While attention will focus on California’s presidential primary on March 3, the results in local races will have more immediate impact on Sacramento’s future. And when some City Council elections draw only about 10,000 votes total, each vote matters more.
To help voters decide, here are SN&R’s editorial staff’s endorsements in key, competitive local races.
A note about how we made our choices: As usual, we looked at candidates’ backgrounds and campaign platforms. This year, we also interviewed 10 candidates in contested races about why they’re running, what they want to do and why they’re the best choice for voters.
With these recommendations, we’re not telling you how to vote, but giving our best judgment to consider along with your own research and political views. Mail ballots went out this week to all registered voters in Sacramento County. You have until polls close at 8 p.m. on March 3 to vote.
Sacramento City Council, District 2: Allen Warren
Councilman Allen Warren, first elected in 2012, is running on his record of bringing grocery stores, medical facilities and increased city investment to the district.
Ramona Landeros, a Twin Rivers Unified School District trustee since 2016 and longtime community volunteer, says she can do better. She says north Sacramento has too many cannabis dispensaries, alcohol outlets and homeless camps, and needs a more vocal advocate for good housing and quality retail.
But her track record does not inspire enough confidence that she can be that leader.
Landeros also says she can represent the district without Warren’s negative press. During the 2012 and 2016 campaigns, it was his business dealings—lawsuits against his development companies, unpaid taxes and questions about conflict of interest. In 2015, he faced a sexual harassment complaint from a former aide in his council office, though she later withdrew the claim, which Warren denied.
In 2020, he is not running under a similar cloud.
Warren has also improved as a council member, and his experience building coalitions on the council and navigating the City Hall bureaucracy is valuable.
On the homeless crisis, the Measure U sales tax increase and other issues, he has been willing to buck Mayor Darrell Steinberg. That independent streak is important; one way he keeps it is that he’s his own biggest campaign donor—$119,000 last year and another $20,000 in January.
If he wins a third term, Warren says he’ll continue his efforts to bring jobs and housing to the district, and will also focus on cleaning up parks. He says he’ll keep speaking out on the homeless crisis, including his proposed “Renewal Village” that would provide different levels of housing for 700 people.
Warren also says he will pay more attention to cultivating potential successors, especially since he’s thinking about running for mayor if Steinberg steps aside in two or four years.
Landeros is the strongest of three challengers. Also on the ballot are Sean Loloee, owner of Viva Supermarkets, and Lamar Jefferson, listed as “father.”
Landeros offers a broad life experience, growing up in a family of farm workers and working in domestic violence shelters, plus her activism in the community as a literacy advocate and founder of the Tejano Conjunto Festival in 2006.
It’s a red flag, however, that she has few high-profile endorsements. While Landeros says she would bring the missing perspective of a Latina to the council, the Sacramento Latino Democratic Club is supporting Warren.
Landeros is a promising candidate, but there’s too much uncertainty about how effective she can be. Warren is the safer choice when this district can’t afford to take a step back in its leadership.
Sacramento City Council, District 4: Steve Hansen
Steve Hansen made history in 2012 when he was elected the city’s first openly gay council member. Since, he’s made his mark as a thoughtful voice on a wide range of issues.
But lately he’s disappointed some progressives, especially on rent control by opposing a stronger, permanent ballot measure. One of them is Katie Valenzuela, who says she couldn’t wait to run, despite the uphill fight of trying to oust an incumbent.
Valenzuela, policy and political director for the California Environmental Justice Alliance, says she has the community development knowledge and coalition-building experience to push for bolder action on affordable housing, inclusive economic development and more. Valenzuela also faults the council for helping rich investors with the Golden 1 Center and the planned soccer stadium, while forcing community groups and small businesses to fight over a few million dollars.
She’s obviously sharp and makes a compelling case that the council could use some fresh thinking, but is not quite convincing enough.
Criticizing from the outside as an advocate and making bold promises is one thing. But actually getting things done is quite another. Sometimes it takes compromises that won’t please everyone, especially in this Midtown and downtown district with so many politically active residents with a wide range of views.
Hansen makes it work. He can point to a long list of accomplishments: helping push Regional Transit to cut fares and improve service; championing bike lanes and electric bicycles; promoting the Lavender Court project for LGBTQ seniors; and working on a flavored vape ban.
In what he says would almost certainly be his final term on the council, Hansen pledges to keep working on housing and homelessness, and leading on climate change by creating a city less dependent on cars. He wants to help see through the remakes of the Old Sacramento waterfront and of Capitol Mall, and wants to boost arts and culture programs.
It’s good that he is being aggressively challenged in this campaign. Hansen says he is listening to the criticism. If he takes it to heart, that will make him an even better council member.
Sacramento City Council, District 6: Eric Guerra
Eric Guerra was first elected in 2015, and he’s clearly the best choice this year. He came up through the Tahoe Park Neighborhood Association and has kept that grassroots outlook in office, boosting after-school programs, addressing homelessness and protecting fellow immigrants.
Running against him are Eric Frame, who ran for state Senate in 2018 as an independent; Kevin Rooney, a plumbing contractor; and Waverly Hampton III, a Sacramento State electrical engineering student.
Of the three, Hampton is the most intriguing—a promising newcomer who wants to make a mark in his adopted city and has clearly thought a lot about the city’s future. He has big ambitions and big ideas, which he outlines in a 20-page policy paper, including a 1% tax on Sacramento companies with $1 million or more in gross receipts, with proceeds going into a fund for housing and start-up businesses.
He says he would bring energy and the perspective of diverse young people who have struggled financially. But he’s just 24 and could use more policy experience and political seasoning. He would be a great appointee to a city board or commission. He says he would be interested, so Guerra should take him up on his offer.
Sacramento City Council, District 8: Les Simmons, Mai Vang
This is the most competitive City Council race because Larry Carr, the district’s representative since 2014, isn’t seeking reelection and because highly-qualified candidates have stepped forward.
Voters can be confident picking either one. And because it’s likely that neither will win outright on March 3, voters will get until November to see how they handle public scrutiny and how they flesh out their positions on the issues. The extended campaign would also let voters decide who might best balance the new council based on who wins other seats.
Simmons, a well-known pastor in South Sacramento, has 20 years of leadership in the community, speaking out and working on issues such as youth violence and police reform. He served as the first chairman of the city’s community police commission, until he resigned over its lack of investigative powers. He was outspoken after no charges were filed against the two police officers who killed Stephon Clark. And he pledges to continue pushing for change, including more bias training for officers and a more diverse Police Department.
He says he can represent the full diversity of this district, pointing to his support from Latino leaders. He also has the backing of the Sacramento Metro Chamber and council members Rick Jennings, Steve Hansen and Jay Schenirer. And he is receiving financial and campaign support from the Sacramento City Teachers Association.
The teachers’ union has been at war with the Sacramento City Unified school board—including Vang. That gives her valuable experience as an elected official; she knows what it’s like to be the target of criticism and to face tough issues.
While her history in South Sacramento isn’t as long, she grew up there and helped start Hmong Innovating Politics after returning home from college. For four years, she worked as community affairs director for Carr, who is supporting her. She also has the endorsements of council members Angelique Ashby, Jeff Harris and Allen Warren, her fellow school trustees and the firefighters union.
Vang, who is now a college scholarship director and teaches at Sacramento State University and UC Davis, also has a compelling life story as the eldest of 16 children of Hmong refugees. As a woman of color and a millennial, she says she would also bring a voice now missing from the council. She also could help build closer ties between the school district and City Hall.
Either Vang or Simmons is a better choice than the others on the ballot: Ronald Bell, a retired pastor who ran for City Council in 2014 and 2016 and Sacramento County supervisor in 2018; Daphne Harris, a real estate broker; and Santiago Morales, a program analyst.
Sacramento Mayor: Darrell Steinberg
Darrell Steinberg faces only token opposition in Mac Arteaga, listed on the ballot as a resident manager, and Jrmar Jefferson, a perennial candidate.
It would be better if Steinberg had more serious challengers so there could be a fuller debate on his priorities. Still, he has done more than enough to earn a second four-year term by moving the city forward on homelessness, jobs and more.
The former state Senate leader put his political capital on the line in 2018 with Measure U, the half-cent sales tax increase that voters approved for inclusive economic development, and that will also help finance a $100 million affordable housing trust fund. He helped steer the city through the trauma of the Stephon Clark case. Steinberg combines ambitious vision with attention to policy detail, proving once again that a mayor can be strong without changing the city charter.
Sacramento Measure G: No
This is a close call. The City Council, itself, is divided.
The measure would change the city charter so that for 12 years, 2.5% of unrestricted revenues would flow into a new fund for children and youth services—a projected $10.1 million to $12.6 million a year on top of current spending.
Proponents are right that boosting young people is crucial to Sacramento’s future and that these programs can get underfunded because they don’t have the political influence of public safety unions in the budget process.
But opponents have a stronger argument. This could prevent the city from focusing enough on affordable housing and homelessness and would tie the City Council’s hands in a budget crisis, which could lead to cuts in public safety and other basic services, including ones that help children.
While the city has a budget surplus of $33.5 million as of Jan. 1, projections show a budget deficit of $21 million by 2021-22 (though the city has $55 million in its rainy day fund).
Unfortunately, the measure does not include an escape clause if there’s a deep recession. Without that flexibility, money could continue flowing to nonprofits at the same time the city might have to lay off police officers and firefighters. The firefighter and police unions are bankrolling the opposition campaign.
Mayor Steinberg says the measure would jeopardize his promises for inclusive economic development from Measure U. He’s offering a more reasonable alternative for the November ballot: A measure that would set aside 20% of revenue growth for youth programs, about $2.5 million to $3 million more starting in 2021. Voters should wait for that option.
Sacramento County supervisor, District 3: Gregg Fishman
This is by far the highest profile race for county Board of Supervisors, with incumbent Susan Peters stepping aside. She has too often done the bidding of developers, including a controversial vote in November against stopping no-cause evictions.
Desmond, a former California Highway Patrol commander and legislative affairs director, appears likely to vote similar to Peters. He declined to be interviewed, but on his campaign website he says homelessness will be his top priority, balancing a humane approach with public safety. He also pledges to fix roads and work on improving economic development and public safety.
Fishman, however, is the far better choice. He has broader experience and can be the swing vote for more sensible policies on cannabis, homelessness, transit and other pressing issues. He built knowledge and connections from working for the California State Association of Counties, and he knows what it’s like to make tough decisions from serving on the SMUD board of directors since 2015.
Three other candidates are running, so it’s more than likely that no one will win a clear majority on March 3.
A strong second choice is Matt Ceccato, district director for Congressman Ami Bera for seven years, supervising constituent services and policy feedback. He has met officials across the region, and he’s right about the need for more collaboration to address homelessness and other problems. He lives in Arden Arcade, which he argues hasn’t received adequate representation or a fair share of services.
A key part of his resume is that he’s a combat veteran. He enlisted in the Army right after 9/11, did two tours in Iraq and is still recovering from being shot in both legs.
Also on the ballot are Catrayel Wood, a senior budget analyst at the Judicial Council of California, and Tiffany Mock-Goeman, a business administrator and homeless advocate.
U.S. House, District 7: Ami Bera, Jeff Burdick
Rep. Ami Bera, an Elk Grove Democrat, is seeking his fifth two-year term in what has been a very competitive district with Republicans, but is trending more Democratic. In 2020, for the first time, he’s also facing a real challenge from a fellow Democrat.
Jeff Burdick, who works for Caltrans and lives in Arden Arcade, plants himself firmly in the party’s progressive wing, supporting Medicare for all, the Green New Deal and sweeping campaign finance reform.
In congressional primaries in California, the top two candidates regardless of party move on to November. Bera and Burdick are clearly the two most qualified of the five on the ballot. Also running are Green Party candidate Chris Richardson, an engineer and writer, and Republicans Buzz Patterson, a former White House military aide, and Jon Ivy, a voting rights advocate.
So voters can pick either Bera or Burdick and set up an eight-month campaign to hash out their policy differences and qualifications.
Burdick says he’s part of a new wave of candidates who appeal to millennials and want to take big money out of politics. He pledges to only take campaign donations from voters in the district and criticizes Bera for accepting contributions from corporations and out-of-state residents.
Bera has far more experience, but has also compiled a record that some critics poke at. He upset some progressives by waiting until after the Ukraine scandal to support impeaching President Trump. Labor protested against him in 2015 when he supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
But Bera’s middle-of-the-road politics may better fit this district, plus his thoughtful, less partisan approach is in short supply in Congress. In a statement to SN&R, Bera stressed that instead of getting involved in Twitter fights, he’s proud of helping more than 13,500 constituents and securing more than $7 million for the district, including $1 million to help homeless and low-income veterans.
Congress also needs his expertise on health care, an important issue that isn’t going away. He says he’ll continue to push for expanding Obamacare into universal coverage and to lower prescription drug prices.
While Bera was endorsed by the state Democratic Party, Burdick has the support of some local Democratic clubs. Just as Democrats are doing in the presidential primary, the district’s voters will decide whether they want a more moderate candidate or a more progressive one. It’s a debate the party, and nation, need to have.