City Beat

News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

February 28, 2011
Mayor to hold 'State of Schools' meeting tonight

Mayor Kevin Johnson will step out of the tense Kings arena issue for a time this evening when he holds a 'State of Schools' summit at the Guild Theater in Oak Park.

Tonight's event, which runs from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., is scheduled to be the first in a string of monthly meetings. The mayor and other organizers want to give community members a chance to weigh in on the state of city schools.

Russlynn Ali, the assistant secretary for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education, will join the mayor at tonight's event. David DeLuz, the president and CEO of the Greater Sacramento Urban League, will also be on hand.

February 25, 2011
With Kings' future uncertain, what can DC's history teach us?

I did a Q&A over email this week with Steve Mehlman, who helped launch a grassroots campaign in the 1980s to keep the NHL's Washington Capitals from leaving DC. Mehlman has lived in Sacramento since 2004 and is the communications director for the UDW Homecare Providers Union.

Here are excerpts from our conversation over email:

First, could you explain what you were able to do in Washington?

Working with the news media, political and business leaders and sports fans in DC, we were able to create a groundswell of support for the team. This resulted, among other things, in a group of new investors stepping forward to bring new resources. It also led to the business community guaranteeing sellouts for the first ten games of the 1982/83 season by purchasing any unsold tickets.

February 24, 2011
Who is Sacramento's biggest sports fan?

I interviewed a guy in Seattle on Wednesday who carries the label of "Seattle's Biggest Sports Fan." It was a title granted to him by a local television station and it's hard to dispute.

Lorin "Big Lo" Sandretzky said he hasn't missed a home game of the NFL's Seahawks in 25 years. In their last 20 years in town, Big Lo missed only five home games for the NBA's SuperSonics.

Our talk in front of a quiet KeyArena got me thinking. Who is Sacramento's biggest sports fan? Do you know of someone who hasn't missed a Kings game in years? If so, email me at or call (916) 321-1085.

February 23, 2011
Are Seattle's tent cities a model for Sacramento?

I'm in Seattle this week reporting a story about the city's homeless tent cities. What I've found so far is a community that believes it has a model that works - and a model they think would also work for Sacramento.

Perhaps the most high profile of the encampments is Tent City 3, which for the past three months has been located in a church parking lot set in the middle of Seattle's Maple Leaf neighborhood, an enclave of tree-lined streets and expensive bungalows. It reminds me of South Land Park.

Unlike Sacramento, Seattle's tent cities are sanctioned and organized. They elect officers from the camp who are in charge of everything from cleaning blankets to organizing food donations. The encampments are managed by a non-profit.

February 22, 2011
Leaf collection rates could triple in Sacramento

Would you be willing to pay three times what you're paying now to have that pile of leaves picked up from in front of your house? That's a debate at the City Council Chambers tonight.

City officials say that the current rates for the Loose In The Street collection program aren't high enough. As a result, staffers say they may need to triple the rates, to about $40 a month.

If rates aren't tripled, collection of leaf piles for those who don't use green bins would have to be reduced to every other week and rates doubled, according to a city staff report.

February 22, 2011
What do the Kings mean to Sacramento?

With their future here uncertain, I thought it was worth asking what the Kings mean to our region. And so we have our newest poll, found along the right side bar of the blog.

I'll keep the voting open all week.

February 20, 2011
City Beat: Let's put the latest Kings news in context

There are a lot of nervous Kings fans this morning. That's understandable. But I wanted to provide a little context on this arena issue.

NBA Commissioner David Stern's comments this weekend that the league was taking a hands-off stance on Sacramento's arena push aren't new. Last September, Bee colleague Tony Bizjak and I reported the league would no longer take an active role in the issue after a land swap arena proposal involving Cal Expo fell through.

And then there's Stern's comments confirming the Kings have spoken to Anaheim officials about moving the team there. The Maloofs said months ago they would keep their options open and Anaheim has been mentioned several times as a suitor of the team.

I'm not saying Kings fans shouldn't be nervous. But let's remember what has already been said.

February 18, 2011
Would you pay more taxes for a better zoo, expanded arts?

Based upon a 2006 vote and the tenor of public discourse, there doesn't seem to be much appetite around here to fund most of the construction of a new sports and entertainment arena with public money.

But what about a zoo or museums?

That's one topic that could come up on Tuesday when city staffers brief the City Council on a two-year feasibility study of moving the Sacramento Zoo to Sutter's Landing Park in midtown. Such a move "would need to be supported primarily through a regional funding initiative," according to a city staff report.

February 17, 2011
City Beat poll: Should Sacramento repeal its 'crash tax'

Given that Roseville has now repealed its "crash tax," I thought this might be a good time to again gauge how people feel about Sacramento's fee program.

With that in mind, I've posted a poll on the blog. Many of you have already emailed and called me with your opinions, but I thought we'd put it to an informal vote. Look down page along the right rail to vote.

As a reminder, the Sacramento City Council voted last month to enact a fire cost recovery program that will charge nonresidents causing automobile wrecks in the city requiring a response from the fire department. City officials said the policy will generate between $300,000 and $500,000 annually for their battered budget.

February 17, 2011
Would you support a Kings lottery game?

A recent article in Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal highlighted the success of lottery games around the country that display professional sports team logos. In some cases, the games have created quite a windfall (the Boston Red Sox have made $10.4 million on lotto games that bear their logo in New England).

That got me thinking: the NFL's Raiders, 49ers and Chargers all have games in California. Why not the Kings?

Alex Traverse, a spokesman for the California State Lottery, told me the commission has "had some conversations, but only preliminary talks" in the past with the Kings about a game.

February 16, 2011
Don't expect Sacramento City Council to reverse 'crash tax'

Roseville seems poised tonight to be the first city in the region to repeal its "crash tax." I wouldn't expect the same from Sacramento.

Roseville city officials have said their crash fee program - which charges nonresidents if they cause auto wrecks within city limits requiring fire department response - hasn't lived up to expectations. It was expected to bring in $100,000 a year to the city. In about two years, it's generated $40,000.

You may remember that Sacramento once projected it would generate more than $1 million a year through its fee program, only to later downgrade that projection to between $300,000 and $500,000.

February 16, 2011
NBA Commissioner Stern: Vegas, Anaheim interested in teams

NBA Commissioner David Stern had some things to say this week during his annual sit down chat with ESPN's Bill Simmons that Kings fans might find interesting - or frightening.

Perhaps most compelling was Stern's comment that the league has "been visited or contacted by three different groups that are putting up a building (arena) in Las Vegas," according to a report on published Wednesday. Stern added the league has also "had visits from Anaheim."

The Maloofs, who own the Kings, operate the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, so their ties to that city are well established. And there have been several reports linking the Kings to Anaheim.

February 15, 2011
Sacramento closer to plan for 'Safe Ground' homeless

We should soon get a glimpse of what Mayor Kevin Johnson and homeless advocates have planned for a "Safe Ground" homeless facility.

Kunal Merchant, the mayor's chief of staff, told me this afternoon that city officials, homeless advocates and officials with the Sacramento Steps Forward organization have nearly developed a plan for a Safe Ground. The strategy includes size control, security and funding.

The last - and clearly the most contentious - element left to hammer out is location. The full strategy should be communicated to the public within the next few weeks.

February 15, 2011
Sacramento councilman: Let's explore a city soda tax

Councilman Kevin McCarty wants the city to look into taxing soda and using the revenue to fund recreational programs for young people.

Such a tax would likely need to go to the voters for approval, McCarty said. He doesn't know how much of a tax should be levied on soda.

Unlike other cities and states that have tried - and failed - to enact soda taxes, McCarty said he doesn't want such a revenue generator in Sacramento to help solve full-scale budget problems. Instead, he said he'd like to see the money go to city-run recreational programs such as summer and after-school youth leagues and to help fund city employees working in recreational programs at schools.

February 15, 2011
Sacramento's CalPERS contributions under scrutiny

Sacramento City Hall is on the hook for an additional $5 million in contributions to the California Public Employees Retirement System in the upcoming fiscal year, and 2008 investment losses absorbed by the pension giant are largely to blame. The city already pumps $48 million into the retirement system.

That extra $5 million is a big number, especially when it's coming out of the city's general fund budget. To put it bluntly, $5 million pays for roughly 50 cops or about two-thirds of the city's parks maintenance budget.

At City Hall, the CalPERS contributions are undergoing some added scrutiny. The city's auditor, Jorge Oseguera, told a City Council sub-committee this morning that his office is examining the city's contributions into CalPERS and that the audit is nearing completion. A report is scheduled to be released in April.

February 15, 2011
When it comes to backyard chickens, Mayor Johnson doesn't peep

Don't count Mayor Kevin Johnson among those with a strong opinion about whether we should be allowed to keep chickens in our backyards.

At a press conference on Monday, the mayor was asked by Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler if he had any thoughts on a City Council Law and Legislation Committee item scheduled for later today on legalizing backyard chickens.

The mayor's response was, simply, "No."

One of the arguments made in support of backyard chickens is that the animals provide a local and sustainable food source. So given that the mayor said in his State of the City that he wants 20 percent of the food purchased in Sacramento to be produced locally, his apathy toward this subject is a bit surprising.

February 14, 2011
L.A. Times: Avoid Sacramento and its 'crash tax'

A Los Angeles Times columnist is telling his readers to stay away from our city. The reason: the "crash tax."

George Skelton, who writes the Times' Capitol Journal column and says he lives in the city of Sacramento, says the fee - which charges out-of-towners if they're in an auto wreck requiring fire department response - has made this an "inhospitable" place.

"Travel tip: if you're thinking about driving to Sacramento, don't. Cancel the hotel reservation. Skip the big convention," he wrote this morning.

February 14, 2011
What should we do with downtown Sacramento?

A team of urban design experts and city planners are in town this week to evaluate the development plans for downtown's J-K-L corridor and provide pointers for moving forward.

In the meantime, I'd like to hear your thoughts. What's missing from downtown? Is it housing? Retail to rival the suburban malls? An arena?

Those are some of the elements the Mayors' Institute on City Design will be looking at through Wednesday, when team members will submit their findings at City Hall. Mayor Kevin Johnson said at a morning press conference the visit was part of the city's push to "challenge some of our assumptions and invite new people with new ideas."

February 14, 2011
Same-sex couples seek marriage licenses in Sacramento

For the 10th year, same sex couples will go to the County Clerk's office downtown this afternoon and request marriage licenses.

It's become an annual Valentine's Day tradition in Sacramento, Woodland and other cities around the country. A similar event is planned in San Francisco.

The local chapter of Marriage Equality USA said more than 60 people have RSVP'd to the event this year through the group's Facebook page. Last year, 15 supporters showed up, while 50 were on hand for the 2009 event.

"We do it to highlight the state sanctioned discrimination against LGBT couples," Julie Tindall, the Sacramento County Marriage Equality USA chapter leader told me this morning.

February 12, 2011
City Hall working on bringing streetcars back to Sacramento

It's been 70 years since streetcars navigated the streets of Sacramento. The city is about to begin the process of potentially bringing them back.

Next month, a consultant team will begin a year-long streetcar planning study to evaluate routes throughout the city. The study is being funded primarily through a $300,000 federal grant from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.

The city is asking for your input during a series of public meetings this summer. Dates will be announced later.

February 12, 2011
Show your love for downtown Sacramento

Do you love downtown? Show it.

The Downtown Sacramento Partnership wants you to share that love by using the hashtag #ILoveDowntown when tweeting why you love downtown.

And for those who don't use social media like Twitter, the Partnership is also asking that you leave Valentine messages on Post-it notes on the storefronts of downtown businesses this weekend and Monday.

"Local entrepreneurs are the heart and soul of our community. Local businesses are what gives downtown its character," said Lisa Martinez, the Partnership's director of Marketing and Outreach. "As you can imagine, being a business owner in today's economic climate can be difficult. We wanted to share some appreciation for the businesses who make downtown a dynamic district and go above and beyond everyday."

I'll add to this: leave a comment on the blog this weekend expressing why you love downtown.

February 11, 2011
Coach Carril on what the Kings mean to Sacramento

In my ongoing quest to gauge what the Kings mean to this city, I sat down earlier this week with a coaching legend beloved by many Kings fans.

As I was leaving the Kings locker room before Wednesday night's game, Kings assistant coach Pete Carril was walking in - chocolate chip cookie in hand.

It was the first time we'd met, but he greeted me like we had known each other for years. He could not have been nicer. And as a guy who's been around this franchise for more than 12 years, I had to ask him for his thoughts on the relationship between the Kings and Sacramento.

February 11, 2011
Is now the time for raises at City Hall?

One thing has become clear in this persistent cycle of bad budgets at City Hall: the issue of public employee raises always generates strong reactions.

That was the case on Thursday, when I learned that Interim City Manager Gus Vina had granted raises to three department heads. The news was enough for one council member to say she was "really disappointed" by the move.

"The last thing we should be doing right now is giving people raises," Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy told me. "We're laying off frontline people and giving management raises and that's wrong."

February 10, 2011
Kings weigh in officially on arena plan

The Kings are talking again about the city's quest to build a new sports arena. Well, sort of.

As I wrote yesterday, the Kings have been mostly silent on the issue for weeks, supplying only a prepared statement from team co-owner Joe Maloof.

I had asked Wednesday for a statement from the team following the City Council's decision the night before to have developer David Taylor and ICON Venue Group do a 90-day study on whether building a new facility is financially feasible. The response from the team was the e-mailed statement from Maloof.

But just before 5:30 p.m. today, the team sent out a new statement:

"The Kings organization spoke with David Taylor and will provide him with the studies, research and documents done during the course of the last 11 years on the feasibility of a new sports and entertainment facility. During that time, the organization has contributed several million dollars to pay for and support traffic and engineering studies, architectural plans and other studies as well as consultants, lawyers and architects. The organization will have no further public comment on the process at this time, and will continue to focus each day on improving the basketball team."

Taylor had said that his first phone call in this process would be the Kings, so I guess it's a good sign for him - and the city - that the team at least took his call. Now let's see if the conversation continues.

February 10, 2011
What's Sacramento's identity?

We touched on this a bit during a live chat earlier today about the arena, but I want to pose this question: What do you want Sacramento to be?

A lot has been said and written in recent days about our misery, but is it painting a full picture? Tell me what you like about it here and what you'd like to see improved upon.

On the same note, I'd love for people to weigh in on what they think this city's identity should be. Should we be sleepy and comfortable or "world class?" Or should we strive to be a little bit of both?

February 10, 2011
Sacramento development might have ghosts

A new housing development planned for midtown's Poverty Ridge neighborhood could be coming with some skeletons.

Nine single-family homes are planned for a lot near 21st and S Streets. Right now the lot is empty. At least we think it is.

According to a staff report prepared for the planning commission for today's meeting, a neighbor thinks there used to be a headstone marking a grave on the lot, but that the former property owner took the marker when they moved.

February 10, 2011
Backyard chickens debate back at Sacramento council

Nothing ruffles feathers at City Hall more than the debate over whether to allow us to keep chickens in our backyard.

At a bizarre meeting last fall, Councilman Steve Cohn left a Law and Legislation Committee session at which staff had asked for direction on drafting an ordinance allowing residents to keep egg-laying chickens. Now staff is again seeking direction at Tuesday's Law and Legislation 3 p.m. meeting in council chambers.

So, what do you think? Are you pro-urban chicken or do you think they only belong on farms?

February 10, 2011
Live chat: Ryan Lillis discusses the arena issue
February 10, 2011
Stojakovic on what the Kings mean to Sacramento

One of the reasons I started this blog was to explore what the Kings mean to this city and what the impact would be if they were to leave.

With that in mind, I headed to Arco Arena Wednesday night to pose those questions to one of the franchise's greatest players, Peja Stojakovic.

Stojakovic was in town with the Dallas Mavericks. After watching him smoothly work his way through a pre-game shoot-around, I asked Stojakovic if he could picture this city without the Kings.

February 9, 2011
Sac High getting recruitment go-ahead

Sacramento Charter High School is as big a political lightning rod as anything in this city. A part of that has been the debate over whether the school - operated by a nonprofit formed by Mayor Kevin Johnson - should be allowed to recruit students from city middle schools.

After years of being prohibited from that practice, the Sacramento City Unified School District is changing its policy.

District Superintendent Jonathan Raymond told The Bee's Melody Gutierrez today that "from here on in, it's not an issue. It's not a roadblock they will have to fight or deal with."

February 9, 2011
Is Sacramento really that miserable?

You may have read about how some computers at Forbes Magazine decided Sacramento is the fifth most miserable city in the country. Bee columnist Marcos Breton disagrees.

There's more. A couple of other lists came out recently that show we aren't as bad as you might have heard.

February 9, 2011
Kings sticking with same 'no comment' on arena

David Taylor said his first call today would be the Kings. Naturally, that would be my first call, too.

Taylor, downtown's most successful developer, was chosen by the City Council on Tuesday to take the next 90 days and study the financial feasibility of building a new arena in town. He'll work with arena giant ICON Venue Group on that task. Following the council decision, Taylor told reporters that he needs "to meet with (the Kings; first and we hope to do that right away."

So I called the Kings this morning. My two questions for a media rep at Arco Arena were: has Taylor called you and, if not, will you talk with him when he does? The response was that the team would have nothing to say about the issue beyond a prepared quote by co-owner Joe Maloof that has been circulated for weeks now.

Here's the quote: "We are focused on improving our basketball team each day and therefore will have no further comment on our arena situation at this time."

Does the team's reluctance to expand on that comment worry you?


February 8, 2011
Council chooses developer Taylor to analyze arena feasibility

By Ryan Lillis

In 90 days, Sacramento City Hall is counting on having a clear idea about whether building a new sports arena in town is realistic.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to spend the next three months working with downtown developer David Taylor and arena builder ICON Venue Group in analyzing the financial feasibility of building a new sports facility.

After that study is complete, city staff will conduct its own analysis and bring it back to the council. The financial feasibility study will be free for the city.

February 8, 2011
Interim city manager Vina to apply for job permanently

By Ryan Lillis

Interim Sacramento City Manager Gus Vina on Tuesday night told The Bee that he will apply for the job permanently.

Also Tuesday, the City Council decided during a closed door session to extend Vina's interim standing through June as a national search is conducted for the permanent post.

The council also voted to hire a firm to conduct the search. In a split 5-4 vote last month, the council opted to not hand the job outright to Vina, who has been the city's interim city manager for a year.

February 8, 2011
Sebelius joins Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson on his jog

Mayor Kevin Johnson goes on a lot of early-morning jogs. Heck, yours truly even joined him once on a pre-dawn jaunt through Oak Park the week after Johnson was elected.

But the mayor's jog this morning had to represent a first.

Johnson was joined by Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. The pair - presumably joined by security - did a three-mile loop through Old Sacramento, past the Crocker Art Museum, down Capitol Mall and around Capitol Park. Johnson was particularly interested in showing Sebelius the view of the Capitol dome from the west as you enter the city.

Sebelius is in town to promote Let's Move!, an initiative launched last year by First Lady Michelle Obama with an aim to wipe out childhood obesity within a generation.

Here's some raw video I shot of the mayor and Sebelius greeting students at Will C. Wood Middle School on Lemon Hill Avenue:

February 8, 2011
Sacramento to pick Kings arena development team tonight

Tonight's Sacramento City Council meeting is a pivotal moment in the city's quest to get a new sports arena built.

The council is expected to vote on working with a development team on a 90-day analysis of whether building a new complex in town is financially feasible. Four development groups are in the mix and have submitted their qualifications to the city.

Two weeks ago, the council asked the development teams to submit their resumes directly to city staffers, setting aside the recommendations of a task force appointed by Mayor Kevin Johnson.

I'll be at tonight's City Council meeting. Follow my tweets at Ryan_Lillis and look for coverage in tomorrow's Bee.

February 8, 2011
Welcome to City Beat

Sacramento is many things - diverse, growing, struggling. But it's also a city searching for its identity.

The Bee is launching this blog, City Beat, as we continue to report on what makes this city go.

We'll post from the streets, from City Hall and Arco Arena. Some items will be straight news, others light-hearted. We'll provide you with insight and analysis you can't get anywhere else.

Along the way, we'll depend on you - our readers - for opinions, feedback and questions. We'll engage with you on all topics and strong opinions are encouraged. But keep it polite; personal attacks will not be tolerated.

Check back for daily news feeds and interactive chats. And thanks for visiting City Beat.

About City Beat

Ryan Lillis has covered the city of Sacramento, its 108 neighborhoods and its politicians since 2008. Prior to that, he covered crime at The Bee. A native of upstate New York, Lillis has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

Contact reporter Ryan Lillis at


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