It seems that Darrell Steinberg might finally be getting what he wanted for housing policy, and the city will be much worse off if it passes.
Last month, just a couple days after the city was rocked by a horrific shooting in midtown, the City Council called an emergency meeting. Not to address the shooting, of course. No, this meeting was being called because of the machinations of a coalition of business interested and well-off locals. They call themselves “Sacramentans for Safe and Clean Streets and Parks” but are nothing more than an anti-homeless group - and they had decided to try a little old-fashioned extortion. The city, in its infinite wisdom, decided that caving in to the demands was the best course of action, and thus called for a meeting, to be held on April 6th, 2022.
The group, led by Daniel Conway (who used to be mayor Kevin Johnson’s Chief of Staff), has been gathering signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot which would have required the city to provide some number of new shelter spaces, but more importantly, would have allowed the city to freely destroy unhoused encampments if the residents refused any offer of shelter from the city, no matter how inadequate. They had not yet gathered all the required signatures, but were probably on track to do so.
Instead, they came to the city with a threat and a demand: If you want to place your own measure on the ballot, and if we decide it’s good enough for us, we will withdraw our measure.
(Daniel Conway, pictured below)
The city was eager to do so, because the original proposal from Conway’s group locked the city into spending quite a lot of money. So the city came up with their own version which, despite a couple notable differences about how much money would be spent (which they achieved by reducing the already inadequate amount of shelter they would be obligated to create), the city’s proposal was basically the same as what Conway and his buddies had wanted. It still contained the all-important part which lets the city destroy encampments with impunity.
Unfortunately, the City Council was unwilling or unable to fight forcefully against this proposal, and it passed with a 7-2 vote. Even Katie Valenzuela and Mai Vang, typically the only voices on the council who are willing to advocate for the unhoused, primarily focused their objections on attempting to make some well-intentioned but ultimately half-hearted improvements to the proposal. They seem to have made a strategic choice to try and propose changes they thought other Council members might support, but that ultimately proved to be a bad strategy, as none of the changes they proposed were implemented, and the proposal passed without any strong opposition from any elected officials.
Now, there is a LOT wrong with what happened here, but most of the issues - the last-minute meeting and notification of the public, the issues with funding, the lack of county involvement - are ultimately a distraction from the substance of the proposal, which is truly heinous and would essentially make it a crime to be homeless.
One public commenter named Shelley said it perfectly:
This was the bait and switch we were all waiting for. The concerns that were voiced about the original plan are realized by this so-called compromise, which clearly states that encampments are prohibited in a very explicit way. It's not an ‘imperfection’ as the mayor called it, it is a craven and appalling attempt to circumvent Martin v Boise, democratic process, and basic human rights
This substance, this “craven and appalling” initiative, is what Darrell Steinberg has been building towards for years.
Steinberg calls it “a right to housing”, using the time-honored political tactic of giving your proposal a nice sounding but dishonest name in order to trick people into thinking it’s a good idea.
(Mayor Steinberg pictured below)
He has been talking about it since 2019, and it is the perfect neoliberal fantasy: offer a government service without doing the work to make sure it’s actually helpful or useful, and then lock people up if they refuse to play along and subject themselves to the horrible government service you’ve built.
Joe, from Loaves and Fishes, criticized this brilliantly in his public comment at the meeting:
This ordinance wants to single out a group of people by virtue of the fact that they are poor and don’t have a home. This ordinance wants to tell them that the way they’ve been surviving is no longer legal, that they have 14 days to accept a spot in a government-sanctioned encampment, and all they can take with them is what they can carry, or they’re gonna be criminalized, they’ll be charged with a misdemeanor. Again, this is terrifying! Think this through again: you’re taking a poor person, telling them that the way they’re surviving doesn’t matter, they have 14 days to accept a spot in a government camp or they’re gonna be arrested. Absolutely terrifying
So, despite his complaints about improper procedure, Steinberg is ultimately getting exactly what he wanted out of this initiative. He gets to lock up homeless people, and the unhoused community gets nothing - the side of the initiative which looks to provide services is entirely devoid of details and what little is written down is wholly inadequate.
As Dr. Diane Wolfe said in her public comment:
I find it very concerning that the Mayor and City Council are allowing Mr. Conway to bully them into a rushed decision on a flawed initiative… Nothing in this initiative focuses on building new houses, all the money goes to temporary shelters, so it’s not gonna solve homelessness, it's not gonna move the solution forward, it’s just going to spend money
The good news is that nothing in this initiative has become law, yet.
All this was just to get it placed on the ballot in November, where voters will have a chance to make their voice heard. So there is still time to stop Mayor Steinberg and his pals from making it a crime to be homeless. But there is a lot of work to be done if we want to stop it.
A compilation of outstanding public comments can be found in the video below!
On April 19th, 2022, there was a procedural vote at City Council to formally put the aforementioned measure on the ballot.
Councilmember Valenzuela pulled the item (#17) from the consent calendar for a separate vote, and members from Sac ACT (Area Congregations Together) called in and commented. The City Council ultimately ended up ignoring the comments, and voting to put the measure on the ballot.
In the video below you will find some outstanding comments made on this horrible City decision, all of them voiced by members of Sac ACT.