14 for 2014

SN&R’s picks for the top Sacramentans to watch this year

Jonathan Porteus

Jonathan Porteus

Photo Courtesy of Jonathan Porteus

Whether it's about finding the best ways to care for poor and underserved communities or building a better arts scene, 2014 could prove to be a real game changer in the history of all things Sacramento.

In the spirit of anticipation, SN&R writers identified 14 people to watch in the months ahead. There's a big-shot developer poised to bring new life to the riverfront district between Sacramento and West Sacramento, and a lawyer who wants to close the gap between the haves and the have-nots. There's a chef who, upon returning home from a prestigious stint in San Francisco, is now opening not one, but two high-profile restaurants. There's an A-list actress, a craft brewer, an advocate for the homeless and a former college professor who works to ensure the poor have access to much-needed health-care services.

It's a diverse group comprising some of the city's most interesting movers, shakers and big-league dream makers, and all—regardless of the size or scope of their contribution—are primed to make Sacramento an even better place to live.

Jonathan Porteus: The service provider

Being sick without health-care insurance or money sucks. Being sick and having Medi-Cal benefits, but not finding a doctor or medical clinic that will accept your insurance, also sucks. With the federal Affordable Care Act adding an additional 100,000 Sacramento area residents to the Medi-Cal rolls, that is a lot of potential sucking. While many health-care organizations took a wait-and-see posture on the ACA, the Jonathan Porteus-led The Effort, now called WellSpace Health, seized the moment. Since 2009, when it was only a single medical clinic in Midtown with five exam rooms and 3,500 patient visits per year, it has grown to eight facilities with 75 exam rooms and 130,000 patient visits a year.

In 2014, WellSpace will be adding two more health clinics and is anticipating more than 175,000 annual patient visits. This dramatic growth over the last several years put WellSpace in a position to provide services for those who will be receiving health-care coverage for the first time. Being the only fully federally qualified health center in the Sacramento region, WellSpace receives higher Medi-Cal reimbursement compensation than other medical providers. With this extra oxygen fueling its balance sheet, WellSpace is in a much better position to provide Medi-Cal services.

Citing the vision of the ACA, Porteus, a former Sacramento State University associate professor in counselor education, says he believes the city can move away from just having a safety net focused on people in emergency situations and move toward having a safety blanket which includes routine health care. Health care that is provided in professional clinics will prevent more acute problems showing up in emergency rooms. “It will take a year or two for the dust to settle,” Porteus forecasts.

“People will need to figure out their new roles,” he says.

But Porteus also believes the ACA is on the right track.

Whereas services for the needy previously only provided emergency safety-net services, now the ACA allows a move to an all-encompassing, permanent “safety blanket” system, he explains.

“It was wrong [before the ACA] to treat people as second-class citizens, only providing health care in expensive emergency rooms.” J.V.

Glenda Corcoran: The legal protector

Glenda Corcoran

Photo by Lovelle Harris

Since childhood, Glenda Corcoran knew she wanted to be an attorney.

“I always looked for ways to make things right,” Corcoran says.

The Ferndale, Calif., native has now made good on her childhood ambition. A board member for both the St. John’s Shelter Program for Women & Children, and the Sacramento LGBT Community Center, Corcoran also worked with the state Assembly for more than a decade, focusing on issues of local government policy, public safety and election law.

In spring 2013, she was appointed to the State Bar of California’s Board of Trustees—a three-year term during which she aims to work and advocate for those in need.

“My main goal is to protect the public and help attorneys become better attorneys in certain situations,” she says of her 2014 plans. “We need to find a solution to the justice gap for low- and moderate-income people.”

The “justice gap,” Corcoran explains, is an all-too harsh reality for those without adequate financial means—one that puts some at great legal risk or disadvantage.

Corcoran, who also volunteers time to the Voluntary Legal Services Program, says her experiences providing legal aid to low-income clients have greatly influenced her goals.

“The clients may have seemingly small legal issues, but without access to legal aid, their legal issues can become significant hurdles,” she says.

The lawyer, who is married with a 6-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son, says her own childhood experiences helped forge her path.

“I grew up in a low-income family, but my family always pulled it together,” she says. “We still gave back, and that was always really a priority, [and] that’s something I’ve been able to do [as an adult].”

Now, with her work on the board, Corcoran says she’s ready to enact tangible change.

“This is a great segue into everything I’ve worked on before,” she says. “My goals [are to] expand legal services [and] encourage pro bono work to assure low and moderate individuals that their issues matter, [and] encourage more women, LGBT and minority communities to be leaders in the legal community.” R.L.

Michael Malone: The hoops dreamer

There are probably more important things in life than winning basketball games—unless you're Michael Malone. This season's won-loss record will be the most important yardstick by which the Sacramento Kings' new coach is measured, and it just might have a major impact on the future of downtown Sacramento.

A longtime NBA assistant (his last gig was with Oakland’s Golden State Warriors franchise), Malone needs to show he has the leadership skills to handle the head coaching role and improve a Kings defense that has been among the NBA’s worst. The team’s new owners have markedly improved the roster, bringing in prime-time talents Rudy Gay and Derrick Williams. But can Malone get them to jell in time to make a run for the playoffs, or at least post a winning record?

With a possible public vote on the downtown arena plan looming, that’s the $258 million question. For better or worse, the bandwagon effect of a winning season could make the difference in a close ballot come June. J. Martin

Joshua Wood: The arena cheerleader

Joshua Wood had one hell of a 2013. The 31-year-old executive director of Region Builders Inc. turned his once little-known industry group into a wrecking-ball power player on development issues, and is now the voice of a pro-Sacramento Kings arena group that counts Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and his West Sacramento counterpart Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, as well as Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Republican Sen. Ted Gaines as members. The4000 replaces DowntownArena.org, a smaller outfit with more distance between the business interests and the politicians who support major public investment in a new arena.

Joshua Wood

Photo by Steven Chea

“It’s much, much bigger, which I think will make it more impactful,” Wood says of the lobbying organization.

Bigger is how Wood envisions this new year, too, with efforts to push through a self-regulated, one-day building-permit process and fee reductions for green-building developments. His No. 1 priority remains cheerleading a new Kings arena.

“We’re going to see if we can top what we did before,” Wood says. “We’re going to go hard at it.” RFH

Mark Friedman: The bridge builder

Developer Mark Friedman has a chance to be the ultimate Sacramento bridge builder—and without even spanning a body of water.

Here’s the deal: In Sacramento, lots of people know that Friedman—the guy who brought the region the Arden Fair mall—is in charge of the proposed new Kings arena. He’s also the guy who’s going to build all the retail, restaurants, housing and hotels around the arena. Or so the promise goes.

What most people don’t know is that Friedman also will have a big hand in the infill development of West Sacramento’s riverfront. The first face of this transformation includes a 450-unit housing project a home-run’s distance from Raley Field.

The entire project is referred to as The Bridge District.

West Sac Mayor Cabaldon has called Friedman’s plan a “fundamental transformation of our waterfront.” For the first time, folks will live and play along the Sacramento River. And—if those pesky, expensive streetcars do come to fruition in the next decade—life on the west side will organically connect to the new downtown and K Street across the river.

Between the two projects, an estimated $3 billion in development could occur on the waterfront.

If it all happens, no one will say Sacramento could’ve been a contender: It will be one. N.M.

Dr. Julie Freischlag: The patients' voice

The recent narrative in the prestigious world of UC Davis medicine was supposed to be about how the school, as one of the four big health-care provider players in the region, was poised to lead in the implementation of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. The time was an opportunity for real change. To revolutionize how hospitals deliver care to patients. And to focus on outcomes, not procedures. Important, complicated stuff—and so the dialogue in the media should have zeroed in on the issues.

But it didn’t. A scandal involving two top UC Davis School of Medicine surgeons and their infecting patients’ brains with bowel bacteria overtook headlines instead. This, not to mention the November 2012 resignation of former UC Davis School of Medicine dean Dr. Claire Pomeroy, who was criticized for wearing too many hats during the scandal’s investigation.

Now, this February, Dr. Julie Freischlag will take over wearing said hats—as dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine, and also as head boss of the entire UCD Health System, which includes the Medical Center, the regional physicians group and the nursing school. The hope is that, with a new voice in charge, the needle will swing back to talking about health-care-reform issues.

Freischlag, who arrives in Sacramento after more than a decade as surgeon-in-chief at John Hopkins University, certainly can impact the debate. She will instantly become one of the most powerful voices in local health care. And, in this “Obamacare” world, that’s a voice that matters more than ever. N.M.

Robert Tannenbaum: The arts connector

The Sacramento Opera and the Sacramento Philharmonic had already merged into a single group called the Sacramento Region Performing Arts Alliance before hiring Robert Tannenbaum as its general director.

Robert Tannenbaum

Photo Courtesy of Robert Tannenbaum

But the two organizations are already “so much stronger together,” Tannenbaum says now. “And I actually can see opportunities for the alliance even growing to include other art forms. I’m going to leave that up to the community to decide.”

Tannenbaum started his two-year contract as the director of the SRPAA in the summer of 2013. He was born in New York City and earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Columbia University before working for arts organizations in Los Angeles, Germany and Austria. And through his time spent in Europe, he was already familiar with arts groups that collaborate and function as one entity.

“When you run a theater in central Europe, the opera and the ballet are in the same organization,” says Tannenbaum. “So that put me in a unique place to take this job.”

Still, the SRPAA is the first group in the United States to combine the audiences of the city’s opera and the philharmonic. He says his job is to steer the organization toward two goals: to focus on finances, and also the artistic strategy.

“My goal is for people to say, ’You know, we go to the opera in San Francisco, or we go to a symphony concert at [the Mondavi Center], but it’s just as good, if not better, here.”

Financially, he also wants to connect donors to specific projects that have a personal impact. For example, a recent donor paid for school-bus rides for 1,000 local children to attend Sacramento Philharmonic and Sacramento Opera dress rehearsals.

Artistically, he says he’d like to build audience attendance with interesting and, at times, edgy repertoire. The Philharmonic Satellite Series has already sold out its March show Old World/New World—which features the music of Bach, Bartok, Led Zeppelin and Metallica played by Rachel Barton Pine and Mike Block—at Assembly Music Hall.

“Sometimes it takes tough circumstances to bring people together; I think that the hard times the performing arts have had in Sacramento can be a really great catalyst for people to do things different,” Tannenbaum says. J. Mendick

Wendy Saunders: The neighborhood transformer

Since 1978, the Capitol Area Development Authority has served as joint property manager on behalf of California and Sacramento with aims to develop sustainable, mixed-income neighborhoods in Midtown and downtown using publicly owned real estate.

In March 2013, the CADA board appointed Wendy Saunders as its newest executive director after stints in the private and public sector, including economic development director for the city of Stockton from 2011 to 2013.

CADA board chair Ann Bailey praised Saunders’ collaborative communication style and ability to foster cooperation between private developers and public agencies to launch and complete complex projects.

“One of the things she brought to the job was a real enthusiasm for CADA’s mission and a real joy to be doing this,” Bailey told SN&R. “She was very much ready to hit the ground running, and I think that’s a function of the breadth of her experience.”

Saunders oversees urban infill and revitalization projects along the R Street Corridor and 16th Street, transforming state property into commercial and residential units.

“The return on investment should not only be about dollars, but about achievements,” Saunders said at a CADA board meeting last summer.

In 2014, Saunders will steer the small agency through several projects, ranging from finding artists to decorate transformer boxes to completing the Warehouse Artists Lofts project at 11th and R streets, which will bring 86 units of affordable housing. C.D.

Michael Thiemann

Photo by Ryan Donahue

Michael Thiemann: The culinary game changer

After cooking in various kitchens in Sacramento (Mason's, Ella Dining Room & Bar), San Francisco, Hawaii and New Zealand, chef Michael Thiemann is finally ready to call Sactown his home again. His two upcoming restaurant ventures, Mother and Empress Tavern, both aim to open on K Street this year.

Mother is due this month; Empress is scheduled for the spring or summer. They could both be game changers. Mother, a vegetarian restaurant that focuses on Southern-styled comfort food, impressed many people at pop-up dinners at Old Ironsides, Chocolate Fish Coffee and The Golden Bear in the past few months. Then, word on the street is that Empress—which will take the place of the former downstairs theater spaces of the Crest Theatre—will be a rotisserie joint, also with an emphasis on comfort food as well as craft brews. Anyone else drooling already? J. Mendick

Greta Gerwig: The hometown loyalist

Sacramento native Greta Gerwig, 30, no longer calls the River City home, but she still manages to keep it near and dear. Witness her critically acclaimed film Frances Ha, featuring scenes shot in Sacramento, not to mention cameos from her real-life parents. And Gerwig just received a Golden Globe nomination for best performance by an actress in a musical or comedy for her role in the film as an adrift woman-on-the-verge. The actress, a trained dancer who abandoned initial plans to study musical theater and instead majored in philosophy at Barnard College, first made a name for herself as part of the so-called “mumblecore” movement in flicks such as LOL (2006) and Greenberg (2010).

Greta Gerwig

Still from <i>Frances Ha</i> courtesy of IFC Films

Gerwig, who now lives in Manhattan, co-wrote the Frances Ha script with her boyfriend (and the film’s director) Noah Baumbach. Next up, a lead in Eden, from director Mia Hansen-Løve (Father of My Children) and another go-round with Baumbach on a comedy currently known only as Untitled Public School Project. Sounds intriguing—just like Gerwig. R.L.

Chris Miller: The brew boss

Young boys raised with pogs and slap bracelets are now grown men—but they still apparently need a hobby to obsess over. Enter craft beer: It's the new waiting-in-line-for-a-Pearl Jam-record-at-midnight-at-Tower Records. Which isn't necessarily a good thing. Yet breweries command allegiance, and beer nerds line up for releases of special bottles, Disneyland style. On Black Friday, hundreds of brew enthusiasts camped out overnight in San Francisco's chill for the chance to buy a single bottle of stout. For $50. Damn.

All this raises a question: Who in Sacramento’s beer scene is poised to become one of the state’s premier craft brewers? Track 7 Brewing Co. and Knee Deep Brewing Co. have separated themselves from the pack, but Chris Miller at Berryessa Brewing Co. in Winters is boss.

Chris Miller

Photo by Lovelle Harris

“Chris is a hoot, and his beer is top-notch,” says Dan Scott, founder of Sacramento Beer Week.

Indeed, Miller is a master of hopped styles, such as the still-popular pale ales.

“I love that Berryessa is putting out a huge variety of beer; there’s constantly new ones to try,” Scott says. “He’s probably brewed at least a dozen IPAs since he opened.”

Miller’s brewery recently took over all the taps at popular S.F. bottle shop City Beer Store—a big deal—and his prowess continues to turn hop-heads throughout California. Not bad for a small-town brewer off the beaten Yolo County trail.

Best part: No lines. Yet. N.M.

Shamus Roller: The homeless advocate

Shamus Roller's shotgun promotion at Sacramento Steps Forward happened just as the organization was taking several steps back.

The flagship homelessness enterprise, which distributes federal housing grants to local service providers, nearly went off the rails this past fall. Federal reimbursements stopped flowing because of the government shutdown, forcing the cash-poor nonprofit to fall behind on a number of its community contracts. Steps Forward laid off six critical staff positions in the process, and its executive director jumped ship, resigning over a swell of rumors regarding the use of categorical funds, among other things. There have also been complaints of fundraising-money mismanagement.

Shamus Roller

Photo by Lovelle Harris

And so Roller, a Steps Forward board member and executive director of Housing California, a legislative advocacy coalition, stepped into the breach. While the 36-year-old hasn’t spun the ship around just yet, it’s stopped taking on water.

“We just needed to restructure,” Roller says. “The organization is [still] very viable in my mind.”

Equal parts crisis handler and emergency caretaker, Roller sees his role as Steps Forward’s interim director as, well, interim. He says the board is hoping to introduce a new director in early March.

Still, Roller’s fingerprints will remain all over Sacramento Steps Forward.

“It’s such an exciting place to be, despite the challenges that we have,” he says.

In the meantime, Roller has much spread across his several plates. Steps Forward is implementing information systems to document where homeless individuals access services and provide them with more tailored referrals, while Housing California is sponsoring an affordable-housing initiative at the legislative level. Roller is also searching out grants that can replace lost redevelopment cash, which was responsible for the city’s last mixed-use affordable-housing development through Mercy Housing California, the 7th & H Street Housing Community.

Roller calls affordable housing “very critical” to ending homelessness.

“What the research is showing us is it’s much cheaper to end homelessness than manage it,” he says. RFH

Amy Aswell

Photo by Lovelle Harris

Amy Aswell: The design master

Amy Aswell, one part of the design duo at Beta Form Industries, is looking to help transform Sacramento into a world-class city, one interior space at a time. With projects that include the interior design of Hock Farm Craft & Provisions, Cafe Bernardo at Pavilions and the Hanford House Inn in Sutter Creek, BFI is embarking on a lofty new project: the Warehouse Artist Lofts project, which aims to revitalize a century-old space at 1108 R Street. Aswell's vision for the mixed-use building is to create interior spaces that pull from historical references, while injecting a modern aesthetic into its dilapidated innards—a mix of old-world charm with a decidedly fresh approach. L.H.

Lee Seale: The sincere reformer

Freshman chief probation officer Lee Seale knows his department has an unflattering reputation. For years, the Sacramento County Probation Department cultivated a rap for putting its own needs over those of the ex-convicts it's responsible for supervising and steering away from future crime. The department used state realignment funds to hire back ill-equipped probation officers for the department's adult day reporting centers, which are supposed to be about rehabilitation, and froze out community organizations with better rehab records. Seale, 41, knows what you may have heard. But he has an answer to all that: “Come check us out now.”

Seale was appointed to the beleaguered and underfunded department this past summer after building a career at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The agency outsider began by visiting both top officials and frontline staff and taking notes. Then, he threw open the doors.

Now, probation is making allies of onetime critics like Ascend, an offender-rehabilitation program, and linking probationers to actual employment and health resources. Along with newly promoted deputy chief of corrections, Milo Fitch, Seale serves as co-captain of a panel that decides how local realignment money is spent. Tens of millions of dollars that, until recently, were funding more jail beds and probation badges, are being invested in programming.

“We couldn’t keep doing things the way we were doing them,” Seale says. RFH