Sacramento’s Police Review Commission Has Spoken, But Are We Listening?

Sacramento has found itself in the spotlight in recent years after multiple incidents of citizen deaths by law enforcement. 

While the increased prevalence of cell phone camera footage has sparked a national conversation about police brutality and the use of force, names like Stephon Clark and Joseph Mann remind us that these events don’t always happen far from home. Since 2016, there have been 18 officer-involved shootings in Sacramento, all of which were deemed justified.

These incidents sparked some changes to the Sacramento Police Department, including requiring body cameras to be worn and footage of officer-involved shootings to be released within 30 days, as well as appointing an Inspector General to review shootings. 

This, along with the decision to create an Office of Community Response that will help field 911 calls and ensure law enforcement is only utilized when necessary, is helping to transform how Sacramento addresses public safety. Such changes have shown success in reducing adverse outcomes for communities of color and those struggling with their mental health. I recommend reading this recent in depth reporting on the topic.

The city also chose to move the Office of Public Safety Accountability directly under the City Council and establish the Sacramento Community Police Review Commission to provide recommendations on improving everything from interactions with the public to increasing diversity within its ranks. 

However, many advocates believe more reforms are necessary to begin rebuilding trust.

This makes sense considering members of the commission have spent significant time and energy reviewing hundreds of pages of material, listening to experts, and crafting specific and well-researched recommendations — only to have many still left unimplemented.

To their credit, the Sacramento Police Department has decided to change some policies, including banning the use of choke holds, changing procedures related to shooting at moving vehicles, and requiring police officers to render medical care as soon as possible.

Still, many recommendations are still waiting to be put into action. Some of these include requiring data collection and reporting on all “Use of Force” incidents, using force only as a last resort when all other reasonable alternatives have been exhausted, and requiring drug and alcohol testing of officers after an incident.

Mario Guerrero, chair of the Sacramento Police Review Commission, expressed at a recent meeting that he will be pushing hard for the City Council to take a formal vote on this issue. “We expect that our recommendations be taken seriously and be given a vote,” said Guerrero.

While most of the commission’s work has centered around changing the department’s Use of Force policies, another area of focus includes incentivizing a more diverse police force. Notably, they recommend creating long-term strategies to encourage hiring of more Black and Indeginous residents, women, and members of the LGBTQ community. New research suggests that increasing diversity in law enforcement can lead to better outcomes for communities of color and may help rebuild trust in neighborhoods that have been historically overpoliced.

This is a crucial moment for Sacramento to make meaningful change.

We have the opportunity to lead with compassion and make sure we prioritize public safety for everyone. If this city is serious about real reform and respecting the labor done by its own Police Review Commission, it’s recommendations should be taken into consideration and adopted as soon as possible. Otherwise, what was the point?

We can’t wait for another death to do the right thing.

You can read an overview of the Commission’s recommendations here.

Note: The Sacramento City Council will be considering these recommendations on April 13th at 2 PM.

Support your favorite restaurants … please!


Restaurants are a critical part of our economy. They employ about one in every fourteen adults … or at least they did until a couple weeks ago. They have long been the main source of flexible employment for students, entrepreneurs and those chasing the dream (and they provide that flexibility while abiding by wage and employment law).

More than being a critical part of our economy, they are a critical part of our communities. They add that unique flavor to our neighborhoods, giving places for friends to gather and families to relax. They’re the background and infrastructure behind so many of our most treasured memories. Where did you go on your first date with your spouse or partner? I bet it was a restaurant and let’s go double or nothing that you remember which one. Which local spot makes that special something to cure your case of the Mondays? Where do you always bring guests from out of town? What was your family’s go-to restaurant when you were young? Which one goes the extra mile to keep your kids comfortable now that you’re not?

Restaurants provide us with so much joy, so much community and, yes, so much food. But they do it on the thinnest margins, typically 3-5%. That means it’s rarely an opportunity to create more than middle class income for the typical owner/operator and that there is little ability to set funds aside for a rainy day. That is why restaurants are always what we worry most about when rents increase or minimum wages increase. That is why so many restaurants closed their doors during the recession.

As of today, the county guidelines allow restaurants to stay open for takeout and delivery, at some point this may change.

When restaurants close the reality is, many of them will never open again.

All of them have rent to pay, many had to finance their equipment. Making those payments, with little or no revenue coming in – as passionate they may be about their food and their community – as much joy as they take in sharing their craft with us – as heartbreaking as it may be to them – those payments are going to be really hard to make. Could you do that, for months on end, with no promise on when – or if – the situation will improve?

Not everyone can reasonably go out of their homes. Not everyone can afford to eat out. But if you can:

Please, please, please, do whatever you can to support the restaurants you care about.

One of my local favorites, Riverside Sports Bar, has already closed their doors. If I ate my last Whiskey Burger without knowing it, that would be really sad, and more importantly, something missing from our community.


Tonight I’ll be headed to Device. Our brand new community restaurant and taproom that Ken and Melissa have worked so hard to get open, investing so much to create a really special space for our community. I’m not sure what I’ll be ordering yet the Pride of the Pocket Burger, Philly Cheese Steak, Beer Brat & Braised Short Rib Tacos are all calling my name. Ooh, and that Ginger Slaw. Dang, I’m getting hungry and they don’t open until three! Menu & Delivery


20200319_193638Last night we enjoyed an amazing meal from Cacio, where husband and wife pair Jonathan and Katie, wanted to bring their top notch Italian food (seriously, it’s worth a trip) to their local neighborhood. The daily special braised bone-in pork belly chop was a rich, hearty treat (and the bone didn’t even fit in the box!) and the Torchio e Granchio (crab pasta) was bright, spicy and delicious! Menu (order by phone)


20200318_170023The night before we had takeout from A Taste Above, a great local café that makes our favorite sandwich, a really great banh mi. Rich and Ray have worked so hard to listen to the community and over the last couple years developed a really extensive and tasty vegetarian menu as well! Menu & Delivery


Really, truly. If you can, please support our local restaurants. Social distancing is going to end. How sad will we be if we can’t celebrate at our favorite restaurants when it does?

While you’re at it, stock up on great local craft beer from Device, New Helvetia or your favorite local brewery or a favorite local winery like Revolution.

Look Who’s Brewing in 2018


Our Look Who’s Brewing series continues, following Look Who’s Brewing Too, Look Who’s Brewing Now, we run out of 80s movie references and simply content ourselves with adding a helpful date to the title.

Some argue that “crafty beer is dying,” which even when you break his argument to its most basic premise is preposterous. The author points to Sierra Nevada (and others) reinventing beer — but in doing so they also created the blueprint that virtually all craft breweries followed for the next couple of decades. Lagunitas, Stone and others then pulled craft brewing away from pale to its hopped up cousin with the success of their IPA offerings and soon that became the defining style of craft brewing. While there are many jokes about IPAs dominating tap lists, the truth is this one style alone offers a wider range of flavors (traditional west coast, east coast, north east hazys, hybrids among them, English, session, double, triple, black, red, white, wet-hopped,dry-hopped, milkshake, fruited, fooded, even cheesed for some inexplicable reason, as well as countless other varieties and more being invented everyday) than did the brewpubs of yesteryear. This combined with perhaps an even wider range of stouts and sours (each of which double up the basic range of concepts IPAs tread with the limitless possibilities of barrel aging) leads to more variety than most craft fans could enjoy in a lifetime.

Little by little, brewers are even seeing their long frustrated dream become a reality and being able to brew (and sell) lagers with flavor. The good folks at Boston Brewing getting in on it proves that this idea is very much hitting the mainstream:

I can taste my beer

Yes, tasting your beer is a very good thing!

And the data proves that, in California at least, beer drinkers are developing better and better taste. Statewide, output from independent breweries increased by 6 percent, with the Sacramento region’s breweries production surging forward by 22 percent. Sacramento’s increase was led by New Glory and Device, who each approximately doubled their output from 2017. Urban Roots and Moksa made impressive debuts, each topping 30 thousand gallons in their first year. Meanwhile, Knee Deep’s percentage growth may not compare, but the region’s biggest brewer continues to grow and widened its lead on every brewery except New Glory. 

Looks Who's Brewing 2018

Click on the image to explore the interactive.

While craft brewing continues to grow, America’s macro breweries remain in slow decline. I suppose it’s clear Whazzuuuup with Budweiser’s Attack on Sacramento Brewing. Though that doesn’t seem to be going so well … I guess we’ll just have to content ourselves with drinking beer with flavor in the meantime.

Or, better yet, let’s say, congratulations, Sacramento, we have good taste in beer.

Making Work Work with Affordable Childcare

Parenting is hard. It is the most amazing, rewarding experience I have ever had. But it’s also really hard. My little dudes need their parents to feed them, clean them and take care of every other need in their lives. They also need us to entertain them, read them, play with them. And the messes.  Let’s not forget about cleaning up their messes. 

Not only do they need us to cook, clean, entertain and generally keep them from doing something catastrophic for the 12-14 hours a day they are awake, they also need us to pay all of their expenses. Food, diapers, wipes, books, toys, clothes (which they will either ruin the first time they wear or  outgrow within three months), housing, healthcare, entertainment. It adds up. For most of us, the need to pay those expenses means we need to work and, for most families, both parents need to work to get by. That, of course, adds another major expense. 

Childcare is hard to come by, with 60% of Californians living in childcare deserts. After our oldest son was born, we struggled to find a high quality, even remotely affordable option that did not require a six month or even year long waitlist. We’re not alone, half of American parents report having difficulty or being unable to find childcare and, not surprisingly, it is particularly difficult for parents with financial challenges.

But most of all, childcare is expensive. For most families, it is simply unaffordable. In 2017, Childcare Aware found that the average cost of childcare in California was $16,542 annually, well beyond HHS guidelines for affordability for nearly all families. EPI estimates that just 28.5% of California families can afford childcare. Moreover, childcare cost is the top reason parents have fewer children than they would ideally like and the top financial reason others choose not to have children at all. As a result, 2018 saw a record low birthrate

As a result, for many families, most of the earnings of a second working parent will go to taxes and childcare, bringing home only an extra few thousand dollars a year. To help illustrate this reality, I developed an interactive calculator (click on the image to pull up the interactive). By adjusting the variables (household income, price of childcare, number of children) you can compare earnings to childcare expenses to see how much a family would have to earn to break even after paying for childcare: 


In the example provided as a default, the second working parent needs to earn nearly $40,000 to just break-even after paying for childcare and taxes. At a $40,000 income, that parent brings home a net of just $1.52 per hour. Now do not get me wrong — that $250 a month is critical for many families who are struggling to get by – but it also amounts to just 1/8 of California’s minimum wage.

Perhaps this example seems exaggerated to some. $1,200 per child per month does sound expensive. Yet nationwide, the average childcare provider costs more than $1,200 per month and this is just a fraction of what families pay in California. Does $40,000 income and $50,000 for the spouse seem high? That is 25% more than California’s median household. The reality is these default setting are relatively conservative. While data on childcare is notoriously bad, it is very likely most families with young children experience a more challenging financial reality than this.

Worse yet, the alternative often keeps women out of the workforce, limiting their families’ economic potential. It also expands the gender pay gap as those women lose important years developing skills and earning experience in their careers. By losing their productivity, it slows economic growth. Childcare also improves parents’ perceptions of their children’s wellbeing, their own wellbeing and relationships with their children, improves brain development and school readiness and could help end poverty.

As important as childcare is it is also expensive. It is expensive because it is labor intensive. There is no way to get around it. For example:

California’s requires childcare centers to maintain a certain ratio of kids to staff, as low as 1 to 4, depending on the child’s age. To employ one minimum-wage earning provider for 10 hours a day costs $850 per child per month, assuming a 1 to 4 provider-to-child ratio. That does not account for any other provider expenses like the cost of the facility, utilities, insurance, food, supplies, cleaning, overhead expenses, etc, all of which drive tuition fees much higher.

Understanding the real costs involved, it is clear our options are limited. I do not think anyone is arguing for lowering the minimum standards for caring for our children. Similarly, few think that the minimum wage is too high (and many would argue childcare providers are paid too little).

I’m proud that some of the people working hardest to help families pay these bills are friends and fellow Hornets and I’m hopeful leadership here in Sacramento can start to improve the situation. Councilmember Eric Guerra has been advocating forcefully, with his young son Javi in tow. Last night, thanks to his leadership, the council voted to hire a childcare czar to work towards solutions locally. Assemblymember Kevin McCarty’s AB123 recently passed the Assembly and would expand pre-K to cover more 3 and 4 year olds. (And, of course, nationally, nearly every serious presidential candidate has a major childcare proposal … here’s hoping!)

Today funding childcare is largely left to young parents, adding another major expense for young parents, doing their best to make ends meet in an economy that has been unkind to their generation. I don’t think that approach really squares with any of our values — whether we profess to care most about the well-being of children, opportunity for the working class or strengthening the nuclear family — subsidized or free childcare is at the heart of strengthening families, supporting children and making work work for families in every strata of society.

Look Who’s Brewing Now!


So we at Sacramentality have had a lot going on in the last year or so. Professional successes, new and growing children and oh so many park cleanups. We offer our sincerest apologies to our readers and this brief post highlighting the ongoing growth in Sacramento’s brewing scene. You will surely recall prior articles Look Who’s Brewing and Look Who’s Brewing Too. Here now is the (now not so) latest update featuring 2017 BOE data that published 7 months ago. Whoops.

Without further ado, let’s get to the data and let it speak for itself, except to point out that trend line for nearly all of our top local breweries practically points straight up. It’s a good time to be a craft beer connoisseur in Sacramento. (Click on the image to use the interactive)
Regional Interactive

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!



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.

adult blur books close up

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).

Screen Shot 2018-07-27 at 11.25.56 AM.png

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:



Showdown at the Shops: The 1894 Pullman Strike

Train Banner

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.