The Sac 100
SN&R’s guide to the most interesting people in the region
Who are the most influential, important, interesting people in Sacramento?
Earlier this year, we asked SN&R reporters and editors to answer that question, and to come up with a list. We call it the “Sacramento 100.”
Of course, how you measure “interesting” is bound to be pretty subjective, and what follows is certainly not a scientific, by-the-numbers, objective sort of list. Instead, we focused on those people who inspired us, intrigued us and sometimes even repelled us.
We tried to recognize those people who have made a contribution over the years, who’ve made Sacramento a better place to live. We looked for people who are emerging stars in their fields, and included some that are so influential that they couldn’t be left off. We also realized (well, really, we’ve known it all along) that the outcasts and the bad guys are pretty fascinating, too.
And so, we ended up with a pretty epic list—one that includes street people and businessmen, radicals and cops, intellectuals and athletes, the famous, the infamous and obscure. Any other publication would, we hope, come up with a very different list. This one is ours.
Who’s on yours?
Kim Alexander and her colleagues at the California Voter Foundation help make our elections work better. Alexander warned California (and Sacramento County) of the problems with electronic voting technology—and we’re better off for it. The CVF also helped to devise the system for picking members of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. And CVF brings us “The Proposition Song” every couple of years, a ballot synopsis in verse to help us wade through confusing array of initiatives that come up for approval every election.
Imam Mohamed Abdul-Azeez
The face of Islam in Sacramento, Mohamed Abdul-Azeez has tried to ease the distrust that crops up between Muslims and the larger Sacramento community. Even as the “ground zero mosque” in New York grabs headlines and generates controversy, Azeez has overseen the construction of the new SALAM center near American River College, a school, mosque and community center that is widely seen as an asset to the neighborhood. Azeez even got an award from the FBI earlier this year, with Agent Drew Parenti calling the center a place of “spiritual uplifting and personal development.”
A remarkable creative voice with a remarkable story to tell, the 56-year-old Frank Andrick has been a record promoter, a deejay, a poet, a hepatitis patient and a self-described “name-dropping whore” (that last one includes hanging out with Bono and Václav Havel, among others). These days, he can be found hosting Poetry Unplugged at Luna’s Café & Juice Bar in Midtown.
Michael Ault is one of those professional cat herders, only the cats are rich and powerful developers, small-business people, Sacramento city bureaucrats and ambitious politicians. Oh, and skeptical, snarky reporters. As executive director of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, Ault has guided the organization through booms and busts, controversies and challenges. Ault’s Facebook fan page informs us that Michael “enjoys reading and writing haikus, collecting garden gnomes, drawing pictures of prancing unicorns.” Fascinating, and, since it’s on the Internet, it must be true.
Julie Ann Baenziger
The 25-year-old Julie Ann Baenziger is an unconventional but rousing singer-songwriter who performs as Sea of Bees. She will storm Europe for four months beginning this January before putting out her sophomore release on renowned Heavenly Records. A pure talent, let’s hope she keeps Sac in her heart.
While much of the news business struggles to survive, local public radio has thrived. As news and information director at Capital Public Radio, Joe Barr has overseen an increase in the quantity and quality of news reporting at CPR, along with the creation of new public-affairs shows like Jeffrey Callison’s Insight. While much of broadcast journalism drifts toward the Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann model, it’s nice to see local public broadcasters like Barr and CPR still want to do it right.
Panama Bartholomy is all over the green-energy scene. He’s deputy director of renewable energy at the California Energy Commission, he’s got a seat on the Sacramento City Planning Commission, he’s a sometime adviser to the mayor on green issues, president of the Northern California chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and all around green-energy guru. And he’s just 34 years old, so we can’t wait to see what he decides to be when he grows up.
In another life, Rick Bettis was a Caltrans highway engineer, and he has been doing “penance” ever since retiring. Bettis comes off as the slightly absent-minded professor, but always has something thoughtful to add when he appears at local government meetings in his capacity as a volunteer for the League of Women Voters, or with the Environmental Council of Sacramento. As one friend put it, “He’s a hero for many organizations, but he never makes a show of his work or takes any credit for anything; he is a rare bodhisattva indeed.”
Back in 2008, we watched Police Chief Rick Braziel give a speech about the need for Sacramento to bring higher education downtown and thought, “Why isn’t he running for mayor?” He’d probably deny having such political ambitions, but we were reminded of that moment earlier this year, when Braziel turned down a higher-paying job as Seattle’s chief of police. Young, charismatic and obviously very bright—who knows? Maybe he has long-term plans for Sacramento after all.
Georgeanne Brennan was cooking local before cooking local was cool. Brennan is a nationally esteemed author who has penned more than 30 books on cooking and gardening. She is one of the leaders of Slow Food Yolo, but is better known for her “Provence in California” cooking classes, which she teaches at her farmhouse kitchen in Winters. For those in the know, Brennan is a guru of good food on par with Michael Pollan and Alice Waters.
This former astrophysics major turned environmental lawyer, Brownstein has battled sprawl and bad planning in the Sacramento region as director of the Environmental Council of Sacramento. He did as much as anyone to mend fences between the mutually suspicious environmental and development community. Recently, Brownstein moved on to TransForm California, as a transportation advocate. Just 35 years old, we expect to hear a lot more from Brownstein in the coming years.
Every town needs someone like historian and bullshit detector William Burg. Burg is an accomplished scholar, with three books under his byline, including Sacramento’s Streetcars. He’s also a preservation advocate and a valuable local voice when it comes to some of the city’s controversial (and many of the not so controversial) development projects. He’s also sort of the model “cyber citizen” in town—he enjoys a good debate on the local blogs and comment boards, but always keeps it civil, articulate and informed.
“The best thing to happen to West Sacramento since Whitey’s Jolly cone.” That’s how SN&R editors once described Christopher Cabaldon. He’s been elected mayor of West Sac five times, three of them since coming out as gay. We don’t agree with every decision he’s made as mayor, but we appreciate his open and honest and accessible manner, and his formidable intelligence. While some mayors we know cruise around in SUVs with a police detail, Cabaldon is more likely to be parked in front of Temple Fine Coffee and Tea, working his BlackBerry and thinking up new ways to get things done.
Ten years ago, Thomas Cahill was just another accomplished UC Davis particle physicist, at an institution full of accomplished scientists. But after 9/11, Cahill became the expert on the environmental disaster at ground zero. His studies were a revelation and showed that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency misled the public about the safety of air at the former World Trade Center site. He later became a champion for the workers at the site of the cleanup, many of whom are now facing health problems likely related to toxic air that lingered for weeks and months after the terrorist attacks.
Don’t be fooled by his Southern drawl and his self-deprecating humor. The secretary of the Sacramento Central Labor Council is one of the most sophisticated political operators in town. An endorsement given, or withheld, by Bill Camp and the Labor Council has made the difference in many political campaigns. But he doesn’t wield power for its own sake. More recently, he’s worked to build health clinics in parts of rural Honduras devastated by Hurricane Mitch.
Rachel and Sarah Campbell
There are some stars among the Sacramento decentralized and diverse blogging community. Still, if the Sactosphere has any recognized celebrities, it’s probably the duo of Rachel and Sarah Campbell, a.k.a. Twin Soup. They aren’t political or arty, but they have figured out how to build a commercially successful local blog. Hats off.
Midtown’s Second Saturday is the big deal each month, but no one stops the show—and brings together grid dwellers and suburbanites alike—during the art walk like a street performance by Mom (a.k.a. Hailey Chase). Innocent but vulgar, flamboyant but unfussed, Mom’s performance art is like witnessing a Parisian opera in a begrimed back alley—complete with melodrama, chicken-fetus blood and a Mickey Mouse Club soundtrack that’d have Walt Disney spinning 6 feet under.
Olivia Coelho started holding guerrilla fashion shows back in 2003, in a parking lot under Interstate 80. She’s since gone a bit more legit, with her Sellout Buyout shows held during Second Saturday and a pair of vintage clothing stores, including Olipom (now closed) and Bows and Arrows on L Street. Along the way, she’s helped create a fashion community that is Sacto-centric and accessible. As she told SN&R a few years back of her idea of art, “It’s not something that costs $2,000 and is this elitist business. Art is something that lives in your heart, and you can show it every day. That’s my favorite part of fashion.”
In these days of media consolidation, the assault on net neutrality and the dumbing down of everything, who will stand up for diversity and citizen access to the media? Ron Cooper, of course. Cooper is executive director of Access Sacramento, which under his leadership has been nationally recognized for excellence in the public media world. For 25 years, the organization has helped put the tools of TV and radio production into the hands of ordinary citizens. Access Sacramento also puts on the A Place Called Sacramento local film contest and issues regular report cards on the quality of local broadcast media.
Brothers Gino and Frank Corti began Corti Fine Foods in 1947. Frank’s son, Darrell, has been called “Yoda, the Jedi master” of wine by Sacramento Bee critic Rick Kushman, and is even an official inductee into the Vintners Hall of Fame, along with Mondavi and Gallo. When the landlord at Corti Brothers’ store announced that he was going to find a higher-paying tenant for their Folsom Boulevard location, Sacramento collectively flipped out. Rallies were held, newspaper Op-Eds were written, the Cortis were given a reprieve. Yoda indeed.
Lisa Culp formed the nonprofit Women’s Empowerment in 2001 to try and break the cycle of substance abuse, domestic violence and homelessness that has led to ever more women and children living on the streets of Sacramento. The program—a “holistic” mix of services that includes job training, health counseling, day care and transportation assistance—seems to work. Eighty percent of the women who complete the program end up in permanent housing, with a job or enrolled in school. Earlier this year, Culp’s work earned her the Soroptimist International Ruby Award: For Women Helping Women.
Some of the guests who have appeared on Doug DeSalles’ no-budget Radio Parallax show on KDVS: Walter Cronkite, Bill Moyers, Ray Bradbury, Daniel Ellsberg and Molly Ivins. Even more impressive considering DeSalles started out on a low-power station out of El Camino Fundamental High School, KYDS. By day, DeSalles is a physician. He’s worked in urgent-care hospitals and the women’s prison in Chowchilla, but lately, his practice is mostly about helping men with erectile dysfunction. Incongruous but true.
You don’t hear a lot from John DiStasio, and that’s probably a very good thing. He’s general manager at SMUD, the public electric utility which consistently gets the highest marks in the nation in customer satisfaction, has lower rates that PG&E, and leads the state in pioneering green and renewable power. DiStasio’s been a part of that culture for 27 years, and he says Sacramento is in “the most transformative time I’ve ever seen.” As the leader of the second largest public utility in the state, DiStasio is a big part of that transformation.
This guy’s job is to look out for the rights of rapists, murderers and robbers. Make that alleged rapists, murderers and robbers. As the public defender of Sacramento County, Paulino Durán doesn’t make the same salary or enjoy the same budget as elected District Attorney Jan Scully. And while defense attorneys aren’t the most popular folks in town, the system wouldn’t work without them.
Faber grew up in what he once described as a “hippie Christian commune.” So naturally, he grew up to become an ass kicker in the sport of mixed martial arts. Despite losing a disappointing title fight to José Aldo earlier this year, Faber’s back in the hunt. He dispatched one recent opponent with something called a “rear naked choke.” Ouch.
Not many towns can boast that their city treasurer rocks—literally. Russ Fehr was tapped as Sacramento’s city treasurer in 2008. By day, he oversees the city’s investments and cash flow and gives advice to the city manager on how to keep the city budget afloat. By night, he straps on a Les Paul and shreds for a city-worker band called the Newz Makers.
Sister Libby Fernandez
Libby Fernandez is the nun who wanted to fly. Lots of people know Sister Libby as the 50-year-old director of Loaves & Fishes. Less well-known is how she began her professional life as an Air Force cadet at Travis Air Force Base, where she hoped to become a pilot. It was there, the story goes, that she witnessed an anti-militarism protest and began questioning how power is used. Soon thereafter, she joined the Sisters of Mercy and started volunteering at Loaves, eventually becoming one of Sacramento’s most powerful champions of the poor.
Tim Foster and Liv Moe
We wouldn’t call them a power couple, exactly, but Liv Moe and Tim Foster are a pair of the most dynamic, most engaged people in town. Moe is a writer and sculptor and filmmaker (among other skills) who helps run Verge Center for the Arts, and Foster’s creative chops range from being lead guitarist and vocalist in the kick-ass garage band the Troublemakers to organizing the Living Library lectures at Time Tested Books. Tim is also editor of Midtown Monthly, the cool, enthusiastic magazine that nicely captures and celebrates grid culture (and a lot more culture besides).
How many CSU presidents have inspired their own “resistance” movement? President Alexander Gonzalez clearly wanted to shake things up when he took over at Sacramento State in 2003. First, the campus chickens disappeared. Then his son was hired at the school for a $72,000 a year fundraising job. Then there was the time Gonzalez tried to help two big donors get approval to hunt for exotic and prohibited game animals in Tanzania. All of which has made Gonzalez some enemies, and one of the more interesting people in public life in Sacramento.
Even if we knew his real name, it wouldn’t help you to recognize him. Around here, the straggly haired poet, sidewalk-chalk artist and heavy-metal enthusiast and musician is known as just Chuck. His Tourette’s syndrome makes it difficult for Chuck to work a regular job, but he’s such a beloved part of Midtown that the Sacramento Comedy Spot held a fundraiser for him earlier this month, featuring Chuck himself and his strange brand of “heavy metal comedy.”
It used to be that developers ruled the roost in this town. Lately, we don’t hear so much from them. One who continues to do interesting things is Mark Friedman. The president of Fulcrum Property is the son of developer Mort Friedman, who built Arden Fair mall. The son has turned his attention to urban infill and to bigger challenges, like the Bridge District planned for the West Sacramento waterfront—a project nearly as large as the downtown Sacramento rail yards, but with a lot less drama.
OK, technically, Carol Greider doesn’t live here anymore. But last year’s Nobel Prize winner in medicine has deep roots in the area, so we’re claiming her. Greider grew up in Davis and graduated from Davis High School in 1979. She was one of three scientists who shared the prize for their discovery of and investigations into an enzyme, called telomerase, which is critical in cell division, aging and cancer. Greider, who works at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, actually discovered telomerase in 1984, when she was just 23 years old. Not bad. Greider’s late father, Ken Greider, was a popular physics professor at UC Davis, and her mother, also deceased, was a biologist, too, so her award stirred considerable Aggie pride.
Shawn Harrison and his colleagues started Soil Born Farms on a modest patch of land and have since moved to a 40-acre spread in the American River Parkway. Soil Born is now a major hub in Sacramento’s burgeoning local food movement, and Harrison is hoping to open a produce center where community gardeners can pool their resources and to help get locally grown produce in local school cafeterias.
Gale Hart is a triple threat: She’s been a Sacramento artist for the last 15 years (paintings, sculpture and a sort of urban furniture), she’s tied in to the local skate scene (she’s founder of the Thrasher Chicks), and she’s a serious animal lover and activist. Hart really got our attention with her Circus Show & Other Atrocities, which used original art and artists to talk to people about how performing animals are treated.
Sid Heberger started working the concession stand at the Crest Theatre in 1986. She quickly rose to general manager and has since steered the Crest into becoming one of Sacramento’s cultural centers. Heberger also become a strong and influential voice for downtown revitalization.
Mike Heller Jr.
Mike Heller’s dad, Mike Heller Sr., was by the company’s own description an “old-school contractor.” The Heller Company brought us big office cubes like the IBM building and the Department of Motor Vehicles building on Broadway. Mike Heller Jr. is redefining downtown and Midtown. His MARRS building took a rectangular block of a state building and opened it up ways that you probably couldn’t have guessed at if you weren’t the architect. The offices at Retro Lodge are another good example of Heller’s ability to reuse the old urban fabric in interesting ways.
The New York Times called Zach Hill a “virtuosic, hammer-blow, fast-footed drummer.” But he’s also a producer (the recent Marnie Stern album, among others), a mentor (to fresh local artists), wildly prolific (30-plus albums or releases at age 31) and—and we cringe at the word, too—an ambassador who treks the globe playing gigs and representing Sacramento like no other homegrown musician.
Among other dubious achievements, Tom Hiltachk was the campaign lawyer for Meg Whitman; Kevin Johnson’s “strong mayor” initiative; and Proposition 23, an attempt by out-of-state oil companies to undo California’s ambitious climate-change regulations. In fact, wherever evil rears its ugly head in California politics, its face is often Hiltachk’s. In fact, Hiltachk is everything that’s wrong with Sacramento. And that makes him fascinating.
Conservative talk-show host and tea party figure Eric Hogue serves up the red meat for the right on his 1380 AM local radio show and on his blog, Hoguenews.com. We don’t always (OK, we never do) agree with him politically, but his interviews with major political movers are a compelling addition to Sacramento’s state and local coverage.
Besides coming up with a weirdly cool name for their publishing house and online literary magazine, publisher Elijah Jenkins and the rest of the Flatmancrooked crew have scored some real coups, such as first publication of a new Ha Jin story, and a first-time translation of the Jorge Luis Borges story “Gradus ad Parnassum.” Plus, they created a giant robot to be the magazine’s pitch man. Pretty classy.
Keith Lowell Jensen
Sacramento’s most popular purveyor of atheist jokes and banana-suit-wearing guerrilla comedy has been getting some national attention with his Coexist? Comedy Tour, featuring Keith Lowell Jensen along with a Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and Christian comic. Jensen gets props for helping create a bona fide Sacramento comedy scene.
Born in Palestine, on the Fourth of July, in an earthquake. Not a bad beginning for a lady who would come to be famous (at least around here) for shaking it up. Jodette Johnson (of Jodette’s Belly-Dancing Academy) is a belly-dance instructor, the belly-dance instructor, teaching the dance in a shop that evolved out of her earlier attempts to sell incense and hippie clothes (Janis Joplin once shopped in her store). Back then, she partied with the Beatles and Muhammad Ali, hung with Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Nowadays, she dances and cooks great pots of Middle Eastern stew and other dishes for the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, or for Loaves & Fishes, or just to load into her truck and take down to the river for hungry people in need.
What can you say? Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson is a star and he knows it. It’s too soon to say what his legacy will be. Perhaps he’ll make a mark with his For Arts’ Sake initiative, or his Greenwise Sacramento initiative, or Sacramento First arena initiative, or his Sacramento Steps Forward initiative on homelessness, or perhaps it will be his Stand Up Sacramento education initiative. Or maybe he won’t. One thing we do know, he did pretty much single-handedly make City Hall interesting again. Plus, he’s really good at coming up with names for initiatives.
After Lial Jones arrived as director of the Crocker Art Museum in 1999, she pushed the museum to shed some of its fusty gold rush image and greatly expanded the collection and the scope of the museum. This year, she unveiled an even more dramatic makeover of the Crocker. One SN&R writer described it as “the kind of museum that grown-up cities covet, and Sacramento owns it,” thanks in large part to Jones.
Linda Katehi began her life in a small Greek village, became a prolific inventor and as chancellor of UC Davis now runs an institution with 30,000 employees. Katehi hosted the Governors’ Global Climate Summit on campus last month and rallied the troops to fight global warming. “We cannot lose another minute, much less another year or another decade looking away and waiting for others to step in.” As leader of a school on the cutting edge of environmental science, she can have big impact.
Though he now lives in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Supreme Court’s main swing man is a native son of Sacramento. More than any other justice, Anthony Kennedy is considered the tiebreaker on the divided court. Kennedy graduated from C.K. McClatchy High School before going on to teach law at McGeorge School of Law and then to be appointed to the federal court by then-President Gerald Ford. Kennedy got the nod for the high court thanks to Reagan’s disastrous attempt with Robert Bork. Kennedy is considered a conservative, but has made noises that suggest he might carry the day for marriage equality if and when the U.S. Supreme Court takes up California’s Proposition 8.
Director of Legal Services of Northern California, Bill Kennedy has fought for decades for affordable housing rules and against slumlords. He’s an asset to the community, but even more remarkable when you consider what happened to Kennedy after doctors found a golf-ball-sized tumor in his brain. As told in these pages (“Bill’s right brain” by Nancy Brands Ward; SN&R Feature; August 20, 2009), Kennedy’s perception was radically altered after the surgery, and this serious, scholarly guy experienced a kind of “nirvana” and spiritual awareness that had never occurred to him before. The best part—he got better and went back to work making Sacramento a better place to live.
Sotiris Kolokotronis is related to the powerful Tsakopoulos family of developers. But where the patriarch, Angelo Tsakopoulos, made his fortune on sprawl, Kolokotronis has turned his attention to the city’s urban core. His investments, like 1801 L Street, have paid off, bringing life to parts of the city that used to be absolutely dead after 5 o’clock. His wife, Matina Kolokotronis, is the president of business operations for the Sacramento Kings.
Call him “Mr. Compassion.” Ryan Landers is one of the original authors of Proposition 215, the ballot measure that legalized medical marijuana in California. He deserves a lot of the credit, or blame, depending on your point of view, for the current medical-marijuana scene. Landers, who has HIV, uses the stuff himself every day and has been a tenacious advocate on behalf of patients. He was also an outspoken opponent of Proposition 19, which would have legalized pot for recreational use. It’s been a messy confusing journey from prohibition toward legalization, but we wouldn’t be where we are without Landers.
Rob Turner and Elyssa Lee
Homegrown Sacramentan (and SN&R alumni) Rob Turner went off to New York and then returned home to do the most unlikely thing—start a magazine called Sactown. Turner and his wife, Elyssa Lee, also an accomplished journalist, understand glossy print and what it can do well. And it doesn’t hurt that Sactown features incredible design and photography. It’s a tough time for a magazine to make a go of it, but Turner and Lee obviously love what they’re doing, and it shows.
Stuart Leavenworth was writing about the troubled Sacramento levies long before Hurricane Katrina focused everyone’s attention on them. He has since risen to the rank of head of The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board. Along the way, Leavenworth took a leave of absence to train as a chef at Oliveto restaurant in Oakland, and to write a food blog about it. Whatever works, Stuart.
This year, Yiyun Li became the third UC Davis professor to win the MacArthur Fellowship, a.k.a. the “genius award,” in recognition of her novel The Vagrants and other fictional stories set in modern China. Li came to the United States in 1996, intending to become an immunologist. Funny how things happen. She was also named as one of The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40,” and one of the best writers of her generation.
South Sac native Terra Lopez is the one local musician most likely to be snatched away from the 916. Her soaring pipes, innate sense of rhythm and refreshing modesty makes for that rare mix of talent, style and humility. Which is partly why her band, Sister Crayon, has captured the ears of local youth culture—not to mention the attention of media outlets up and down the state. And even VH1. Not a bad for a 25-year-old.
Sacramento has its share of gadflies; Heidi McLean specializes in schools. For years, she’s dogged the Sacramento City Unified School District board on issues like Sacramento High School, bad principals, bad manners on the board and how the district spends taxpayer money. One friend said of McLean, “Heidi is a true citizen warrior who really lives by the idea that we should all strive to do the right thing … and demands that those we elect to shepherd our schools do the same.” Word.
Mike McKeever, who hails from cosmopolitan Idaho, is a big reason why Sacramento is considered a model in urban planning circles. As head of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, he steered the Sacramento regional Blueprint, widely seen as a cutting-edge plan to fight sprawl and preserve precious open space and resources over the next 30 years. Whether we’ve got the political will to follow the plan is another question altogether.
Son of former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, Craig McNamara left a life of privilege and influence for UC Davis and an anything but glamorous life as a Winters walnut farmer. Along the way, he helped stop the superconducting super collider from being built in prime Yolo County farmland, hung out with cartoonist R. Crumb, taught inner-city kids about sustainable agriculture and helped his father come to grips with his own controversial legacy.
Where would we be with anti-authoritarian lawyers like Mark Merin? Merin led the fight against Sacramento’s anti-camping ordinance on behalf of Sacramento’s “SafeGround” movement. He challenged controversial, and possibly unconstitutional, anti-gang tactics in West Sacramento. Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones recently acknowledged that it was Merin’s fight against the sheriff’s department that changed the way strip searches are performed in California—protecting many citizens’ civil rights and dignity. Thanks, Mark!
He’s been called a slumlord and a saint. He’s loved by many for his work on behalf of the poor and the homeless, and for continuing to provide space for small and funky businesses when many would rather see downtown become a playground for the rich. Not surprisingly, he’s been something of a thorn in the side to city bureaucrats and downtown power players. Whatever you think of him, Sacramento wouldn’t be the same without Moe Mohanna.
He’s the man who knows everything about rivers in a region that owes its existence and continued survival to its rivers and Delta, UC Davis geology professor Jeffrey Mount. Mount has been a player in trying to solve the problem of the Delta, and not one to candy-coat things. He once told a newspaper reporter that “New Orleans has lost the battle with the inevitable, and we will do the same.”
Kim Mueller traveled a somewhat circuitous path to the federal bench. She was a student organizer fighting for better pesticide laws, who started politics as an aide to Assemblyman Lloyd Connelly and eventually won his old seat on the Sacramento City Council. She gave up that seat—making way for newcomer Darrell Steinberg—to return to law school and a breathtaking rise through Sacramento’s legal community. Mueller was appointed as a U.S. magistrate judge in 2003, and was nominated by President Barack Obama to sit on the influential Eastern District Court—which stretches from the Oregon border to Bakersfield. But Mueller’s appointment—though not considered controversial—is being held up by partisan politics.
Patrick Mulvaney is a New York native who fell in love with the Central Valley. Along the way, Mulvaney got a chemistry degree and an English degree, apprenticed in Europe, then worked for local restaurateur Randy Paragary before striking out on his own. He’s known for his great food, his community-mindedness and his belief in seasonal, local foods.
Possibly the hardest-working man in Sacramento journalism, John Myers is the Capitol correspondent for KQED radio, and is a tough, knowledgeable reporter. Off the air, Myers has quite an array of new media chops. With his Capital Notes blog, podcasts and constant stream of Twitter updates, Myers truly covers the Capitol.
It seems so long ago now, but we’ll never forget how, in 2007, Yolo County Clerk-Recorder Freddie Oakley started issuing a “Certificate of Inequality” to local same-sex couples who wanted to marry. “I issue this Certificate of Inequality to you,” she decreed, “because your choice of marriage partner displeases some people whose displeasure is, apparently, more important than principles of equality.” And that’s just one of the reasons we think Oakley is awesome.
If anyone were to do the math, Sacramento State communication professor Barbara O’Connor may turn out to be the most frequently quoted Sacramentan ever. Until her retirement this fall, O’Connor was the local (and regional and national) media’s favorite expert on topics having to do with media, politics and public policy. No mere quote machine, O’Connor was always generous with her time and advice, for students (she estimated there were nearly 10,000 of them over the years) and reporters alike. Of course, retirement is relative. She showed up in plenty of post-election roundups this fall.
Pronounced “Pah-DILL-uh”—a local shit-stirrer and bounty hunter with a national profile, Leonard Padilla launched the Lorenzo Patino School of Law, as well as the Padilla bail bonds empire. He probably got more votes than K.J., if you count all the times he’s run for mayor. He’s also been a congressional candidate a few times. One day he’ll win.
Randy Paragary belongs in the Sacramento Hall of Fame as a restaurant pioneer and catalyst for downtown development. Other culinary stars have emerged, but many are building on the work Paragary did before.
Much of what Paul Petrovich builds is the kind of project you don’t notice after a while, suburban shopping strips with the same chains. More noticeable are the striking, some say garish, chrome sculptures that have become Petrovich’s signature. But Petrovich has made it a point of pride to do all of his redevelopment projects with no government subsidy. In return, he demands a minimum of government interference. His most ambitious and most contentious project has been redevelopment of the Curtis Park rail yards, which has had the outspoken, sometimes seemingly arrogant, Petrovich at odds with neighbors. Whatever Petrovich’s legacy, he did it his way.
It’s pretty tough to imagine what Sacramento’s music scene would have been without Jerry Perry, a longtime punk-rock promoter—the Cattle Club is still legendary—and publisher of (the now-defunct) Alive & Kicking. Last summer Perry was still kicking, putting on shows in Cesar Chavez Plaza with the Downtown Sacramento Partnership. We’re sure he appreciates the irony, too.
Geoff Petrie, general manager for the Sacramento Kings, was toast of the town when the Kings were wining. Today, Petrie is crafting a “bigger, badder” team and laying the groundwork for a return to the playoffs. Well, they are certainly bad. The former Portland Trailblazer is also (perhaps apocryphally) credited with being the first NBA player to wear Nikes.
Boy genius or mad doctor? Under Gary Pruitt’s direction, The McClatchy Co. bought Knight Ridder, becoming the third largest newspaper chain in the country. There’s been plenty of criticism of that decision since, but Pruitt has held on. When he leaves, it will be as the guy who either destroyed or saved James McClatchy’s empire. Pruitt also makes the list because his paycheck demands it—he’s consistently listed in the Sacramento Business Journal as the highest-paid executive the Sacramento region.
Mark Reichel specializes is in battling overweaning federal prosecutors trying to pin domestic terrorism charges on kids. He defended (unsuccessfully) Auburn’s Eric McDavid in an eco-terrorism case that raised troubling questions about the use of FBI snitches who urge their marks to commit crimes. More recently, he defended one of the alleged conspirators in the so-called Laos coup plot, another case where many think the government did most of the conspiring. Talking to Reichel about his work is to get a peek into the weird and wooly world of domestic terrorism, real and imagined.
Tina Reynolds runs Uptown Studios, a downtown creative design firm. But we know her as the hub of gay political life in Sacramento (and one of the hubs of Sacramento political life generally). She’s also founder of the Sacramento Kings of Drag and Equality Action Now, formed in response to the passage of Prop. 8.
Cruz Reynoso was working in California farm fields by the time he was 12 and was a seasoned community activist by his teens. (Reynoso petitioned the federal government to bring the mail to his SoCal neighborhood of Brea when the post office refused to deliver there.) He was an early ally of Cesar Chavez and an adversary of then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. He then became the first Chicano justice of the California Supreme Court—before being removed (along with Rose Bird) by voters in a purge of liberal justices in the 1970s. Rather than retire, he’s actively fighting against racial profiling and other injustice locally.
Sure, she spends most of her time back East, but she’s adopted Sacramento as a second home, and we’d bet at least a few local educators have their Google alerts set to “Michelle Rhee.” Rhee is of course Mayor Kevin Johnson’s fiancée, the former Washington, D.C., chancellor of schools and one of the stars of the movie Waiting for “Superman.” She recently helped D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty get unelected, a loss at least partly due to her controversial reforms, which included firing hundreds of teachers. She quit that job while it was still hers to quit, and there’s been a lot of speculation that she is Sacto-bound. The Washington Post says she’ll probably run her new nonprofit Students First out of Sacramento. Before that, however, she’ll be working in Florida, on Republican Governor-elect Rick Scott’s education transition team. Not nearly far enough away for some Sacramento teachers.
Kim Stanley Robinson
Our favorite Martian, Kim Stanley Robinson has won himself a whole passel of prizes—including the Hugo and the Nebula for his detailed and meticulously researched near-future science fiction. Robinson is still probably best known for his Red Mars trilogy, which was great fun and great philosophy, and for his less exotic but much scarier triptych on global climate change, which begins with Forty Signs of Rain. His latest is Galileo’s Dream, a time-travel tale about the astronomer and the ages-old battle between science and superstition.
In his 20s, Matt Rodriguez and other skaters fought city officials to make a place for skateboarding in Sacramento. Many years later, the pro skater, musician and dad has grown up. And so has skateboarding, sort of. A fixture at places like 28th and B streets, Rodriguez helps maintain a chill and respectful vibe where skaters of all ages and skill level can learn and improve.
An old friend of Cesar Chavez, a founder of the United Farm Workers and a former state deputy labor commissioner, Al Rojas is there whenever immigrant rights, racial profiling and working conditions for farmworkers are the issue. Sometimes the Man gets irritated with Rojas’ aggressive style, or with his giant hat. Too bad for the Man.
We’re not even sure what the guy looks like. He never returns media calls. It’s all pretty perfect if you’re trying to cultivate an image as a union boss and backroom deal maker. Harry Rotz is business manager for the Plumbers & Pipefitters Union Local 447, which is the go-to group for certain democratic pols and causes. The group is behind the often tacky, sometimes hilarious—depending on whose side you’re on—hit-piece mailers that pop up in Sacramento mailboxes around election time. Plus, he’s got the perfect name for a shadowy union boss.
Ginger Rutland is probably the most recognizable voice on The Sacramento Bee editorial board, where she has served for more than 20 years—covering the courts, transportation, juvenile justice and politics, among many other beats. In many ways it seems she is the editorial voice of the Bee, because of her regular commentaries on Capital Public Radio. Before joining the Bee, Rutland was an Emmy-winning television reporter with KRON and KCRA.
Sacramento is a fairly bike-friendly town. That’s partly due to its flat geography, and partly due to people like Walt Seifert, director of the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates. From teaching cyclists and drivers to share the roads to organizing bike valet parking for big public events, rolling up his sleeves and helping shape transportation planning and funding in the region, Seifert is effective advocacy on two wheels.
He’s not a household name, but we’re fans of Austin Sendek, the UC Davis student who made national news for petitioning the International System of Units to have hella designated as an official measurement, specifically 10 to the 27th power. We can’t think of a better mathematical expression to come from Sac, and we’ll be hella bummed if the ISU denies Sendek’s petition.
Talk about having big shoes to fill, Phil Serna, son of the late mayor Joe Serna, easily took over a seat on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. And as this paper goes to print, he’ll be just a few weeks into his life in public office. In some ways it’s fortunate to come into office fairly quietly, but lots of people will be watching to see what he brings to the board, facing its worst financial (and existential) crisis in decades. Luckily, Serna has a way to blow off steam, playing bass in his band, the Republicrats.
Named best food blog by the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Shaw’s Hunter Angler Gardner Cook is about “real food” as hunted, angled, gardened (and often purchased locally) and cooked by a real Sacramentan. Well, he’s from Orangevale. He calls himself “an omnivore who has solved his dilemma.” Even if you’re not a hunter (or even think of yourself as a “foodie”), entries like “On cooking squirrels” and sections on wild desserts and homemade root beer are fascinating reading.
Twenty-year-old Autumn Sky is suburban Sacramento’s answer to Zooey Deschanel. The perennially kindhearted artist is on the brink of breaking through with her syrupy ballads, poppy rockers and seasoned showmanship. Every city needs an indie-darling chanteuse with a bright future, and Sky’s horizon is vast.
Graham Sobelman is the musical director of California Musical Theatre and curator of a little something he calls Graham-a-rama. The weekly cabaret show was supposed to be a one-off but took on a life of its own when it proved so wildly popular. It’s a mix of music (Sobelman leads a small band on his grand piano) and theater, described on Sobelman’s website as “no rules, no censors and no flash photography.”
Sacramento’s newest poet laureate started writing verse at age 14. He’s got one anthology out, Walt Whitman Orders a Cheeseburger, and supports his art by teaching at Sacramento City College and UC Davis Extension. But before that, he spent nearly three decades working in the family auto-parts business.
Darrell Steinberg is at the height of his political career, and it’s sort of a bittersweet moment. Sweet because he’s worthy of the task of Senate president pro tem; he’s progressive and committed to good government. Bitter because if he had come to power in another, less disastrous time, he could really show what great things government can do. Well, either way, we’re glad he’s on the job.
Muriel Strand, who once described herself as “a mechanical engineer, pagan, massage therapist and activist who was taught early to think through her feelings.” Add to the list mayoral candidate, chicken advocate and air-conditioning skeptic. Sure, Strand only got 2.79 percent of the vote in the 2008 mayoral primary. But her quirky campaign got people talking, and hopefully thinking.
No one has had more of a hand in shaping the downtown Sacramento skyline. To many, David Taylor is an inspiration, a guy who has kept progress moving forward even when times are bad. His signature projects include the Sheraton Grand, the “Ban Roll-On building” and the Esquire IMAX Theatre. Taylor is also criticized for taking more than his share of city money to get his projects done—like his K Street mermaid bar.
City Attorney Eileen Teichert rightly predicted that the mayor would run into legal trouble with his strong-mayor initiative, and she took a lot of heat for it from the mayor’s allies, but she nailed it. She was also dead on when she warned council members early about problems with issuing building permits in the Natomas flood zone and playing games with city utility funds in violation of Proposition 218. Where her predecessor Sam Jackson was arrogant and grumpy, Teichert is cool and collected. She’s not going to jump up and down and seek attention, but when she does speak, city leaders would do well to listen.
As one source put it, “Not a gal you either love or hate. Tina is someone folks seem to hate or respect. And most of the folks that hate her also respect her.” Tina Thomas is one of Sacramento’s most important land-use attorneys and the go-to lawyer for many of Sacramento’s powerful developers. But she was also once the president of the Environmental Council of Sacramento, and is still liable to take up the cause of the underdogs—as when she decided to represent, pro bono, residents in the low-income community of Avondale and Glen Elder opposing a plan to pump natural gas under their neighborhood.
The man just looks like one of the most interesting people in Sacramento—thin and elegant; a little severe; that white, white hair. David Thompson was for years the beloved pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, and an outspoken champion on many social-justice issues. Thompson was mysteriously dismissed by church leaders earlier this year—some thought it was because of his stance against Proposition 8 and in favor of gay marriage. Thompson continues on as president of the Sacramento Interfaith Service Bureau and has continued his ministry with a new project called The Experience, which meets at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and seeks “fully inclusive ecumenical and interfaith worship.”
For more than 25 years, Tom Tolley has been the main man at the Sacramento Room in the Sacramento Central Library. Tolley helped start the collection back in 1995, collecting books and ephemera from local bookstores. The collection is valuable for anyone, from serious historians to students to journalists, trying to answer a Sacramento history question. But it’s Tolley and his co-workers, knowledgeable, curious and friendly, who really make the History Room special.
“Jerry Brown is going to be the next governor of California.” That was the prediction made to SN&R, in January of 2008, by David Townsend, founder of the political consulting outfit Townsend Raimundo Besler & Usher. He also predicted that two-term Mayor Heather Fargo wouldn’t face a serious challenger for re-election. Then he promptly went out and recruited Kevin Johnson. Well played, Mr. Townsend.
A true outsider artist, Steve Vanoni is one of the most recognizable artists in Sacramento and the creative force behind the influential but now-defunct Gallery Horse Cow. His curriculum vitae also includes building jets that shoot stuffed animals at people; founding the Screaming Pygmy Orchestra; and helping establish Second Saturday, back when it was centered on North Sac. Vanoni is one of the serious mutations in Sacto’s arts and cultural DNA, one that’s changed things forever.
Gus Vina is Sacramento’s interim city manager, and he’s made it known he wants the job. An 11-year veteran at City Hall, he’s probably got the savvy and the survival skills needed to get himself put in charge of the city—with its millions in red ink and a future that’s likely to be somewhat austere. We just wonder why he’d want to.
“What makes a great city is great neighborhoods, and what makes a great neighborhood is great main streets, with all kinds of different uses, where people of all different walks of life choose to go to shop, live and work.” So says Sacramento architect Ron Vrilakas, something worth remembering in a town that agonizes over whether it’s a “world class” city. Vrilakas grew up in West Sacramento before going off to study in Denver, Boston and Copenhagen, Denmark. Back home, he made a big splash with the Zócalo restaurant (a converted auto dealership), the East End Lofts and Midtown’s signature mixed-use project at 1801 L Street. Looking forward, Vrilakas has been a champion of developing Sacramento’s downtown alleys.
When Mike Wiley took over as head of Sacramento Regional Transit in 2007, he couldn’t have known just how bad things were quickly going to get. Recession, falling tax revenue and state budget cuts have left us with a dramatically shrinking public transit system. But Wiley persists with an optimistic insistence that we can still have a system that provides full access and full mobility for all.
The NAACP has been around for 100 years, 85 years in Sacramento. But its work is still just as important as ever. Perhaps that’s why, under the leadership of president Betty Williams, the Sacramento chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Color People grew dramatically in the last couple of years. Most recently, Williams and her group have been organizing around frustrations among African-American parents and students with the newly formed Twin Rivers Unified School District.
Historian, artist and activist Steve Yee has been working for years to establish a new cultural center in the downtown rail yards recognizing the historic place called Yee Fow, or the Second City. Yee Fow was Sacramento’s Chinese settlement, but was barely tolerated by white Sacramento. In fact, the story goes, Sacramento firefighters let Yee Fow burn to the ground on more than one occasion. Yee considers that part of the rail yards to be ancestral land for Chinese-Americans and has been working for years to establish a museum and cultural center there.
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