Race for Sacramento’s mayor: An interview with Dr. Richard Pan

Dr. Richard Pan. Photograph by Cristian Gonzalez

By William Duvall, Regina Lerma, Cristian Gonzalez, Trevor Harris and Liam Gravvat

Dr. Richard Pan says he is running for mayor of Sacramento because he wants to tackle the issues of homelessness, economic development, and public safety. 

Pan is best known as a state senator who represented much of the Sacramento region. He famously authored legislation that tightened vaccine exemptions for school age children in an effort to fight a series of epidemics. 

Pan, who is a pediatrician, has said that his background and education in medicine has prepared him to make quick judgements based on facts and evidence. 

Pan recently spoke to Sacramento State journalism students who asked questions on behalf of the News & Review about homelessness, economic growth, safety measures and other issues he would address as the city’s first Asian-American mayor. 

Q: Given the rising cost of living, what measures are you proposing to help Sacramento residents afford housing?

We have a shortage. Unfortunately, that creates a problem in terms of supply and demand. When you have a shortage of something, the price goes up, whether it’s purchase or rent. So how do we maximize the construction of housing and including affordable housing? 

Ideally, we’d like to try to do more infill, but one of the challenges anyone tells you when they try to build infill is that well, infill has neighbors and sometimes those neighbors don’t like it when someone’s going to build something nearby. So we as a community need to educate people and work with people and say, “Look, actually it is to all of our benefit to get more housing.” 

The other part of course is that we have to create more economic opportunity. So when you have a large percentage of people in poverty, how do we help people out there? I am on a United Way board. We are working on universal basic income efforts, things like that. What can we do to provide people emergency assistance so that people don’t become unhoused, because of a short-term economic crisis? We need to work on the short-term crisis so someone doesn’t just become homeless. It’s something that frankly would cost us a lot more if we didn’t do anything in the long run 

Q: Mayor Darrell Steinberg introduced his climate, clean transportation, and affordable housing measure that would raise the sales tax. Are you for or against this measure?

So I have not taken a position on this yet. Certainly, it has good things in there. 

Sales taxes are regressive. They disproportionately hit people who are lower income. We’ve had several tax increases before, and people have expressed frustration – to me at least – that it doesn’t feel like it made any difference. So I think we have a confidence problem there. Frankly, I think one of the things we should be looking at is how do we draw down more existing funds that are out there before we start turning to the taxpayer.

Q: What do you think can be done to make new business owners feel more comfortable with moving into a space like K Street that has a pretty volatile track record?

It’s about building confidence. People need to see that we’re consistently maintaining the street, that the street is safe, that it’s not just a one-off. 

It’s about the city being responsive. When someone calls and says something’s going on, you show up, see what’s going on, and unfortunately that’s not happening right now. I hear from a lot of businesses that when they call, no one shows up or they show up hours later when it’s too late.

Businesses have come to the city and said, “By the way, can you assure me that the sidewalk will be kept clean and neat, orderly,  if I come with my business?” And the city kind of went, “I can’t promise that.” If you can’t promise that, that’s a problem, right? It’s going to be really hard to attract businesses when you can’t do that.

Q: The city’s police department is noticeably less diverse than its constituents. How will your mayoral administration work to increase the diversity of the police department?

It’s a big problem and at the same time, I think it also speaks to the culture in law enforcement, right? If we’re going to recruit a more diverse workforce in the police, they also have to feel like that they’re welcome there and that their role in the police department is not simply to essentially punish people from the communities they came from. 

The problem is now you go to someone and say, “Hey, how would you want to be a police officer?” “Well gee, the only thing I see is someone who seems to hurt my community, but not someone who’s helpful.” We need to create those opportunities for people to say, “Look, actually being a police officer means I can help communities, including my own.” And that’s how we start getting in more. 

Q: Do you have a plan or an interest in creating a more equitable parking environment as we try to increase the population in downtown?

I think we need to be smart about the parking that we have. We should be thinking about how we minimize the amount of space that we need to use to park vehicles and how we make the most use of that. We can use the rest of the land for other things like housing, like businesses and other types of things. Hopefully, with more density, that also makes transit pencil out better.

But certainly we want to keep an equity view on that. We have people who have jobs, they’re living in lower income communities because, frankly, some of our state jobs don’t pay that well, and yet they’re working downtown. We need to be sure they have a place that they can be sure they can get to the place they work, right? I think that’s a combination of not only the parking, but that’s transit.

Q: How will you keep city council meetings orderly and composed while still allowing citizens to speak their mind and ask real honest questions without restricting their First Amendment?

Opinions may be racist, they may be sexist, they may be homophobic, they may be whatever else, but that’s the person’s First Amendment right. By the way, I had to deal with this in the legislature too. I do have my own fan club that really loves to show up when I’m around and harass me. One took it a little too far. He actually assaulted me on the street. 

So I think what’s important is that there’s clear rules and expectations. The First Amendment means that people are going to say things that people don’t like and that frankly we don’t agree with. You set the rules and those rules have to apply to everyone equally. Certainly, I’ll be working with the city attorney to be sure we protect people’s First Amendment rights, but I think it’s also important that people are held accountable for what they say

It’s a challenge when someone says something morally reprehensible. You should speak up and say something about it and it’s important people do, but probably as the chair of the council, that would only encourage more of the same, and so hopefully other bystanders will say something, but we’ve got to be sure to keep the meeting going.

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