Better red than yuppie-fied
Socialist LR Roberts is running against Lauren Hammond to protest gentrification
LR Roberts is tired of “politics by sound bites,” and she is disgusted with the course of development in her neighborhood. A longtime Oak Park resident, retired state worker and vocal socialist, Roberts eeks out a meager living on disability benefits that she supplements by doing paralegal work.
You probably haven’t heard her name yet, but Roberts is running for Sacramento City Council. Without any name recognition, and running with nearly empty campaign coffers, Roberts is facing a likely defeat when she faces the popular incumbent, Lauren Hammond, on Election Day on June 6.
Roberts doesn’t shy away from making fierce criticism of local government’s support of Kevin Johnson and the 40 Acres project that has dramatically changed that part of Oak Park. Roberts acknowledges that the city council isn’t responsible for the cornerstone of Johnson’s work, the controversial makeover of Sacramento High School as a charter school. “Even though it’s the school board and not the city council, Lauren goes to his events, sucks up to him,” Roberts told SN&R. “I don’t go to that Starbucks or to any of those little stores there. I am boycotting them all and if I have anything to say about it all of those stores will close.”
Likewise, Roberts sees the charter movement as “a movement by yuppies for their kids. It’s not for poor kids and it’s certainly not for bilingual parents.” Roberts thinks that the needs of the poor and working-class people of District 5 have been ignored in the frenzy to gentrify. She is especially insulted by the fact that redevelopment work in Oak Park has been completed by non-union workers. “I don’t want anti-union stuff in my neighborhood. It’s an insult.”
Meanwhile, Hammond sees the development in Oak Park as an obvious success; “I think anyone will tell you that it looks the best it has looked in 40 years.” She credits the new businesses that are part of Johnson’s 40 Acres project with increasing the livability of the neighborhood and reducing crime, specifically prostitution, in the area.
Hammond boasts and impressive list of endorsements that includes such power brokers as gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides and the Sacramento Builders’ Exchange, a nonprofit builder’s association. Alfredo Garcia, the legislative coordinator for the Exchange that advocates on behalf of the commercial-construction industry, said that Hammond won their endorsement over Roberts because of her “past experience and involvement with the community.” The exchange sees Hammond as “a responsive legislator” whose work will benefit its members.
While both candidates say their goals are to improve the lives of the residents in District 5, Roberts and Hammond have much different takes on how to do it. Hammond has pushed for redevelopment of Stockton and Freeport boulevards.
Roberts however doesn’t think those projects have benefited all of the people in her neighborhood. “We had a little pizza place owned by a black family on MLK. Closed down. We had a pet shop owned by an Asian family. Closed down. I’ll tell you, next time when one of our little businesses has financial trouble I am sending them to the city. If they can bail out IMAX, they can bail out our little businesses.”
Robert’s tows a hard line when asked about who should be setting the course for Sacramento’s future. She is running as a member of the Peace and Justice party and doesn’t shy away from admitting her political motivations. “I’m not a liberal, I am socialist. Politics is who gets what, when and where and how: guns and butter and how it’s distributed. Who do you want to make decisions for the world? On the local level it’s developers. Who do we want to make decisions? A little group of un-elected men who tend to be older and white?” Roberts maintains that she doesn’t have a Stalinist vision for Sacramento’s future. Instead she says, “I do believe in a mixed-economy. But I see the interests of working people. Small businesses and the Wal-Marts of the world don’t mix.”
Roberts knows Hammond likely will win her bid for re-election in June. In the meantime she’s giving interviews while continuing to do paralegal work and collecting minor donations from individuals. Roberts had hoped to prop up her campaign with money from the city’s public-financing program, which matches funds for candidates who agree to a spending limit of $61,600. But a candidate has to reach a threshold of $7,000 dollars before they qualify for public funds, something Roberts is not likely to do. So far, Robert has raised $300, just half of the $600 it cost her to get on the ballot.
“The point was to do political education. I doubt I’ll be elected. In city government, if you are not backed by the ‘power structure’ it’s over.”