Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna is an unusual public official. I have worked at newspapers for 40 years, and during that time, numerous public officials have asked to show me things. Usually they want to show me things that make them look good or make their opponents look bad. But Serna is the first politician who wanted to show me how, by his own painful admission, he has failed.
Out of the blue, he called my office asking if he could take me on a field trip to Oak Park. I wondered why. I like Serna. And I like getting his perspective. I want to know how the board of supervisors will be different with liberal Patrick Kennedy replacing conservative Jimmie Yee. “Very different,” says Serna. But back to his story.
First, he takes me down to the Broadway Triangle in Oak Park. Here, at Broadway and 35th Street, you can see progress. There are new buildings, McClatchy Park has been cleaned up, and a thriving retail district is developing. This is the part of Oak Park that Kevin Johnson focused on before he became mayor.
But then, Serna says, “I want to take you to a different part of Oak Park, a part that has not been making the news.”
He hands me a city map that shows unincorporated South Oak Park, nearly completely surrounded by the city. The county sheriffs and county garbage trucks have to drive miles out of their way through the city to reach the estimated 5,600 people who live there. Serna tells me, “I have failed to ensure that these residents receive government services.”
As we drive through the neighborhood, we see scores of boarded-up houses. We see crack houses. We see numerous homes that would never pass a building inspection. We see repeated examples of illegal dumping. Serna tells me that at night, drug dealing is out of control. He is ashamed that he has not done more. But he will.
On August 5, which was National Night Out, Serna posted on Facebook, “I committed to constituents from this neighborhood that the County of Sacramento is redoubling its efforts to address everything from crime prevention, to the need for improved street lighting, to ensuring better code enforcement to combat illegal dumping. The commitment is not a hollow one. … [B]y the next National Night Out we WILL see results.”
I believe him. So, if you are illegally dumping in South Oak Park, knock it off. If you are a landlord with an unsafe building, fix it. If you are dealing drugs, quit or go some other place. If you work at SMUD and are in charge of putting electric lights underground, take a look at South Oak Park. And if you want to buy a fixer-upper, then you might want to look at South Oak Park for a great deal.
Serna is an unusual public official. And he’s made a commitment to his constituents that I believe he will keep.