Voting on a response

Councilman Eric Guerra led the charge to protect undocumented families, but challenger Waverly Hampton III argues he has the bigger ideas on housing crisis

District 6 Councilman Eric Guerra.

District 6 Councilman Eric Guerra.

Photo courtesy of Eric Guerra

In the Sacramento City Council race in District 6, the intensity of the city’s housing and homelessness crisis is providing the drama as incumbent Eric Guerra squares off against newcomer Waverly Hampton III.

Hampton, a 24-year-old Sacramento State University student, moved to the capital city from the Inland Empire to pursue a degree in electrical engineering.

Hampton says the values of public service and hard work were drilled into him at an early age, by a single mom who served in the U.S. Navy before putting herself through college to join the Army Corps of Engineers. She later married a civil rights attorney and director of the Los Angeles branch of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “I’ve had some really good examples,” Hampton said.

Hampton worked for a time as an EMT in Southern California before attending Marion Military Institute in Alabama and moving to Sacramento last August to attend Sacramento State. He says he plans to make a life for himself in Sacramento.

Hampton is focusing his campaign on issues such as his fellow college students’ inability to afford local rents, as well as the sheer scope of the homeless crisis.

“I hate to see people suffering,” Hampton said. “I got this sense, when I was looking around my district, and in my neighborhood, and speaking to people in my generation, that there’s this response [to homelessness] that this is just the way it is.”

One of Hampton’s main proposals is a special 1% tax on Sacramento businesses with $1 million or more in annual gross revenues, and designating that money to a community service fund that could only be used to build public housing, repair infrastructure or provide funding for local start-up businesses. He also wants to compel developers to build projects with more unit density, while working with nonprofits and using city-owned land for a major ’tiny houses’ initiative in response to homelessness.

Challenger Waverly Hampton III.

photo by Maria Ratinova

Hampton faces an uphill battle, as do two other candidates on the ballot: Eric Frame, who ran for state Senate in 2018 as an independent, and Kevin Rooney, a plumbing contractor.

Hampton is not soliciting donations, instead focusing on connecting with voters at community meetings and at their doorsteps. “I tell people I’m not asking for their money, I’m asking for their vote,” he said.

But the five-year incumbent Hampton is up against is asking for donations, and doing well with it. Election filings show Guerra has raised more than $59,000.

Guerra agrees that homelessness is at a crisis level. The latest point-in-time count, released in July, showed the number of people on the streets of Sacramento County rose by 19% over the last two years. The snapshot count found 5,570 unhoused people during a two-day window.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg challenged every council member to find a location for a temporary shelter within their district. Guerra told SN&R that challenge has been especially complicated for him.

“After we did an audit of our surplus land, we found we don’t have any available public land in District 6,” Guerra said, adding that there are a host of water and sewer issues with creating a shelter in the area’s empty warehouses. “So, for shelters, we’ve got to be creative.”

Guerra says he’s striving for a multi-faceted approach to homelessness. That includes working with state Sen. Richard Pan on drafting Senate Bill 481, which changed state codes in 2018 to allow the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency to convert the blighted, abandoned site of San Juan Motel along Stockton Boulevard into an affordable housing project. Guerra says he’s also been working with Habitat for Humanity on converting former illegal marijuana grow houses in his district into livable homes for low-income earners. Finally, Guerra has steered an additional $500,000 to Saint John’s Program for Real Change and City of Refuge, nonprofits that have existing shelters. He’s now coordinating with the Power Inn Alliance on planning a safe parking lot for families to sleep in within his district.

Guerra has been working on other fronts, too. He is chairman of the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District, where he’s pushed for more resources to improve public health in South Sacramento. He also serves on the city’s library authority and helped expand hours and a lunch program at the Colonial Heights Library.

But Guerra says his proudest accomplishment was leading the city’s charge against the Trump administration’s deportation policies in 2016, which culminated in the council passing protections for undocumented families in danger of being separated by ICE.

“The people who are living in our neighborhoods, going to our schools and working in our businesses, they’re doing the same things every American is doing,” said Guerra, from an immigrant family himself. “When those families started being targeted, suddenly people weren’t showing up to work, and kids weren’t attending school. That was really destructive.”