Sacramentans in Seattle

Jeff vonKaenel

Sometimes the best way to understand your problems is to go to somebody else’s house. You see your situation from a different perspective, and you may find unexpected solutions.

That is the goal of the Sacramento Metro Chamber study mission. Each year, approximately 50 Sacramentans travel at their own expense to another city. This year, we went to Seattle.

Seattle was a great choice. While impacted by the recession, its economy is still intact. It has an educated workforce, it is a desirable place to live, and it has made considerable progress in reducing homelessness and improving transportation.

At the end of our trip, we discussed what we’d learned. Elisabeth Brinton of SMUD noted that Seattle’s planners use a systems approach to problem solving. This orientation is common at The Boeing Company and Microsoft Corporation, but less so in the political arena. Rather than focusing on ideology, they look at the data. If people can agree on the data, then perhaps they can find their way to a solution.

We learned that Seattle provides free housing and social services to homeless individuals with chronic alcohol problems. Not only is it less expensive than paying emergency room and jail bills, it is also the humane thing to do. Michael Avriette of Sutter Health made the connection between social services and the health of a community.

Mike Wiley of Sacramento Regional Transit led the discussion about transportation. Gridlock in Seattle prompted the community to vote for an increase in sales tax to fund a light-rail system similar to ours. While Sacramento has been cutting back on public transit, Seattle’s citizens have increased their taxes to pay for it.

Finally, there has been a communitywide push to protect one of Seattle’s most important assets, the beautiful Puget Sound. They have made zoning decisions allocating resources for the long-term public good, rather than short-term development.

Leaving home was a learning experience. I developed more appreciation for the things we already do well here, such as the nationally recognized Sacramento Area Council of Governments master plan, the energy-efficient programs at SMUD and the cutting-edge research work at UC Davis. And we are so lucky to have a chamber of commerce and a business community that actually wants to learn how to reduce homelessness, enhance sustainability, improve the arts and improve transportation. Quite frankly, this differs from the orientation of the national and state chambers that seem to be living on a different planet, a planet without air, climate or fellow citizens.

With the insights learned from this trip, we can work to create a community that supports the idea that, in many ways, we all live in the same house.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.