How the Simpsons explains everything … except why they are still on the air

Our toddler freshly asleep, my wife and I sat down to watch a bit of TV before bed last night. The Simpsons popped up at the top of the “My Shows” list. Now, I have not watched the animated classic much the last few years, but I figured, “why not? A few minutes into Homer discovering that Maggie could whistle, I had my answer. How did this incredible show that wove so much timely humor through important issues in economics, religion, philosophy, American politics, political theory, parenting and so much else become such a boring, pointless exercise? I thought the show had hit rock bottom when it made an episode starring Moe’s bar rag. That was 123 episodes ago.

But instead of further calls to put the once iconic show out of its misery, I thought I might draw attention to some classic episodes (including a list of my personal favorites at the end of this article) that could provide some insight into challenges we as both Americans and Sacramentans are facing today and, perhaps more importantly, add some levity to difficult times.

Elections

Hard as it is to believe, the June 2018 Congressional midterms (and city council elections!) are right around the corner and candidates are already busy passing around the hat and dusting off their talking points. The Simpsons first waded into the art of political pandering with  “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish.” Appearing early in Season 2, we see the Billionaire Montgomery Burns deciding it is more cost effective to run for Governor and change the laws than comply with environmental regulations to protect against, among other things, the creation of three-eyed mutant fish. In an attempt to overcome his massive unpopularity, Burns pours millions into a smear campaign against his female opponent and appears on the verge of victory before Marge forces him into a televised gaffe, saving the day.

Another political gem was the Simpsons 200th episode, which featured U2 guest playing a concert on a trash heap while the inimitable Steve Martin played the hard working, committed public servant Ray Patterson. Patterson brought a professional seriousness and the expertise that comes with well-earned experience to the position of Sanitation Commissioner. His experience and spotless track record proved inadequate when Homer decided to run against him. Bringing bluster, unrealistic promises (“Can’t Someone Else Do It”) and a woeful disregard for budgetary math and even basic facts, Homer is elected in a landslide and disaster ensues.

We, as voters in the real world, have a responsibility to do better than the people of Springfield. The actions of our elected leaders have consequences and if we continue down the current path:

Sexual Harassment

Homer Badman proves that the Simpsons can also get it wrong, while (I suspect inadvertently) providing important insight. After a gluttonous trip to the candy convention, Homer sets off to drive their graduate student and feminist activist babysitter home. As she gets out of the car, he sees the Venus de Milo candy he had pilfered stuck to her pants. Overcome by his lust for the “sweet candy” he plucked it off of her rear end and from there is swept into a whirlwind of public outrage and over the top trashy journalism. By the end of the show the babysitter had realized she had falsely accused Homer, a clear victim of an overzealous, dishonest media and feminist activism.

“Two, four, six, eight, Homer’s crime was very great! ‘Great’ meaning large or immense, we use it in the pejorative sense!”

The episode was written, directed and show-run by men over twenty years ago. So it may not be surprising that they overlooked that, even if his intentions were not sexual, Homer did something wrong (And propagated a demonstrably false narrative that women frequently make exaggerated accusations). Homer wanted something and did not care if getting it violated the young woman’s personal space, making her feel unsafe doing her job. It is easy and feels good to condemn monsters like the President, Harvey Weinstein and an apparently huge number in the Sacramento Capitol community. Among the rest of us, harassment that stems from a lack of empathy, rather than a presence of enmity, remains pervasive.

We all need to be more aware of it than Homer Simpson, because nearly all of us have done it. (#MeToo) We may not have realized it. We may have thought it was just a collegial joke or a friendly compliment. But we did it. We hurt people. And we need to do better.

Strikes

In “Last Exit to Springfield,” out of sheer greed, Mr. Burns decides to eliminate his employees’ dental plan. The witless employees running the nuclear plant celebrate the short-term trade off of a keg of Duff Beer until Homer realizes that without the dental plan, he’ll be forced to pay out of pocket for Lisa’s expensive dental care — an important warning to any ‘young invincibles’ excited at the prospects of new high deductible Trumpcare plans — Homer leads the plant employees to strike. After a hilarious serious of foibles in attempting to run the plant without workers and wonderful Grinch-inspired efforts to crush the union have failed (And lacking any real substantive consequences), Mr. Burns relents and agrees to reinstate the dental plan.

We’ll march ’till we drop The girls and the fellas. We’ll fight ’till the death Or else fold like umbrellas.

In “The PTA Disbands,” we get a more pointed look at the reality of negotiations in the public sector setting, as expressed by Principal Skinner: “What’s the point?  There’s no more money, unless you’ve got some magic new source of revenue.” Seeking “a small cost-of-living increase and some better equipment and supplies for your children” and goaded on by a mischievous Bart, eager to escape class, the teachers go on strike. The schools continue to operate, with classes taught by members of the community … some of whom advocate corporal punishment and cannot keep their beards from being caught in the pencil sharpener. None prove adequate replacements. Once having his mother as a substitute teacher ruins Bart’s fun, he tricks the principal and teachers into negotiating and they come up with a magic new source of revenue — housing prisoners in the school.

TheFingersMean

In Sacramento, we are facing a similar situation. The teachers are on the verge of a strike, asking for a number of improvements, including smaller class sizes, filling vacancies and increased salaries to bring them in line with other districts in the region.

The teachers believe that the District has adequate funds to cover these improvements, citing high levels of reserves and increased administrator salaries. The district counters that teachers are paid competitively within the region, with modestly lower pay but more generous benefits. The reality is that meaningful apples-to-apples comparisons are challenging. Each district’s pay scale is different in regard to rewarding experience and, especially, rewarding varying levels of education.

This dispute, though, exists in no small part because California spends less than average on education. While making an apples-to-apples comparison is complicated, recent estimates have California between $614 to $1,961 below average in per student spending. D’oh! No matter the source, no matter the methodology, it is clear that California spends less on education than other states.

Perhaps then, the solution is a simple one: spend more money on education. Given the structure of education funding in California, local districts do not have the option of shifting around local spending priorities, so the only option is to increase taxes.

There are, of course, trade-offs to every tax but the reality is that for less than $20 per parcel per month (author’s calculation based on Measure G revenue estimates and 2,200 FTEs), we could provide every teacher in Sacramento City USD a ten thousand dollar raise. Such a raise would make our schools the most desirable destination for the best teachers in the region, which has been shown to increase the number of applicants and, more importantly, the quality of hires.

While money is tight in our growing household, my family would be thrilled to have the opportunity to invest in this way in our local schools, our children’s future and the future of our region’s economy. I suspect many families around our district would feel the same and, moreover, despite the recent narrow failure of Measure G, local education parcel taxes have a very strong track record at the ballot boxpurple monkey dishwasher.

While it seems pretty likely that the Simpsons production team cannot do better at this point, here in Sacramento, I know we can. In some ways we already are doing better. Our County is in the process of implementing the Voter’s Choice Act, which will make it easier for every citizen to fully participate in our democracy. And if you are interested, I happen to be holding a forum on the Voter’s Choice Act next week:

PGCA VCA Cover 2017-10-10

Devin’s Simpsons Recommended Viewing

As a proud member of the Oregon Trail Generation (those of us who straddle Gen X and Millenial cut-offs, who, being able to remember a world without computers, but having adopted them in childhood are fundamentally different from both), I sometimes run into difficulties communicating with younger colleagues because my speech is often peppered with Simpsons references. (Perhaps a better reference than Oregon Trail would be First-wave Simpsonists?) In order to help overcome these challenges, I came up with a list of recommended viewing including the best and most culturally important episodes (in the oh so humble opinion of this author), which is included at the end of the article. Enjoy!

  1. Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish, Season 2, Episode 4
  2. Homer Defined, Season 3, Episode 5
  3. Flaming Moe’s, Season 3, Episode 10
  4. Homer at the Bat, Season 3, Episode 17
  5. Homer the Heretic, Season 4, Episode 3
  6. Homer’s Triple Bypass, Episode 4, Season 11
  7. Duffless, Season 4, Episode 16
  8. Last Exit to Springfield, Season 4, Episode 17
  9. Cape Feare, Season 5, Episode 2
  10. Treehouse of Horror V, Season 6, Episode 6
  11. Homer the Great, Season 6, Episode 12
  12. Lisa’s Wedding, Season 6, Episode 19
  13. Two Dozen and One Greyhounds, Season 6, Episode 20
  14. The PTA Disbands, Season 6, Episode 21
  15. Lisa the Vegetarian, Season 7, Episode 5
  16. King Size Homer, Season 7, Episode 7
  17. Twenty-Two Short Films About Springfield, Season 7, Episode 21
  18. Much Apu About Nothing, Season 7, Episode 23
  19. You Only Move Twice, Season 8, Episode 2
  20. El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer, Season 8, Episode 9
  21. Homer’s Phobia, Season 8, Episode 15
  22. Simpsons Spin-off Showcase, Season 8, Episode 24
  23. Mr. Plow, Season 9, Episode 4
  24. Trash of the Titans, Season 9, Episode 22

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 Tuesday 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 Woman’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)

***

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for Part II, where  I continue my short biography of Luella by examining her first year in office.

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.