The developers’ candidates: The race to be Sacramento County’s District 4 representative

Despite stated differences, both board of supervisors candidates heavily supported by building interests

Citrus Heights City Councilwoman Sue Frost faces Folsom energy consultant Mike Kozlowski in an election that could have lasting ramifications for the county’s future.

Citrus Heights City Councilwoman Sue Frost faces Folsom energy consultant Mike Kozlowski in an election that could have lasting ramifications for the county’s future.

Photos by Lucas Fitz

Sacramento County supervisors aren’t media stars. They haven’t built shining arenas or sued newspapers. They aren’t getting ambushed with pies or punching surly activists.

The board of supervisors may have the charisma of a Ben Stein soliloquy, but its five members represent a larger population than the Sacramento City Council and oversee public health, prosecutors and jail facilities across the county. The supervisors are also on the front lines of the largest development plans, and most pressing environmental threats, in the entire region. The board rarely grabs front-page headlines but it’s Sacramento’s sleeping giant.

Now, a contentious race for the District 4 seat, pitting Citrus Heights City Councilwoman Sue Frost against Folsom energy consultant Mike Kozlowski, could have lasting implications for the county’s future—affecting everything from open space and public safety to homelessness and affordable housing.

And the two Republicans have differing narratives about who can play nicest in the sandbox.

In a year when the term “Republican” is an enigma, shades of red are central to the District 4 race. Frost supporters have pegged Kozlowski as “a closet liberal” trying to steal the election. Kozlowski’s backers have linked Frost to the tea party and other forces that divide the GOP. In a race where party affiliation doesn’t appear on the ballot, where do Frost and Kozlowski really stand?

“I’ve never hidden from the fact that I’m a moderate Republican,” Kozlowski said. “I think it’s a factor that makes me uniquely qualified to get things done. I understand, and I’ve internalized, that the position is not a partisan one. Everyone in Sacramento County wants the same things.”

Frost said she does not have official endorsements from any tea party groups, though she proudly acknowledged backing from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and Gun Owners of California, both affiliated organizations of the California Tea Party. Like her opponent, however, Frost stressed that she wants to help fix the pressing problems that affect Sacramento County.

“I’m a budget disciplinarian, primarily, but I’ve still been working on social issues the last five years in Citrus Heights,” Frost said. As proof, the councilwoman points to helping create Citrus Height’s Homeless Assistance Resource Team, or HART, in 2015. The volunteer-run organization includes representatives from Sacramento Self Help Housing, the county Department of Human Assistance, the Citrus Heights Police Department, the San Juan Unified School District and a host of business owners and churches leaders. According to HART’s website, it will establish Citrus Height’s first-ever winter shelter for the homeless this year. Additionally, Frost supported funding the city’s first resource navigator to help local homeless residents transition into housing.

Yet Citrus Heights also has an all-encompassing ban on outdoor camping in its municipal code, similar to the one that has come under heavy fire from homeless advocates in neighboring Sacramento. Frost acknowledged that she favors having police officers enforce those restrictions.

“I do believe that enforcing our rules is part of what has to be done,” she said.

Frost and Kozlowski do share one parcel of conservative property: They’re both pro-growth.

Frost is the former owner of a real estate company. Kozlowski is a longtime architect who now works with energy projects. Frost has received campaign contributions from a host of real estate groups, mortgage companies and rental associations. Kozlowski has netted even more monetary firepower from construction outfits and developers, especially Region Builders PAC, which has already spent nearly $128,900 supporting his candidacy.

He’s also accepted at least $7,000 in campaign contributions from various unions within the construction industry or construction companies themselves, as well as $3,500 from different chamber of commerce organizations in District 4.

Each District 4 hopeful told SN&R they view housing and commercial growth as important economic engines for the region. And neither candidate will disavow the board’s 2014 decision to scrap a policy that set aside 15 percent of any housing development as affordable units. Despite community outcry, the supervisors changed this much-praised safeguard, allowing developers to pay a simple per-square-foot fee toward the county’s affordable housing trust fund—a fee significantly less than what some experts calculated was needed to keep pace with the low-income units built under the old criteria.

Only District 5 Supervisor Don Nottoli voted against the change on principal. In August, an SN&R analysis of housing data found that significantly fewer affordable homes had come online in the county since the change.

Asked if supervisors made the wrong call in 2014, Frost was emphatic.

“No,” she said. “I think the new rule that requires developers to invest into a fund that is dedicated to affordable housing gives developers flexibility, and can in theory maximize affordable housing opportunities in specific areas that qualify for matching federal and state funds.

“It doesn’t make sense to subsidize the cost of housing, put someone into a home they cannot afford,” she added.

Mike Kozlowski

Kozlowski was also reluctant to condemn the move.

“I can’t say for sure of it was a mistake, because building has been at such a standstill since the change was made that it’s hard to evaluate,” he said. “There is an affordable housing trust fund based on the fees, and I think that program can be successful if enough projects are getting built.”

While Frost and Kozlowski also agree that public safety is a priority, they differ in execution.

Frost favors getting more resources to the county’s probation agents, who play a major role in tracking low-level offenders and directing drug addicts to resources under California’s criminal realignment.

Topping Kozlowski’s agenda is adjusting staffing levels at the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department for better response times in Rio Linda, Elverta, Rancho Murieta and Orangevale, the communities that District 4 encompasses.

Frost is currently endorsed by the Sacramento County Probation Association, while Kozlowski is endorsed by the Sacramento County Deputy Sheriff’s Association and District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert.

On the question of law enforcement accountability, Frost and Kozlowski had different reactions to a recent board of supervisors meeting at which Black Lives Matter Sacramento and other community groups expressed concern about unwarranted use of force by the sheriff’s department. Kozlowski told SN&R that Sheriff Scott Jones or his successor (if he’s elected to Congress) needs to build stronger bridges to the county’s undeserved communities.

“It was heartbreaking to hear stories about how people think they’ve been treated and perceived in their communities.” Kozlowski said. “There is so much tension building around the police across the U.S., we’ll need a sheriff who can really communicate to everyone.”

Frost said she found the BLM presentation to be overly confrontational and dismissive of the work law enforcement does.

“My response to Black Lives Matter is ’all lives matter,’” she said.

Frost and Kozlowski have each talked about the scope of Sacramento County’s homeless population. Speaking with SN&R, the candidates mirrored one another in saying that more resources were needed for outreach and behavioral health services.

The real question for local politicos involves how Frost and Kozlowski would interact with the other four supervisors. Kozlowski said he’s already been in talks with District 2 Supervisor Patrick Kennedy about homelessness and has spoken to Nottoli about various challenges the county is up against.

Support for Frost is coming from a cavalcade of Folsom and Citrus Heights council members and school board trustees, including all three rivals she beat in the District 4 primary. She added that she has a good working relationship with Nottoli and sees his reputation for fairness as a model for how a supervisor should behave.

District 4’s current supervisor, Roberta MacGlashan, believes Kozlowski has a personality that’s better suited for accomplishing goals with her counterparts. She’s put her endorsement behind that view.

“Mike’s ability to work with the other supervisors really entered into my decision to endorse him,” MacGlashan told SN&R. “Unlike many of the city councils in the region, the board has a wide variety of political ideologies, and it’s important to be able to work with those different perspectives to get things done.”

Frost has her supporters, too. Harry Williams, co-founder of the Sacramento nonprofit Veterans for Life, said teaming up with Frost on her proposed task force on homeless veterans has convinced him she has a rare combination of frankness, tenacity and work ethic that’s badly needed in government.

“She’s honest and she does not play politics,” Williams said. “Frost is not talker, she’s a doer.”

With Election Day fast approaching, Frost and Kozlowski are racing to get out their respective messages. Frost wants voters to know that experience in government matters.

“It’s not like I’m preparing for what I’m going to do, I’ve already been doing it,” she observed. “And my own promise is that I won’t forget who I’m working for.”

For Kozlowski, a volunteer track coach at Folsom’s Vista de Lago High School, his message is that a political outsider who knows about teamwork is what the county needs most.

“It’s about demonstrating cooperation and leadership within a group like the board,” he said. “I think the reason so many groups are endorsing me is that I’m consensus-builder.”