Darrell Steinberg would make a tremendous Sacramento mayor

Jeff vonKaenel

At an interfaith Breakfast with Clergy event last week, the former president pro tem of the California state Senate, Sacramento's own Darrell Steinberg, said he appreciated his kind introduction particularly because it did not include the phrase “the formerly honorable.”

After serving on the Sacramento City Council, the State Assembly and then as the head of the Senate, Steinberg clearly misses not being in public office. He loves policy. He loves getting things done. He loves being in the thick of things. And he is good at it. In fact, The Wall Street Journal picked him as one of 13 people nationwide to watch in 2013.

The Breakfast with Clergy, held at Moe Mohanna’s The Grand Ballroom, is not a big event. There were a dozen or so clergy members and numerous homeless individuals, all enjoying a free breakfast. I showed up to listen to Steinberg.

There are certain politicians who are great performers. They make you laugh. They make you cry. Nothing is wrong with that, but that is not Steinberg.

I enjoy him because he is so damn brilliant. At the breakfast, Steinberg, who is no longer in office but has set up a foundation to continue his work on mental-health issues, explains his new idea.

As you know, in America, we allow our mentally ill citizens to sleep on the streets—when we’re not throwing them in jail for the crime of being homeless and mentally ill.

An obvious solution would be to provide housing with supportive services for these people who are unable to take care of themselves. The question is, “How?”

Steinberg was the author of Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act. From 2005 on, this act placed taxes of 1 percent on all income over $1 million a year. California millionaires are having a good year, so the expected assessment to support mental health programs is $1.8 billion this year.

Steinberg explains that we could take a fraction of this money, $130 million a year, to make payments on $2 billion of government bonds, which would be used to purchase supportive housing. But wait, there’s more.

Supportive housing usually doesn’t get built because the rent payments alone aren’t enough to cover the costs of building it. This $2 billion will fill in that gap. So, the anticipated rents plus the government bonds will actually generate as much as $8 to $10 billion worth of new supportive housing.

Listening to him speak, I started to do my own calculations. This kind of money could house most of Sacramento’s mentally ill homeless population. Steinberg’s recommendation is that the California county mental health directors use their Prop. 63 money to support this housing program, or that the Legislature passes a bill to do it.

After his remarks, Steinberg took questions. Someone asked what he would do about this proposal if he was the Sacramento mayor. The crowd laughed. Apparently some believe that he is thinking about running for mayor.

Steinberg says he would work regionally with neighboring counties. I believe he would be able to put it together.

No more “formerly honorable.” I’m ready for the Honorable Darrell Steinberg, but this time, the Honorable Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

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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.