebrations of Dr. Seuss
  • Homework helper
  • Hub for data literacy
  • Huddle-space for community non-profits
    (Geez, he’s really stretching the “H” theme with this one …)
  • Heart of their community:

If you want the most rocking community center ever, it’s already there. It’s the library. ~ State Librarian Greg Lucas

The truth is that libraries provide the infrastructure to help overcome the educational gaps that drive so much inequality in our country. Whether helping adults achieve high school diplomas, English proficiency & literacy or completely opening a child’s world:

MeasureBCalifornia’s libraries collectively hold 82.2 million items, including about 6.7 million at the City of Los Angeles, an additional 5.7 million at the County, 5.3 million in San Diego, 3.1 million in San Francisco and, several notches down the list, 1.2 million, here in Sacramento. What our library lacks in sheer size, though, it makes up for in quality, with the average item checked out 6 times per year, sixth most in the state and second among relatively large libraries! (It’s a good thing we passed Measure B, that’s money well spent!)

It is no wonder then, that the Sacramento Public Library was nominated for the Oscar of the library world, the National Medal for Museum and Library Service. While our wonderful Director Rivkah Sass may say, “being nominated again is an honor.”  And while we agree, “the nomination is validation of what the Library does for Sacramento, and that we continue to demonstrate excellence by opening new doors for the people in our community,” here at Sacramentality we cannot help but think that the Sacramento Public Library has not just earned the honor of nomination, but of bringing that medal home next month. Check out some of the great stories shared by dozens of folks from around Sacramento in the comments:

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My kids and I have fun, learn, read, and make new friends every time we visit our library! What a gift to those of us with young families, always looking for affordable, accessible, high-quality activities to do with our kids. Sacramento Public Library plays such a unique and irreplaceable role in our community. ❤️ #shareyourstory

So, dear reader, if like all of us at Sacramentality (along with most Americans), you love our libraries, I hope you will consider joining me in becoming a Friend of the Sacramento Public Library. For just $20 you can help support the great work the Friends do, expanding the collection, providing books to young readers and developing fun and educational programming for community members of all ages.

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Luella honored!

Luella Cover

Last month, I urged the City Council to rename the historic council chambers in the Old City Hall after Luella Johnston, the first woman elected to the Sacramento City Council (and, for that matter, the first woman to be elected to the city council of any major city in the United States).

This past Tuesday, the City Council did just that!

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The current Co-President of the League of Women Voters of Sacramento County and the past President of the Tuesday Club accepted the Resolution on Luella Johnston’s behalf.

The Resolution, authored by Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, recognizes Luella’s unique contributions to our city and unique place in women’s history. Amazingly, up until this Tuesday, there had never been any significant memorial honoring Luella in Sacramento.

March, appropriately, is National Women’s History Month. “Men and women have worked together to build this nation,” acknowledged the first Presidential Proclamation to establish this tradition, even though “too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.

Luella’s contributions, forgotten for more than a century, certainly fall into that category. Renaming the Old Council Chambers, in which she served, is a fitting way to right this oversight and to honor a rich history of women’s leadership in our city.

Thank you to Councilmember Ashby and the City Council for this beautiful gesture.

America’s First Councilwomen (Sacramento was First)

Luella Cover

I recently finished a series of posts on Luella Johnston, who in 1912 became the first woman elected to city council not only in Sacramento, but also in all of California. It seemed probable that she was also the first woman elected to the city council of any major U.S. city, but because there’s no list of first councilwomen this was difficult to confirm.

However, after researching for longer than I care to admit, and with the generous help from city clerks, librarians, and historical societies from across the nation, I am now ready to say with confidence that Luella… *drumroll* …WAS the first councilwoman of a major American city.

Luella Headshot circa 1912 - from Sac Union 1948 article

And pretty comfortably so. The median major city didn’t elect its first councilwoman until 1956, several generations later. The last city to do so was Newark in 1994, when voters elected Mildred Crump. Luella’s closest contender for the title of first was the fascinating Estelle Lawton Lindsey, whom Angelenos elected in 1915 and have been (falsely!) claiming as the first major city councilwoman ever since.

Since it was difficult to find the first councilwoman for each major city, I’ve decided to host the list here as a public service. Each councilwoman was identified as being first in either a secondary source (like a newspaper) or by a city official or librarian. However, I don’t doubt that some names were missed or that some dates are wrong. So please send any corrections my way to SacMentality@gmail.com and I will update the list!

A quick note on methodology. First, I only counted women elected in their own right to office, as opposed to appointed to fill a vacancy (but I did note the early appointees I came across). Second, I defined “major city” as the top 100 cities by population as of the 1910 census, which immediately preceded Luella’s 1912 election. Now, lest I receive complaints, technically at 45,000 residents Sacramento fell just short of being in the top 100 cities in 1910. However, in 1911, the City annexed three neighborhoods (Oak Park, East Sacramento, and Highland Park) adding around 20,000 residents to its population, placing it comfortably in the top 100 by Luella’s 1912 election.

 

The First Elected Councilwoman of Every Major U.S. City

# City State 1910 Pop. Year Name Notes
1 New York NY 4,766,883 1937 Genevieve B. Earle
2 Chicago IL 2,185,283 1971  Anna Langford
3 Philadelphia PA 1,549,008 1951 Constance Dallas
4 St. Louis MO 687,029 1943 Clara Hempelmann
5 Boston MA 670,585 1939 Mildred Harris
6 Cleveland OH 560,663 1985 Meta D. Thomas
7 Baltimore MD 558,485 1943 Ella Bailey
8 Pittsburgh PA 533,905 1956 Irma D’Ascenzo
9 Detroit MI 465,766 1950 Mary Beck
10 Buffalo NY 423,715 1972 Virginia Purdy
11 San Francisco CA 416,912 1921 Margaret Morgan
12 Milwaukee WI 373,857 1956 Vel Phillips
13 Cincinnati OH 363,591 1921 Dr. Bertha Lietze
14 Newark NJ 347,469 1994 Mildred Crump
15 New Orleans LA 339,075 1986 Peggy Wilson
16 Washington DC 331,069 1975 Polly Shackleton, Nadine Winter, and Willie Hardy
17 Los Angeles CA 319,198 1915 Estelle Lindsey
18 Minneapolis MN 301,408 1961 Elsa Johnson
19 Jersey City NJ 267,779 1973 Lois Shaw
20 Kansas City MO 248,381 1963 Billie Hagan
21 Seattle WA 237,194 1922 Bertha Landes and Kathryn Miracle
22 Indianapolis IN 233,650 1934 Nannette Dowd
23 Providence RI 224,326 1975 Carolyn Brassil
24 Louisville KY 223,928 1929 Hattie E. Hoffman
25 Rochester NY 218,149 1973 Midge Costanza
26 Saint Paul MN 214,744 1956 Elizabeth De Courcy
27 Denver CO 213,381 1975 Cathy Reynolds and Cathy Donohue Elisa Dasmascio Pallidino was appointed in 1935, but was never elected.
28 Portland OR 207,214 1943 Dorothy McCullough Lee
29 Columbus OH 181,511 1923 Olga Anna Jones
30 Toledo OH 168,497 1963 Jane M. Kuebbeler Lucy Dittman was appointed in 1933, but was never elected.
31 Atlanta GA 154,839 1973 Panke Bradley
32 Oakland CA 150,174 1931 Wilhelmine Yoakum
33 Worcester MA 145,986 1936 Anna Kane
34 Syracuse NY 137,249 1924 Elizabeth Collins Appointed in 1923 then elected in 1924.
Melanie Kreuzer was elected in 1949.
35 New Haven CT 133,605 1927 Josepha Whitney
36 Birmingham AL 132,685 1963 Nina Miglionico
37 Memphis TN 131,105 1967 Gwen Awsumb
38 Scranton PA 129,867 1973 Grace O’Malley Schimelfenig
39 Richmond VA 127,628 1954 Eleanor P. Sheppard
40 Paterson NJ 125,600 1969 Rita Avalo May Guggenheim was appointed in 1943, but was never elected.
41 Omaha NE 124,096 1965 Betty Abbott
42 Fall River MA 119,295 1949 Margaret Stinziano
43 Dayton OH 116,577 1975 Pat Roach Gail Levin was appointed in 1973.
44 Grand Rapids MI 112,571 1961 Evangeline Lamberts
45 Nashville TN 110,364 1953 Gertrude Bartlett
46 Lowell MA 106,294 1963 Ellen Anastos Sampson
47 Cambridge MA 104,839 1925 Florence (Lee) Whitman
48 Spokane WA 104,402 1969 Margaret Leonard
49 Bridgeport CT 102,054 1935 Sadie Griffin
50 Albany NY 100,253 1943 Barbara Schenck
51 Hartford CT 98,915 1947 Lucy Williams
52 Trenton NJ 96,815 1976 Jennye Stubblefield Olivia Leggett was appointed in 1974.
53 New Bedford MA 96,652 1969 Rosalind Poll Brooker
54 San Antonio TX 96,614 1948 Emma Long
55 Reading PA 96,071 1976 Karen Miller
56 Camden NJ 94,538 1940 Maud Crawford
57 Salt Lake City UT 92,777 1979 Ione M. Davis representing District 6, Sydney R. Fonnesbeck representing District 3, and Alice Shearer representing District 4
58 Dallas TX 92,104 1957 Calvert Collins
59 Lynn MA 89,336 1938 Alice B Harrington
60 Springfield MA 88,926 1923 Emma Brigham
61 Wilmington DE 87,411 1925 Sybil Ward
62 Des Moines IA 86,368 1983 Marie C. Wilson
63 Lawrence MA 85,892 1985 Councilor at large Marguerite P. Kane and District F Councilor Pamela Neilon
64 Tacoma WA 83,743 1952 Clara Goering
65 Kansas City KS 82,331 1989 Carol Marinovich
66 Yonkers NY 79,803 1939 Edith Weldy
67 Youngstown OH 79,066 1987 Darlene K. Rogers Elizabeth Hughley was appointed to the Council in 1987 just before Darlene Rogers was elected.
68 Houston TX 78,800 1980 Eleanor Tinsley
69 Duluth MN 78,466 1956 Lucile Roemer
70 St. Joseph MO 77,403 1974 Joyce Winston
71 Somerville MA 77,236 1925 Edith B. Davidson
72 Troy NY 76,813 1943 Agnes Powers Mary Kennedy was appointed in 1918, but never elected.
73 Utica NY 74,419 1928 Lena Goldbas
74 Elizabeth NJ 73,409 1956 Mary D. Gillen
75 Fort Worth TX 73,312 1952 Clarice Spurlock
76 Waterbury CT 73,141 1953 Catherine DeLeon
77 Schenectady NY 72,826 1976 Karen Johnson
78 Hoboken NJ 70,324 1953 Loretta Haack
79 Manchester NH 70,063 1985 Catherine Schneiderat (Ward 2), Ann Bourque (Ward 3), and Leona Dykstra (Ward 6)
80 Evansville IN 69,647 1947 Irma Lynch
81 Akron OH 69,067 1937 Virginia Etheredge
82 Norfolk VA 67,452 1974 Elizabeth Howell
83 Wilkes-Barre PA 67,105 1957 Ethel Price
84 Peoria IL 66,950 1953 Myrna Harms
85 Erie PA 66,525 1981 Joyce A. Savocchio
86 Savannah GA 65,064 1923 Sarah Berrien Casey Morgan
87 Sacramento CA ~65,000 1912 Luella Johnston
88 Oklahoma City OK 64,205 1967 Patience Latting
89 Harrisburg PA 64,186 1969 Miriam Menaker
90 Fort Wayne IN 63,933 1921 Catherine Dinklage
91 Charleston SC 58,833 1923 Clelia Peronneau McGowan
92 Portland ME 58,571 1923 Florence Stevens
93 East St. Louis IL 58,547 1985 Lois Calvert Appointed in 1982, elected 1985.
94 Terre Haute IN 58,157 1925 Daisy Valentine
95 Holyoke MA 57,730 1926 Elizabeth Towne
96 Jacksonville FL 57,699 1967  Sallye Brooks Mathis and Mary Littlejohn Singleton
97 Brockton MA 56,878 1971 Anna Buckley
98 Bayonne NJ 55,545 1986 Dorothy Harrington
99 Johnstown PA 55,482 1973 Rita Clark
100 Passaic NJ 54,773 1972 Margie Semler
101 South Bend IN 53,684 1963 Janet Allen

Last updated: May 2018

Suggested Citation: Nicolas Heidorn, America’s First Councilwomen, Sacramentality.com (Mar. 18, 2018) (Updated May 2018).