Don’t “Measure U” - Our ARPA Funds
Listen Up! Millions of dollars in Covid relief funds are heading to Sacramento, and everyone wants a piece.
This item number was fraught with big promises and buzz words. If I took one drink for every time someone said “racial equity,” I wouldn’t have made it through the meeting.
The Background The American Rescue Plan Act or ARPA is the federal government's attempt to help struggling Americans recover from the COVID pandemic. For the city of Sacramento that means $112 million over the next 2 years. So far law enforcement has had their hands in every COVID funding cookie jar (Sometimes taking everything including the jar when they go). After outrage from police receiving more than ½ of our measure U funds (COINSSSS...to the tune of over $35 million), and $104 Million of the $181 Million from county plus $2.8 million from the city in CARES funding - the community is being extra watchful.
Everyone is wishing Mayor Steinberg a speedy recovery, he recently contracted COVID. He didn’t let that stop him from weighing in on where the ARPA dollars are going though. Earlier this summer the Mayor presented his plan for how to distribute funds. While it was received relatively well, the community, and his colleagues had some amendments. He was happy to add their suggestions.
The Presentation: The discussion started with Mayor Steinberg’s presentation on the amendments he made to his plan. Steinberg talked a lot about racial equity, and declared “forever more when this city does budgets, the core priorities will include the community.” Which sounds great, but did have me thinking - what were the priorities before?
Steinberg created an Ad Hoc racial equity committee with councilmember Vang to oversee ARPA spending and help design the racial equity lens the city will be looking through moving forward. On the last page of the Mayor's proposal there is one line item that caught my eye
“Valuing our City Employees and Addressing Organizational Needs” including supporting our city employees Great title. But the paragraph below isn’t very specific, and interestingly enough the board plans to take/borrow $5 million from the Housing Trust to ensure staff is taken care of. Does this seem to imply that the city could be using ARPA funds for a raise?
Public Comment: Public comment had your run of the mill business associations praising the officials for committing to financially supporting them. There was also a lot of participation from The Sac Kids First coalition. They, along with Vang and Vice Mayor Schenirer requested a separate category be made for youth investments. They also asked for transparency, tracking, and a focus on marginalized communities. There were also community members stressing the importance of meaningful investments being made into long term housing solutions.
Council Discussion: Councilmember Harris was his normal sassy self. He was quick to approve the motion, but when Councilmember Valenzuela stepped up to second and added that tracking metrics be included, specially for racial equity, he informed her that her request was generic and would happen “organically.” When Councilmember Guerra asked that a directive be added to make sure we know what the federal guidelines are, Harris told him that “goes without saying.”
Councilmember Vang and Councilmember Valenzuela continued to speak up to center racial equity. Harris doesn’t want to wait for racial equity. Instead he prioritizes getting the money out as soon as possible (I wonder if that’s how Law Enforcement ended up with $105+ Million in Covid relief funding) and feels like there are many funding opportunities that don’t need an equity lens. Vang, everyone who understands/supports a racial equity lens, and I’d bet most in marginalized communities, disagree.
Pro tem Ashby decided to piggyback on Valenzuela’s amendment. Saying if we’re going to use an equity lens, then we need an equality lens too. Ashby had to be sure to all districts matter the convo by reminding the council that “everyone…...everyone is suffering from Covid.”
Surely the millionaires that had to skip a vacation deserve to be supported, just as those who have lost their homes and jobs.
City manager Howard Chan also was there to chime in. He reminded the council that they haven’t received a list of what the requirements for spending the money are yet. Which does make all this planning feel a bit premature. He also shared that he doesn’t understand how exactly the council wants him to use a racial equity lens. He also commented this isn’t the first time he’s had to ask for directions on this topic.
By the end of the discussion the motion unanimously passed. Stay vigilant folks. The money is going to go faster than Ashby can throw racial equity under the bus. The community is going to need to continue to come together and keep pressure on the council to ensure this money goes to supporting the community and to those who need it most.