Steinberg’s first test

This is an extended version of a story that ran in the February 2, 2017, issue.

Back when Darrell Steinberg was running to be Sacramento’s next mayor, he participated in an April candidates forum at which he was asked about the unlawful camping ordinance that makes it illegal for homeless people to sleep outdoors or possess survival gear.

“Well, I voted against the ordinance in 1995 and I suppose if it came before me again, I would vote the same way,” Steinberg replied, reminding everyone he was a council member back in the day. “What a lose-lose proposition,” he continued. “Is our choice really to allow people outside in the dead of winter, to sleep outside, or to arrest them? Those cannot be our only two choices.”

Nine months later, that lose-lose proposition has left two dead bodies on City Hall’s doorstep—a grim and accidental protest against the city’s stubborn refusal to do the humane thing.

That’s not to say the city hasn’t responded to the January 18 death of Mike B. Nunez, 50, and the January 25 death of David A. “Binny” Collins, 68, both of which occurred on savage winter nights. A day after the second body was found, officials fast-tracked the opening of a nearby winter refuge facility in a city-owned building at 904 11th Street. But it came with a catch: Interim City Manager Howard Chan told The Sacramento Bee that homeless people will soon no longer be allowed to sleep on City Hall property, a desirable locale because of the building’s long canopies, under which our vulnerable neighbors sought protection during this winter’s driving storms.

And that tells you where the city’s concern resides—optics. Dead homeless people on the steps of City Hall are bad for that world-class image Sacto so desperately covets.

As for ending the camping ban, Steinberg got his chance to “vote the same way” January 10, when Councilman Allen Warren put down the council Kool-Aid and suggested repealing the ineffective policy. Steinberg complimented Warren for “a very provocative idea,” then switched subjects.

This was Steinberg’s first big test as mayor. Turns out he needed a little more of that ’95 magic.