City Beat

News, insight and discussion on Sacramento and its neighborhoods

December 31, 2012
Confusion over the sales tax rate in the city of Sacramento

There seems to be a little confusion among city merchants over just how much tax they should be charging customers starting Tuesday.

The state Board of Equalization sent out notices to businesses recently stating that the sales tax rate in the city will rise to 8 percent from 7.75 percent starting Jan. 1. That's a result of the passage of Prop. 30 in November.

But what about the city sales tax increase also approved by voters in November?

October 31, 2012
Sacramento touted as America's 'Farm-to-Fork Capital'

Flanked by more than three dozen of the region's most notable chefs and restaurateurs, Mayor Kevin Johnson proclaimed Sacramento "America's Farm-to-Fork Capital" today.

Standing in downtown's Cesar Chavez Plaza as shoppers browsed through the weekly farmer's market, Johnson said the designation would serve as a strong marketing tool for the region.

"This is one of the cool things in Sacramento," the mayor said. "Everyone is always talking about what's wrong with Sacramento, but this is the best of Sacramento. We are learning to play to our strengths."

October 16, 2012
Councilman Schenirer: City's business climate must improve

Following the closure of two large businesses - and after years of financial instability - Sacramento City Hall is talking about changing its business culture.

Councilman Jay Schenirer today unveiled a list of proposals aimed at improving the city's economic condition. Schenirer was flanked by regional business leaders, three council members, City Manager John Shirey and Mayor Kevin Johnson.

Schenirer's proposal will be folded into a broader five-year economic development strategy to be released by Shirey before the end of the year.

September 18, 2012
Mayors urge investment in transit, infrastructure to aid recovery

Flanked by his counterparts from West Sacramento and Fresno, Mayor Kevin Johnson today promoted investment in infrastructure as a path to guiding cities into economic recovery.

Johnson pointed to a series of projects in the city that he sees as economic priorities, including work on a new downtown transit hub, expanding light rail to the airport and building additional bridges across the Sacramento River.

"We have aging infrastructure and (investing in those projects) is something that we have to do," he said, referencing a July report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors that calls for increased investment in transportation and other infrastructure projects. "We have to make that a priority."

July 24, 2012
Sacramento council formally places sales tax hike on ballot

The Sacramento City Council on Tuesday night formally placed a half-percentage-point increase on the city sales tax on the November ballot.

Council members last week indicated they supported asking the voters to approve the increase. Tuesday's unanimous vote made the ballot measure official.

A half-percentage-point hike in the sales tax would generate an estimated $28 million a year. It would also raise the city's sales tax rate to 8.25 percent - tied with Galt for the highest in the region.

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 12, 2012
Sacramento council to debate public safety layoffs; mayor urging pension reform

As the Sacramento City Council prepares to debate laying off dozens of police officers and firefighters tonight, Mayor Kevin Johnson is again urging for those workers to make pension concessions.

Meanwhile, city officials said the number of public safety workers slated to lose their jobs has gone down slightly, after several officers left voluntarily in recent days and weeks, creating vacancies in the police and fire departments.

As of today, 44 firefighters would be laid off and 19 police officers would be out of work if the council approves a budget plan tonight aimed at filling a $15.7 million deficit. Those numbers do not include a few dozen vacant positions that would also be cut.

June 11, 2012
Sacramento union representing managers, support staff agrees to pension and health care concessions

On the eve of a key budget hearing at City Hall, a new city union of management and administrative workers overwhelmingly ratified a labor agreement with the city based on increased pension and health contributions made by employees.

The deal with the Sacramento City Exempt Employees Association (SCXEA) was approved by nearly 83 percent of union members who voted on the deal in recent days, the union announced today. It is expected to be formally approved by the City Council at Tuesday night's council meeting.

Under the agreement, more than 550 employees in the union will pick up their entire share of their CalPERS contributions and new hires "will be placed in a retirement plan that has lower benefits," according to a statement released by the union. The city will continue to make an employer contribution toward employee pensions.

June 8, 2012
Sacramento council steps up talk on pensions, tax measure

The pension and sales tax debates are stepping up at City Hall.

During a discussion on a possible November sales tax ballot measure Thursday night, members of the City Council made their strongest comments to date on what they said was the need for pension reform with city unions.

The conversation included a request by Councilman Steve Cohn that the city attorney's office provide a legal opinion on a possible ballot measure on pension changes - much like San Diego and San Jose did this week. Cohn wants to know whether a ballot measure here requiring added employee contributions to pensions would be legal, given that those changes could supersede the collective bargaining process.

June 7, 2012
Sacramento council's debate over tax hike continues tonight

A possible sales tax is back on the agenda for the City Council tonight.

The council is scheduled to hear a report at its meeting on options for placing a measure on the November ballot to raise the city sales tax by either one-quarter of a percentage point or one-half of a point. The process is moving quickly: the council could see a draft of an ordinance outlining the ballot measure language as early as June 26.

A vast majority of the City Council has expressed support for a sales tax measure. Mayor Kevin Johnson, however, has indicated he would oppose the measure.

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.

April 10, 2012
Hours remaining in campaign to save Sacramento pools

With just a few hours left in the fundraising campaign to save city pools this summer, organizers are still short of their goal.

The Save Our Pools campaign has raised about $840,000, including a dollar for dollar match by Save Mart supermarket. Save Mart will match donations up to $500,000.

If that number is reached, the campaign will have raised $1 million - enough to open half of the city's 12 pools this summer.

April 9, 2012
Update: Fundraising drive for Sacramento pools approaches goal

A fundraising campaign to keep city pools open this summer has gained momentum in recent days, but is still short of its $1 million goal.

The Save Our Pools campaign, launched by Save Mart supermarket, had generated $818,561 in donations and pledges as of 1 p.m. today. That figure includes a match by Save Mart of donations the store has received.

Save Mart and city officials are holding an all-day phone drive today. Donations can be made over the phone at (855) 895-POOL (7665). The pledge drive ends at 7 p.m., but donations will also be accepted Tuesday via text message at 80888, at the Save Our Pools page on Facebook and at the campaign's website.

March 9, 2012
Fundraising drive for Sacramento pools has a long way to go

A fundraising campaign to open city pools this summer has raised $113,683 - roughly one-tenth of what officials want to generate by next month.

The Save Mart Save Our Pools campaign has been in action since mid-February and lasts through April 10. Save Mart is matching donations up to $500,000 and city leaders are hopeful the campaign will generate at least $1 million.

City officials are hoping fundraising kicks up in the coming weeks.

January 25, 2012
City's take-home vehicles scrutinized

The city's costly fleet of take-home vehicles is getting a closer look.

City Council members said Tuesday night they were encouraged by the potential savings of limiting the take-home vehicle policy, as well as reducing the number of under-utilized vehicles in the city's overall fleet that are replaced. An internal audit - released in December - found the city could save millions by changing those policies.

The city spends more than $1 million a year maintaining its fleet of take-home vehicles, most of which are driven by police employees. Records governing vehicle policies are mostly lacking, the audit also found, a situation City Auditor Jorge Oseguera has previously said left the city at risk of having its system abused.

January 25, 2012
Utility rate hikes discussed in Sacramento to fund upgrades

Like many municipalities in the region, Sacramento is proposing to raise its utility rates this year. In the city's case, gradual hikes being proposed over the next three years would tack on $19 a month for most customers.

The city's Utilities Rate Advisory Commission will discuss the proposed rate increases tonight during a 5:30 p.m. hearing in the City Council Chambers, 915 I St. The City Council will eventually need to approve any rate hikes.

Revenue generated by the new rates would help fund needed upgrades to the city's aging water and sewer system. At current funding rates, the sewer system is on a 650-year replacement schedule and the water system a 400-year schedule; the city wants to replace those systems every 100 years.

January 17, 2012
East Sacramento neighbors save Clunie Center

A new model is emerging for keeping city parks and community centers open as the budget ax continues to chop away at those assets.

Neighborhood groups and businesses are stepping in to do what City Hall can't. The latest example of that involvement is in east Sacramento, where neighbors and businesses raised money and formed an organization to keep the Clunie Community Center open.

Flanked by supporters of the center, Mayor Kevin Johnson said this morning that the movement was "an example of us saving something historic in our community." The 75-year-old Clune Center serves 100,000 people a year.

January 12, 2012
Work begins on housing and retail project on 16th Street

It hasn't happened very often lately, but a groundbreaking ceremony was held this morning for a large multi-use real estate project in downtown.

By next year, 84 apartments and 13,000 square feet of retail will fill two Spanish-style buildings at the East End Gateway site at 16th and O streets. The $24 million project will create between 300 and 400 construction jobs.

Financing for the plan had been elusive, until developers Ravel Rasmussen Properties and Separovich/Domich received a $17.5 million construction loan from Union Bank.

January 11, 2012
City manager: Half of Sacramento's deficit could be wiped out by pension reform

It's more clear than ever that the top brass at City Hall has its eyes set on employee pensions as a way to slow the cycle of persistent budget deficits.

City Manager John Shirey told the City Council on Tuesday that roughly half of the city's budget deficit over the next two years could be eliminated if all city workers paid their employee share of their CalPERS retirement contributions.

While top city management, the mayor and the City Council pay their employee shares, no rank and file workers pick up the entire tab of their retirement contributions. Instead, the city handles those payments - an arrangement that cost the city $16.8 million in 2010, according to a recent Bee analysis.

December 6, 2011
Top Sacramento managers to contribute to pensions

City Hall continues to chip away at its pension costs.

The city's top management officials - including the police and fire chiefs, as well as other department bosses - have agreed to pay the employee share into their CalPERS retirement funds. In exchange, those employees will no longer be furloughed.

The changes, which the City Council is expected to grant its approval of tonight, will save the city $100,000 a year, according to a city staff report.

November 8, 2011
Occupy Sacramento will expand to lawns of City Hall

The Occupy Sacramento movement is expanding its presence - right on to the front lawn of City Hall.

Protest organizers have moved some of their operation to the lawns and walkways around both the old and new City Hall buildings, starting with a tent. City Hall is across I Street from Occupy Sacramento's base in Cesar Chavez Plaza.

Organizers of the group said they should be allowed to remain at City Hall because the site is not a park. So far, protesters have been arrested for failing to leave a park during closure hours.

October 18, 2011
Occupy Sacramento and City Hall at odds as protesters stay put

Setting up a potential showdown between a small group of protesters and city officials, Mayor Kevin Johnson said today the city should continue to uphold its anti-camping ordinance and clear the Occupy Sacramento group from downtown's Cesar Chavez Park at night.

The mayor said the protesters can stay in the park from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. - and that gives them "ample time" to voice their issues. "I don't think it's in our best interest to remove the (anti-camping) ordinance," the mayor said, adding he "wholeheartedly respects what (the protesters are) trying to do."

As the protest reaches its 13th day, the City Council is scheduled to debate tonight whether to let the demonstrators stay in the park overnight. And if no resolution is found, this is a conflict that could continue to simmer.

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.

July 26, 2011
City Hall aims to improve business climate in Sacramento

City Hall wants to fix what some officials think is a hostile business environment in Sacramento.

The city is launching an effort aimed at speeding up development and doing away with regulations criticized for scaring businesses away from the city, officials announced today.

The process will begin over the next few weeks, when the city's Community Development Department will move toward placing permitting processes online, reducing fees associated with solar projects and creating "express lanes" for some projects.

June 21, 2011
Mayor Johnson, other mayors talk job growth with Obama

Mayor Kevin Johnson is returning home today from a weekend U.S. Conference of Mayors event in Washington, D.C.

A highlight of the trip was a Monday meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, where Johnson joined President Obama and 13 other mayors to discuss job growth. Mayors told the president attention should be paid to infrastructure development, regulatory reform, summer job programs and high-speed rail systems.

It's unlikely, however, that the mayor introduced himself as "Little Barack." You might remember Johnson telling Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert after the 2008 election that people were calling him "Little Barack" because he had been elected Sacramento's first African-American mayor.

June 2, 2011
What should City Hall's priority be?

How do you want your tax dollars spent?

At a Tuesday budget hearing, the City Council is going to hear from the Big Three: the police, fire and parks departments. All three are slated for cuts and the council wants to compare the budgets side-by-side-by-side to drive home the point that the city's options for dealing with a $39 million deficit are limited.

The pivotal hearing will also place council members face to face with three of the most influential special interest groups at City Hall: the police union, the firefighters union and Local 39, which is the city's largest union and represents many parks workers.

May 19, 2011
New building industry PAC will take aim at Sacramento City Hall

A new - and large - political action committee has its eyes set on Sacramento City Hall.

Tired of what they think are slow and outdated development processes, roughly 60 businesses and eight building trade groups have formed Region Builders. The committee is spearheaded by the influential Sacramento Regional Builders Exchange.

The group will enter into the political fray soon, recruiting and campaigning for candidates for next year's City Council races. Four seats are in play.

April 28, 2011
Sacramento City Hall to cut 80 cops, make other harsh cuts

Roughly 80 police officers will lose their jobs under the city of Sacramento's proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

In addition, six fire department rigs will be shelved at any given time on rotating brownouts, up from two now. All but three of the city's 15 community centers will be closed.

The cuts are part of City Hall's plan to close a $39 million gap for the 2011/12 fiscal year that starts July 1. All together, as many as 300 city employees face losing their jobs. Look for more details on the cuts in tomorrow's Bee.

April 6, 2011
Sacramento wants cops, firefighters to contribute to their pensions

The city of Sacramento could save millions of dollars every year by requiring its public safety employees and top management officials to contribute to their retirement funds, an auditor has found.

A report released today by city Auditor Jorge Oseguera shows the savings could reach $7.4 million a year should police officers, firefighters and managers contribute 4 percent of their salaries into the CalPERS system.

Those employees currently do not pay anything out of pocket toward their retirements. Most other city workers contribute 4 percent of their salaries toward their pensions.

March 22, 2011
How you can help keep your neighborhood park clean

What would you do to keep your neighborhood park clean?

The city's parks have been hammered perhaps more than anything else by the current budget cycle. Over the past few years, the parks department has seen its budget cut in half and more cuts are likely this year.

There's something you can do about it.

March 2, 2011
Are City Hall honchos relieved 'crash tax' is dead?

They may have touted it as a band-aid to their battered budget, but most of City Hall's biggest honchos should be relieved that the "crash tax" is headed for an early demise.

That's because 14 of the 22 highest-ranking city officials - including the police and fire chiefs - don't live in the city and would have been susceptible to the fee program, according to a search of public records. Under the proposed ordinance, out-of-towners who cause auto wrecks in the city requiring fire department response would have been charged hundreds of dollars.

But the "crash tax" now appears headed for a reversal after a City Council vote on Tuesday.

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 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 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 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
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 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.

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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