Step aside, Mac Worthy.
A relatively new cadre of residents has forced itself into the rotation at weekly Sacramento City Council meetings, haranguing officials with almost every public speaking opportunity.
Their repeated calls for fewer cops and more homeless services reflect a campaign of persistence and pestering: They show up, they speak, and then they speak again.
When one of the most vocal members of this contingent, Claire White, appeared before council for the fourth time near the end of the February 10 meeting, Mayor Kevin Johnson chuckled in disbelief. “Claire, Claire,” he sighed.
“Two minutes just isn’t enough, Mr. Mayor,” she replied. “I’m going to sign up for all of them [public comment opportunities].”
It hasn’t been an idle threat.
White, of the National Lawyers Guild’s far west chapter, also belongs to the Community Dinner Project, a group of volunteers that serves organic meals to the needy in violation of local permitting requirements.
Other members of CDP and Occupy Sacramento are among the roughly half-dozen attendees turning city council meetings into interactive theater with every repeat appearance at the podium.
In addition to White’s four appearances, local homeless activist James “Faygo” Clark spoke three times, as did a woman identified as Christina A.
Laura Rubalcaba addressed council twice and Independence Taylor did so once.
Not to be outdone, Mac Worthy, the crotchety godfather of council attendees, got up four times to perform his stream-of-consciousness commentary. “You don’t use your staff report on policy to make a finance,” he said at one point. “You use an expert to give you policy. Because if your staff were experts, they wouldn’t be your staff.”
The former group’s message has been largely consistent, with its members calling for greater investment in the city’s growing homeless population and less investment in the police department, which, they contend, doesn’t police itself well enough.
They haven’t provided much evidence of that being the case locally, with most of their examples coming from cities where police shootings of unarmed citizens have netted headlines.
On the receiving end of their sharp criticism at last month’s meeting was police Chief Sam Somers Jr., invited to speak about dropping crime rates in the city and share his ideas to improve accountability and officer diversity following several community meetings organized in the wake of the high-profile police scandals across the nation.
More than a dozen residents took issue with his proposal’s bottom-line tab of nearly $4 million annually, the largest proportion of which would go toward hiring 15 new cops a year.
One specific complaint has to do with how much time Sacramento police spend ticketing homeless campers in the city.
At last week’s meeting, White called on the council to repeal or freeze enforcement of a camping ban that inordinately affects those without shelter and was recently upheld by a state appeals court.
“Simply because they are too destitute to find a roof, you, every single week, are sanctioning their criminalization,” she said, adding that the ban was discriminatory. “You’re not ticketing Boy Scouts. You’re not ticketing people’s friends camping out in the backyard. You’re only ticketing homeless people.”
During the midyear budget review portion of the meeting a bit earlier, Councilman Jay Schenirer suggested setting at least $1.7 million from a $17 million surplus aside for homeless services to be recommended by Sacramento Steps Forward.
“I think the challenge is getting worse,” he said. “And it’s not just in the central city. It’s in the neighborhoods that we have.”
Last year, Schenirer and other council members set $1 million aside for the same purpose.
Welcomed as it was, speakers gave no indication that the recommendation would slow their attendance roll. If anything, tonight’s relatively light city council agenda may prove their biggest gut check.