How would Sacramento’s homeless crisis look different under four mayoral candidates?

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The four viable candidates running for mayor of Sacramento have knocked on thousands of doors.

The four have said they all get asked the same thing: What are you going to do about homelessness?

With the city’s system of government, the mayor can’t unilaterally make any decisions without getting the votes of at least four colleagues. The mayor does however have one important ability — the power to place an item on the council agenda.

The items the four would immediately put before the council, related to homelessness, would vastly differ.

Where would candidates place shelters?

Flojaune Cofer during a forum last week said she’d propose an item to place sanctioned homeless encampments called Safe Grounds in underutilized city parks.

Unlike privately-owned lots, like the one on Stockton Boulevard she proposed in a Jan. 31 forum, the city already owns the parks. Many also have electricity and water hookups so people can shower, use bathrooms, do laundry and charge cellphones, she said.

“We need to with clear instruction say here are the places you can go, where you can be human and tend to human needs,” Cofer said during a forum hosted by the Hollywood Park Neighborhood Association Feb. 6. “That allows those who need it to triage into mental health services or substance use services or even into supportive housing.”

During a follow-up interview, Cofer did not provide the name of a specific park where she wants to explore opening a Safe Ground.

Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela previously opened a Safe Ground in Miller Park along the Sacramento River, which was controversial. It moved hundreds of people into housing, Valenzuela has said, before City Manager Howard Chan closed it last month due to lack of funding.

Steve Hansen, Richard Pan and Kevin McCarty all agreed they would not put Safe Grounds in city parks.

Instead, McCarty has named several places where he would open Safe Grounds with tents and tiny homes, but most of them are owned by other government entities, requiring approvals that have historically been hard for the city to get. During the Feb. 6 forum he named state-owned Cal Expo and Caltrans land. During last week’s forum McCarty also floated using the shuttered county-owned Melarkey Transfer Station, in an industrial area near the intersection of Fruitridge and Power Inn roads in south Sacramento.

The one city-owned place he named are former city corporation yards, lots the city used to park vehicles and store other materials. City spokeswoman Gabby Miler said a former corporation yard is located at the corner of Eleanor and Traction avenues in North Sacramento, along the bike trail. It’s about 1.3 miles from Camp Resolution, which is also at a former city corp yard.

McCarty has repeatedly pointed out that he got $25 million in state money for the county to open shelters to move people off the American River Parkway two years ago, which the county has not spent.

“We can’t have camping in urban parks,” McCarty said during the Feb. 6 forum. “I wrote bill to get people off the Parkway. I got $25 million in the state budget. We’re going on two years and (the county) hasn’t spent a penny.”

That’s true, but the mayor has no control over the county. The city does not have untapped millions for homeless.

Hansen said he is against Safe Grounds that use tents. Instead he would open so-called Safe Stays that use tiny homes, like the ones he bought when he was on the council in 2020. The city let those homes sit empty for three years before placing them at a new Roseville Road shelter.

“A park in any neighborhood is not a place for a tent encampment,” Hansen said during the Feb. 6 forum. “There are plenty of places to put these projects that don’t necessarily negatively impact any one neighborhood.”

Hansen, through campaign spokeswoman Sarah Robinson, said he wanted to explore locations to open a large campus-style shelter similar to Haven for Hope in San Antonio. He did not provide a potential location however. Mayor Darrell Steinberg has previously said the only city-owned lot large enough for a campus is likely the 100 acres in Meadowview. The city plans to open a large youth sports complex at that property, which still lacks roads.

When he was on council, Hansen opened what was at the time the city’s largest homeless shelter — in the former Capitol Park Hotel downtown. In the shelter, which Hansen touts in his campaign ads, people received services and help finding housing. Unlike other city shelters though, like the one on X Street and in Meadowview, it was not permanent. The building was always planned to be redeveloped into affordable housing. The shelter was open for about two years, costing the city $10 million, before construction began.

Pan during the Jan. 31 forum said he did not have a location where he would explore placing a Safe Ground “off the top of his head.”

Called the next day and again on Monday, Pan still did not provide a location.

“I don’t have all the data,” Pan said. “If I’m mayor I would have that information but I don’t have that now. To give an accurate answer would require having the data.”

All these ideas would require cutting elsewhere in the city budget, which is facing a $50 million looming deficit. It’s unclear where the candidates would cut from. Two of them, Pan and Hansen, also want to increase the police budget.

They all agree on one thing — none of them want to put a measure on the ballot for the third time to ask the voters to approve a “strong mayor” form of government. Therefore all these ideas will need five votes to pass. If elected, Cofer and McCarty would likely find allies in councilwomen Mai Vang, Caity Maple, Karina Talamantes and if re-elected, Valenzuela. Hansen would find allies with the more moderate contingent — Lisa Kaplan, Rick Jennings and if re-elected Eric Guerra.

Homeless camp clearings

Pan said he agrees with District Attorney Thien Ho that city leaders should direct officers to start citing people who block sidewalks, as a council-approved ordinance allows, instead of just telling them to move.

“If that’s the consequence of it, they should be cited, yes,” Pan, who’s endorsed by Ho, said. “We need to restore confidence in city leadership. You said you’re doing this and yet you don’t do it. That’s where the frustration comes in.”

Hansen also advocated for more city sweeps.

“The city has laws against blocking sidewalks, against camping in certain areas, but we do not enforce them,” Hansen said in a forum last month. “If San Francisco can clean itself up for (the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference), we can clean ourselves up.”

Hansen, through Robinson, did not answer a question on whether he supports the lawsuit however.

McCarty and Cofer both do not support the lawsuit.

“We all know he’s trying to run for AG and we also know our mayor is gonna run for AG,” Cofer said during a forum. “So this feels like political opportunism. To get his name out there without actually doing anything to help our community.”

McCarty added: “Our homeless problem is not gonna be solved with lawsuits.”

Keeping people housed

For every one person that exits homelessness in Sacramento, three more become homeless.

To slow the pace of people entering homelessness, Cofer wants to reduce the amount landlords are allowed to raise the rent each year. The current ordinance, which Hansen wrote while on council, allows for landlords to raise rent 10% each year.

Cofer during a forum last month criticized Hansen for passing the rent control ordinance instead of letting a stricter version go on the ballot.

“The rent is too high, and people cant afford it,” Cofer said. “We were not given that option in the way we should’ve been. Doing what we’ve always gotten will get us what we’ve always gotten.”

Hansen, in another forum, responded.

“We do have rent control,” Hansen said. “We are the first city not on a coast with a rent control ordinance. We have protected tenants.”

Hansen, through Robinson, said he wants to keep the ordinance on the books, but does not want to make any significant changes to it.

McCarty and Pan agreed.

Spurring more affordable housing

In addition to slowing evictions, Sacramento needs thousands of new housing units. An analysis by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments in 2020 determined that more than 36,000 units of housing for very low- and low-income earners need to be planned this decade countywide to meet demand.

In order to spark more affordable units, Hansen proposes the city cut current fees it charges housing developers.

“California has a 3.9 million home deficit because for generations we made it almost impossible to build housing,” Hansen said. “We have to lower costs.”

That stance is partly what won him endorsements from the California Association of Realtors and the Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce PAC.

To spur more building, Cofer, who touts she is not accepting corporate or developer campaign money, proposes the opposite — increasing fees on housing developers who do not build a certain percentage of affordable units.

“I don’t believe our only option is ‘developers get rich and the rest of us suffer,’” Cofer said during a forum.

McCarty and Pan said they do not want to significantly change the developer fees other than the efforts the council is currently exploring.

The primary will be held March 5. The top two candidates will advance to the general election Nov. 5. The new mayor’s term will begin in December. Three other council races are also contested.