City Beat

News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

July 24, 2013
Sacramento making progress on copper theft crime wave

Public works crews and a police task force in Sacramento are finally beginning to beat back a crime wave that City Manager John Shirey once called "an epidemic."

Copper wire thefts of city property have been cut by 40 percent since 2011, officials told the City Council on Tuesday. At the same time, the wait period for city crews to repair damaged street lights has dwindled, from a backlog of one year in many cases to 30-day turnarounds.

It hasn't been a cheap effort. The city has spent $1.7 million in labor and materials costs since 2010.

February 25, 2013
Sacramento councilman wants to combat bike thefts

Midtown might be the city's most bike-centric neighborhood. It's also a haven for bike theft.

As a result, the area's new councilman - downtown resident Steve Hansen - is asking city officials to start looking at ways to combat what is a major quality of life issue in the Central City.

Hansen's idea is to create a bicycle registry through the police department and city to help keep tabs on bikes. Right now, there are few ways to track stolen bikes. Many owners don't even bother filing reports when their ride is stolen. And when they are found, bikes go unclaimed, accumulating in a police warehouse, Hansen said.

February 13, 2013
Deputy Chief Sam Somers chosen to lead Sacramento Police Department

somersA.jpgBy Kim Minugh

Deputy Chief Sam Somers Jr. will take the helm of the Sacramento Police Department on Saturday as the agency's 44th chief of police, City Manager John Shirey announced this morning.

Somers, 50, is a 28-year veteran of the department. During that time, he has led every major division, making him an experienced choice, Shirey said.

"He's had the whole gamut," Shirey said. "I feel he has the range and depth of experience to lead our department."

October 24, 2012
Sacramento City Hall continues to scale back credit card use

City Auditor Jorge Oseguera has echoed the statements of other top city officials: the number of credit cards in use by the city workforce should be scaled back.

Oseguera recommended reducing the number of accounts in circulation - something that City Manager John Shirey has already begun doing.

Shirey has taken away 68 credit cards since news broke this summer that a former mayoral aide had allegedly used her city-issued card for personal purchases, city spokeswoman Amy Williams told me today. The city is now at 224 cards for a workforce of about 3,800 employees, Williams said.

October 18, 2012
City credit card scandal expands to second former Mayor Johnson aide

The city's ongoing credit card probe has expanded to involve a second former aide to Mayor Kevin Johnson, The Bee has learned.

Keith Hart, whom Johnson hired as the chief service officer in 2010, is the subject of a police department inquiry over the use of his city-issued credit card, Officer Doug Morse told The Bee today.

Hart's credit card use came into question during an examination of the credit card accounts for members of the City Council, the mayor and the staffers in those offices.

October 11, 2012
Mayor's gang task force meets to discuss prevention efforts

Mayor Kevin Johnson convened a meeting of his gang task force this morning to discuss the committee's plan to tackle gang violence.

The task force conducted a training series of gang intervention workers from local schools, faith leaders and other community leaders today at the George Sim Community Center.

Johnson's task force released its strategic plan earlier this month. That plan - the result of 18 months worth of research and community input - calls for an emphasis on gang prevention above enforcement.

September 11, 2012
Occupy, ACLU protest law restricting City Hall demonstrations

Protesters with the Occupy movement, the American Civil Liberties Union and homeless advocacy groups dined on the front lawn of historic City Hall afternoon - an action that could land them a misdemeanor charge by the end of the night.

The City Council is scheduled tonight to debate a new set of laws governing the use of the City Hall grounds. The ordinance would allow protests without permits or fees during the day, but require permits for a host of actions - including noisemakers and signs.

The new law would also prohibit protests between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., bathing in fountains on City Hall property and bringing fireworks, fog machines or weapons onto the grounds.

September 10, 2012
Harvego family donates $25,000 to McKinley playground effort

The effort to rebuild the fire-damaged McKinley Park playground just got a big boost.

The Harvego family - owners of The Firehouse and Ten22 restaurants - will present a $25,000 check to Councilman Steve Cohn at tonight's meeting for the rebuilding. The Harvego contribution stems from a pledge to donate 15 percent of the revenue generated at the restaurants between Aug. 19 and 25.

"Since its construction in 1994, the playground at McKinley Park has grown to be a community gathering place, and the Harvego family is proud to aid in the fundraising efforts to recover from the community's loss," Lloyd Harvego said.

September 4, 2012
Mayoral staffer in credit card scandal received $4,700 payout

The former mayoral aide at the center of the city's credit card scandal didn't leave empty handed when she resigned in July.

Lisa Serna-Mayorga received a payout of $4,727.30 in unused vacation and holiday time, according to documents obtained by The Bee through a Public Records Act request. Most of the money - $4,617 - was for 125 hours of vacation time Serna-Mayorga did not use. City spokeswoman Amy Williams said the city is required by law to pay out the unused vacation time.

Serna-Mayorga resigned after it was revealed she had allegedly used her city-issued credit card to make personal purchases. Sources have told The Bee she reimbursed the city $9,000 for the charges, which included a trip to Disneyland, gasoline and groceries.

August 8, 2012
Sacramento City Council expected to audit its credit card use

As the criminal probe into questionable credit card use at City Hall moves along, the City Council is expected Thursday to fund an external audit of credit card transactions by the mayor and council offices.

Based on a list provided Friday by the city, it appears that roughly a dozen employees in the mayor and council offices have active credit cards. There's at least one card in every council office, but no employees in Mayor Kevin Johnson's office have cards, according to the city.

Council members want to hire an external auditor to look at their credit card use because the city auditor answers to the council and having him conduct the inquiry would represent a conflict of interest.

August 3, 2012
City withholding credit card records sought in wake of scandal

Sacramento officials are refusing to release credit card records sought by The Bee and other media outlets in response to the recent scandal involving a mayoral aide's alleged personal use of her city-issued credit card.

In a letter to The Bee sent late Friday, the city attorney's office wrote that the police department has determined that credit card statements for all city employees are evidence in an ongoing criminal investigation of former mayoral staffer Lisa Serna-Mayorga. The Bee has asked for credit card statements for all city workers going back to 2008.

"Premature disclosure of this evidence could hinder voluntary and candid participation in the investigation by city employees and other witnesses, including members of the public," the letter stated. "At this time, the interest in maintaining the integrity of the ongoing investigative process outweighs the public interest served by disclosure."

July 25, 2012
Ex-aide to Mayor Kevin Johnson under criminal investigation

The Sacramento Police Department is launching a criminal investigation into the credit card use of former mayoral aide Lisa Serna-Mayorga, police officials announced today.

Details of the investigation have not been made available yet, but police investigators will be working with the Sacramento District Attorney's Office and the city manager's office in the probe, according to police spokesman Andrew Pettit.

Serna-Mayorga resigned last week after it was revealed she made thousands of dollars in personal purchases using her city-issued credit card, sources have told The Bee. The purchases - estimated at $9,000 - included a trip to Disneyland, gasoline and groceries, the sources said.

July 17, 2012
Pension talks resume between Sacramento cops, city officials

Nearly three weeks after more than a dozen city cops were laid off, talks have resumed between the police union and city officials over pension concessions that would restore those positions.

Dustin Smith, the acting president of the Sacramento Police Officers Association, told me today that his organization and the city are "trying to see if there is any type of resolution that would fulfill both sides' needs."

City officials want police officers to pay the entirety of their employee pension contributions. The city picks up the tab for both the employee and employer shares of police retirements.

June 29, 2012
Sixteen Sacramento cops lose their jobs today, no deal in sight

Today is the last day of work for 16 city police officers who are losing their jobs after negotiations between their union and city officials broke down last week.

Meanwhile, city firefighters will conclude voting today on a tentative agreement their union came to with the city that would require those employees to pay their share of their pensions. If the agreement is ratified, it would save 44 firefighter jobs.

Results of that vote are not expected to be announced until early next week.

June 21, 2012
Sacramento police union walks away from negotiations; layoffs imminent

Talks between city labor officials and the police union have broken down, meaning more than a dozen police officers will almost certainly lose their jobs at the end of the month.

Leaders of the Sacramento Police Officers Association notified city officials late Wednesday that they were walking away from the negotiating table. The union said it was backing away as a result of the City Council's decision on Tuesday to spend $621,000 on a November ballot measure seeking to create an elected charter commission.

"It seemed as discussions progressed, this became less about reform, saving jobs and fiscal responsibility and more about the council's political agenda," acting union president Dustin Smith said in a statement. Union leaders called the council charter commission vote "reckless."

May 1, 2012
Mayor urges Sacramento public safety unions to agree to pension changes

He may have side-stepped the issue a bit last week, but Mayor Kevin Johnson now says the battered city budget will be his focus this month.

Johnson told reporters this morning that he wants to be "actively involved" in trying to convince the city's public safety unions to agree to contribute to their pensions. Faced with a $15.7 million deficit, city budget officials said nearly 100 cops and firefighters will be laid off if those workers don't pay the full share of the employee contribution of their CalPERS retirement plans. The city would continue to pay the employer share.

The budget was released on Thursday, the same day the mayor began talks with the owners of the Sacramento Kings in an attempt to revive the city's collapsed arena deal. The mayor was not immediately briefed on the budget and Johnson didn't answer budget-related questions from a television reporter on Thursday.

March 14, 2012
Copper wire thefts leaving Sacramento streets in darkness for months

With copper thieves continuing to wreak havoc on city streets, the City Council wants to make cleaning up the mess more of a priority at City Hall.

Councilman Steve Cohn asked City Manager John Shirey on Tuesday to speed up the repair cycle for street lights left inoperable by copper wire thefts. Cohn said he has been told by some residents that it is taking the city six to 12 months to fix broken lights.

"Obviously the problem is much bigger than what we had feared initially," Cohn said.

December 20, 2011
Mayor, community groups announce new gang prevention plan

By Ryan Lillis

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, local law enforcement officials, community leaders and faith-based groups said Tuesday they were shifting the way they deal with gangs and will focus on prevention and intervention tactics.

Speaking at the Boys and Girls Club on Lemon Hill Avenue, the mayor said a task force he put together earlier this year would embark on a three-year plan on tackling gangs. Many of the programs the task force will work on are already in place, but the mayor said the new plan would help to coordinate those efforts.

The gang task force was formed in the wake of community outcry after two people - including a young mother - were gunned down outside a south Sacramento barbershop last December.

October 5, 2011
Sacramento city manager: use federal $$ to rehire cops now

Sacramento City Manager John Shirey has recommended immediately using a federal grant to rehire 25 police officers laid off this summer.

Shirey had indicated last week that he might recommend banking the $8.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice until next year's budget cycle. But at the end of Tuesday night's City Council meeting, Shirey said he made a "decision to recommend that we go ahead and hire those officers that were laid off as part of the current budget."

The City Council will debate the decision at next week's meeting.

September 29, 2011
Mayor Johnson: Don't delay hiring cops funded by federal grant

While Sacramento city officials have indicated they may hold off hiring some of the 25 officers to be funded by a recently awarded federal grant, Mayor Kevin Johnson said today that "wasting even a minute in the race to restore officers is not acceptable."

The city was awarded Wednesday with $8.1 million in U.S. Department of Justice grants. The timing couldn't have been better for the city, which laid off 42 cops just three months ago.

But both Police Chief Rick Braziel and City Manager John Shirey have said the city could hold on to some of the funding until the 2012/13 budget next June. That budget is once again projected to have a shortfall and banking some of the grant money might ease potential cuts to the police department.

September 28, 2011
Federal grants will fund 50 cops in Sacramento

photo (4)B.jpgSacramento law enforcement agencies will be able to hire an estimated 50 officers through federal grants being awarded today.

The Sacramento Police Department and Sacramento Sheriff's Department will each receive enough funding to hire roughly 25 officers, federal officials said. The timing is particularly good for the city, which laid off 42 cops just three months ago.

The Sacramento City Police Department is receiving $8.1 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Hiring Program. The sheriff's department will receive $11.3 million.

September 23, 2011
Crime in Sacramento continues to drop, despite budget cuts

Mirroring a trend seen in most other big cities across California, crime in Sacramento is down by 18 percent since 2007 - despite four straight years of public safety cutbacks.

Police Chief Rick Braziel told the City Council this week the drop in total serious crime was the third largest in the state over that time period, behind only San Diego and Oakland. And year to date, crime is down in the city 12.5 percent over last year, Braziel said.

But with the department just three months removed from laying off 42 cops, Braziel and others are skeptical those trends will continue.

July 1, 2011
Public safety unions criticize mayor, want closer look at budget

The city public safety unions are firing back at Mayor Kevin Johnson after the mayor told reporters this week that the police union must discuss pension reform if it wants to save the jobs of cops.

In a letter to the mayor, Brent Meyer, the head of the police union, and firefighter union boss Jaymes Butler said the mayor's comments "deeply concern us and leave us more frustrated than ever."

Police officers and firefighters do not pay into their pensions. If they did, city budget officials said it would save the city millions.

June 28, 2011
Mayor Johnson: City cops must discuss pension reform

In his strongest words to date on the subject, Mayor Kevin Johnson said today that city cops must discuss contributing to their pensions in order to save the jobs of dozens of officers being laid off this week.

There is little to no chance that such an agreement could be solidified before the final day of the fiscal year on Thursday, when police layoffs go into effect. Cops have already begun handing in their badges and 42 officers are slated to lose their jobs, part of a city budget plan to fill a $39 million deficit.

But the mayor said that he and other members of the City Council are "desperately reaching out" to the police union and was hopeful that discussions would continue into the summer.

June 20, 2011
Police union open to pension changes - just not now

In a sharply-worded letter to his members last week, city police union president Brent Meyer wrote that any changes to police pension contributions will have to wait until 2013, when the union's contract expires.

Some members of the City Council have targeted public safety pensions as a long-term budget fix and have said they aren't interested in one-year salary concessions. Police officers and firefighters do not contribute to their pensions. If they did, it would save the city roughly $4 million a year, an audit reported earlier this year.

Meyer told his members that the union "absolutely recognizes and will be prepared to discuss and implement pension reform in 2013."

June 7, 2011
Mayor Johnson: Cop jobs should be saved, but no plan in place

Mayor Kevin Johnson wants the city to save police jobs. But he doesn't know how to make that happen.

Hours before the City Council was scheduled to embark on intense budget negotiations, the mayor told reporters this morning that his "focus is that we do not reduce the sworn officers" on the police department. The city manager's office has proposed laying off 80 officers, a plan that will be debated tonight as the council addresses a citywide $39 million deficit.

"I think the primary role of government is to make sure our streets are safe and secure," Johnson said. "It's fundamental to how we operate."

May 23, 2011
Protect Sacramento campaign opposes police, fire cuts

City cops and firefighters went door to door this weekend trying to gather opposition to City Hall's proposal to lay off 80 police officers, brown out fire rigs and cut dozens of other positions from the police and fire departments.

Campaign-style signs are now showing up on front lawns and hanging from doors in support of that effort. The group behind the campaign - Protect Sacramento - is a coalition of the fire and police unions, along with neighborhood groups.

The group assembled an overflow crowd at City Hall last week, when the police cuts were presented to the City Council during a tense budget hearing. A similar scene is on tap for Tuesday night, when the fire department's budget is laid out.

May 17, 2011
Mayor, two councilmembers absent as city debates police cuts

Of all the budget hearings to take place at City Hall over the next six weeks, none may be as intense as tonight's, when proposed cuts to the police department are rolled out in detail.

The police and fire unions will be there in force, scheduling a press conference before the 6 p.m. hearing to criticize proposals to lay off 80 police officers and shut down fire rigs. Cops, firefighters and neighborhood activists will also be there, as will the media.

But three key people won't be there.

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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