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!

Is Sacramento funding the arena through parking tickets?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Who We Are: A City of Dreamers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whazzuuuup with Budweiser’s Attack on Sacramento Brewing?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Who We Are: A Union Town

Happy Labor Day

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

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

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

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


Source: UnionStats.com

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

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

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


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

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

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

How long can sports survive its business side?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


Does Old Sacramento Need Saving?

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

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


So is Old Sacramento in trouble?

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

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

Railroad Attendance

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

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

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

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

Who We Are: A City of Trees

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

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