Race for Sacramento’s mayor: An interview with Kevin McCarty

Photograph by Cristian Gonzalez

By Lauren Reagan, Idaly Valencia and Gavin Hudson

Kevin McCarty says he is running for mayor of Sacramento because he wants to give back and serve the community he calls home. 

McCarty is a state assembly member and a former Sacramento city council member. His background has helped him be a voice for the city. In June 2023, McCarty helped earmark $25 million to Sacramento County to address homelessness. 

Pointing to his experience as a government leader, McCarty says he has even bigger plans to build partnerships and deliver results to Sacramento. 

Recently, McCarty spoke to a class of journalism students at Sacramento State who asked questions on behalf of the News & Review about homelessness, diversity and equity, and the city budget. 

Q: Can you talk more about your plan to add 350 tiny homes to Cal Expo for the homeless? What will this look like for those who can’t get a tiny home, and who is going to pay for this?

We’ve identified some land there at Cal Expo that can be used for emergency housing. The biggest issue is we have 5,000 homeless in the city of Sacramento. Permanent supportive housing, which is the optimal goal for individuals who are homeless – It costs about $500,000 at the minimum per person, per bed to do that. So 5,000 homeless times $500,000 is $2.5 billion and we’re nowhere near that. In my view, we can’t focus on the perfect and ignore the good right in front of us.

So that tiny home location, that’s a place where people can legally camp. People say, “Well, everyone should have indoor plumbing and AC and this and that.” Well, yeah, but it’s better than being on a freeway where there’s no trash can, no water, no security, no nothing. 

I’d like to provide other options where people can go. I think we need to find a place that people can legally park their cars across Sacramento.

Q: As mayor, how do you plan to encourage more people to return downtown for work in order to boost vibrancy and commerce?

Let me just paint a little historic story of Sacramento. Between 1950 and 1975, the Sacramento population doubled from 125,000 to 250,000. Over that 25 years, the Downtown core was reduced by 30,000 people. They put in a new freeway down there, they tore out a whole neighborhood of old housing and put in a bunch of state offices, and that was going to revitalize – it’s called urban renewal.

It was the first redevelopment area across America, here in Sacramento. At night, after five on weekends – ghost town. 

We saw this super clear during the pandemic. During the pandemic, Midtown was thriving. Downtown was not. Why? People live in Midtown, and we moved people out of Downtown 70 years ago. I think we need to revisit that issue and repopulate Downtown.

So one of the things that I think we can do is look at the state office buildings and turn lemons into lemonade. It’s an asset, it’s stranded, but there’s an opportunity. What can you do to convert Downtown office to housing? 

We just selected a developer for that to turn the EDD building into between 500 and 1,000 housing units, potentially 100% affordable. The old courthouse, I’m doing legislation to turn that into housing as well. There’s plenty of sites around Downtown where we could focus on repopulating people Downtown, then we can get more retail and entertainment and restaurants and bring about more activity and that will increase the tax base, help restaurants stay afloat and also make it more so people want to go down there.

Q: In the past, you were a vocal critic of building the Golden 1 Center. With the economic traffic brought in by the team last season and the culture that’s grown since, do you still believe the Golden 1 was a bad idea?

Golden 1, the arena, was a great idea. I did not like the funding mechanism that was put forth 13 years ago. I just thought something big like that, the voters should have a chance to weigh in. 

As far as the financial structure of it, I wanted to protect the City general fund. And, unfortunately, my fears have come true, whereas the City general fund is now paying the debt service for that arena bond. And it was promised 13 years ago that the General Fund will never be touched, that we have this magical revenue, parking revenue, and it’s going to be secure.

And I said, “Well, okay, let’s put it in writing. Let’s lock it in, so the General Fund won’t be impacted.” 

So yeah, It’s brought a lot of life. I’m a big Kings fan. I love sports, but also I thought of this as my job as a financial steward of Sacramento’s taxpayer dollars and want to make sure that we make the best sound financial decision and also going forward, we need to focus on all of downtown. 

Q: What strategies will you implement to strike a balance between freedom of expression and maintaining the efficiency of city council meetings? 

 Well, I’m kind of aghast sometimes watching those council hearings and it’s very different than when I was a council member, but also I chair a committee in the legislature and people act up. 

I think that we need to have more structure there. People have their legal right to come to government and speak up, but if they’re destructive, if they’re overly profane and out of order, I think they can’t speak. Turn off their mic, and then I think it needs to be sanctioned so that they can’t come back. I would have a very, very strong decorum policy as far as the city council meetings. And I get that people are frustrated and maybe angry about issues and want to engage with their government, but I think that respect is paramount.

Conversely, I think once we allow disruption to happen, more disruption happens.

Q: If elected, how will you address the safety of downtown with an emphasis on the nightlife scene considering the recent rise in casualties due to gun violence?

Is Downtown unsafe? I don’t think it’s unsafe. I don’t think it’s safe enough. I think people still go downtown and to midtown. I let my teenage girls go downtown. 

That incident in April of 2022 was very disturbing – in 53 seconds, we had over a hundred bullets go across the K Street Mall and six people were slain. It was essentially a gang shootout after midnight.

So I think having a robust police presence there is warranted. I don’t think that we can take that lightly. That’s our economic core. We need individuals and people to want to come Downtown. We want to have more entertainment and nightlife in downtown, but we also need to have some accountability too with the operators.

I also think the proliferation of guns is a key issue. That’s why I’m working with our police chief to offer a bill that says some areas are gun free zones. I think that the gun violence epidemic is a public health issue. We need to do more to crack down on illegal gun trafficking and easy access for firearms.


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