No hard feelings

Wayward emails, mayoral manifestos and the best studies money can buy

A couple columns ago, Bites wondered if the Sacramento City Council was becoming increasingly the domain of thin-skinned rich guys who don’t like being poked by curious reporters.

No need to have worried. SN&R reporter Raheem F. Hosseini recently emailed a campaign staffer for Allen Warren requesting an interview after Warren’s close election win for the city council in District 2. Said staffer—apparently hitting “reply” instead of forwarding the message to Warren—sent Hosseini back a message reading, “Fuck SN&R but just wanted to pass this along if you wanted to do it.”

Hosseini later got another email from a different campaign staffer, apologizing for the “mixup,” though the first message had seemed straightforward enough.

Warren showed up for the interview, which went down pleasantly enough (see “The Warren retort” by Raheem F. Hosseini, SN&R Frontlines, December 20). Though, notice that he continues to characterize SN&R’s earlier coverage of the facts of his legal and financial troubles as “attacking” him. So, yeah, no hard feelings.

“I love accountability.” That’s the beginning of an email from Mayor Kevin Johnson to constituents back in 2009. The email was a lecture on accountability to his fellow council members. The occasion was a leaked internal memo to The Sacramento Bee, which had the effect of alerting the public to the then-unfolding scandal in the city’s building department.

The lecture was dumb, but that’s not why Bites dug it out. It’s because the email itself is an interesting historical document, a long and detailed manifesto about “accountability” in the mayor’s office.

Let’s talk about accountability. It’s a subject I understand. I ran for Mayor on a platform of accountability,” Johnson explained at the time. “I demand accountability for myself, my staff, and every employee in the city of Sacramento.”

It goes on like that for quite a long time. “Accountability isn’t just for front-line city employees. It runs from top to bottom. I must be accountable. And so must my colleagues.” There’s more. Google it.

But this is why the Lisa Serna-Mayorga scandal is so strange.

The details of the Serna-Mayorga affair are likely well-known to you. She used a city credit card to rack up $19,000 in personal charges—including, depressingly, nearly $4,000 in iTunes purchases (Justin Bieber, Marc Anthony, Lady Gaga)—trips to Disneyland, Bodega Bay, Target, you name it. She bounced checks to the city trying to cover the illicit charges, and now she faces jail time for forgery and grand theft of public funds.

Here’s what Bites doesn’t get: How could someone like Serna-Mayorga—with her long family history in politics and her long experience at the mayor’s side—go so unaccountably wrong?

Her actions are so surprising because they go so entirely against the culture of accountability that the mayor created at City Hall. We must assume he has done so, because he has told us at length how much he loves accountability. Back in 2009, the mayor said, “Accountability is not situational. It can’t be used for political convenience. You are either accountable, or you are not.”

So, in his own words, the mayor is accountable—from top to bottom—for the things that his employees did with public money. Or he is not.

You may know the name Sanjay Varshney. He’s dean of business at Sacramento State University and purveyor of fine economic studies for discerning patrons.

Well, his survey of Assembly Bill 32, paid for by a business group and used by the oil industry to attack California’s ambitious climate-change law, was called “essentially useless” by the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office. But Varshney’s customers, at least, seem pretty satisfied.

So it was with last week’s white paper on the benefits of the Capital Southeast Connector—a.k.a. the Sprawl Expressway—commissioned by the local governments who want the new roadway built.

To his client’s great relief, Varshney says that the connector is a really good investment. He estimates 25,000 new jobs, $2.5 billion in new regional economic output and $182 million in new indirect business tax revenue—over the next 20 years.

All that for only $450 million in public money to get the thing built. Much of the money will come from local sales taxes, and state and federal funds. But the single biggest source of funds identified, some $230 million, is supposed to come from developer fees generated by future growth in the area of the project.

Boosters insist this major highway connecting the fast-growing suburban enclaves of Rancho Cordova and Elk Grove and El Dorado Hills—and running mostly through pastures—won’t be growth inducing. So it doesn’t promote sprawl, even though it’s mostly funded by future sprawl? Probably have to be some kind of economist to figure out how that works.