California’s First Councilwoman – Part I

Luella Cover

When we first started Sacramentality in January of this year, I knew I wanted to do more than talk about the vivid present and unfolding future of Sacramento. I also wanted to write about the hazy and forgotten local icons – the heroes, villains, and indifferents – who shaped our city’s identity. Perhaps because the presidential election had so recently concluded, there was one name, of an early political figure, I kept returning to: Luella Johnston.

Luella was an early twentieth century society grande dame who metamorphosed into a local political crusader. She had a transformative impact on Sacramento politics and policy, helping to propel our city into the modern era of municipal governance. She was also a pioneer in the march towards gender equality as California’s first elected city councilwoman.

Early Life

Photo - Sacramento Union - March 1, 1913
Sacramento Union Headshot (1912)

Like many of her era, Luella Johnston (née Buckminster) was not originally a Californian. She was born in New Hampshire in 1861, the daughter of a Union soldier who died in the Civil War. She moved West to California as a child in 1869, ultimately becoming a teacher in San Francisco in her teens before marrying Alfred Johnston in 1884.

Alfred ran a successful Sacramento printing business, the A. J. Johnston Co. He was by contemporary accounts a self-made man and his business flourished. So much so that, by 1891, the Governor appointed him Superintendent of State Printing. A short time later, that position was converted into an elected office, which he won in 1894 and won again in 1898.

By the end of the nineteenth century, the Johnstons were wealthy, well-travelled in political circles, and, thanks to Luella, among Sacramento’s leading socialites.

High Society & The Club of ’99

Society - SF Call - 9-24-1899

San Francisco Daily Call Society Page (1899)

Luella had a knack for organizing people, events, and parties. In 1899 she founded the “Club of ’99” to entertain the wives and daughters of state elected officials. Newspapers recount lavish soirées with distinguished guests, catered suppers, and orchestral accompaniment. These were light and fun affairs receiving the same type of coverage we might read in People Magazine today. “Mrs. A. J. Johnston wore a dress of blue taffeta, silk trimmed, with white satin bowknots and lace,” gushed one account.

The Club of ’99 was purely social, and might even be described as frivolous. It embodied the acceptable role for high-society nineteenth century women. And while the ladies may have been surrounded by politics, they weren’t themselves to participate in politics.

From Socialite to Activist: The Tuesday Club & the Emergence of Women as a Political Force

But that was about to change. With the turning of the century, America’s women were becoming more political. There’s a notable shift in the historical record when Ms. Johnston’s interests moved on from parties to politics. The socialite became suffragette and civic reformer.

At first, the Tuesday Literary Club was just another entry in Luella’s social calendar. Founded in 1896, the club was originally a weekly reading group for prominent Sacramento housewives. But, as club ranks swelled from a few dozen to a few hundred, members started discussing, studying, and engaging with the problems of the day in Sacramento.

Painting of Tuesday Club Clubhouse circa 1912

Painting of the Tuesday Club Clubhouse (circa 1912)

Luella Johnston’s 1899-1901 club presidency, reports the Center for Sacramento History, was the catalyst that “changed the mission and direction of the organization.” Under her tenure, the club started getting involved in civic affairs and – heavens! – even lobbying city officials for change. A reading group no more, the club shortened its name to the “Tuesday Club” and adopted a mission statement to “encourage all movements for the betterment of society.”

City vice became the Club’s primary target. Early twentieth century Sacramento had not quite shed its Wild West past. Prostitution was rampant, writes Sacramento historian Steven Avella. Similarly, “saloons, gambling, illegal lotteries, opium dens, and bars that stayed open all night were as hard to erase as original sin.” Who better than women, then-regarded as the “moral guardians” of the home and society, to take on these mostly male failings? The club scored its first victory in 1900 when, under Luella’s leadership, it convinced the city council to ban any new bars in residential areas, improbably besting the politically-powerful saloon owners. The law became known as the “Tuesday Club Ordinance” and lasted until its obsolescence with Prohibition.

Tuesday Club Ordinance - Sac Bee - 9-15-1911

Sacramento Bee Cartoon (1911)

Other successes quickly followed, reports the Center for Sacramento History: “The club petitioned the city trustees for a matron at the city jail, started a cooking school for young girls, [and] convinced the city to establish McKinley Park in East Sacramento.”

The Tuesday Club had become everything the ’99 Club was not: a political player.

An Organic Union: The Woman’s Council

These accomplishments galvanized other women’s groups in the city. In 1904 Luella organized a coalition of 30 women’s clubs known as the “Woman’s Council” to act as a more purposefully political, sister-organization to the Tuesday Club. (Thereafter the Tuesday Club retreated to being once-more a primarily social and philanthropic organization. After a 117-year run, the Club disbanded in 2014.)

Woman's Council Constitution

Woman’s Council’s Constitution

The Council was an immediate success. The log of its early activities report win-after-win in early Sacramento’s rough-and-tumble politics. For example, in 1904 the Council proposed and helped pass a bond to create a high school. In 1905, the Council successfully petitioned for the city hospital to hire a receiving matron. In 1906, the Council convinced the city to add name plates to every street in the city.

Luella was president of the Woman’s Council from 1907 through 1909. These were energetic and successful years. Contemporary Council log books report that, “again and again,” local elected officials, business associations, and neighborhood organizations asked the Council to “plan and promote campaigns for City improvements,” including street electrification, installing public drinking fountains, adding residential mailboxes, working on city canals, and building a public swimming pool.

The Council pushed the city administration to be more modern and to professionalize. For example, in 1907, at Luella’s instigation, the Council brought University of Chicago professor Charles Zueblin to Sacramento to deliver lectures on the new science of city planning. His lectures enthralled the business community and launched Sacramento’s “modern period of city planning” as a succession of planners were hired to map out the future of different city neighborhoods. (For his efforts Zueblin, for a time, became known as the “father of Sacramento’s civic planning.”)

But of all Luella’s accomplishments with the Council, she was personally proudest of having convinced the city’s schools to require the teaching of “manual training” (e.g. woodworking) and “domestic science” (e.g. cooking) courses to all children. A former teacher, Luella viewed education as her lifelong calling. This was a sweet victory: she had been advocating for practical education since 1901, when, under her presidency, the Tuesday Club launched a free girl’s cooking class to, in her words, “further the education of women for the responsibilities of life.”

Single Mom & Businesswoman

Alfred had passed away in 1906, just prior to Luella’s Council presidency. The Governor, Secretary of State, and State Printer all closed their offices for a day in his honor. At age 45, Luella became a single mom of five children, three of whom were still minors.

She also became the head of the A.J. Johnston printing empire, undoubtedly one of the few women in the city actively running a major company.

It’s hard to imagine how someone could find the time to be a single mother, executive, and civic reformer with only 24 hours in a day. I get the sense that Luella simply felt she had no other choice: there was too much that needed to be done.

The Fight of a Generation: Women’s Suffrage

California Next Postcard

Postcard: “California [Was] Next” (sent 1918)

1911 had the potential to be a life-altering year for California’s women and Luella was not going to sit it out. For the second time, the men of California would be deciding whether or not to give women the vote.

A decade and a half prior, in 1896, California voters (all men) voted down a proposed amendment to the state constitution which would have granted women the right to vote in state and local elections. The campaign for women’s suffrage had fared particularly poorly in major cities in the northern half of the state, including Sacramento where 60% voted against. Saloonkeepers and liquor interests, influential in working class areas, had staunchly opposed the initiative, fearing (correctly, as it turns out) that enfranchised women might push for prohibition.

Success in California in 1911 would be a springboard for a national constitutional amendment to secure for women the right to vote in all elections. A second defeat might devastate the movement.

Recognizing the need to reverse the vote in the northern cities, state suffrage organizations reached out to the Woman’s Council to co-lead the campaign in Sacramento. According to late Sacramento historian Dian Self, Luella was a “leader of the get-out-the-vote effort” for the campaign. The Council allocated funds for outreach and conducted an extensive persuasion campaign: it included street oratory, sending speakers to church groups and civic clubs, placing campaign materials in storefronts, distributing handbills to homeward-bound schoolchildren, house-to-house canvassing, and concerted lobbying of labor unions.

In the evening of October 10, 1911, the polls closed. They had done it: women had won the franchise. Sacramento County voters, reversing their prior opposition, voted 52% in favor.

The women of Sacramento had once again shown their political muscle, but this time in direct political campaigning. It was experience that would soon come in handy.

A Singular Moment: Progress Seizes Sacramento

Late 1800s to early 1900s California politics were dominated by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The “SP” was one of the most powerful economic forces in the state. It had an interstate rail monopoly in Northern California and jealously guarded this prize against competition or government regulation. Politicians were greased to support the railroad’s interests, and opposed them at their peril. As one late nineteenth century journalist wrote,

it didn’t matter whether a man was a Republican or Democrat. The Southern Pacific Railroad controlled both parties, and he either had to stay out of the game altogether or play it with the railroad.

By 1901, author Frank Norris nicknamed the railroad the “Octopus” because its tentacles of influence reached to every area of the state. “The Southern Pacific,” notes the Economist, “bribed and cajoled legislators, judges, journalists and mayors.”

Octopus - The Wasp (Aug 19 1882)

The Wasp Cartoon (1882)

This included Sacramento local politics, where the SP was particularly influential. Sacramento was strategically important to the railroad. The SP’s sprawling Sacramento railyards employed more than 2,000 workers and, per local historian William Burg, “produced everything from hand tools to full-sized steam locomotives and was the main repair and supply facility for Southern Pacific’s national system.”

City Hall at the time was controlled by a political patronage machine lead by Mayor Marshall “Boss” Beard and Councilman Edward Carraghar. Both were firmly in the railroad’s pocket. In 1907, for example, the council thwarted an effort by the Western Pacific to build a new rail line into the city which had threatened the SP’s monopoly.

However, across the state and in Sacramento, the tide was beginning to turn against the Southern Pacific. Hiram Johnson, a Sacramento native, was elected governor in 1910 promising to curtail the power of the railroads and to move the state forward “calmly, coolly, pertinaciously, unswervingly and with absolute determination, until the public service reflects only the public good and represents alone the people.” The Progressives, as they came to be known, swept into power in 1911 and enacted a series of wide-ranging reforms intended to blunt the SP’s power.

Locally, Progressives were also riding a string of victories. They had recently passed a referendum, over the Council’s objections, to let the Western Pacific into the city. And, although they had failed to defeat Beard and Carraghar in the last election, they had passed a new city charter, significantly changing the structure of Sacramento city government and its elections.

1912 would be the first election under the new charter, and the Progressives, mobilized as the “Municipal Voters’ League,” were eager to evict the SP cronies who had held office for so long. “The question” for voters, wrote the sympathetic Sacramento Bee, “is between the forces of the Machine and the forces of Good Government.”

Block-by-Block: The 1912 Campaign

1913 Map

Map of Sacramento (1913)

The 1912 election was marked by many firsts. In descending order of importance, this was the first city election that:

  • Women could vote in.
  • Included the newly annexed suburbs of East Sacramento, Highland Park, and Oak Park.
  • Would be held under Sacramento’s new charter, which created a five-member council with greatly expanded executive powers.

Add to that another first: Luella was the first candidate that year, man or woman, to pull candidacy papers for city council.

Suffragettes had sometimes run for office, for example Mayor, Governor, or President, to make a rhetorical point about gender inequality; these were half-hearted campaigns at best because they had no delusions of actually winning. Luella’s was not.

Her whole life had prepared her for this moment. On paper, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect candidate: leading citizen, business owner, former president of two of the city’s largest civic organizations, accomplished reformer, and conversant in all the major municipal issues.

Perfect, of course, except for her gender. One Bee story reported the difficulty she was having in overcoming the “peculiarity of some male temperaments – they will not admit that a woman has brains enough to hold public office.” Like many women before and since, Luella would repeatedly have to justify her intrusion into the male world. “My interests in civic questions has taken me out of the usual lines,” she once acknowledged, “for I have worked on the clear water problem, levee improvement, economy of administration, fire protection and general civic issues of importance to the whole city.”

Her stump speech centered on eternal political themes; it could just have easily been delivered in 2012 instead of 1912. She pitched herself as a law-and-order candidate, citing public safety as her top priority and pledging firm enforcement of all city laws (a possible allusion to unenforced bans on gambling and prostitution). She told the Union that bolstering the Sacramento River and American River levees must “come before every other consideration.” (Still an important cause today.) Her platform encompassed many issues, reflecting how attuned she was to the municipal challenges of the day. She campaigned on municipal ownership of utilities; developing William Land’s land gift as a great park; and adopting the latest reforms in public education.

Finally, to the city’s women, she promised to “do all in my power and within my province to maintain the laws bettering the condition of women, and will bend every effort in that direction.”

The Municipal Voter’s League quickly endorsed her, praising both her civic accomplishments and her “marked executive and constructive ability and well-balanced judgment.” The Women’s Council also publicly endorsed her, then promptly held a tea party with “fashionable gowns and picture hats” to begin registering women to vote. Campaigning can be fun. The Sacramento Bee, a vocal enemy of the incumbent council, lavished her campaign with positive coverage, praising Luella “as a woman of progressive ideas and sound judgment, level-headed and full of energy.”

Complementing and perhaps dwarfing these endorsements was Luella’s own formidable organizing prowess. She assembled a “Women’s Precinct Organization” to run her campaign and drive newly enfranchised women to the polls. Sixty-four women – a veritable campaign army, even by today’s standards – enlisted as precinct captains for her campaign. On election day, her volunteers staked out polling stations to hand out endorsement cards and organized automobile house calls to bring women to the polls.

And go to the polls they did. The Sacramento Call reported that “the big vote in the residence district was due largely to the fact that the women got out in force.” Female turnout exceeded expectations. One poll-worker joked to the Sacramento Union that women were only voting for the free car rides; a female voter overheard him and “immediately emerged from the [voting] booth, went up to the clerk, took him to task for his remarks and demanded an apology. … That ended the talk about joy riding for the afternoon.”

With the dust settled and the votes tallied, the Municipal Voters’ League’s slate had prevailed with a clean sweep. Luella was elected. It was a stunning victory for local Progressives and the city’s women. As one paper effused,

The women of this city have taught the men a lesson in practical politics. By organizing a machine of their own, they routed the professional politicians, defeated all five candidates put up by the Southern Pacific Machine … and swept into office the five commissioners of their own choosing. … Among them is Mrs. Luella B. Johnston, head of the women’s machine…

Cartoon - Municipal League Wins - 5-20-1912

Sacramento Bee Cartoon (1912)

An Historic Win

Luella was the first woman elected to the Sacramento City Council. More than that, “Mrs. Johnston is the first woman elected to city office in the state,” reported the San Francisco Call. (While records are sparse, she may even have been the first woman elected to the city council of any major American city.)

Luella was not the first woman elected to public office in California; but I would argue her election was of greater societal importance than her predecessors. Prior to 1912, women were prohibited from running for all state and local offices except one: women were permitted to run for (but not vote in) elections for county education offices. (For example, Sacramento County’s first female Superintendent of Schools was Minnie O’Neil, elected in 1907.) This accommodation was, however, sexist in its own way, reflecting contemporary gender norms that women should be the primary caretakers and educators of children.

What Luella and Sacramento had done was something new.

For the first time, the voters entrusted a woman with general governmental power.

It was the start of a new era.

New City Hall, circa 1912 - Greater Sacramento Publication (1912)

The Recently Completed City Hall (photo circa 1912)

***

Stayed tuned in the coming weeks for Part II, where  I conclude my short biography of Luella by examining her term in office and later years.

Abridged Bibliography

In putting together this account of Luella’s life and 1910s Sacramento I drew heavily on, and am indebted to, the following sources:

 

Is Sacramento funding the arena through parking tickets?

Meter-Arena-DML

Parking “modernization” as a concept has raised eyebrows and sometimes scorn. Although presented by some as something of a free lunch (‘No New Taxes!’) in funding the Arena, the reality is that we are paying for that truly wonderful building through increased regular garage and meter rates as well as expanded operating hours and greatly increased rates during Kings games and other major events.

EventRate-DML

This was the plan our elected representatives agreed to, for better or for worse. I have found evening parking to be a pain (on the rare occasion this father of a toddler has needed it), especially the extended 2 hour enforcement. I also appreciate that funding the arena through parking revenue was a reasonably effective strategy to primarily raise revenue from the individuals who benefit from the arena itself and from surrounding developments. Moreover, it is likely the only strategy that could force regional users to pay and not allowing them to free ride on the City, as they so often are able to do.

Still, there are few things more upsetting in the moment, than returning to your car to find that you had inadvertently left it in a 2 hour zone or metered spot a little too long.

ParkingTicket-DML

As frustrating as tickets are for those of us parking for short periods downtown before returning to our wide open residential neighborhoods, for many central city residents they are practically a way of life. Dodging street sweeping days and finding parking within the small area your residential permit covers is a challenge for lower income resident who aren’t able to afford off-street parking. Moreover, these are among the folks least likely to attend expensive games or concerts at the arena. This leads to a reasonable worry: does more difficult street parking increase costs for the folks least able to afford it? (It’s worth noting that Councilman Hansen points out that this would violate state law.)

Rather than speculate, continuing my efforts to examine potential unintended consequences of the arena, let’s look at what the data suggests.

ParkingRevenueByMonthDML.png

Allaying these concerns, we find that year over year (YoY) revenue from citations has declined an average of almost 3-1/2 percent over the first third of 2017. This follows average declines of 2 percent in 2016. This suggests the City of Sacramento has not been padding its revenue and funding for the arena through increased parking enforcement; in fact, (to a small degree) the opposite has happened. Perhaps attention paid to the issue has made parkers more careful. Alternately, having more time of the week to enforce may have left the City’s 49 parking enforcement officers (the number has remained steady since at least 2013-14) spread thin. Regardless of the reason, citation revenue has been in decline the past two years.

ParkingRevenueByYearDML

Despite the small dip in citation revenue, overall parking “modernization” has proven fruitful for the City. Forecasting the last third of the months based on average YoY in 2017, we see revenue up over 15 percent from last year, which represented a 13 percent increase on 2015. This followed a dip in garage revenue (presumably) due to the closure and demolition of the mall and the parking structure beneath it. Over the last two years, garage revenues have nearly returned to pre-demolition levels, with the net increase in revenue driven by parking meters. In fact, the net increase over pre-arena parking levels exceeds required arena financing cash flow by 50 percent.

So perhaps you have read this far and are wondering, why the heck would he write an article that says everything is pretty much going as planned. That sure is boring. It is, but the publication of null results is vitally important. As Thomas Edison said:

“I never quit until I get what I’m after. Negative results are just what I’m after. They are just as valuable to me as positive results.”

Too often in research and journalism only the sexy outcomes that show surprising or upsetting outcomes get published. They make the news and drive the eyeballs but, frequently, misrepresent the overall truth.

In this case, the City seems to be doing a good job delivering the system it promised. It also did a good job in relatively promptly providing the data underlying this article. So with that, I will tip my proverbial hat, and thank the City for a job well done.

Legal Weed: The Low Down in Sac Town

weed

As a lobbyist for a variety of industries, I have to admit that working within the cannabis space is thrilling. It is not often that one gets an opportunity to actively influence an entirely new sector, particularly when so much is happening so quickly.

And it can be kind of a whirlwind to understand if you’re not immersed in it.

At this point, most folks are aware that the people of California legalized recreational cannabis with the passage of Proposition 64 last November. What they may not be aware of, however, are the deliberative steps the City of Sacramento has been taking to ensure that it’s done right — and they’re doing a lot.

Let’s start with how we got here.

The medical sale of cannabis to qualified patients has been legal for quite some time, 21 years in fact. The industry was left largely unregulated during those years, and it wasn’t until 2015 with the passage of a package of bills entitled the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) that a more formalized regulatory structure was put in place. These laws set forth the requirements for everything from packaging and labeling, to taxation, to what licenses are available including dispensaries, distributors, and cultivators. Then Proposition 64 passed in 2016, and suddenly the state, cities, and counties were handed a very tight timeline to figure out how to regulate recreational weed too.

Now, it’s 2018 or bust.

According to the law, California has until January 1, 2018 to develop a process for licensing both medical and recreational cannabis businesses. In the last few months, the Governor and Legislature passed two bills that helped streamline the process. The first combined medical and recreational laws into one in order to avoid duplicative work and inefficiencies (there’s really no need for two separate processes). The second clarified the issues that remained unaddressed in the first, such as whether or not businesses can sell both medical and recreational cannabis in the same location (they can).

Now that these laws are in place, the agencies in charge of creating the detailed regulations – such as how much cannabis you can sell to one person, or how much security you’re required to have – are fiercely writing away to ensure those are in place before January of next year. So, we’re all good, right? Seems like the work is underway and we can all go buy special brownies to celebrate in January…well, not exactly.

Cities and Counties are calling the shots.

One of the more prominent requirements of the law is that the ultimate power over whether or not – and how – cannabis is regulated rests in the hands of local governments. This means 58 counties and hundreds of cities can give the thumbs up or down, and even determine what’s allowable. For instance, the County of Marin is considering only allowing cannabis delivery businesses, while the County of Sacramento has banned commercial sales altogether in the unincorporated parts of the county.

This makes things very, very complex if you’re a business that’s hoping to operate statewide. The law requires that you submit proof of local authorization (i.e. that you’re allowed to be there) in order to obtain a state license. That is a huge road block considering many local governments haven’t even begun the process of deciding whether or not they will allow cannabis sales, and many more are waiting to see what others do first.

Luckily for us, the City of Sacramento is not waiting, they’re leading.

Sacramento’s Cannabis Czar (more formally known as the Chief of Cannabis Policy and Enforcement), Joe Devlin, has no enviable job. While simultaneously waiting for the state to determine their rules, the city has also been charting its own path into the unknown, and there’s no guide book. Sacramento currently has 30 storefront dispensaries (and that number is unlikely to change any time soon), and is accepting applications for both cultivation and manufacturing.

After months of community stakeholder meetings and hearings, they are set to develop plans for delivery and distribution in the coming months, and may even hold discussions for on-site consumption and the potential of “cannabis cafes” as soon as early 2018. These are “high times” (pun intended) for the industry, city officials, consumers, and city coffers alike. Dispensaries alone brought in millions of additional revenues last year.

So, I can buy recreational weed in January, right?

Nope, sorry. And there is no clear timeline for when that might happen. While the city is a leader in regulating medical cannabis, they are also taking precautions. It appears that city officials would prefer to finish laying out what the rules will look like for medical first before tackling the recreational market. So, while it is legal to consume cannabis without a doctor’s recommendation, the City of Sacramento will not be the place to buy legal recreational weed…at least any time soon.

Is it too late to get involved in the process?

Quite the opposite. There are still many opportunities to have your voice heard on the sale and use of cannabis in Sacramento. The city is currently holding community discussions in each council district, stakeholder meetings at city hall, and will vet each proposal through the law and legislation committee, budget and audit committee, and planning commission before being voted upon by the city council. The Planning Commission will be discussing delivery dispensaries, distribution, and background checks at their October 26th meeting, and those are expected to be voted on by the city council on November 21st.

You can visit the City of Sacramento cannabis page for the most up-to-date information.

Upcoming Meetings:

September 27 | 5:30 – 7 pm | District 3 Neighborhood Workshop

October 5 | 5:30 – 7 pm | District 8 Neighborhood Workshop

October 23 | 2 – 4 pm | Stakeholder Meeting

October 24 | 3 pm | Law and Legislation Committee Meeting

November 7 | 2 pm | Budget and Audit Committee Meeting

November 16 | 2 – 4 pm | Stakeholder Meeting

November 21 | 5 pm | City Council Meeting

Making Your Voice Heard at City Hall

CityHall

Since the results of the presidential election, I’ve met a lot of Sacramentans who want to get more engaged in local politics and public policy. This is wonderful news! Generally, few people pay attention to what’s going on at City Hall, even though local decisions – be it on land use, policing, or street maintenance – have a very direct impact on residents’ day-to-day quality of life.

For example, a recent study by the Advancement Project  found that only one-in-ten Californians  contacted a public official in the past year;  nine-in-ten Californians had not even attended a “meeting where political issues are discussed.”

That’s a lost opportunity for a number of reasons. First, citizen engagement can make a big difference at the city level. No really. In a recent survey of California city officials, over 80 percent agreed that “preferences emerging from public deliberation had an impact on final decisions.” I’ve witnessed and heard the same from councilmembers.

Equally important, if civically-minded citizens never show up, someone else will fill that vacuum. In the same survey, 76 percent of city officials report that public meetings are “typically dominated by people with narrow agendas.” Yikes.

Finally, civic engagement can be personally fulfilling! Again, really. Science even says so. Civic engagement, particularly when done with neighbors or as part of a group, builds community and can increase people’s sense of life satisfaction.

And, the good news is, in Sacramento it is especially easy for citizens to advocate for local policy change. So, as someone who works in the government transparency field, here’s my quick primer on how to make your voice heard at City Hall.

  1. Meet Your Councilmember.

One of the very best ways to affect change is to speak directly with your councilmember. On any given day your average councilmember has dozens of policy issues jostling for their attention: a one-on-one conversation can elevate your issue above the noise. A 30-minute conversation can also cover more ground and leave a more lasting impression than a typical letter.

Unlike your congressperson or state legislator, who represent so many residents that substantive personal contact with constituents is near mathematically impossible, I’ve found Sacramento city councilmembers and their staff to be very accessible. Most are eager to have coffee with a constituent they have not had the opportunity to hear from before. To request a meeting, call (916) 808-5300 and ask to speak to your councilmember’s scheduler. Try and set things up at least two to three weeks in advance and understand they are doing their best to fit you into a very busy schedule. You will probably be asked to email over a one to two paragraph description of what you’d like to discuss to help make the meeting as productive as possible.

Sometimes councilmembers just will not have time to meet. Don’t get discouraged! Many councilmembers have community office hours or attend neighborhood meetings (often noticed in their newsletter, which you should sign up for!) where you’ll have an opportunity to speak with them without a formal meeting. In addition, each councilmember has two to three staff who advise them on policy matters: a meeting with staff can be equally valuable, especially because they will often have more time to consider your concerns.

  1. Email your councilmember.

The fastest way to let your councilmember know what you think is to email or call them. Most councilmembers personally read the email you send them, unfiltered by staff, so this can be a very effective way of letting your direct representative know your concerns. Here is the official contact information for every councilmember:

What’s that — not sure who your councilmember is? Don’t worry, you are far from the first. The city has a helpful council district locator tool here. Simply enter your street address and the tool will spit out your district and councilmember!

  1. Speak at a Council Meeting.

Dais

Most changes in city policy are decided by the city council at a public meeting. If the change is being done through a city ordinance, it will first have to be discussed at the city council’s Law & Legislation Committee (affectionately called “L&L”), which vets policy changes before they go to the full City Council for a vote. With both City Council and L&L meetings, the public is given the opportunity to directly address decision-makers on any item before they vote.

The hardest thing is to know when an item you are interested in is coming before the council. City council and standing committee agendas are posted five days in advance on the city’s website. In this case, that means on Thursdays by 5:00 p.m. for both the City Council and L&L. Unfortunately, there is presently no way to subscribe to council agendas by email (RSS is available), so you either need to monitor the council’s agenda weekly or, if there’s a particular upcoming issue you are interested in, ask your councilmember or the city clerk when they expect that issue to come before the council.

You must appear in person to speak at a meeting. The city council generally meets weekly on Tuesdays at 5:00 p.m. in the New City Hall council chambers, located at 915 I St. The Law & Legislation Committee typically meets every second and fourth Tuesday at 3:00 p.m. also in council chambers. The city clerk maintains an up-to-date calendar of council and standing committee meeting dates online.

To comment, you must first complete a speaker slip and hand it to a city clerk staffer who will be conspicuously seated at a desk on the left side of the room, in front of the council dais. Speaker slips and pencils are available on a counter at the back of the city council chamber. However, you can also download, print, and complete a speaker slip at home and bring it to the meeting. The most important thing is to look up the item number you want to speak on in the agenda and mark it on your speaker slip; otherwise the city clerk will not know when to call you up to speak. If you are at all confused, there are lots of staff around who are happy to help.

When you are called, you will have two minutes to speak. A timer on a screen in front of you will count down the time you have left. Once your time is up, you need to quickly wrap up your comment in about 5-10 seconds or the meeting chair may cut you off. Remember that council meetings can drag on late into the night and it’s hard to predict when an agenda item will come up … be prepared to wait a few hours and bring a good book!

  1. Submit a Written Comment.

Another way to get your views before the council at a meeting is to submit an electronic comment. The “eComment” feature is conveniently located next to where the agendas are posted. Simply click on the eComment button, scroll down and select the agenda item you wish to comment on, and then write your message. Electronic comments are made available to councilmembers at the dais as agenda items come up.  Because it is fully electronic, you can even submit an eComment up to 15 minutes before the start of the meeting and it will be included as part of the official record.

eComment

eComment presently only accommodates 1,000 characters of text (or about 7 tweets), so keep your comment pithy.

  1. Join a Group!

As the saying goes, there is strength in numbers. There are many groups that are active in trying to make the City a better place. Joining a group is a good way to become aware of what’s going on, be a part of a community, and effectuate change. There are so many groups out there for people of every political stripe, here are just a few your Sacramentality Team are proud members of:

  • League of Women Voters: For the past few years I have been a member of the local chapter, which works to promote honest, ethical, and transparent government. We recently partnered with the City Council and Common Cause (where, full disclosure, I work!) to create a City Ethics Commission, Ethics Code, and Redistricting Commission — one of the most significant local governance reform packages in the state.
  • Local Democratic Clubs: Sacramento is a Democratic town, and as the state capitol an especially political town. The County Party has a list of almost two dozen local Democratic clubs, many of which are active at the City level. For example, Caity is the Fundraising Director for the Fem Dems of Sacramento, which recently advocated for the City to take a closer look at its diversity practices to ensure its workforce is diverse and equitably paid.
  • Neighborhood Associations: Want to meet your neighbors, beautify your street, get speedbumps installed, and discuss the City’s crime prevention strategy? The City has dozens of neighborhood associations across the City that do just that each year. Associations tend to have close relationships with councilmembers and can be good catalysts for change. For example, Devin co-founded and is a board member of the Pocket-Greenhaven Community Association, where he has hosted a number of community events and advocated for funding for community priorities.

***

As this short list indicates, there are so many ways to be civically active in our City. How are you civically active in Sacramento?

Is there a tip that should have made this list? Let us know in the comments below.

Who We Are: A City of Dreamers

A blue road sign that says Welcome to California in script, alongside a picture of a California Golden Poppy. Behind the sign is a highway, leading to mountains and a cloudy, but bright horizon.

I was born here in California. We were not wealthy, but my parents had adequate economic opportunities available to them to provide for our family, I had good schools available to me and the community was reasonably safe (although anyone complaining about crime today must have forgotten the early/mid 1990s). Today I have a very good job. My neighborhood has excellent schools and is the safest in the city (more on that later). I have no reason to go anywhere. I love my son more than anything in the world and I cannot imagine how I would feel if I were unable to provide a good life and good opportunities for him here in Sacramento.

I worked hard and made (mostly) good decisions along the way. I have faced and overcome some adversity. But most of my success can be attributed to having born to educated (white) parents in the greatest place in the world. I feel incredibly blessed.

Many have not been so lucky. Their situations were so dire, they made the choice to leave behind the only life they’ve ever known, to risk everything in hopes of giving their families a better life. All because of the luck of the draw of where and when they happened to be born. Some were forced to flee their homes because of violence and economic ruin driven by the drug cartels that thrive because of American demand and our failed War on Drugs. I cannot imagine what it is like to live that why. I cannot imagine facing the choice that Aaron Sorkin so perfectly described:

With the clothes on their backs, they came through a storm. And the ones that didn’t die want a better life. And they want it here. Talk about impressive. – President Bartlet

43 million American residents were born somewhere else, tackling either enormous bureaucratic challenges or a border with 20 thousand agents patrolling it. Impressive. About one-in-four (11 M) are undocumented. Most came as adults, some were brought by their parents as children. About one-in-ten (1.1 M) of the undocumented population were eligible for President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, allowing these Dreamers to live and work without fear of deportation, in two year increments. About four-in-five (790k) of the eligible Dreamers are currently enrolled, including 223 thousand in California and 8 thousand in Sacramento. (Author’s estimate: Local data has not been updated publicly since the first year of the program, but California’s statewide proportion has remained steady, so it seems likely that Sacramento’s share has as well. This estimate is based on that assumption.)

Our region is lucky to have them. Allowing Dreamers to work could be worth $200 billion to $400 billion nationally over the next ten years, which translates to $2 to 4 billion in Sacramento (Author’s estimate: Assuming a proportional share). In discussing the lower estimate, the conservative CATO Institute wrote that the estimate “is driven by the fact that the ‘Dreamers’ tend to do well in school and as a result do well in the job market after they complete their education.”

Of Sacramento’s 8,000 Dreamers, about 1,000 are currently enrolled and doing well at Sacramento State (A university known for advancing its students economic prospects). Those students will be allowed to continue to attend school and California, which will continue to charge them in-state tuition because that is simply the right thing to do. But without DACA they will no longer be allowed to work legally. Funding college these days is hard enough. Telling students they cannot work and earn the money they need to pay tuition is simply heartless.

Just as I cannot imagine having to make the choices these Dreamers’ parents had to make, I also cannot imagine the challenges these students must be facing or the fear of returning to the shadows or facing deportation. I have had too privileged of a life for that.

Even so, I hope to be able to help. I am asking friends, my fellow alumni and the Sacramento community to join me in making a contribution to Sacramento State’s Dreamer Resource Center. The Center provides a wide variety of legal, academic, personal and financial support to Dreamers at Sac State.

Please join me and tell these students that you have their back. Tell these students that all of the hard work they have put into succeeding in school and making it to college was not for nothing. Tell these students that you believe in their American Dream.

Any amount helps, $5, $20, $50, $100, $500, $1,000. Just $30 would cover tuition for the equivalent of one class session. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation.

Whazzuuuup with Budweiser’s Attack on Sacramento Brewing?

Ruhstaller AdIn July, the news broke that Golden Road had submitted plans to develop a new taproom in Midtown. Golden Road is a Los Angeles-based brewery known for mediocre beer and for recently being purchased by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Belgo-Brazilian mega-conglomerate best known for producing an indistinguishable line of lagers, including Budweiser & Bud Light, Becks, Corona, Fosters, Labatt, Stella Artois and some of the biggest brewers from Argentina, Belgium Brazil, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, the best of which are known for their flavorless, easy drinking demeanor. Those beers make a lot of people happy (and they help to finance amazing commercials). There is nothing wrong with that. But many of us prefer a more locally-flavored alternative and, perhaps more critically, brewing close to home offers substantial economic benefits.

Over the last two decades, the traditional mass-production brewers, or “Big Beer,” have been squeezed from all sides. With the takeoff of craft brewing and the increasing popularity of wine and spirits, Big Beer lost 1/3 of its market share.

BeverageMarketShare

Compiled by author from multiple sources,
primarily the Brewers Association and the Distilled Spirits Council

BourbonLineAt first Big Beer ignored craft brewers. Then they laughed at them (Upsetting some of their recently purchased “friends” in the process). Now, unable to beat them, AB InBev has turned to buying them up, beginning in 2011 with the purchase of Goose Island. That Chicago brewer produces of a range of quality products, including the legendary Bourbon County Brand barrel aged stout. While some saw the slippery slope we were headed down, many celebrated their ability to get Bourbon County nationwide, without long lines on Black Friday.

For nearly three years Goose Island remained the lone former-craft brewery in AB’s portfolio, however, in 2014 it became clear that AB thought this experiment had paid off. They seemed to agree with the adage, “Once you go craft, you never go back.” Over the next two years it would add six more former-craft breweries, including Golden Road, with several more added since. AB would selectively pick one growing player in major beer markets to backstop with the kind of marketing and distribution heft that only AB InBev can provide (sometimes with questionable legality). Some of the breweries, like Goose Island, Elysian and Wicked Weed were highly respected. Others, like Golden Road, Blue Point and Four Peaks appear to have been acquired more for their strategic place in the market. All have expanded significantly since their acquisition.

Meanwhile, brewing has been booming in the Sacramento region. From just a handful of breweries at the turn of the decade, Sacramento’s brewing scene has grown over 10x with about 70 breweries, including larger operations like Track 7 and Knee Deep and smaller, critically acclaimed breweries including Moonraker, Mraz, New Glory, New Helvetia and Device. With numerous neighborhoods that have yet to open their own brewery (Pocket Brewing, I’m looking for you), room for growth is plentiful.

The Midtown scene may be reaching saturation, though. The recent closure of Rubicon, Sacramento’s original craft brewery, speaks to this likelihood. In a saturated market, adding competition will only serve to undercut the existing businesses. When that competition has AB InBev’s marketing and distribution advantages behind it, the out-of-towner is ‘starting on third base’ without having to hit a triple.

Craft beer is a valuable industry. Responsible for over 400 thousand jobs nationally including over 50 thousand in California and perhaps five thousand in the Sacramento region (author’s estimate), breweries are more than simply a bar. Craft breweries are manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer in one. If we assume the menu price is a typical 4x markup that means every $6 beer of local craft brew is keeping an extra $1 in the community after accounting for state and federal taxes. That dollar ripples out through the local economy adding another 50 cents or so of economic output. If we extrapolate that to a 1,000 barrel micro-brewery (the average California craft brewery is 5,000 barrels), assuming 200 pints sold per barrel (accounting for spoilage, tasting and frequent ‘quality control’), sending our business to this purveyor of locally manufactured beers would add $300,000 to the economy, relative to a bar or taproom serving beverages produced out of the region. Multiply that by 70 and we are looking at $21 million in additional local economic output because our drinking dollars are being spent at those breweries instead of traditional bars or places like Golden Road where the brewing occurs elsewhere.

The reality is, when AB InBev’s tasting room comes in to Sacramento, it will be undercutting our own local manufacturers and causing our region to lose in a zero-sum game. As the National Beer Wholesaler Association describes it:

“Rearranging the deck chairs in your market … does not provide a real economic impact since the size of the total pie remains the same.”

I am not sure what the solution is, but it was unfortunate that Golden Road’s minimal footprint meant it was able to sail through the City’s permitting process with no discussion of the harm it would do to our economy.

So let’s start that discussion. If you would like to learn more or have thoughts on how we can protect our local industries, I encourage you to come by New Helvetia Brewing tonight (September 5th, 2017 at 6 pm) for a very special Wonk Wednesday, Tuesday edition. In honor of the California Craft Beer Summit this week in Sacramento, we will be raising a pint and discussing strategies to support the development and success of our local craft breweries. Also check out Cindy & Isaac’s discussion with Quinn Gardner of Sactown Union Brewery on Ransacked.

WonkWedsBrew

Who We Are: A Union Town

Happy Labor Day

Nothing like Labor Day for us to get back to work. Minor issues like the birth of a child impeded our ability to keep up with the site for a few months there. We will have some catching up to do over the next few months and, happily, we have a fantastic new member of our team, Caity Maple, to help us make that happen. We have some fantastic guest writers lined up to write from time-to-time as well.

But for now, in honor of Labor Day, let us talk about organized labor and the Sacramento in our continuing series, “Who We are.”

For too long, Sacramento has struggled to not just find, but to really celebrate, our identity. We have grappled with an identity crisis. Whether it is our Sac’o Tomatoes cow-town roots or perceptions that we are little more than a pit stop between San Francisco and Tahoe, too often we find ourselves with a chip on our shoulder, trying to keep up with the Joneses but distracting ourselves from the fantastic, unique, comfortable city that we all share. Throughout this series, I use data to explore different aspects of Sacramento to try to help us understand — and celebrate — Who We Are.

Union membership has been in a well-documented decline for the last half century. Nationally it dropped from about 1 in 3 in the mid-sixties to 1 in 10 today. California’s membership levels have declined as well, dropping from a similar 1 in 3 to about 1 in 6 today. Meanwhile, despite declines in California, overall, and nationally, Sacramento’s union membership has remained basically flat (with significant year-to-year fluctuations) over the past thirty years.

LaborDecline

Source: UnionStats.com

This isn’t solely a product of Sacramento’s concentrated state workforce, although the majority of Sacramento’s public sector are union members. Over eleven percent of the private sector workforce is organized as well, 73% higher than the national average and 26% higher than the state.

DSC07282The decline in union membership has been linked to the decline in the middle class wages, lower non-union wages and increased inequalityalthough not everyone agrees.

Here in California, however, we can see that inequality play out pretty clearly across the state’s various metropolitan areas. The lower the union membership, the higher the inequality. Sacramento and Riverside have the highest union membership among large metros, while having the lowest levels of inequality.

UnionInequality

Source: Author’s Analysis based on UnionStats.com & Economic Policy Institute data

On this Labor Day, while celebrating the important victories labor has won for all working Americans, we in Sacramento can also celebrate organized labor’s sustained strength in our city.

Full Disclosure: The author has been a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers, the United Auto Workers and is currently a member of SEIU, Local 100.

How long can sports survive its business side?

The NFL’s last domino for the time being has fallen. After the Chargers and Rams left St Louis and San Diego in favor of sharing the nation’s second largest media market and with the City of Oakland having clearly moved on (Mount Davis’ ROI proved pathetic after its PSL financing mechanism fell apart), the Raiders are now moving to Las Vegas. Each of these franchises left countless passionate, loyal fans behind for the promised riches of a larger market and a new stadium.

8220739_web1_las-vegas-stadium---0702_8220739

I have been a pretty big sports fan for most of my life, but today I worry about the next generation of sports fans and the games themselves. At the end of the day, what are we rooting for? The players increasingly come and go. The owners are just some random billionaires. What’s left? The laundry? Personally, I root for the teams that I root for (Oakland Athletics, Golden State Warriors & San Francisco 49ers) largely out of the nostalgic connection to my childhood. I cannot wait to take Henry to his first Sacramento Kings game and expect I will develop more of a connection to the team as they become a part of Henry’s childhood.

I never cared that the Coliseum was looked down on by the league or minded sitting in the nose bleed seats. I have fond memories of sitting huddled under a blanket at chilly April night games with my family. I never cared that the Run T-M-C and later 90s Warriors teams were terrible defensively, I just enjoyed how much fun it was to watch all those points being score. The first NBA game I ever went to saw the Warriors and Nuggets combine for 320 points . What kid wouldn’t love that?

I have struggled to maintain my connection over the years as the A’s have continuously threatened to move away (made worse by my childhood hero facing steroidal disgrace). Would I still root for them? Would the laundry’s connection to my childhood be enough, even if they were no longer from my hometown? Probably not. So should they stay there perpetually despite the MLB choosing to relegate them to small-market status because of favorable territorial rights bestowed on the Giants? That’s a harder question to answer. The Las Vegas Raiders answered that forcefully, breaking the hearts of many longtime, loyal Oakland fans. The The Los Angeles Chargers and Rams broke their San Diego and St. Louis fans’ hearts just as callously over the last year.

Should we blame them, given the economics of the situation?

That’s a tough question to answer. But I will answer it this way: Professional sports, as a business, has always been built on the loyalty and irrational exuberance of a prideful, local fan base. That was a good business for many, many decades. It made a lot of people a lot of money, while bringing pride, joy and sometimes the most beautiful kind of suffering to their communities. Over the last two decades, though, professional sports have gotten a major taste of national TV dollars. With that taste, they have become addicted and are shifting their business model to ensure they get more and more. Loyalty matters less because they are cashing in when you are tuning in, no matter which team you root for. But there are two problems with that model (aside from any ethical questions):

First, the centralized national TV model is dying and ESPN is a big part of what is driving consumers to cut the cord. The technology on this is accelerating and the current model is unlikely to survive to the end of the next decade — it might not even survive this decade. Once we’ve shifted to an a la carte system, the NFL, etc will either have to put up a serious financial barrier to entry for fans, in order to generate TV revenue, or else figure something else out.

Second, if you cut the relationship between communities and their sports teams, you are going to stunt the development of future fans. My friends in Oakland and San Diego are not likely to teach their kids to love the Raiders or Chargers. Most of them will probably largely just forget the NFL exists. If you live in San Diego and can go to the Beach in November, why would you spend that time in front of a TV? I love football, but I love football because of the 49ers. If you cut off that relationship, football is meaningless to me. I couldn’t care less about college football. Why? It’s the same sport, that doesn’t make sense. Simple, I went to non-BCS colleges, so I have never developed a connection to and really could not care less how it plays out. If the A’s move from Oakland, Henry will never watch their games or likely any others. He will never grow up with a relationship to Major League Baseball and he’ll find something else to do with his time and money. He may not even grow up with a relationship to Minor League Baseball, given the Rivercats own lack of loyalty. I’m not sure if he’ll be better or worse off because of it, but I’m pretty sure MLB will lose out just like I’m pretty sure the NFL is losing out by alienating the 17th and 20th largest metropolitan areas in the country. But hey, Mark Davis, Art Spanos, and every other NFL owner, just got a little richer, so I guess the economics work out in the short run.

At least one NFL owner, Stephen Ross of the Miami Dolphins, seems to get it, in casting the lone ‘No’ vote, he said:

My position today was that we, as owners, and as a League, owe it to the fans to do everything we can to stay in the communities that have supported us until all options have been exhausted. I want to wish Mark Davis and the Raiders organization the best in Las Vegas.

As he so often does, Jack Ohman succinctly cut to the heart of the issue:

FutureofSports-Ohman

I have said it before and I will probably say it again, it is much too soon to meaningfully claim Sacramento’s new arena to be a financial success or failure. That said, I am glad that with the Kings’ new home locked in, my son will not have his little heart broken by the Kings leaving his hometown for at least the next several decades.

Of course, any readers now yearning for a simpler time in sports may wish to attend the State Library’s upcoming event, “Sacramento Baseball from the 1870s to the River Cats” on April 5th.

FutureofSports-LibraryBaseball

Does Old Sacramento Need Saving?

You might have heard, the City of Sacramento built a new arena downtown. Some people are very excited about it. Others a bit less so. That divide may last for a while. It will take a number of years for either side to develop meaningful evidence of whether it was a good idea for spending a quarter billion dollars. In the mean time, everyone who cares about Sacramento’s future should be rooting for the arena’s success, but more importantly, looking to smooth out any problems that may arise.

One concern I have been hearing widely is that parking costs related to the arena are undercutting the public’s ability to patronize Old Sacramento’s businesses and cultural amenities. As one Old Sacramento business owner puts it, “We’re withering on the vine down here.” Speaking for myself, as a parent, when deciding where to take my child for a fun afternoon, paying a $15 parking tab would definitely be an impediment. That said, attendees of an arena event might stop by one of Old Sacramento’s businesses or be reminded of the fun times their family has had at the Railroad Museum.

20170316_113940.jpg

So is Old Sacramento in trouble?

Thanks to the good folks at State Parks and the City of Sacramento, I was able to quickly acquire the data to start to investigate the question, how did the arena impact attendance at the Railroad Museum and revenues for the local businesses?

Despite the concerns voiced by many, attendance at Sacramento’s venerable Railroad Museum has been steady through the first half of the Golden 1’s inaugural season. This may represent a small disappointment, after about two years of steady growth, but it is far from a catastrophe.

Railroad Attendance

How about the businesses? That data is a little less timely, only running through the third quarter of 2016, missing the Kings season, but it does show a small 2.4% decline over the prior year. It may have been impacted by the loss of parking at the mall or difficulties related to construction. It may also have just been a small correction after growth of 5.7% the prior year. The revenue has bounced around quite a bit, so we should avoid reading too much into a small change. I am told that revenue was down modestly this winter, but that could just as easily be explained by the extreme weather.

It is unclear to me if Old Sacramento needs saving from anything except the freeway, but there is nothing like a good controversy to drive progress. As a part of his “Destination Sacramento” campaign, the mayor and some business leaders are pushing to kick the area up a notch as well. Ideas include public art, water taxis, expanded dinner cruises, additional events, best of all, a terrace that would literally allow visitors to dip their toes in the river and, worst of all, a new name.

The terrace would be amazing. The challenge would be dealing with the numerous layers of bureaucracy involved with ensuring our region’s flood safety. Public art, as well, whether a series of tomato on a fork statues or a statue commemorating the sesquicentennial, would be fantastic. I suspect at some point one of my colleagues at Sacramentality will write on the economic benefits of public art. I wonder about the value of water taxis that do not really have anywhere to go, but I would not write it off.

Here is another idea. The City could use perceptions of difficulty on game days, whether real or imagined, as a marketing ploy the rest of the time. It could offer discounted parking on non-arena days and blast it out on social media, email lists and the morning shows as “family fun days.” Best yet, the program would cost virtually nothing.

Who We Are: A City of Trees

For too long, Sacramento has struggled to not just find, but to really celebrate, our identity. We have grappled with an identity crisis. Whether it is our Sac’o Tomatoes cow-town roots or perceptions that we are little more than a pit stop between San Francisco and Tahoe, too often we find ourselves with a chip on our shoulder, trying to keep up with the Joneses but distracting ourselves from the fantastic, unique, comfortable city that we all share. Throughout this series, I use data to explore different aspects of Sacramento to try to help us understand — and celebrate — Who We Are.

In seeking “to make sure that everyone on Interstate 5 knows that Sacramento is America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital,”Sacramento’s friendliest water tower has managed to stir up some controversy. It has riled up a number of this author’s neighbors in Nextdoor Pocket and received a thumbs down from at least one bicyclist. Not surprisingly, Ray Tretheway, the Executive Director of the Tree Foundation prefers the old version.
“It symbolizes why people think so highly of Sacramento – because of its glorious tree canopy. It’s the best (motto) for today and for the future.” – Ray Tretheway
OHMAN031217colorOur city’s Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist, Jack Ohman also offered a number of colorful alternatives (click the link to see all of them). The State Hornet even suggested the tower “can go fork itself.”
 Ironically, when the water tower was originally painted in 2003 (at the behest of then Councilman Robbie Waters), the city turned down ideas focused on agriculture to run with the “City of Trees” motto instead. Today, having come to embrace our agricultural heritage, proponents of the change point out that Sacramento is America’s only Farm-To-Fork Capital (most similar cities prefer the term ‘Farm-to-Table‘) but that it is one of many that claim the moniker City of Trees.
Sacramento’s urban forest has been recognized as among the best in the nation and even the world. With 23.6% covered in trees, Sacramento has it made in the shade with the Sacramento Tree Foundation and SMUD encouraging us to do the planting.. Our city was also among the original cities designated as a “Tree City USA” by the Arbor Day Foundation in 1976. Sacramento State was even named a “Tree Campus USA.” Clearly, while we are not the only City of Trees, Sacramento is among the very most deserving of the title.
treepedia-73bf7b84
Trees are also very much worth celebrating. They cut pollution, increase land value and even make you feel younger. They offer incredible bang for the buck in dealing with modern infrastructure and environmental concerns, especially carbon dioxide and other air pollution. The name is also the inspiration for the City of Trees music festival, adding to the cool factor. They also make our city a particularly good destination for an urban hike.
tomato-345280_960_720One would hope that Sacramento could be both pro-tree and pro-fork. Celebrating our agricultural and culinary heritage should not have to come at the expense of our urban forest. One wonders if, with a bit more artistic/desktop publishing creativity, both of these identities couldn’t be celebrated side-by-side. Better yet, give the trees back their water tower and create something new to celebrate our beloved tomatoes. Perhaps our city could take inspiration from Chicago’s cows or Austin’s guitars and create a public art program celebrating both our love of forks and tomatoes?
SacramentoGISTreeMapWe should also take care to frame these conversations and subsequently policies in a way that works to the benefit of the community as a whole. Too often, the immense co-benefits of urban forestry tend to miss the most at-risk populations. Sacramento is no different. The cities more affluent neighborhoods in Council Districts 3 (22%), 4 (25%), 5 (19%) and 7 (21%) have high levels of canopy coverage, while more at-risk neighborhoods in District 2 (15%), 6 (14%) and 8 (12%) have more modest canopies. District 1 (5%) may cease to be such an outlier in a few years as its newly planted canopy has time to grow. (Similarly, I would tend to doubt that any more of the benefits of FtF trickle down to the residents who need them most — prove me wrong, advocates, prove me wrong!)