Sacramento: 'World Class' or Cowtown?

Katy Grimes: Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson recently expressed his interest in discussing consolidating the unincorporated areas of the County of Sacramento within the City of Sacramento.

While it’s an interesting idea, and one that has been tossed around for years and even voted on, the reasons expressed for consolidation usually center around the benefits of becoming a larger city.

Consolidating the city and unincorporated areas of the county of Sacramento would make Sacramento the third largest city in the state.

Who cares how big Sacramento is?

Another often used reason for consolidation is to eliminate redundant services. Why wait for consolidation?

The Sacramento Chamber of Commerce said that it is interested in “functional” consolidation, which would save money by merging city and county departments that provide overlapping services,  but not in “political” consolidation, which would result in one government and one set of elected officials.

Comments left by readers on the stories about consolidation were critical and directed at Johnson, instead of actually analyzing the issue. Johnson may be on to something really sensible with talk of a  consolidation however, in today’s sharly divided political environment, Johnson could have the best of ideas, and get shot down by his detracters.

My primary concern is about the practical consolidation – I don’t think unions would allow it to really happen.

The City of Sacramento is dominated by labor unions and government employees, as is the county government. This last election proved this beyond a shadow of a doubt. Local unions as well as teachers’ unions and the SEIU, made large contributions to Sacramento races inclusing school board candidates, even defeating all of the Mayor’s endorsed school candidates.

 The Bee reported, “Because of the budget crunch, city and county officials have already been talking about consolidation in areas such as animal control and services to the homeless.” Wow. There’s an example of effective savings. Costs associated with animal control and the homeless in the city and county are not the budget breakers. The very large number of city and county employees and their benefits and pensions, are what’s killing the city, and why the unions in Sacramento fight so hard to defeat anything or anyone who threatens ongoing funding.

The size of Sacramento does not matter to the most residents. What matters to most residents is the size of their tax bills, the quality of city and county services, and the opportunity to continue to earn a living in the area.  

The Mayor should be talking about privatizing some departments, and outsourcing services. The cost savings would be significant and the services would improve.

The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board however, doesn’t like Johnson’s consolidation idea: They object to “his off-the-cuff approach,” and were critical of Johnson “blithely raising the idea”  without talking to fellow elected officials, or “taking the pulse of the people.”

I don’t recall former Mayor Heather Fargo ever taking the pulse of the people before she annexed the Natomas area (her own district). Fargo even sued the Army Corps of Engineers when they tried to restrict development in Natomas because the area is a flood zone.

I’ve been critical of the constant use of the desire to turn Sacramento into a “World Class city,” since what constitutes “world class” in a city is not just size, but geographic location, music, art, culture, universities, and the like.

Johnson is well-traveled and has studied every city he visited. He knows what he wants for Sacramento, and I applaud his vision. But Sacramento is a city largely made up of government workers. The sidewalks roll up after 5:00 p.m. when the downtown city, county, state and federal workers flee the city for suburbia.

I hate to be a nay sayer, but… you can dress Sacramento up, but you can’t take her out. Adding to the size of Sacramento will not add class.

Instead, Johnson should work on privatizing city services, and let the free market work it’s magic on Sacramento.

NOV. 9, 2010

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