Collin endorsed Yee, but sprawl watchers say the county needs Carr
When revered County Supervisor Illa Collin announced that she would not be seeking an eighth term on the board last January, she made no mistake about who she wanted to succeed her—former Mayor and Councilman Jimmie Yee. Collin, who is retiring to spend more time with her husband, believes Yee has the experience and courage to make good financial decisions during a time that she anticipates will be very difficult for the county.
“[There are going to be] a lot of pressures on whoever the new supervisor is, and, in my estimation, Jimmie’s got the backbone to deal with that without worrying about a political future,” Collin told SN&R.
But many groups that have supported Collin throughout her 28 years on the board say they are puzzled as to why Collin, often viewed as the most progressive voice on the board, would endorse Yee and not his opponent, Sacramento Municipal Utility District Director Larry Carr.
“I’m not quite clear what [has] really motivated her to endorse Jimmie,” Environmental Council of Sacramento (ECOS) Executive Director Graham Brownstein said. “And I’ve asked around, and the response I get is Jimmie hasn’t seen a development project that he doesn’t like. And it’s very troubling that Illa’s endorsement has gone to Jimmie.”
Most environmental groups see Carr, also the executive director of the Florin Road Partnership, as the more eco-friendly candidate on issues such as land use, transportation and housing.
“In terms of investment, in terms of water and air quality, in terms of lost habitat [and] farmland, sprawl is the single clearest indicator of the real cost of the bad decisions we’ve made,” Brownstein said. “If we don’t make some very different kinds of decisions in these next few years, it may very well be too late.”
Yee shies away from the term “sprawl,” which he defines as leapfrogging and developing haphazardly. He supports smart growth, which, he says, “does allow for development adjacent to existing development. In other words, I’m not going to leapfrog out there and approve development that’s not adjacent to existing development.”
Carr completely abstains from using the word sprawl, which he feels means different things to different people.
Instead, he says, “We must build up before we build out. We have to reinvest and build up the first and second rings around the city before we build out any further.”
Along with urban development, environmentalists are concerned with how each candidate addresses transportation issues.
“We need to address how people are going to get around, not waiting 20 years or 15 years for alternative fuel,” said Ann Kohl, ECOS’ co-vice president for transportation and air quality. “We need to support public transportation which seems to be a missing element of this equation.”
Both candidates agree that transportation is an issue that needs to be focused on in the next few years. However, Carr and Yee differ on how the board should approach the issue.
Yee wants to take a hard look at how he can improve public transportation. However, he also wants to examine the issue of potentially providing a beltway near Grant Line Road that would connect Interstates 5 and 80 and Highways 50 and 99—and the communities of Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova—so that commuters have an alternative option to downtown junctions.
Critics are concerned that providing the beltway would further increase the suburban sprawl that initially created the need for the beltway (see “A desperate measure”; SN&R Cover Story; October 21, 2004). Increased sprawl means longer commutes and lowered population density, not ideal conditions for improving public transit, says Carr.
Carr said he doesn’t know if the county will need the beltway in the future, but for now, he says, “I don’t like it. I think it’s going to encourage development. We have to build up before we build out.”
Carr says that the county’s transportation program suffers from not having high population density. Because of not having densely populated neighborhoods, Carr says, public transportation is not a viable option in terms of funding or ridership. By increasing population density, Carr hopes to make transit a more viable option for Sacramentans.
Both candidates also expressed interest in the availability of affordable housing in the county. Carr, who finds it troublesome that “first-time home buyers will need at least twice the area’s median income to afford a median-priced home in Sacramento County,” supports the inclusionary-housing ordinance that county supervisors enacted last year, which requires 15 percent of new housing to be affordable—including a small amount of housing for “extremely low income” families.
Yee has said he wants a balance of mixed housing so that the region’s teachers and public-service workers can find affordable housing in the area.
“I support the low-cost housing, the inclusionary-housing situation. I supported it back at the city, and I will support it within the county,” Yee told SN&R.
However, some housing advocates distrust Yee’s commitment to affordable housing. Although a building-industry lawsuit to overturn the ordinance has been dismissed, builders say they plan to appeal the decision.
Many fear that if Yee is elected to the board, his tie to developers will lead him to influence the board to rid builders of the affordable-housing burden.
“I think if that if Carr’s not elected, that it’s highly likely that the ordinance would be eliminated,” said Sacramento Central Labor Council lobbyist and former City Councilman Grantland Johnson. “I don’t think it’s any accident that large developers are primarily bankrolling Yee’s campaign.”
As of March 17, Yee had raised $94,396, drawing heavily from the building and real-estate industry, including suburban homebuilders KB Homes and Reynen & Bardis. He also benefited from fund-raisers thrown by the Tsakopoulos family—major developers in the county. Carr had raised $61,039. His developer money came primarily from firms interested in infill development.
There is a third candidate in the race, although he’s generally believed to be an extreme long shot. Bounty hunter and perennial candidate Leonard Padilla makes no bones about his desire to see the county build out in a hurry. “I will most definitely advocate development,” Padilla wrote in his ballot statement. “These lands, when developed, provide jobs, property taxes and other income to the Sacramento County Treasury.”
Carr may be the choice for local environmentalists and, in that way, the most natural successor to Collin. Still, Collin believes that Yee’s political experience will help him make the right decisions.
“Larry is probably thinking of a career beyond the board of supervisors,” Collin said. “I don’t think Jimmie’s going to worry about that. I think he’s much freer in his decision making from that standpoint.”