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Valuing Business over Human Lives

Updated: Jan 19, 2022

The City Council met for over seven hours on December 14th and spent the vast majority of that time focused on one issue: homelessness. In particular, they discussed the disappointing failure to launch of the Comprehensive Siting Plan, and they attempted to reckon with the disgusting sweeps of “camp vehicles” that have been occurring in the community. In the end, despite a surprising effort from Darrell Steinberg to do the right thing, the city decided that they were perfectly content to continue wreaking havoc on the lives of the unhoused.

*Homeless mother Alice’a Stanley, 46, image pulled from this Sac Bee article

The issue arose because a week before the council meeting, the city performed what they called a “clean-up” of Commerce Circle (link to a Sac Bee article for reference), a location which has been home to a large unhoused encampment throughout the entire pandemic. Several cars and trailers were towed - and because the city has so far completely failed to open up any sort of safe parking alternatives, the rest were forced to disperse without any meaningful assistance. The impact of this was absolutely devastating to the families who had been living at Commerce Circle.

To his credit, Mayor Steinberg showed guilt and shame for the MONSTROUS thing his city did, so he introduced a resolution aimed at setting up some safeguards to prevent this sort of tragedy from occurring again.

In classic Steinberg fashion, his proposal was a half-measure, but at least it was something. The gist of his plan was to:

1) prevent the city from moving vehicles unless they offer an alternative form of shelter

2) hold the city accountable for failing to grow it’s shelter capacity and push for more shelter locations to open by March.

Predictably, even this tiny step forward was met with rage from the same group of Chamber of Commerce die-hards who call in and whine at nearly every city council meeting. The two hours of public comment on the issue were difficult to listen to for anyone with a conscience. “Business interests” certainly came out in force to try and stop this resolution from passing, and caller after caller vomited out the same morally bankrupt garbage.

To paraphrase:

Of course I have sympathy for the homeless - but any time they are within my line of sight my life is LITERALLY RUINED

As if the business owners were the real victims here.

Listening to council members Sean Loloee and Jeff Harris talk was similarly nauseating. They each devoted their lengthy comments to propagating right-wing lies about the unhoused - painting all our unhoused neighbors as a bunch of violent, thieving drug users who are swarming into Sacramento from the surrounding areas.

Ultimately, the city never even got to hold a vote on Steinberg’s proposal. Council member Angelique Ashby pulled the ol' bait and switch with a substitute motion that copied a single useless provision from the original resolution - specifically, the requirement that city staff provide weekly reports to city council on the progress of the Comprehensive Siting Plan. This allowed people who were otherwise opposed to the resolution to now vote Yes. Because of the way council rules work, if a substitute motion passes, the original never gets a vote. Members Loloee, Harris, Ashby, Guerra, Jennings, and Schinerer all got to pretend like they care about the problem without actually doing anything about it, while the few who actually supported taking action were forced to vote no.

What a clever trick. I hope Ashby is proud that she was able to so deftly maneuver the city away from even coming close to taking responsibility for their brutality.

The city of Sacramento has made some big promises when it comes to helping our unhoused population. Not only have they spectacularly failed to deliver on any of those promises, but in the meantime it seems they will continue to prioritize the interests of a few obnoxious business owners over the very real human suffering that runs rampant through our community, that has only gotten worse and worse as the pandemic continues to rage on. Constant harassment from the city will not cause the unhoused population to disappear. So long as the city continues to view the problem as “businesses are suffering” rather than “unhoused humans are suffering”, there will never be a solution, and “enforcement actions” are a poor substitute.

No one can make this point better than community members, so in closing here are some quotes from the few public comments which broke through the sea of self-interest and offered a clear, moral perspective.

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