Economic justice is his job

Michael Jasso, Sacramento’s assistant city manager for innovation, economic development and community development.

Michael Jasso, Sacramento’s assistant city manager for innovation, economic development and community development.

If you care about economic justice in Sacramento, you need to know Michael Jasso.

His official title is assistant city manager in charge of innovation, economic development and community development. He’s the point person for City Hall’s renewed effort to create jobs in poor neighborhoods—and, if all goes as planned, he will help Mayor Darrell Steinberg keep promises that the Measure U sales tax increase will make Sacramento more prosperous and fair.

I first met Jasso on his second day on the job, at an April town hall for Project Prosper, the city’s neighborhood investment plan. It was in the works well before police killed Stephon Clark in Meadowview in March, but became a much bigger deal afterward when protests resurrected long-festering complaints in many minority neighborhoods that they had been left out of Sacramento’s riches.

That was the situation Jasso stepped into when he arrived in Sacramento from Chicago, where he held several local government jobs, most recently as economic development chief for Cook County.

Jasso says while Clark’s death is a “traumatic event” for Sacramento, the tragedy also creates the opportunity to push harder for helping “disconnected” people and improving the quality of life in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

He also knows about the distrust from those who say City Hall has broken far too many promises on economic development. How does he plan to deal with that? “Living up to our promises” and listening to voices outside City Hall, he said.

“We’re going to persevere in inclusive economic development because it’s the right thing to do,” he told me during an interview this month in his City Hall office.

According to Jasso, everything is on track—the creation of an investment committee of experts and of a community advisory panel, plus the selection of consultants. They will help draft an inclusive economic development plan to go before the City Council by June.

But he also acknowledges that Sacramento faces challenges. Outside experts have already listed some of them. The city is lagging behind in creating higher-wage jobs in growth industries. The wage gap has widened between African-Americans and whites and Asians. Too many residents don’t go to college, and too many college graduates are leaving the area.

Everyone, rich and poor, will start paying the additional half-cent sales tax in Sacramento on April 1, and the city will start receiving the money in June. Despite criticism that the additional $50 million a year has been promised several times over, Jasso says there will be enough money to attract private and other investments to make significant progress on jobs, housing and youth programs.

Announcing Measure U last June, Steinberg asked: “Why does a third grader living in South Sacramento have less of a chance in life than a third grader living in East Sacramento?”

Good question. To give kids in all neighborhoods a fair shot, this may be the best chance in a generation. The city can’t blow it.