A look at the battle to be heard in south Sacramento’s District 8 city council race

Of the candidates looking to succeed Bonnie Pannell on city council, Larry Carr appears to be the frontrunner

Renditions of District 8’s candidates (clockwise from top left): Toni Colley-Perry, Ted Ware, Larry Carr and Ronald Bell.

Renditions of District 8’s candidates (clockwise from top left): Toni Colley-Perry, Ted Ware, Larry Carr and Ronald Bell.

Illustration by HAYLEY DOSHAY

For the first time in 22 years, someone not named Pannell is about to be elected to represent south Sacramento’s District 8 on city council. The frontrunner is Larry Carr, who has the money, the experience in office and the Pannell blessing to take the seat. The others—a pastor, a judge and a teacher—are struggling to be heard, but they have a lot to say about the future of this underserved, often overlooked part of the city.

Bonnie Pannell held the seat for 16 years, before retiring last summer for health reasons. She followed her husband, Sam Pannell, who represented the district from 1992 until his death in 1997.

During those 22 years of Pannell leadership, Carr was an ally and sometimes partner. He has served on the board at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District since 1998. And he has been executive director of the Florin Road Partnership for 13 years. He is presenting his candidacy as something of a continuation of the Pannell legacy. “We want to make sure the great programs that Bonnie and Sam built will continue,” he says.

His opponents include Ronald Bell, a south Sacramento pastor who is critical of Pannell’s record and says the city needs to do more to make sure local development results in jobs for local residents.

And Ted Ware, a retiree who’s worked in criminal justice and at the Capitol who is running on pro-business ideas and the slogan “new ideas for the same old problems.”

And Toni Colley-Perry, a teacher and education consultant. Perry ran for school board in 2008, and even captured the endorsement of The Sacramento Bee, but came up short in votes. Colley-Perry says one of her strengths is that she has faced many of the same economic challenges as other District 8 residents in the last few years. She lost a house, and was without a vehicle for several years. “I’m a single mom. We don’t have connections. We’re just normal people running to make a difference in our community,” she says of herself and fellow challengers.

Pannell encouraged Carr to run before announcing her resignation. Colley-Perry doesn’t like the idea of anointing a candidate. “I don’t think it’s wrong to ask your friend to run for city council. I just think the community ought to have the chance to decide who is going to be in that seat.”

Bell says that Carr, like Pannell before him, is “out of touch” with the day-to-day challenges of south Sacramento. “Bonnie was a monument builder. I don’t think she cared as much about the residents.”

While Carr promises to continue Pannell’s work, he also draws distinctions. For example, “I’m going to have a very different relationship with the mayor than Bonnie had.”

Pannell and Johnson often clashed, and two years ago Johnson tried to get rid of Pannell by backing and directing donations to her election opponent, Betty Williams.

Pannell was firmly against Johnson’s repeated attempts to pass a strong mayor measure—she felt it took power away from neighborhoods.

Carr is not vocally against Johnson’s strong-mayor proposal, but says, “It’s not my preference.” He’s a fan of the “policy governance” model that works at SMUD, where the elected board agrees on written policies and requires the manager to show they are carried out.

While a big change in the form of city government may be unlikely, Carr says he’d like to bring in some of SMUD’s approach to city services. “We are not measuring customer satisfaction, with the police force or any other services. I will work with my other council members to put metrics in place so we are measuring these things.”

Ware and Bell are enthusiastic supporters of strong mayor. Bell says of Johnson, “I think he has a vision that is going to put us on the map as the capital of California. Let’s see what he can do.”

Colley-Perry has taken the strongest stand against Measure L, saying, “I’m concerned about the loss of neighborhood voice.”

There are differences between the candidates on development issues as well. Ware supports the city’s subsidies for a new Kings arena and wouldn’t change a thing about the current plan. Bell also strongly supports the arena, but would push for more minority-owned businesses to be involved in the construction.

Carr said he would like to see a firm timeline on promised development around the arena. The city failed to negotiate any timelines for the arena’s ancillary development. Carr would also like to see guarantees of jobs for District 8 residents in that surrounding development.

Likewise, Colley-Perry is concerned that the economic benefits of new arena won’t reach District 8. “I would add transportation. If my 20-year-old son gets a job at the arena, it will be very hard for him to get home from work. Unless I woke up at 2 a.m. to go pick him up.”

All four candidates said District 8 needs better public transit. “Bus services, bus service, bus service. We need to bring back bus service,” said Ware. In recent years, Regional Transit made deep cuts to service in south Sacramento routes. That budget is not under city control, but Council members sit on the RT board.

Carr also says District 8 lacks connection to emerging job centers, like Rancho Cordova. He’s interested in the possibility of new dedicated bus lanes and rapid transit to get residents to jobs.

The candidates also showed differences in their approach the planned Delta Shores development south of Meadowview. Carr calls Delta Shores a “wonderful project.” He says, however, that Delta Shores “doesn’t really pencil out without big retail.” Meaning a Wal-Mart and other big-box stores planned for the area.

But Bell says the city should do an economic analysis of any new big-box stores like Wal-Mart. Such analyses were required by the city until the council changed the rules last year—partly to accommodate Delta Shores developers.

“An economic analysis is absolutely essential. Historically, local businesses suffer when big-box stores come in,” Bell argued. He also wants to require that 35 percent of the jobs in the Delta Shores development go to District 8 residents. Carr is in favor of some requirements for local jobs from Delta Shores, but says he doesn’t know what the right number is.

Aside from a long list of political endorsements from local elected officials and neighborhood associations, Carr has several times as much campaign cash as his opponents do—combined.

Why are real estate interests, unions and other groups making big contributions in such a lopsided race? Carr acknowledges that some donors want access in exchange for their money, but he says, “No matter who calls me, I answer the phone.” And he says his wide-ranging support—including financial support—means he doesn’t owe anyone in particular. “I can be an honest broker. I don’t have to cater to one set of interests.”

Ware says he thinks the city should bring back the city’s system of public financing of campaigns, which would provide matching funds to candidates who agree to certain spending limits. “It costs entirely too much to run a campaign. Public financing is a better way.” After the recession, the current city council cut the public financing program—making it harder for non-incumbents and candidates without deep-pocket backing to compete.

Bell says he thinks his word-of-mouth campaign can compete, despite being heavily outspent. “The power of the people can overpower the people in power.”