Editor’s note: New Sacramento City Council members try to make a difference on housing, COVID and more
Katie Valenzuela and Mai Vang aren’t wasting any time trying to make an impact on the Sacramento City Council, while keeping their campaign promises as well.
They are pushing to protect renters in danger of going off a cliff during the COVID-19 pandemic. Valenzuela is urging the council—either on Tuesday or at a Jan. 26 special meeting—to pass an emergency ordinance to extend the city’s eviction moratorium in case a statewide bill doesn’t pass by Jan. 31.
The two new council members also want to strengthen the city’s tenant protection ordinance, since voters rejected a more robust rent control measure in November. The city is receiving $15.3 million for rental assistance from the new federal relief package.
And they’re supporting a more comprehensive master plan on homelessness championed by Mayor Darrell Steinberg that is to be voted on by the council in June. On Tuesday, the council will consider an interim step—an emergency ordinance allowing “safe ground” camps of tents and “tiny homes.” Steinberg is urging the council to approve 60 tiny homes and cabins on private or public land within 30 days; each council member would work with the city manager’s office to identify sites.
Valenzuela says her downtown and Midtown district has already been doing that and would welcome the tiny homes.
“With so many people sleeping on the street in the rainy and cold weather, we cannot wait any longer to move people indoors,” Valenzuela said in a statement. “These tiny homes are not a permanent solution, but could provide critical relief to a community in desperate need. I fully support deploying them as soon as we can.”
“My team and I haven’t wasted one moment since being sworn in, and are very pleased to see important discussions regarding housing, homelessness, and police accountability moving forward at the Council,” Valenzuela added in a statement to SN&R. “We look forward to continuing to partner with the residents of District 4 to make meaningful progress on these long-standing challenges in our community.”
Meanwhile, Vang is also focusing on the city’s COVID-19 response, including making sure that limited supplies of vaccines and of city money are distributed fairly. She is also holding a series of virtual town halls on the coronavirus response in her South Sacramento district. The first one on Jan. 13 was on hunger; the next, on Wednesday, is about housing and tenant protection. Future town halls will be on support for small businesses, protections for workers and the unemployed and on programs for families and youth.
“My goal coming into office was to hit the ground running and make City Hall accessible to residents throughout District 8. Our team is working hard to ensure a quick, safe, and equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic—a recovery that recognizes that communities throughout South Sacramento have been disproportionately devastated even before the pandemic,” Vang said in a statement to SN&R.
“In partnership with District 8 residents, I look forward to working with my colleagues to assess our distribution of COVID relief funds and our general budget to ensure equitable allocation and investment for future spending,” she added.
There is a third new council member, who was also sworn into office Dec. 15, but with less notoriety.
Sean Loloee, who unseated incumbent Allen Warren in District 2, says that for next 90 days, he’s focusing on COVID-19 response and recovery, cannabis policy and homelessness and mental health policy.
“I am extremely busy dissecting existing policies and meeting with leaders internally and externally to wrap my head around things that have occurred in the past,” he said in a statement to SN&R, “in order to best position my district and the city for going forward.”
At the Jan. 12 council meeting, Valenzuela and Vang joined with Angelique Ashby, the only other woman on the council, in an effort to close the wage gap for women and people of color in the city workforce. An audit submitted to the council found that the gender salary gap widened from $12,474 in 2016 to $15,141 in 2020. The study also found a continuing gap between white employees and Black and Hispanic workers.
The council voted unanimously to get a report in three months on strategies and benchmarks.
And after the Jan. 6 armed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Vang and Valenzuela issued a joint statement condemning white supremacists protesting in Sacramento. “Hate has no place in Sacramento,” their statement said, “and any groups espousing hate are unwelcome in our community.”
Valenzuela has been calling for a more aggressive response to violent protestors and for a report from the police. Sacramento’s deputy police chief is to give that report in public Tuesday on the department’s response to protests. Security around the state Capitol has intensified due to FBI warnings about armed demonstrations leading up to the Wednesday presidential inauguration of Joe Biden.
On Friday, the Police Department posted a video summarizing the near-weekly protests since the election. It said nearly 1,400 officers had responded and 11 had been injured, and it said there had been 27 arrests or citations.
“The mission of SPD is to protect life and property while also ensuring the freedoms the constitution provides,” the department said. “Throughout the last two months, the police department has done that under challenging and sometimes hostile conditions.”