Comic Book Ban Update!

Comic Ban 2.pngA few weeks ago, I published a post on old and odd Sacramento laws that, decades later, are still technically on the books. One of the most surprising was a 1949 ban — never repealed — on selling crime-fighting comic books to minors.

Well, last Tuesday Councilmember Hansen asked the Law and Legislation Committee to review this provision of the Municipal Code for potential clean-up, which bodes well for young comic book lovers across our city.

The story was picked up in a great little piece by CBS 13 News, and features your own humble editor — check it out here!

 

Odd Sacramento Laws

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In ancient Rome, it was illegal to wear purple. Needless to say, that would not be a popular law in Sacramento Kings country. Times change, people change, and we expect the law to keep up.

And it usually does, except when it doesn’t. When you’re a city that’s more than a century old like Sacramento, a few oddities are bound to be lingering through inattention in the mustier pages of the city code.

So, out of curiosity, I decided to go spelunking to see just what I could find. Sacramento’s Municipal Code (SMC) did not disappoint. Here are the three most interesting artifacts I uncovered…

Comics Generally: No Laughing Matter

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Pictured: Not a violation of SMC 9.12.010 … yet.

Kerpow! Bang! Zing! Many young boys and girls love reading superhero comics. Judging by box office receipts, the exploits of Marvel and DC’s caped crusaders are fairly mainstream American entertainment these days. I mean, who doesn’t like catching up on the latest of Spider-Man’s amazing adventures, or Wonder Woman’s derring-do, or Black Panther’s virtuous acrobatics?

Well… the City of Sacramento, apparently.

According to Sacramento Municipal Code (SMC) Section 9.12.010,

“It is unlawful for any person to distribute … for use by persons under the age of eighteen (18) years any … comic book … which depicts… the crimes of arson, assault with caustic chemicals, assault with a deadly weapon, burglary, kidnapping, torture, mayhem, murder, rape, robbery, theft or voluntary manslaughter.”

That’s right, in Sacramento it is illegal to sell (or even give) a minor any superhero crime-fighting comic book. So if Batman and Superman, in the comic pictured above, were to leave the basketball court for one second to stop a bank heist … verboten! The law was enacted in 1949 to, of course, protect “children of tender years.”

Interestingly, Sacramento was ahead of the curve on this moral panic: by the 1950s, concerns that comics were corrupting the youth would lead to bans across the country and ultimately prompted the industry to self-regulate by adopting the Orwellian Comics Code, which censored the storytelling of the next several generations of comic writers and illustrators.

So, next time you’re stopping by Oblivion Coffee & Comics or Big Brother Comics, just know that you have entered a wretched hive of scum and villainy that should probably have bouncers at the entrance.

Misplaced Expectations on Expectorating

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Pictured: Gaston, upon reading SMC 9.04.040, probably.

Speaking of cartoons. Those of us who grew up in the 1990s, or raised children growing up in the 1990s, will remember Gaston, the cleft-chin villain of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast who is 90% pectoral muscles.

Girls: For there’s no one as burly and brawny…

Gaston: As you see I’ve got biceps to spare…

Lefou: Not a bit of him’s scraggly or scrawny…

Gaston: That’s right! And ev’ry last inch of me’s covered with hair!

Do you remember, though, his distinguishing talent that earned the admiration of the village ladies? He boasts, “I’m especially good at expectorating — Ptooey!” To which the crowd cheers, “Ten points for Gaston!”

Now, you may be thinking, expecto-what? Expectorating is a fancy way of saying “to spit.” And it’s illegal. So illegal.

That’s right. While Gaston’s ability to launch his saliva to great distances earned him the admiration of his peers in his “poor provincial town,” in Sacramento it would earn him a citation.

Specifically, SMC 9.04.040 provides that:

“No person shall expectorate … on any sidewalk in the city.”

This law, by the way, is ancient in city terms. I trace it at least as far back as 1896 in the city codes. (Necessary aside: demonstrating that Looney Tunes was really a PSA, another ordinance from that time, since repealed, prohibited throwing banana peels on the sidewalk!)

Spitting is of course unsightly, and might even be considered rude, but it seems pretty Victorian to prohibit what comes naturally to baseball players and 15 year-old boys. Obviously, Sacramento would not actually enforce this law.

Except that the City does! To my great surprise, from 2014 to 2016, the city issued five citations for expectorating. So, mind your Ps and Qs out there, and tell Gaston he’s probably better off staying in France.

Skee Ball: The Silent Killer

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Pictured: Pure, Unregulated Chaos without SMC 5.48.010.

You may be thinking at this point that old-timey Sacramento, when most of these laws were passed, did not want people to have any fun. You are correct.

Okay, okay, so Sacramento isn’t quite the town that banned dancing in Footloose, but we do require a lot of special licensing for recreational activities that don’t seem to pose any special health or safety risk. For example, does your business have a coin-operated pool table? That’s a ($700!) license (SMC 5.20.010). How about four or more arcade video games? You better believe that’s a license (SMC 5.12.010).

Some of these decades-old licensing statutes are delightfully hyper-specific. For example, did you know that it is illegal in Sacramento, per SMC 5.16.010, to practice, without a license, “the business or art of astrology, palmistry, phrenology, fortune-telling, cartomancy, clairvoyance, clairaudience, crystal gazing, mediumship, prophecy, augury, seership, or necromancy”? So remember kids, when you want to pay someone to help you talk to the dead, make sure you insist upon a city-licensed necromancer. Because quality matters.

But my favorite license required by the City of Sacramento is for the privilege of operating a skee ball machine (and other “mechanical amusement devices”). Skee ball is the popular arcade game where you roll balls along a curved ramp and try and get them to land in rings assigned with different point values. You know the one.

What tickles me is not so much that you need a license to have a skee ball machine, which is admittedly pretty odd in itself, but the strict regulations that licensed skee ball machines must conform to. Behold. Under SMC 5.48.010, it is illegal, in Sacramento, for any skee ball machine:

  • to give “the player, for actual play, only one ball;”
  • to charge more than “twenty-five cents” per game; and, the kicker,
  • to reward high-scoring players with “coupons or tickets.”

To review: one-ball skee ball? Illegal. Charging 50 cents for skee ball? Still illegal. Giving kids tickets for scoring 200+ points that they can turn in for erasers? Oh, most definitely illegal.

The Chuck E. Cheese animatronic rat is probably sweating right about now.

The skee ball law dates back to 1954; why it was needed, I’m not sure. But I choose to believe that a councilmember at the time visited a licensed crystal ball-gazer, who foretold of a dark future involving a dystopian children’s restaurant that enthralled the youth with ticket-spewing machines and singing giant animal cyborgs, and he said “not in my city, not on my watch.” (But, he failed, there’s a Chuck E. Cheese’s on Arden Way.)

The Lessons of Time

So, what to take away from all this? Well, first and foremost, don’t open that Old Sac Comics & Skee-Ball Fancy Arcade you’ve been dreaming of, the one with the period-appropriate sidewalk spittoons. Just a bad idea.

Second, City leaders might consider revising three sections of the Municipal Code…

But, third, we should all begin to think of policy obsolescence as a natural process and consider how to manage it. Sacramento is not unique in having some dated laws in its code. It could have been far worse. Just a few years ago, progressive-minded Oakland discovered that it still had a 131-year ban on cross-dressing on the city books.

The truth is that any city that’s more than a generation old is at risk of finding archaic, unhelpful, and/or deeply embarrassing laws in place. But even older laws that are not obviously out of step with the times deserve periodic revisiting, if only to ensure they are working.

One way to do this is to build studies and sunset dates into newly-enacted laws. This builds in a period of calm reflection, after whatever excitement caused the law to be enacted has passed. But, this approach is probably too administratively burdensome to put in place for every law; moreover, policy obsolescence often takes a generation or more, generally beyond any reasonable sunset date.

A more promising approach might be to mimic the state. California has a permanent Law Revision Commission whose mission is to review state statutes “for the purpose of discovering defects and anachronisms in the law and recommending needed reforms” to the Legislature. A local commission could take a deep dive into the SMC without the City Council itself having to devote inordinate time to the task. The city code is also much shorter than the state’s statute books, so a local commission might meet for just one out of every ten years. Some other California cities, like Roseville, have similar decennial commissions to study and suggest clean-ups to their city charter.

And just think, if we did set up a commission, it is entirely conceivable that kids could buy comic books in Sacramento by 2030!

 

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Skee ball image credit: Scott S

Goodbye 2017, Hello 2018

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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

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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

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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?)

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The horror.

Nicest Original Photography

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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!

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.

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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:

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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

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.

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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.

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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.

Whazzuuuup with Budweiser’s Attack on Sacramento Brewing?

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

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

BeverageMarketShare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Who We Are: A Union Town

Happy Labor Day

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

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

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

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

LaborDecline

Source: UnionStats.com

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

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

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

UnionInequality

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

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

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

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.

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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.

Opportunity for equality abounds in Sacramento’s universities

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They say that education is the great equalizer.

The Equality of Opportunity Project, led by Stanford economist Raj Chetty (cue Mugatu: That Raj Chetty’s so hot right now!) has provided a tremendous dataset to help us test this axiom. The team assembled data from 30 million college students, demonstrating how America’s colleges and universities contribute to income mobility.

The resulting report focuses on success as the frequency with which colleges move students from the bottom income quintile to the top. This combines a measure of access (share of students in the bottom quintile) with a measure of success (portion of those students starting in the bottom quintile who are able to reach the top). This is a reasonable approach, but not the only one or, necessarily the best one. Many elite universities (Ivy League and similar) score well on the success measure. They specialize in sending a narrow, already high-achieving group of students into the top income bracket. Those elite universities universally score quite low on the access measure. When the Chetty team combine those two score, the elite universities are graded middling or worse.

stc-logo-vert-2-lineBy contrast, some public colleges and universities have 30% or more of their students coming from low income families. Most of them, however, send a relatively small share of those students into the upper income brackets. South Texas College, for example, draws 52% of its students from the lowest income quintile. Not surprising for a small college in impoverished Hidalgo Texas. Of those low-income students, only 13% are able to advance to the top quintile.

While both measures have an important story to tell individually, I wonder about the value of conflating access with efficacy. Doing so is meant to allow for a meaningful comparison between highly selective schools and public colleges and universities that, by design, do not have admissions policies designed to weed out 90% or more of their applicants. Ultimately, the approach is rife with selection bias and is grading schools on a measure that few have much control over.  With the exception of the most selective universities, this measure of access is not primarily a function of policies, outreach strategies, or other administrative decisions. Rather, the makeup of the student body is defined by the community they serve as well as the ability of the local high schools to graduate students with the basic qualifications needed to proceed to college.

I also wonder about the value of focusing on whether colleges move students from the bottom quintile into the top. Has a college failed if it helps its graduate move from poverty as a child to the middle class? Is our goal affluence or bust? Perhaps those Ivys should consider it a failure, but most college should not. In fact, in terms of sheer arithmetic, doing so is effectively setting up a requirement that everyone be above average, which usually only works out in Lake Wobegon.

educationopportunity-columbia-sunyI prefer to focus on the share of low income students that are able to move into the middle class or higher (which I am defining as the top two quintiles) and make more narrow comparisons among comparable colleges and universities. Is it truly meaningful to compare Columbia University with State University of New York (SUNY) Stony Brook? Would a low income 18-year-old chose Stony Brook over Columbia? Should they? Despite SUNY scoring nearly three times as well by Chetty’s measure, the answer is no. If accepted, from a future earnings perspective, any student should jump at the opportunity to attend any of the elite universities. Columbia scores poorly on Chetty’s measure, though because they admit relatively few low income students. Instead, I would offer that it is more meaningful to compare Columbia to its Ivy League companions and Stony Brook to other SUNY campuses and perhaps other comparable state universities.

educationopportunity-csuchartSo how does Sacramento fare? Our flagship university, Sacramento State, excels, 22nd among the 375 comparably “selective” public universities in the country and second among the non-technical CSUs. Sixty-four percent of low income Sacramento State students were able to move up into at least the middle class, edging out San Diego, Fullerton and Long Beach and trailing only San Jose (69%). This ranks better than a number of elite universities, including Duke, Amherst and UNC Chapel Hill, as well as two UCs, an outcome that is particularly impressive given Sacramento’s moderate income levels. Overall the top of these rankings is dominated by technical schools, CSUs and SUNY campuses.

So would a low income student be better off attending Sacramento State than Duke? Individual experiences of course vary, but according to Chetty’s class mobility data, yes, the average low income student will earn more money after attending Sacramento State than Duke University, at a fraction of the cost.

Looking across the causeway, Davis also represents well. With 71% of low income students finding their way into the middle class or better, the Aggies are third among the UCs, but ahead of both the Bears and the Bruins.

What is most impressive, though, is that unlike Columbia, Duke or even UC Davis, Sacramento State (and the CSU system, overall) is lifting the prospects of low income students, regardless of SAT scores. Given that most of these students stay in the region, the success of Sacramento State is not just helping these indviduals, it is lifting the economy of the entire region.

Sacramento Needs a New Flag

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Sacramento, I love you. But it’s time we had a frank discussion about our flag.

It’s… well, ugly.

Behold:

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Sacramento’s flag reminds me of that type of inoffensive abstract art that is the go-to for corporate hallways. There is a lot to dislike here, from the lack of symmetry, the odd blobs in the corners, the unappealing color palette (and two different shades of blues?), to the Rorschach test of what’s being depicted.

And it’s not just me who hates our flag. The world does. In 2004, the North American Vexillological Association conducted an internet beauty pageant asking the public to grade the municipal flags of America’s 150 biggest cities. Sacramento’s scored a 4.97 out of 10. Not the worst of the bunch – get it together, Pocatello – but it’s still a failing grade.

Which is too bad, because a city’s flag can be a source of civic pride. If you go to Oakland, for example, you will see the city’s official logo – an Oak tree – everywhere. People actually tattoo the city’s tree on their arms. Like the Kings logo does for basketball fans, a city flag can help rally and unite its citizens and become a part of that city’s identity. But for a municipal flag to go from obscurity to mainstream it needs be appealing, instantly recognizable, and easily reproducible.

Sacramento’s flag is none of those things. But the good news is that while Sacramento is California’s oldest city, her flag is one of the state’s newest, and we have not shied away from rebranding in the past…

Meet the New Flag…

The history of our current flag dates back to 1989. In honor of Sacramento’s 150-year anniversary, the city council appropriated $25,000 for city celebrations, including $5,000 “for the design and fabrication of a new City Flag.” A team of five volunteer artists from the Art Directors and Artists Club of Sacramento set to the task, generating four options for council consideration. After nine months of design, public review, and debate, our city’s new banner was finally unveiled by Mayor Anne Rudin at the Radisson Hotel to top off the Sesquicentennial celebration.

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The four contenders.

As one flag expert delicately put it, Sacramento’s flag has a distinctly “modernistic design.” Or, as one internet wag put it, “Sacramento… what the f— is going on there?”

What is going on there, for those interested, is a potent bouillabaisse of symbolism. To wit:

“White represents the city’s virtue, strength, and bright future. The two blue sections represent the city’s rivers (the Sacramento and the American), green stands for the agricultural heritage, and the gold color represents the gold miners so important in the history of California and of Sacramento, the center of the Gold Country and the 1849 Gold Rush.”

…Better than the Old Flag.

But, as ugly as the present city flag is, it is orders of magnitude better than the third grade art project that was its predecessor. Behold again:

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Much like its clip art, the old flag has a colorful history. By 1964, Sacramento was one of the last major cities without an official flag. This gave E. A. Combatalade, the enterprising founder of the Sacramento Camellia Festival Association, a grand idea. He approached the city council about adopting an official flag to mark the city’s 125-year anniversary. (Sound familiar?) They agreed. Working with a flag manufacturer and an assistant editor at the Sacramento Bee, he designed a flag steeped in Sacramento’s 19th century heritage:

“Centered at the hoist is the C. P. Huntington locomotive, in profile toward the fly, commemorating Sacramento as the terminus of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad. … Centered at the fly is a Pony Express rider on horseback, headed at full gallop toward the hoist, marking Sacramento’s role as the western terminus of the Pony Express. … In the lower center … is the state capitol dome, denoting Sacramento as the state’s capital. … [A]bove the dome is a bearded miner, kneeling by a stream, panning for gold, and symbolizing the discovery of gold in California.”

And what flower adorns the base of the capitol dome? Combatalade’s beloved Camellia – Sacramento’s official flower.

Can there be a good flag?

It turns out there is no law that municipal flags have to be unattractive. There’s actually an excellent TED talk on how to Make Local Flags Great Again.™ And, in fact, the good people at the Vexillogical Association have distilled down the designing of a smart local flag to five key principles:

  1. Keep it simple.
  2. Use meaningful symbolism.
  3. Use two to three basic colors.
  4. No lettering or seals of any kind.
  5. Be distinctive.

Consider, for example, four city flags that beautifully illustrate these design principles:

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These are simple but memorable designs, using bold colors, that tell a story of what each city is about. The fleurs-de-lis on New Orleans’ flag is a nod to that city’s French heritage; Denver’s flag nestles the city below the Rocky Mountains; Chicago’s blue strips represents the two branches of the Chicago river and each star a major episode in the city’s history; and Phoenix … has a phoenix.

Third Time’s the Charm

The last two flags were adopted to celebrate Sacramento’s 125-year (1964) and 150-year (1989) anniversaries. Unfortunately, Sacramento’s 175-year anniversary (2014) has already passed – but that does not mean we should wait until the 200th to commission a new flag.

Sacramento in 2017 is a city undergoing a renaissance. The arts, culinary, and sports scenes are booming; downtown is metamorphosing into a landmark destination; and residents from all corners of the map are excited to live in and claim the city. Even outsiders are recognizing that – gasp!Sacramento is cool.

Let’s seize this electric moment, and give Sacramentans a banner to finally match our pride in our city.