Luella honored!

Luella Cover

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

This past Tuesday, the City Council did just that!

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

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

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

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

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

America’s First Councilwomen (Sacramento was First)

Luella Cover

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

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

Luella Headshot circa 1912 - from Sac Union 1948 article

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

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

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


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

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

Last updated: March 2018

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

A City in Search of Equity & Diversity

capitolOver the last several years, the conversation over who holds power in the upper echelons of the private sector and government have increasingly focused on the lack of women and people of color. Indeed, the University of California, Davis produced over a decade’s worth of data which shows that about 97% of board-level and CEO positions in the top 400 companies in California are held by men.

Hell, in what is often-considered the most progressive state in the Union, we’ve still never had a female Governor.

I remember becoming particularly interested in this topic when looking at our own city council and realizing that there was just one woman sitting at the dais. After deciding to take a deep dive, in March of 2016 I wrote a piece that looked at the makeup of city boards and commissions, elected offices, and leadership positions within the city.

Of course, it was already clear that we were lacking in elected city positions in terms of gender diversity, but I was surprised to find out – according to the city’s own department leadership diagram – that only about 13 percent of upper management positions were held by women. Also, while the aggregate of boards and commissions were about 40 percent women, the commissions with decision-making power, such as the Planning and Design Commission, were seriously lacking (2 members out of 13).

Due to a lack of data and expertise, my analysis missed a larger question entirely — the intersectionality of ethnicity. The city has made modest strides over time with diversity in elected office; Milton McGhee (elected 1967) was the first African American city council member, Manuel Ferrales (elected 1969) was the first Latino council member, and Robert Matsui (elected 1971) was the first Japanese American council member.


But of course we wonder, where are the women of color? The answer is: not generally in positions of power. Recently, the city decided that needed to change, and while historically it hasn’t meaningfully gathered data on diversity or analyzed who holds the power, it does now.

In April of 2016, Councilmember Angelique Ashby partnered with the research firm McKinsey to determine just what the “diversity deficit” is in Sacramento, and how we might move forward with solutions. That began with a Gender Parity Report Card issued out of her office, which not only noted the lack of women in management positions as well as a significant differences in pay (spoiler: women make less than men), but suggested actionable solutions such as hiring a Diversity Manager.

Ultimately, the city decided to move forward with that recommendation and is in the process of hiring for that position.

That study spurred the call for a city-wide Gender and Ethnic Diversity Audit, which was released in July of 2016. As the Sacramento Bee pointed out, “the city’s employees – and its Police and Fire departments – are significantly less diverse than the public they serve. In all but two of 17 city departments examined, more than 50 percent of managers are white.”

In a nutshell, we found out there is a lot of work to be done to ensure our city leadership mirrors its population.

Now, fast forward a year and five months, and the city released yet another audit of its ethnic and gender diversity. Overall, the results show that not much progress has been made in the past year and there is still a lot of work to be done, but also that there is significant movement underway.

In a February City Council hearing on the audit, the community came together to voice their opinions.


Via Consulting Group’s Jennifer Manuel, a local business-owner focused on closing the gender pay gap and the Chair of the Women and Girls Advancement Coalition noted in her testimony, “While the audit raises short-term challenges that require immediate attention, our coalition is concerned that the city does not yet have a comprehensive plan to address gender and racial disparities over the long-term. The audit shows us that we must take action to move beyond reporting and begin to design solutions – including the need to start with the proper classification of all City employees”

After going on to discuss the actionable ways the city can make progress now while we wait for the hiring of a Diversity Manager, including bringing together a broader coalition of stakeholders into the process, she went on to say, “we see this as a major step forward to achieve pay equity for women from all backgrounds, people of color, and LGBTQ employees.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Activist and board member for the Fem Dems of Sacramento, Mary McCune, wrote to the city, “The Fem Dems look forward to how City Council uses the most recent audit to determine its next steps towards creating a city workforce that welcomes and uplifts all members of the community and offers its support and expertise whenever possible.”

And the last speaker, Nicolina Hernandez, who is not only a newly appointed Latina woman to the Planning and Design Commission, but a member of the Mayor’s working group on Sacramento’s future economic growth, left it on the perfect note. “I agree that this is a very bold move that the city is undertaking, and I see that this audit has shed light on areas where the city can embrace policies and practices to increase diversity,” Hernandez stated. “I commend everyone who has participated in these discussions.”

Indeed, while things may not have moved as quickly as some hoped, I have to say I couldn’t be more proud to live in a city that prioritizes equity for all and is willing to take a good, hard look at itself to make that happen.

This is progress.

So, how can you get involved?

  • If you or someone you know would be a great fit for the Diversity Manager position, apply here.
  • Find out who your city council member is here, and send your feedback.
  • Connect with local organizations such as the Fem Dems of Sacramento, InspireMidtown, and California Women Lead.
  • Encourage your friends and loved ones to apply for that leadership position, run for office, and take the lead!

California’s First Councilwoman – Part III

Luella Cover

This post is a continuation of the story of Luella Johnston, Sacramento (and California’s) first elected councilwoman. In Part I, I discussed Luella’s civic and political activism in Sacramento, culminating in her successful 1912 campaign for a seat on the Sacramento City Council. In Part II, I discussed her time on the City Council, then called the City Commission. In this third and final part, I discuss her re-election campaign and later years.

Luella Headshot circa 1912 - from Sac Union 1948 article

Luella Johnston Campaign Headshot (circa 1912)

Luella Johnston should have been riding high entering into the 1913 campaign season. On the power of the women’s vote in the 1912 election, the anti-corporate Progressives had won every seat of the five-member City Commission governing Sacramento. As part of that wave of reform, Luella was voted into office – the first woman elected to municipal office in California’s history.

In just one year, the reformers had also delivered on much of their agenda. Cronyism seemed to have been reined in. The mighty railcar and utility companies were subjected to greater regulation and rate controls, reducing costs for everyday Sacramentans. And the Commission had proposed and the voters passed several major infrastructure modernization projects, including a levee protection bond that Luella had championed as a candidate.

As the first of her peers to face re-election, Luella was the standard-bearer of the revolution. Luella, proclaimed the Sacramento Bee, “represents the reform and progressive movement which has done so much for the municipality.”

And yet. Despite these successes, Luella’s campaign must have launched with a sense of foreboding.

Sexism would pose an even greater threat in re-election. In 1912 she had won the last of five open seats on the Commission. In 1913, hers was the only seat at issue. “At an election where only one is to be elected,” fretted one of her female supporters, “all the chances favor the election of a man.”

She had also made enemies of some very powerful interests. Early in her 1912 term, she was warned that “if you continue your present course we will see that you stand no chance of re-election.” Nevertheless, she persisted.

That looming threat became very real when the old Political Machine put forth its challenger.

The Machine Strikes Back: Enter E. J. Carraghar

Carraghar - Cartoon - Sac Bee May 1 1913

Cartoon of Carraghar, Sacramento Bee (1913)

Edward J. Carraghar was, only one year prior, perhaps the most powerful man in Sacramento. A councilmember until the new charter went into effect in 1912, he was widely seen as the power behind Mayor Beard’s throne in the old City Hall. Under his rule the Southern Pacific, Pacific Gas & Electric, and the city’s public service corporations generally received favorable treatment; they bolstered his reign in return. Carraghar was local Progressives’ bête noire: the “champion,” editorialized the Bee, “of the Machine, the public-service corporations, and the reactionary elements generally.”

If Carraghar won, it would be, the Bee warned, “the opening wedge for the government of this city again by the old crowd. It would herald the beginning of the return to the old condition of Machine and corporation rule.”

Carraghar’s challenge was also personal. In 1912, Luella had terminated his tenure in elective office by narrowly besting him for the last seat on the Commission.

1913 was the rematch. 1913 was the counter-revolution.

The 1913 Campaign: Nasty, Brutish, & Short

1913 Campaign VS

Sacramento Union (1913)

Luella came out of the gate with several important endorsements. The Municipal Voters League, the city’s leading Progressive organization, voted overwhelmingly to support her candidacy. The Bee, too, was amongst her most vocal supporters. Luella, the paper wrote, had been “on the right side and for The People, as against corporate selfishness, graft and improper discrimination.” Finally, the Woman’s Council, that powerful coalition of women’s organizations that Luella had founded almost a decade ago, also pledged its full support: “the women of Sacramento,” declared the Council, “as citizens, voters and taxpayers have a legal and moral right to a representative of their own sex in the city government.”

With her indefatigable style, Luella re-constituted a Women’s Precinct Organization to lead her campaign. She campaigned hard not only on her Progressive bona fides, but also her accomplishments as Commissioner of Education, where she had closed a budget shortfall, addressed student overcrowding, and inaugurated several new children’s parks. It must have been quite the sight, at that time, to see a woman campaigning on her executive and legislative experience. At one campaign stump speech in Oak Park, where Luella had recently inaugurated a new, modern playground, women of the neighborhood reportedly showered her with “three minutes of bouquets of roses.”

But Carraghar was nothing if not a shrewd and battle-tested campaigner. He punched back, hard, hitting Luella wherever she was strongest. “Every trick that political ingenuity can conceive is being used against Mrs. Johnston,” criticized the Bee. “No appeal to prejudice is too base, no lie too brazen, to be rejected in an effort by the old Machine to confuse voters.”

If the Bee was exaggerating, it could only have been by a hair. Time and again the Carraghar camp peddled bald falsehoods to the electorate. For example:

  • As a Commissioner, Luella was a consistent vote to regulate the public service corporations whereas Carraghar, as Councilmember, had cut deals favorable to the Southern Pacific and other corporations. In spite of these contrasting histories, his campaign surrogates praised Carraghar as the anti-corporate candidate.
  • Luella was an ardent anti-saloon campaigner. Her first political fight was winning a moratorium on new saloons in residential areas. In stark contrast, Carraghar was, himself, a tavern owner. Yet, Carraghar allies implausibly insisted that the “liquor interests” were supporting Luella.
  • And the harshest blow of all: Luella was a suffragette, endorsed by the Woman’s Council, and the first woman elected to city office in Sacramento. To counteract this base of support, his camp orchestrated a “Woman’s E. J. Carraghar Club,” which attacked the legitimacy of Luella’s Woman’s Council’s endorsement and warned other women not to be seen as “voting for a woman because she is a woman.”

If the city’s corporations and old power brokers had underestimated the Progressive challenge in 1912, they were not set to repeat that mistake in 1913. According to contemporary accounts, whereas Luella’s was a volunteer-powered campaign, Carraghar’s was backed by “great sums of money,” widely assumed to come from the coffers of the public service corporations.

Unfortunately, Luella herself made a few blunders that her opponent was quick to seize upon. At one point, according to a pro-Carraghar publication, Luella took “an army of small boys away from their studies to distribute anti-Carraghar literature, during school hours.” She also failed to appoint a prominent parks advocate, Mrs. J. Miller, to the parks board, causing a nasty rift within her base in the women’s clubs.

When the Election Day finally arrived, it was a rout: Luella was soundly defeated in every precinct except for the annexed residential neighborhoods.

She took the defeat well, reportedly with a smile on her face as she shook the hands of hundreds of supporters. “When I leave this position,” she said, “it will be with the thought that I have given my best efforts to the city in the limited term of office that I served.”

Three months after Luella’s term officially expired, her former colleagues voted to make her the city’s Truant Officer, responsible for boosting school attendance. Outnumbered for now, Commissioner Carraghar cast a solitary, spiteful protest vote against his former opponent “on the ground that a man should fill the position.”

Progressives still controlled four of the Commission’s five seats, but the 1913 campaign was a dark omen for reformers. The old Machine had proven it was not yet vanquished; it was fighting back.

A Ghost Arises: The 1914 Campaign

Sac Bee - 1914 - Cartoon

Sacramento Bee (1914)

As the city campaign draws to a close, there is heard on the air a sound suspiciously like the rustle of grave clothes. Those bosses whom the people thought had been laid to rest for their long sleep, breaking the bonds that held them, in spectral shape again appear among the living.

Sacramento Union (1914)

Reformers and boss revanchists were set to collide again in 1914, but with even higher stakes. Due to an early resignation on the Commission, two seats instead of one were up for election. Progressive control of the Commission, won a scant two years earlier, was now in jeopardy.

Carraghar pounced. “Give me a man – no, give me two,” he told a meeting of businessmen, “that I may once more get in the saddle and work in your interests.” He was not subtle. “The men who once dictated the politics of Sacramento,” warned the Union, “that unwholesome crew of bosses, are trying to patch up the Machine.”

Emboldened by Luella’s defeat the year before, Sacramento’s business interests could not have been more eager to help.

Long used to a pliant city government, Sacramento’s corporate titans chafed under Commission rule. Dr. E. M. Wilder, the staunchly anti-corporate Commissioner of Public Works up for re-election that year, had emerged as their chief antagonist. He had ordered the Southern Pacific to tear out an unlawfully-constructed rail line, strong-armed the railroad into improving the city’s levees, and cleared the SP out of its prime staging area at the wharfs. He had used his commissionership to undermine Pacific Gas & Electric’s electrical distribution and streetcar monopolies while openly campaigning for full municipal ownership of both. He was the anti-Carraghar.

Completing the good government ticket was O.H. Miller, a prominent developer, who ran for the open Commission seat pledging himself to Wilder’s platform.

Carraghar and his allies put forward their own “Machine” ticket: Thomas Coulter, a hop grower and realty dealer, and Dr. Frederick E. Shaw, a civically-active physician. While never publicly admitted, Coulter and Shaw were generally seen as supported, per the Bee, by the full “power, influence, and money of the Southern Pacific, the Pacific Gas and Electric and other selfish public-service corporations.”

What is beyond dispute is that someone spent heavily to defeat Wilder-Miller, even more than was spent to defeat Luella. “Never before was known such lavish scattering of coin in a Sacramento election,” wrote the Sacramento Bee. Thousands of placards, hundreds of canvassers, and even a few brass bands were trumpeting the Machine candidates. The Sacramento Union estimated at one point that thousands had been spent on the 1914 campaign. (In contrast, Luella only spent $10 on her 1912 campaign.)

When the dust of the election settled, the Machine had once again triumphed. Commissioner Wilder took the loss less gamely than Luella: “It was announced two years ago by the leaders of the old gang in this city that they would get me when my time came and they have indeed done so.” Sacramento’s Progressive revolution was over.

One of the new Commission majority’s first acts: firing Luella Johnston.

Within a few years’ time many of the Commission’s 1912-13 Progressive reforms were undercut or undone. The civil service commission was defunded; health and safety ordinances, including the city’s liquor laws, went unenforced; and regulation of the city’s public service corporations, and chiefly the Southern Pacific and Pacific Gas & Electric, were once again relaxed. By the end of the 1910s, writes local historian William Burg, City Hall had descended “to even worse corruption than under Mayor Beard.”

The Commission model, which had started with such promise, was scrapped by voters in 1921 and replaced with the latest trend in municipal governance: the City Manager form of government we have today.

Later Years

Johnston - Womens Council 1955 - age 94

Luella, in her 90s, from Woman’s Council: Silhouette of Service (1955)

Luella quickly bounced back from the Machine’s retribution. Months later, a rare sister-in-politics, Sacramento County’s elected Superintendent of Schools Carolyn Webb, appointed Luella Deputy Superintendent. The assignment was short-lived. Less than a year later, in 1915, Luella would resign in protest over the county pressuring her to take a pay cut to free up funds to hire an additional employee.

In her mid-fifties now, Luella finally seemed content to return to private life. Her name fades from the historical record at this point. From the social notes pages of local newspapers, we know she remained active with both the Tuesday Club and the Woman’s Council, but not leading grand initiatives like she did in earlier years.

Johnston at 92 - Bee - 6-20-1953

Luella working on her book – Sacramento Bee (1953)

Luella’s passion for public service and education never left her, however. In her twilight years she devoted herself to writing a book to help new immigrants learn English. Tentatively entitled American Folklore, she hoped it would spark a love of reading, particularly for newspapers and magazines. “The most vital thing for any newcomer to this land,” she explained, at age 92, “is to introduce him to the newspapers at the earliest possible moment. Particularly, so he can read about the food that he eats and the clothing he wears.”

She passed away in 1958, age 97, her book unfinished.

Johnston Obit - Bee - 3-12-1953

Sacramento Bee Obituary (1958)


Johnston Signature

Luella’s Signature (1901)

Luella Johnston played a central role in the social, cultural, and political development of early twentieth century Sacramento. It’s almost overwhelming to describe. She led to prominence the Tuesday Club, which would endure as Sacramento’s premier women’s social club for almost a century. She founded the Woman’s Council, which for decades gave women a seat at the table in making and passing municipal public policy. She was an early education reformer whose successes from the 1900s and 1910s, wrote the Sacramento Union in 1948, still remained decades later “as monuments to the efforts of one frail woman who probably never weighed 100 pounds in her life.” She was integral to the rise of the City’s Progressive moment, which, although short-lived, produced infrastructure improvements (like the Yolo Bypass) and policies (like municipal ownership of electrical distribution, which decades later would evolve into SMUD) that live with us today. She was a crusader for women’s rights in a hostile era and earned the laurel of being the first woman elected to municipal office in California. (And, quite possibly, of any major city in the United States.)

Her accomplishments seem to be too many for a single life.

Sadly, as far as I am aware, there are no memorials to Luella in Sacramento. Neither Johnston Park, Community Center, Pool, nor Road refer to Luella Johnston, but rather to Carl Johnston – an unrelated, early North Sacramento developer. The most I have found honoring her is a small (and sadly inaccurate – her 1913 election was the first in which California women could vote) plaque at her gravesite in the Old City Cemetery.

Plaque - Johnston

Old Cemetery Plaque

I can’t help but feel that is a serious oversight. It’s important to honor the city heroes who helped make Sacramento what it is today, lest they be forgotten, like Luella. It’s also important to correct omissions regarding women’s accomplishments, which are sometimes overlooked or minimized in history books.

Imagine for a moment if the Old City Council chambers where she used to serve, today nameless, were re-christened the Luella Johnston Council Chambers. In the march for gender equality, so relevant in the news today, I think it would be a beautiful reminder of how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go.


Abridged Bibliography

In putting together this account of early 1910s Sacramento political history, Luella’s last campaign, and her later years, I drew heavily on, and am indebted to, the following sources:


Look Who’s Brewing Too

SacMixedCans dml.jpgSacramento makes a lot of fantastic beer! Just check out the lineup offered at my local Nugget (and thank them for offering a particularly good selection of local craft beers). While Sacramentality’s loyal readers will recall, our region is far from the biggest brewing region in the state, it has been the fastest growing over the last five years, taking a 5x multiplier to its 2011 size.

Sacramento’s brewing scene has gone through some difficult times over the 15 years we have data from the Board of Equalization (Thanks again, BOE!). Production was flat through the onset of the recession, when the closure of two of the region’s largest breweries saw production decline dramatically, even as craft beer continued to grow across the state and nationally. Production increased slowly through the recession but has caught fire since 2013.


The Old Faithful
In 2016, seven breweries remained from the first few years of the 21st century. Sudwerk has grown slowly, but unevenly over the last decade. It became the largest brewery in the region in 2007, when Sacramento Brewing Co. began its decline, despite seeing no growth over the previous year. It fell from the top spot in 2014 after Knee Deep opened their Auburn facility. In 2016 they fell to third behind Track 7 and Berryessa may soon be nipping at their heels.

Rubicon saw several years of steady, but limited growth in the years of Sacramento Brewing’s collapse and closure, doubling from 34 thousand to 68 thousand gallons between 2006 and 2012. Production would double again over the next three years with the new brewery in place, but with little growth in 2016, it was falling well short of the planned 10x pace, leaving it destined for a duplicate appearance in our next section.

Jack Russell and Hoppy are about the same mid-size breweries they were in 2002 while the other five began and remain tiny as well.

The Dearly Departed
Prior to the recession, production in our region was dominated by Sudwerk, Sacramento Brewing Company, Beermann’s Brewerks and Brew It Up. At their peak, these four collectively produced about three quarters of Sacramento’s local beer between 2003 and 2005. Of those four, only Sudwerk still exists. While Rubicon was smaller at the time, they grew significantly in the vacuum the larger breweries left behind, but called it quits in 2017. Similarly, American River grew relatively quickly in the New Wave, but also shut their doors last year. Brew It Up has been revived across the river in YOLO County, so perhaps we have not all enjoyed our last Monkey Knife Fight?

The New Wave


Auburn Alehouse was the first of the New Wave, opening in 2007. As something of a tweener, they opened their doors just before the string of major closures in 2009. They grew slowly for the first several years, before significantly increasing distribution in more recent years, growing to 87 thousand gallons in 2015, before declining slightly in 2016, leaving them well behind the biggest producers, but still the sixth largest brewery in the region.

With an economy in shambles and the region’s brewing scene crashing, it was no surprise that no new breweries of significance opened over the next three years. 2011, however, would prove to be the beginning of something very big. That spring Knee Deep began brewing in the old Beermann’s location. Starting with a respectable 26 thousand gallons, they would double in 2012 and, after reaching capacity at their original location and after beginning to level off in 2013, moved to their new brewery in Auburn. The new facility allowed a tripling of production in 2014, doubling that in 2015 and increasing again by nearly one-third in 2016.

Track 7 got off to a slower start. They did not begin production until the very end of 2011 (leading to their annual New Year’s Eve anniversary parties) and grew more slowly within the confines of their Curtis Park location. Since opening their larger Natomas production facility in 2015, however, Track 7 has been catching up quickly.
2011 also saw Loomis Basin and Berryessa open their doors. Loomis Basin started larger and tripled in size by 2016, becoming the seventh largest brewery in the region.

Berryessa started smaller, in the tiny Winters market, but took off starting in 2013, passing Loomis Basin in 2015 and Auburn Alehouse in 2016, reaching the fifth spot. An early look at 2017 data suggests they have continued to grow quickly.

The next few years were not only been categorized by the growth of its biggest players, but also an explosion in the number of breweries producing craft beer, nearly tripling over the last five years. Perhaps most notable is the growth in that juicy middle of the local market. In 2016, the nineteen breweries producing between 10 and 40 thousand gallons collectively account for one quarter of the market (with New Glory, Bike Dog and New Helvetia at the high end and Monks Cellar, Jack Rabbit and Mraz at the low end), providing a substantial, highly localized cornerstone of the market – and the kind of competition that can drive delicious innovation across the region. Nearly all of these breweries opened their doors in 2012 or later, offering the real possibility that many of them could follow the paths of the older, bigger brewers in the new wave.


NewGloryAdI’ve seen our local mid-sized breweries employ two primary strategies to significantly push past their tap room-generated demand.

While nearly all breweries have limited release specialty and one-off beers they produce, some take this to a much more extreme, social media-fueled level. Visitors to New Glory in Sacramento or Moonraker in Auburn will rarely see the same beer again. While they both have a number of excellent, highly regarded beers, they only brew any given variety occasionally. When their most popular beers roll off the canning line, the most enthusiastic beer fans show up sometimes hours before the breweries open to ensure they get their share. Flatland in Elk Grove takes it further, literally never serving the same beer twice.

By creating the perception of scarcity and making each release feel like a “can’t miss” event, they help to create a buzz around their best beers and ensure that newer experiments will sell, even if they don’t live up to the reputation of their cousins.
The second approach worked very well for Track 7, but disastrously for Rubicon. If a main component of your business is operating a dedicated retail establishment to sell the product in a local market, adding more locations in more markets gives breweries the opportunity to sell more beer at much higher margins than when a distributor gets involved. Track 7 grew up as the local brewery in the relatively small Curtis Park market, but by adding their second location, they became the go-to brewery for the much larger Natomas community. Rubicon’s new West Sacramento location was likewise opening an untapped market (although the tap room opened later than the attached production facility, perhaps letting their new West Sacramento competition get too strong of a toehold in the community). While new markets offer the promise of long term stability, beyond the whims of offering the hot product on social media, it also means substantial capital investment; disappointing returns, as Rubicon experienced, could be disastrous.

Both of these earlier examples sought to double down on their investment, not just opening a second retail location, but also substantially expanded production capacity in the new location, increasing the potential for growth, the cost and the risk. The investment saw Track 7 take off, growing from a local tap room to a major regional player in just two years, while Rubicon was left with a bill it lacked the consistent revenue stream to pay down. Today, others are taking a more limited approach. Bike Dog added a new tap room just two miles from their West Sacramento brewery. The river and its unfortunate lack of bridges (a future article?), however, makes the few hundred feet between West Sacramento and West Broadway a veritable chasm. Going even further, Device is tripling down, adding Midtown and Pocket locations to their business. Their experience will be interesting to watch, as they are both going head-to-head with numerous breweries and bars in Midtown’s busy market, while also becoming the only brewery on the I-5 corridor between Broadway and Elk Grove with over two miles to the nearest bar in the Pocket. Here in the Pocket, we are excited to have them and rooting for their success!

DeviceCans dml

Going beyond the local markets and becoming the kind of breweries that add their region to the state’s leaders will take something more, however. When you look down the list of the state’s top craft breweries, you see:

Sierra Nevada, whose generous use of cascade hops came to define the west coast style and their classic pale ale remains California’s go-to craft beer decades later;

Stone, whose arrogant gargoyles were at the forefront of giving packaging real personality and who made big, high alcohol, high flavor beers the driving force of west coast craft brewing through the beginning of the 21st century;

Lagunitas, who took that full flavor, high alcohol form and reproduced it at a more consumer-friendly price point; and

Ballast Point, whose Grapefruit Sculpin caught the big wave of fruity IPA’s and rode it to near perfection.

SierraStoneSculpin dml

If one of our fantastic breweries is going to make that leap, it will probably take a genre-defining effort. Perhaps Moonraker will be able to leverage their reputation for truly fantastic hazy IPAs (and a recently announced brewery expansion) and make Auburn the west coast’s New-New England if the “haze craze” spreads to mainstream markets. Or if the market for subtle but flavorful craft lagers expands (making so many brewers’ dreams comes true), Sactown Union’s focus and talents in that area could pay huge dividends – or perhaps Sudwerk’s established market share and capacity will give them the edge. Maybe our talented and creative brewers may dream up something I could not even imagine that will set the beer world on fire. Or maybe the future of craft brewing will revert back to a more local focus, leaving the larger breweries struggling for market share as consumers seek out their favorite local flavors.

No matter way the market goes, I suspect our very last chart of the article will change substantially over the next several years – and I cannot wait to taste it – or to write about it. You can look forward to the next article in the Look Who’s Brewing series this summer when 2017’s data is released.


Goodbye 2017, Hello 2018


With the close of 2017, we here at Sacramentality have our first full year in the books! We published 22 posts in our inaugural year, covering everything from trees to sports to parking to the Simpsons. I’ve picked out a few of my favorites below to celebrate our first year and whet your appetite for 2018.

But first, thank you to all of our readers for joining us in indulging in a little local pride, public policy, and history. We hope you enjoyed reading these posts as much as we enjoyed writing them.

Now, without further ado, here are a few of Sacramentality’s greatest hits of 2017!

Most Popular

Ruhstaller Ad

In terms of unique views, Sacramentality’s most popular post of the year – by far – was Devin’s post on Big Beer vs. Sacramento’s Microbrews, aptly titled Whazzuuuup with Budweiser’s Attack on Sacramento Brewing? Delicious local beers! A David vs. Goliath story! Graphs! Truly, what’s not to like?

The post pairs nicely with New Helvetia’s (916) Pale Ale.

Biggest Scoop


Our first post, on the City’s AirBNB ordinance, was our biggest scoop of the year. We were the first to break the story that fewer than 5% of AirBNB hosts had registered with the City— at a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenues per year.

The City took one of our suggestions – that AirBNB should be forced to automatically collect the tax instead of putting the onus on mom-and-pop hosts to self-report – but sadly ignored another – that these revenues should be set aside to help with the housing crisis.

Most Comprehensive

Caity wrote one of our most comprehensive (and entertaining!) posts of the year:  an overview of the 100+ invisible special districts that make life livable in Sacramento County. The post even earned a share from the Special Districts Association.

Don’t know what a reclamation district is? Not sure if you should care what a reclamation district is? Click above to find out!

Most Controversial

I authored the post that probably ruffled the most moustaches. Responding to my call for Sacramento to pick a new official flag, 10% of you furiously typed “outrageous!” while the other 90% of you scratched your heads and asked “Sacramento has a flag?”

For the record, I still think we can do better. (Maybe in 2018?)


The horror.

Nicest Original Photography


Another favorite post was Katie’s walking tour of four Sacramento neighborhoods – from McKinley Park to R Street. The post highlights some gems even locals may have missed and includes postcard-worthy photos of neighborhood landmarks.  

Isn’t one of your New Year’s Resolutions to walk more?

To 2018 and Beyond…

That’s it for our brief year in review! We’ll see you next week with new posts…

And most importantly, happy 2018 Sacramento!

Look Who’s Brewing


Craft beer is booming in Sacramento, California and the nation! According to the Brewer’s Association, craft beer has grown to 4.2 times its 2004 size in the ensuing twelve years. Board of Equalization data acquired by Sacramentality shows that California was ahead of the curve so has grown a little slower to 3.5 times its size, although that drops to 2.7 times if breweries recently purchased by macro conglomerates are omitted.

Sacramento (represented by a Kings flag, both because the current flag needs replacing and because the data represents the metropolitan area, not just the city) was hit hard by the recession, dropping to 2/3 its 2004 size by 2009 and growing slowly through 2013, but has exploded since, more than tripling in the last four years. We will delve deeper into the local brewing numbers in a subsequent piece, but the decline was caused almost entirely by Sacramento Brewing Company’s descent into oblivion.



Craft brewers are not the only ones brewing in California. Driving over the causeway, you’ll see a prominent billboard with the good folks of Anheuser-Busch pointing out that Bud Light, despite its strong association with St. Louis, MO is brewed in California.


Perusing Board of Equalization data, we see that this is true. Very, very true.


Most (56%!) of the beer accounted for in the Board of Equalization Beer Manufacturer Tax Reports (provided graciously by BOE staff, thank you for that) was brewed by the good folks at everyone’s favorite Belgo-Brazilian mega-conglomerate, Anheuser-Busch InBev. Add in South African-Canadian-American mega-brewer, MillerCoors and the macro brewers collectively top 80 percent of California’s locally produced beer. Budweiser tops 400 million gallons, while MillerCoors hovers around 190 million gallons. While the macro brewers continue to dominate the shelves, their numbers have been slipping, leading the big guys to take a ‘if you can’t beat’em, join’em’ approach.


Coming in third is California’s largest craft brewery (and, coincidentally, the nation’s third largest – behind Yuengling and Boston Brewing), Sierra Nevada. At 34 million gallons, Chico’s finest accounts for nearly five percent of California’s beer, nearly as much as the next three, Lagunitas (14.6 M), Ballast Point (12.2 M) and Stone (11.8 M), combined. Firestone Walker (11.5 M) rounds out the top group. There’s a large jump to the next group of breweries, with fourteen totaling between one and four million gallons (Anchor, Gallo, Bear Republic, Green Flash, Gordon Biersch, Lost Coast, North Coast, Golden Road, 21st Amendment, Anderson Valley, Karl Strauss, Coronado, Pizza Port and Hangar 24).

These seventeen breweries collectively account for 96.5 percent of California’s brewing. The remaining 600 plus breweries total less than Sierra Nevada brews alone.


With so much of California’s craft brewing consolidated in a handful of its largest breweries, it is not surprising that its brewing is largely consolidated in five regions:

  • Northern California: over 80 percent of which is produced by Sierra Nevada
  • San Diego: two-thirds by Stone and Ballast Point
  • North Bay: nearly 80 percent by Lagunitas
  • Central Coast: nearly 90 percent by Firestone Walker
  • Bay Area: two-thirds by 21st Amendment, Anchor and Gordon Biersch


Today, Sacramento remains among the smaller brewing regions, but that may soon change. Our region has been the fastest growing since 2011, increasing production by more than five times over. Check back in a few weeks and we will delve into and celebrate the enormous growth Sacramento’s brewing scene has experienced the last several years. With great breweries like Moonraker, New GloryNew Helvetia & Mraz continuing to push the envelope, an expansion announced by Device, recent newcomers including Flatland and Claimstake beginning to tickle our taste buds, highly anticipated openings in the New Year in Urban Roots and Moksa and larger, established breweries like Track 7 and Knee Deep, I think we can all agree that Sacramento’s brewing scene is Flippin’ Good!

Sacramento’s Special Districts: Everything You Didn’t Want To Know

tower bridge

From where your body can be buried to how we fend off those pesky mosquitoes, the County of Sacramento has over 100 special districts serving your needs that you never knew you didn’t care about. But that’s what we’re here for.

You’re welcome.

So, what even is a special district? According to the California Special Districts Association (yes, there truly is an association for everything), “Special districts are a form of local government created by a local community to meet a specific need…nearly 85% of California’s special districts perform a single function such as sewage, water, fire protection, pest abatement or cemetery management.” Some exist to provide services consolidated over multiple jurisdictions. Most provide services in unincorporated areas that are typically provided by cities.

Today I’ll be taking you on a trip through all of the types of special districts provided to us.

Air Quality

Do you ever wonder who makes sure the air we breathe is not toxic, filled with pollutants, or just downright smelly? Yeah, me neither.

But as it turns out, Sacramento County has it’s very own Metropolitan Air Quality Management District that does just that. This 14-member board, first created in 1959 by the County Board of Supervisors, develops plans and regulations, monitors air quality, enforces on the bad actors, provides incentives to clean up pollution, and reviews land and transportation projects for their impact on air quality. That board consists of all five Sacramento County Supervisors, four members of the Sacramento City Council, one member each from the cities of Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Folsom and Rancho Cordova, and one member representing the cities of Galt and Isleton. They meet the 4th Thursday of every month at 9:30 a.m. in the Board of Supervisors Chambers if you ever want to pop by for a visit.

Now, that’s a breath of fresh air.


grave stone

People die. It’s a fact of life, ironically. While whether we live or die is not up to us, how we choose to lay our dead to rest, is.

Fun macabre fact of the day: Sacramento County has four different cemetery districts to serve your burial needs. These appointed boards manage the day-to-day operations of cemeteries, and some are quite old. For instance, the Fair Oaks Cemetery was first created in 1903. Though burial privileges are limited to current or former district residents/taxpayers or former residents/taxpayers that purchased lots or plots while they were taxpayers/residents, family members of those eligible for burial and veterans are still allowed. Also, if you’re strapped for cash, the County can foot the bill of burial.

The Elk Grove-Cosumnes Cemetery District, founded in 1949, meets every 2nd Thursday of the month at 7:00 p.m. in the District Office. The Fair Oaks Cemetery District, founded in 1926 meets every 2nd Wednesday of the month at 9:15am in the District Office. The Galt-Arno Cemetery District, founded in 1949, meets every 4th Wednesday of the month at 3:00 p.m. in the District Office; and the Sylvan Cemetery District, founded in 1926, meets every 2nd Tuesday of the month at 7:00 p.m. in the Cemetery Office. Drop by and give them a visit next time you’re around the cemetery.

Side note: this may seem unintuitive, but the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery is in fact NOT a special district, but a city park. While folks are still able to bury their loved ones there, it’s only in existing familial plots.


When it rains, it pours, but is your County equipped to deal with that excess water? You better believe Sacramento is.

Our very own Drainage Districts, housed under the Stormwater Utility, provide drainage and flood control services. While this may not seem like a huge priority in a place where rain can be scarce, all you need to do is take one look at how many feet of water we would be under if our floodplains systems, like Natomas, failed. Pretty serious stuff. These districts maintain and operate water channels, drainage pipes, investigate systems and design problems, develop programs to reduce pollutants in drainage, and manage regional flood control projects, among other important tasks. This is often done in tandem with the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA).

In addition to dealing with excess water, we’re also provided water for consumption and other uses. Through twenty-five Water Purveyors, which include dependent water districts, autonomous water districts, as well as cities and private companies, water is distributed to residents in the county. This includes the Sacramento County Water Agency, the City of Sacramento, and three mutual companies that are not regulated by any governmental body which sell shares of the water system, or “securities”. These mutual companies are Tokay Park Water Company​, Orangevale Water Company, and Natomas Central Mutual Water Company.



This seems particularly relevant given recent fires that have ravaged other parts of California. We are fortunate to be protected from flames by the fire departments of the cities of Sacramento and Folsom, as well as eleven Fire Protection Districts. While fire protection has been a necessity since man first harnessed its power to burn stuff, coordination of services has taken a convoluted path to get to where it is today.

Back in the day, just a short seventy or so years ago, fires were fought primarily on a volunteer basis. While some fire districts started forming, such as Galt in 1921 and North Highlands in 1951, there still wasn’t a great need for sophisticated coordination across the county. As the need became more pronounced, several studies conducted in 1968, 1972, 1977, and 1981, helped determine how to best manage the myriad districts with outdated and weird boundaries. Alas, through a very long series of consolidations, we have the advanced fire protection system we know today. What a day to be alive.


This is a no-brainer. If you live in Sacramento, you’re likely writing checks for gas and/or electricity to one of these each month. That’s right, good old Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).

According to the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), the Sacramento PG&E district was established in 1917, is governed by a board of directors, and is regulated by the Public Utilities Commission, Energy Commission, and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Now, that’s a lot of bosses.

SMUD was founded just a few years later in 1923, and is governed by a 7-member board of directors that are elected during the November General Election. Come say “hi” at their next board meeting held on the 1st Thursday of every month at 7:00 p.m. and the 3rd Thursday of every month at 9:00 a.m. in the SMUD Headquarters Building.

Joint Powers And More

As you know, things are usually done better when people work together. While governments don’t always do this well, they can make a big impact when they do.

Sacramento has several Joint Powers Agencies (JPA), which are entities that formed so that two or more entities can work together to do similar things, and play nice in the figurative government sandbox. These include waste management and recycling, employment and training, housing and redevelopment, public libraries, and transit, among others.

Here’s a list of JPA’s and other authorities for you:

Mosquitoes and Rodents

Oh yes, the bane of my existence. Aside from being possibly the most annoying creature on the planet, mosquitoes can also put our lives at risk. In fact, mosquitoes are considered one of the more dangerous creatures on the planet because of their ability to spread deadly diseases, including Zika Virus, Malaria, West Nile Virus, and Yellow Fever. No, thank you.

Luckily for us, the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District, founded in 1946, is here to ensure we’re not victims of mosquito-borne illnesses. This district is governed by a 13-member board of trustees which are appointed by the legislative bodies in Woodland, Winters, Sacramento, Isleton, Davis, Galt, Folsom, Citrus Heights, West Sacramento, Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova and Sacramento and Yolo Counties.

Parks and Recreation


Who doesn’t love to recreate? I sure do. I  enjoy spending my summers paddle boarding on Lake Natoma, riding on the American River Parkway, and hiking around on my favorite local trails.

If you’re like me and never wondered who the heck manages all of the outdoor spaces we love, then you’d probably be surprised to find out that it is done by five different types of governmental entities: dependent park districts, independent park districts, county service areas, cities, and the County Regional Park System. Some are quite small, such as the Arden Manor Recreation and Park District which only spans one square mile, while others like the City of Sacramento park and community services department encompasses ninety-four square miles. Dang, that’s a lot of recreation.

Here’s another list for you:

Land Reclamation

Yeah, I thought the same thing when I read “Reclamation District”…what the heck is that? As it turns out, these districts are the oldest in Sacramento County. Most were formed prior to 1900, and some are over one hundred years old. That’s a trip.

These districts were created to maintain and reclaim land threatened by flooding, and use it for the purposes of agriculture, residential, commercial, or industrial use. Beginning around 1864, large parts of the Delta region were reclaimed by land investors and over the course of about 30 years, turned the region into one of the most rich agricultural areas in California. While it’s difficult to know just how many reclamation districts exist because historically little reporting has been required, there are eighty-four on record, with about twenty-one of them thought to be still active.

You can view a map of those districts here.

Resource Conservation

The Dust Bowl isn’t just a name for a Brewery in Turlock (they’ve got a great IPA, though), but also a dark time in America’s history. With little understanding of the value of preserving our soils, the introduction of large-scale agriculture, with almost no regulation, depleted the land of moisture and nutrients. By the 1930’s, much of the agricultural land across the midwest had become a barren wasteland.

Thus, the federal government sprung into action to preserve this land and avoid another dust bowl disaster, and in 1933 the Federal Soil Conservation Service (FSCS) was founded. Unable to address the needs of individual land owners, the FSCS pushed for the creation of local districts to help individuals get on board with taking care of the soil. This lead to the creation of Sacramento’s four Resource Conservation Districts, each with a five-member elected board of directors that work directly with the FSCS.

The Florin Resource Conservation District was founded in 1953 and meets the 3rd Wednesday of every month at 6:30 pm. at 8820 Elk Grove Boulevard. The Granite Resource Conservation District was founded in 1950 and is currently inactive. The Lower Cosumnes Resource Conservation District was founded in 1952 and meets bimonthly in the odd number months on the 2nd Thursday, at 7:30 p.m. in the USDA Service Center located at 9701 Dino Drive, Suite 170, Elk Grove. The Sloughhouse Resource Conservation District was founded in 1956 and meets bimonthly in the even number months on the 2nd Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. in Vince’s Restaurant in Elk Grove. Drop by and say hello if you’re in the neighborhood.



I’ve often pondered which direction the water actually should swirl in the toilet, but I have to admit that I’ve never given any thought to where that water (and waste) goes, or who is responsible for its disposal. Good thing someone has already thought of that for me. The Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District (SRCSD) provides wastewater collection, treatment, and disposal services to the major urban areas of Sacramento. Some of the more rural areas, such as Galt, Isleton, and Rancho Murieta, manage their own sewage services.

Street Lights

We all know the typical horror movie scene where a character is randomly walking through a dark alleyway at night, because of course they are. Inevitably that person gets kidnapped, attacked, or chased by something creepy. It’s funny because most of us would not walk down a pitch-black alley at night, and recognize the value of well-lit streets!

We’re fortunate to have street lighting in the urbanized areas of Sacramento, provided independently by cities. In addition to those, County Service Area No. 1 was founded in 1986, which includes all the unincorporated areas of the County of Sacramento and City of Rancho Cordova. This district does just about everything you would guess; it purchases, installs, and maintains all street and highway lights. In total, that’s 23,140 street lights and 3,770 highway lights. It is governed by the Board of Supervisors.


We’ve all got places to go, people to see; and in all the hustle and bustle we may sometimes take for granted the transit systems Sacramento has in place and the value that public transportation brings to our lives. There are currently four special transportation districts which are responsible for public busses, light rail, paratransit, and other ways of getting around town.

The Sacramento Regional Transit District was founded in 1973 and currently operates over 60 bus routes covering 418 square miles, as well as an extensive light rail system. It is governed by an 11-member board of directors, all consisting of county supervisors and city council members. The Sacramento Transportation Authority was founded in 1988 by the initiative Measure A, with much of its funding earmarked for the construction of highways, streets, and roads, increased light rail service, expanded services for the handicapped and elderly, and air quality programs. It is governed by a 15-member board of directors; 5 elected officials appointed by the County Supervisors, 5 elected officials appointed by the Sacramento City Council; 1 elected official appointed by the each of the following city councils: Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Folsom, Galt and Rancho Cordova.

Additional transportation districts include:

And so here we are…

Throughout this journey we’ve learned about how Sacramento manages its cemeteries, water, and lights, and even how fires are fought. I always knew government was complex and expansive, but by diving deep into just one county, it’s clear the tentacles reach far beyond what I had expected.

reading rainbow

To find out more, visit the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) website! But, what’s a LAFCo, you ask? Well… that another complicated story for another day. Stay tuned.

**Author’s Note: the majority of the data provided in this article is from the Sacramento LAFCo website on special districts. Some information may outdated or missing, please contact them directly for the most up-to-date information.

Give Wisely. On Tuesday and Everyday.

Giving Tuesday

The concept of Black Friday emerged in Philadelphia in the 1950s, an unhappy day when the city was overrun by crowds and petty crime, forcing police to work long hours and creating the unhappy name. It remained a local tradition until emerging nationally in the late 1980s with the reimagined (and typically untrue) story that it represented the happy day when retailers finally became profitable, while offering consumers rock bottom prices.

Cyber Monday was the next shopping tradition to emerge. Coined in 2005 by Shop.Org to describe the trend, it seems to have emerged more organically than its cousin shopping days as America’s workforce returned from the Thanksgiving Holiday less than eager to dive head-on into the week’s work, instead preferring to peruse the rapidly expanding world of e-commerce.


Five years later in 2010, American Express (a very large business) began promoting Small Business Saturday. The credit card company relies on small business owners as a major component of their portfolio and it proved both good marketing and a good cause as President Obama and other elected leaders began to lend their support the following year.


Two years later the family was finally complete, when Giving Tuesday emerged from the 91st Street Y in New York City, seeking to encourage giving and not just consumerism in the holiday season (Additionally, a great example of the value of including all Americans holidays in this happy season, since it was the Young Men’s Hebrew Association that brought our country together in the spirit of giving). A number of online vehicles and corporations got on board and it caught on quickly.


Which brings us to today.

There are no shortage of incredible local, national and international causes that will do great work with your hard earned dollars. There are also more than a few that won’t. For example, from


Giving money to organizations like these is benefitting only the executives’ yacht funds, not the first responders, veterans or children they are named for.

Of course, ratings like those are not the be-all-and-end-all of the quality of non-profits. At the extreme, they tell us who the worst swindlers are, but they do not necessarily tell us much at the margin, especially with service providing non-profits. For groups that exist primarily to raise money to disperse it to service providers, researchers, etc., these overhead-based efficiency ratings make a lot of sense because the money is all there is.

For groups that provide services directly, the money is not the point, the impact is.

While impact is not always easily quantified, especially in a way that leads to easy comparisons, the information should be readily available on the organization’s website. For example among some of our great local non-profits: My Sister’s House provided over 5,000 nights of shelter to women and children fleeing abuse; Reading Partners successfully taught 89% of their 400 students foundational reading skills; and the Front Street Shelter has taken in nearly 9,500 dogs and cats in 2017 through October, with nearly 2/3 adopted or returned home. A personal favorite of our family, is Fairy Tale Town providing incredible family fun while encouraging reading to over a quarter million visitors in the region in 2016. And, of course, the Sacramento State Alumni Association, whose board I serve on, held more than 475 events, engaged over 2,300 volunteer hours and awarded $37,000 in scholarships. Internationally, the Daraja Academy in Kenya, that a friend raises money for locally, does a particularly good job of sharing their impact:


(These are by no means all of the charities having a great impact in our community, just a handful of good ones that came to mind.)

So while we at Sacramentality would very strongly encourage that you give generously to charities in our community, we hope in doing so that you give smart. Know the mission you are supporting and know what how much good you are buying for the world with your hard earned dollars. If a charity you are considering supporting does not make this information readily available, you may wish to consider supporting another instead.

California’s First Councilwoman – Part II

Luella Cover

This post is a continuation of the story of Luella Johnston, Sacramento (and California’s) first elected councilwoman. I strongly recommend starting with Part I, where I discussed Luella’s civic and political activism in Sacramento, culminating in her successful 1912 campaign for a seat on the Sacramento City Council. In Part II, I discuss her first year on the City Council.

Photo - Tacoma Times - June 7, 1912

Tacoma Times (1912)

Rallying behind Luella’s candidacy, Sacramento’s women helped sweep local Progressives to victory in the 1912 city elections. It was a landmark year for Sacramento’s reformers, who had finally succeeded in kicking out the political machine that had long dominated city politics. Now came the challenge of governing.

The New Government: One of Business & Efficiency

Sacramento Seal v2 - 1912

Official City Seal (1912)

1912 was unlike any prior year for another reason: The five freshman councilmembers would be the first to serve under the new city charter. Prior to 1912, Sacramento had a traditional “Strong Mayor” form of government with a part-time, nine-member City Council and a full-time elected mayor acting as the city’s chief executive officer. Under the new charter, the office of the mayor had been eliminated and the City Council – renamed the City Commission – was reduced to a five-member, full-time board. Under this “Commission” form of government, the Commission as a whole continued as the city’s legislative body but, instead of a unified executive, each councilmember – renamed a commissioner – was also individually assigned supervisory powers over a different city department.

The Commission Form was the cutting edge of early twentieth century municipal reform. The drafters of the new charter had promised it would bring about a more “efficient and business like administration.” Popularized in Galveston, Texas, and refined in Des Moines, Iowa, Commissions were thought to promote better management, as commissioners had every incentive to specialize in their assigned policy areas, and better accountability, as the voters could more easily identify and defeat any commissioner whose departments were found lacking.

Sacramento’s charter had five commissioner positions. They were:

  • Commissioner of Public Works
  • Commissioner of Streets
  • Commissioner of Public Health and Safety
  • Commissioner of Finance
  • Commissioner of Education

While the voters elected the five commissioners, the commissioners decided for themselves their departmental assignments.

Commissioner Johnston

Commission Assignments - 1912

Commission Minutes (1912)

By unanimous vote of her colleagues, Luella was appointed Commissioner of Education. While Luella’s election broke gender boundaries, the education assignment was a (disappointingly) safe choice in line with the era’s social norms. Luella had, however, campaigned for the assignment and, given her background as a teacher and her prior successes around curriculum reform, it was certainly a good fit.

It was also a deceptively powerful post, responsible for a good portion of the city’s budget. Under the charter, the Commissioner of Education had supervision “of all school buildings, property and grounds, and of the construction, maintenance, and repair thereof.” The former Board of Education had also been merged with the new Commission; by virtue of her assignment, Luella also served as Board president whenever the Commission reconvened as that body to decide school matters.

The scope of the Education Commissioner’s duties extended, though, even beyond the schoolhouse doors. The Commissioner supervised all parks and playgrounds; the municipal employment office; all libraries, art galleries, theaters and places of amusement; humane and reformatory boards; and “all matters affecting the intellectual and moral advancement of the city, other than police and sanitary regulations.”

As local historians Elaine Connolly and Dian Self observed, the Education Commissioner’s assignments “sounded like the script [Luella] wrote for the Tuesday Club in 1900.”

The Commission’s First Year: Sacramento Awakened

Commission Chambers - 1917

Commission Chambers (c. 1917)

Under complete Progressive control, the Commission’s first year was a whirlwind of activity as reform-minded Commissioners proposed large infrastructure investments to bring the city into the modern era and set about undoing prior municipal give-aways to the city’s public service corporations.

Luella had pledged that flood control would be her top priority; true to her word, one of the Commission’s first acts was to propose to voters a bond (which passed) to raise city levees and construct the Sacramento bypass at Bryte Bend. Other improvements followed, including extending water mains and sewer lines to the annexed neighborhoods; building of a Hall of Justice including a hospital, court, and jail; purchasing an asphalt-mixing machine to pave the streets; securing land downtown for new state buildings that promised to bring hundreds of jobs Sacramento; and creating a municipally-owned electrical distribution system to light city streets and parks through a combination of construction and eminent domain. The later proposal stoked the ire of the Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E), the city’s private electricity provider, which furiously fought the associated bond.

Like the street light bond, many ordinances the Commission passed took direct aim at the city’s powerful public services corporations. For decades the city’s largest corporations, like PG&E and the Southern Pacific Railroad, had backed and bribed local party bosses and city officials and reaped generous city contracts and franchises, or even a municipal blind eye to their activities, in return. No more. In just one year, half-century streetcar franchises granted by the prior City Council were rescinded as too long; gas rates and telephone deposits were ordered cut; maximum rates for water, electricity, gas, phone, and other private utilities were set or planned; and a new “rental” tax was imposed on all the services corporations that used city streets and alleys to run their pipes, wires, or streetcars — supposedly the first such tax in the state.

The Commission seemed well on its way to delivering on its strident promise of a modern government where the municipality called the shots and not the corporations. “It is evident that the progressive spirit of The People has been awakened,” said Luella, “and that henceforth Sacramento is to take its place among the wide-awake and enterprising cities of the country.”

“A Very Successful Administration”

Johnston - Playground

Sacramento Bee  (1913)

Luella was busy with her executive duties as Education Commissioner, too. In fact, probably busier than any other commissioner.

The city charter had been written so that, each year, a different commissioner would be up for re-election. To accomplish this, the inaugural 1912 commissioners were elected to either one-, two-, three-, or four-year short terms or a five-year full term, with higher vote-getters receiving longer terms. Luella had received the fewest votes of the five winners and so would face the voters first: with the clock ticking, she knew “I shall just have to work that much harder to crowd into my present one year term all the improvements of which I am capable.”

The city’s 24 schools, her main charge, seemed to do well under her watch. Attendance increased and teachers received an across-the-board pay raise.  Although costs were up as a consequence, and state and county appropriations had decreased over the previous year, Luella’s department still came in under budget. Open bidding requirements for supplies and services, in particular, had cut costs and reduced opportunities for graft and cronyism.

She responded competently to a major crisis in office. When a fire burned down the Capital School, displacing dozens of students and overcrowding nearby schools, Luella ordered the construction of seven portables so classes could quickly resume until a new site was found.

She also celebrated a number of successes. She cleared out the crony hires at the city cemetery, a notorious landing site for supporters of the old political bosses. With a donation from Weinstock, Lubin & Co., she opened the city’s second playground at South Side Park – thousands of kids attended. Library membership grew by several thousands and 11,000 new volumes were added to shelves. Finally, she scored a personal and professional victory when the Southern Pacific agreed to enroll its “shop boys” in night school, demonstrating the value of her longtime vision for integrating vocational training into the curriculum.

Johnston Cartoon - Boston Herald - 7-31-12 p9

Boston Herald (1912)

Luella also took very seriously her charter-mandated duty to advance city morals and squelch vice as well. She fought to curtail illegal gambling, prostitution, and saloons that the prior council had ignored and, of her own initiative, went after “spooning” by youths in the park. Not all of her efforts have aged well. When fighting broke out at a local play over “near-nasty musical numbers,” she threatened to create a Board of Theatrical Censors to “pass upon the moral nature of the shows.”

But, judging her record on the whole, it seems hard to disagree with the Bee’s assessment that Luella had run “a very successful administration.”

A Woman’s Place

Bee Cartoon on Suffrage - 2-9-11

Bee Cartoon, lampooning some men’s fear of equal suffrage (1911)

In the lead up to the 1911 election on women’s suffrage, opponents argued that allowing women to vote would destroy society because, next, they would be moving out of the home and demanding greater social, professional, and political responsibilities. Thankfully they were right about that later part. Only a year after gaining the vote, Luella ran for and won a seat on the City Commission. A year out, she had proven that women could participate and excel in what had been the very male worlds of politics and governance.

Decades later, in 1948, Luella was asked to reflect on Belle Cooledge’s election to the Sacramento City Council and historic appointment as Mayor — the first woman mayor of a major American city. In an era where most women were housewives, Luella stuck to her defiantly egalitarian views. “Man or woman has nothing to do with the case,” said Luella, age 88.

You have to do with women what you do with men – balance up their capabilities then judge. … If that type of woman[, i.e. one of Cooledge’s caliber,] is willing to assume the added responsibility of mayor, in my judgment, she is fitted for it.

In thinking about the sexism Luella had to overcome to win a seat and be successful at City Hall in 1912, it is hard to ignore recent headlines documenting the sexism and harassment women still confront in the State Capitol, just a few blocks and a hundred-plus years away. It is also hard to ignore that women remain underrepresented at all levels of elected government, including Sacramento’s nine-member City Council which, once more, has only one councilwoman. We still have far to go.

Even so, I think Luella would be proud of the women leaders following her that have continued to tear down those barriers and insist that people be judged based on their capabilities and not their gender.


Stay tuned for my third and final post on Luella, where I discuss her hard-fought re-election campaign and later years.

Abridged Bibliography

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