Bruce Pomer and Eric Guerra face off to represent Sacramento District 6 on city council
On how the special-election candidates would impact city politics
On Drake’s latest album, the Canadian rapper spits verse about running in “the six,” the nickname he’s given to his hometown of Toronto. Here in Sacramento, Bruce Pomer and Eric Guerra probably have very little in common with Drake, but this month they’re also running in the six: As in door-to-door canvassing neighborhoods in Sacramento’s sixth city-council district.
The two are vying to succeed Kevin McCarty as the area’s next council member. A special election will take place April 7, as McCarty moved on to the state Assembly in December 2014, and District 6 has since been without representation on the council dais. McCarty represented the neighborhoods of Tahoe Park, Elmhurst and Tallac Village for 10 years.
His successor will either be Pomer, 65, a public-health expert and district resident for four decades and former Los Rios Community College District trustee; or Guerra, 36, an engineer, Sacramento County Planning Commission chairman and former Tahoe Park Neighborhood Association president.
The Pomer-Guerra race is one of those local contests where the two candidates are tightly aligned, from endorsements to the issues.
Both boast a solid Rolodex of backers. Pomer has received endorsement from all of District 6’s previous representatives—McCarty, state Senator Darrell Steinberg, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones—plus that of former mayors Heather Fargo and Anne Rudin. Guerra has backing from Supervisor Phil Serna, six of the Sacramento City Unified School District trustees, The Sacramento Bee editorial board and West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon.
If voters rewind and look at the big issues in recent years, both candidates voted no on Measure L’s strong-mayor policy and would have voted “no” on the Sacramento Kings arena subsidy. And both are disappointed by city council’s recent vote to move the UC Davis Medical Center out of District 6 and into Councilman Jay Schenirer’s district—despite D6 not having a representative during this contentious switcheroo.
“I was the candidate for this council seat that got up and voiced a spirited opposition to that,” Pomer says of the Med Center move. He says the process behind the move sets a bad precedent.
Guerra, who was a big redistricting player in 2010 who worked to get the Med Center in the district, says the council’s move “was inappropriate, particularly when we didn’t have a city council member.”
Both candidates have raised just over $40,000 this year.
Pomer says his No. 1 priority is “fiscal integrity.” He says the city’s financial situation is worrying.
“The city’s borrowed up to the hilt at this point. There isn’t much margin for error.”
Another top priority is basic quality-of-life issues in District 6: youth programs, police, parks and recreation funding, adding community gardens, eliminating blighted lots and vacant properties, and addressing basic infrastructure needs.
“We have to have a focused economic development approach,” he explains. For instance, acquiring a grocery store for Tahoe Park that actually sells healthy food, “so we don’t have a food desert.”
“We’ve been building up our downtown. That’s great. But we’ve got to have a balance,” he said.
These days at City Hall, council members are debating what to do with surplus Measure U tax dollars, which could be up to $11 million for the coming fiscal year. Pomer says he’d be fiscally conservative with that extra cash. “I would put part of that in the reserve to protect services in the neighborhood, so that if there is a downturn, that money can be used to maintain gains.
“When you’re in an economic upturn, you can’t spend everything you have.”
Another front-burner issue at City Hall this year is upping pay for Sacramento’s poorest.
“I support raising the minimum wage to $15,” Pomer said, adding that the city needs to work with small business to phase it in. “You can’t disadvantage Sacramento regionally.”
The drought is also a major issue, and Pomer would like to see more community outreach, and see the city do low-tech things to help conserve water.
He also thinks Nestlé, which runs a bottling plant in District 6, should be more transparent. The city currently will not disclose its top water users, including Nestlé. “I believe in transparency, sunshine,” Pomer said. “If we are on meters, we should know how much water they’re using.”
Pomer supports a real ethics commission, with teeth, and disapproves of the behind-closed-doors “ad hoc” committees at City Hall on issues such as the budget and, perhaps ironically, ethics and good government. “I’ve got problems with that. One, the ethics of it, and, two, you inform the debate when you involve the public.
“We’ve got a tradition of good government in Sacramento, and I don’t think we did a lot of this in the past. The open-meetings law is on the books for a reason.”
Pomer also says he’s skeptical of the business community’s sudden interest in fixing and reforming Regional Transit. “It’s fascinating to me that, all of the sudden now, they’re interested in security and quality issues—when this has been an issue all along,” he said. “A lot of disadvantaged and poor people use that system,” and he says they need to be prioritized, too, which includes adding more bus lines to District 6.
He says that he is “highly skeptical” of the streetcar.
“I’m ready for this,” Pomer said of the challenges at City Hall. “The last three council people in district support me,” and he says that, as a retired D6 resident, he can focus all his efforts on improving the community.
Eric Guerra is the son of immigrant farmworkers and spent his youth working in the fields in nearby Esparto. He was able to attend Sacramento State, along with his brother and sister, and now his entire family lives in District 6. “Within less than a generation, we went from dilapidated housing to being in middle class,” he said.
“Running for city council, it’s about making sure those opportunities are there for everyone else.” Guerra would be the first Latino council member in nearly two decades.
Guerra, a former Sacramento State Alumni Association president, is focused on making District 6 a community where you can rent or buy a home on a safe street, and maybe even work just a few blocks from where you live and not have to commute far.
He has longstanding ties to the district. As a student, he worked for improvements along 65th Street, near Sac State’s southeast entrance. He parlayed this into becoming TPNA president, where he fought for more community services, such as a fundraising campaign to reopen a neighborhood pool, which was then managed by the YMCA.
He says a major goal would be to fight for a fair share of Measure U funding, which includes increasing police and fire services, which he says will improve the district’s business corridors and parks.
“Stockton Boulevard, Power Inn, Folsom—there are vacant lots, blight, and this leads to vice, crimes. Business owners on those areas want public safety, too.
“We have fundamental infrastructure needs that may not be as glamorous as an entertainment center, but are critical.”
He says that, as council member, he would “drill down even more to see how we compare to the rest of the city” when it comes to getting a fair share of Measure U funding. He would also use the Measure U surplus to fight for infrastructure investment, such as making the district more walkable, or investing in code enforcement and public safety.
“It’s shocking that it takes longer to pick up somebody’s abandoned couch the further south you go than the further north you go” in the city, he said.
But instead of focusing on austerity and saving for a rainy day, Guerra’s attitude seems more about seizing the opportunity now to make sure the city has money coming into the coffers tomorrow. “We need to get tax revenue to protect us from a downturn … to have some vigor for the city.”
As for putting more money on people’s tables, he supports a bump in the minimum wage—but has not settled on what that final number should be. “I grew up with both parents making minimum wage—and even below that. I feel what families are going through. So, to me, I do think we need to increase the minimum wage. But we have to also think about how we do it as a regional economy.
“When you drive down Stockton Boulevard, a lot of those are minority-owned small businesses, and we need to take into consideration what they can handle.”
As for the drought, he reminds that water is a luxury. When he lived in Esparto at age 14, the family well collapsed, and they survived with little water for three months during the summer. “We’ve got to figure out how to be the most effective with limited resources, especially with water and sewage.”
He also agrees that, “because water is so precious, we should know who the top users are.”
Transit is a big issue for Guerra, as well. “There’s only one bus line that goes down through District 6,” Guerra explained. “If you can’t afford a car payment, car maintenance, gasoline,” there are few RT options. “And just try to ride a bike down Stockton Boulevard—that’s an issue.
“We have pockets of need for public transit,” he said, adding that the central city has to do a better job connecting to the inner-ring neighborhoods. “It’s all about connectivity.”
He’s yet to take a stance on the proposed streetcar line, but says that “the conversation with the streetcar needs to be about connectivity. How does this fit in with the overall public-transit need?”
Guerra says his foremost good-government priority would be an independent-redistricting commission that would map out council districts that better approximate neighborhoods and their needs. He calls the way the city has made districts in the past a “divide and conquer” approach—a.k.a., the city divides neighborhoods with common interests, and thereby dilutes, or conquers, their power.
In turn, District 6 is a “community that feels like it hasn’t had a voice.
“You appreciate it a lot when you don’t have it, so I want to bring that. And make sure we have it for the long term.”