Sacramento fire union opposes 'strong mayor' ballot measure

Union officials said the measure, which would set aside $40 million for inclusive economic development and youth, would put EMS and fire services at risk


Theresa Clift
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Sacramento Area Fire Fighters Local 522 is opposing the city’s “strong mayor” ballot measure, union officials announced Thursday.

The influential group, which represents about 2,000 active and retired firefighters from the Sacramento Fire Department and the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, as well as other departments in Sacramento, Yolo and Placer counties, supported a similar “strong mayor” measure, which failed in 2014.

Sacramento's firefighters' union is urging voters to vote
Sacramento's firefighters' union is urging voters to vote "no" on a "strong mayor" ballot measure. (Photo/Sacramento Fire Department Facebook)

This time around, the union raised concerns about the component of the measure that would require the city set aside $40 million each year for inclusive economic development and youth.

Those were the types of projects Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg was promising to fund with the majority of the estimated $40 million from the Measure U sales tax increase voters approved in 2018. But there is nothing guaranteeing that those funds can’t be used for core city services, such as police and fire, which is what happened when the coronavirus pandemic hit earlier this year.

If voters approve the measure Nov. 3, the $40 million-a-year promise will be enshrined in the city charter.

That permanent change would put fire and emergency medical responses and other important city services at risk, the union said.

“It is ironic that just a few months ago Mayor Steinberg led the No on Measure G campaign to prevent $12 million dollars from being locked into spending without regard to what happens in an emergency, natural disaster or recession,” Local 522 President Chris Andrew said in a statement, referring to the failed March ballot measure. “Suddenly now, he has flipped the script and his ‘strong mayor’ proposal will do just what he opposed with Measure G by locking an astonishing $40 million dollars into spending for an ambiguous concept of inclusive development without any regard for what could happen to the city with future budget shortfalls.”

The union also raised concerns that the measure was put on the ballot during a pandemic, and that a provision in the measure would add a ninth council seat. If passed, the change would take effect Jan. 1, and the new council member would join in 2022 after redistricting takes place. The 2014 version did not include a ninth council seat, according to the ballot language.

Steinberg has said the ninth seat could be an opportunity to increase diversity on the council and would also play a role in strengthening the council’s power.

The union has not yet decided whether it would donate to the opposition campaign, “Neighborhoods Against Strong Mayor,” Andrew said.

The measure would overhaul the system of government to make the mayor the most powerful position in city government. It would also strengthen the ethics commission and open government ordinance, require equity studies on council decisions, and increase public participation in the budget process.

Councilmen Larry Carr, Jeff Harris and Allen Warren; the League of Women Voters of Sacramento County; Councilwoman-elect Katie Valenzuela; Sacramento City Unified School Board Member and council candidate Mai Vang; and former mayor Heather Fargo are opposing the measure.

The measure is endorsed by Steinberg; Council Members Angelique Ashby, Rick Jennings and Jay Schenirer; the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce; the Sacramento Asian Pacific Chamber of Commerce; the Greater Sacramento Urban League; the Center at Sierra Health Foundation; and the leaders of SEIU Local 1000 and the Sacramento-Sierra’s Building and Construction Trades Council.

The Sacramento Police Officers Association, which supported the measure in 2014, has yet to take a position.

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©2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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