What's up, 2013 grinches?!

SN&R's annual Grinches of the Year awards for the city's top scrooges and scoundrels

Garden of Innocence National solicits donations to bury children whose bodies were reportedly abandoned by their parents. In Sacramento, however, the organization’s elaborate funerals are for fetal miscarriages and stillborns that aren’t considered abandoned; the funeral services are conducted without the parents’ knowledge or consent.

Garden of Innocence National solicits donations to bury children whose bodies were reportedly abandoned by their parents. In Sacramento, however, the organization’s elaborate funerals are for fetal miscarriages and stillborns that aren’t considered abandoned; the funeral services are conducted without the parents’ knowledge or consent.

illustration by jason crosby

Time for SN&R’s annual roundup of the local rogues and rascals who helped make Sacramento a little less cheery this year. Greed and power-tripping were big themes again in 2013. Then there’s some sick stuff we’re not sure how to explain. Anyway, here’s something for your stocking, grinches. Stuff it.

Sacramento's music police

Sacramento can be an awfully top-down kind of town, and nothing quite captures this nasty little authoritarian streak like the city’s ban on buskers and street musicians. What other municipality would throw hundreds of millions of dollars at projects to “revitalize” downtown, then send the cops to shut down any actual signs of life? The prohibition on street performers has been around for years, but it makes the papers from time to time. There was the crackdown in Old Sacramento this year. A few years back, the police and Downtown Sacramento Partnership harassed a little guerrilla music project called “Downtown Sound” out of existence. Not sure who made the DSP the city’s music police, but the organization often gets quoted in stories complaining about how hard it is to do business with some plebe blowing his horn outside. Boohoo. One day, a bunch of city council members will take a taxpayer-funded fact-finding trip to some ostensibly more world-class town, and someone from the Urban Land Institute will point out the authentic urban street-musician scene there, and those city council members will all come back and start some sort of public-private partnership to promote an authentic urban street-music scene here. And it will suck. Until then, rock on, outlaw buskers.

Seattle billionaire Chris Hansen joined the elite ranks of Sacramento grinches by secretly—and illegally—dumping $100,000 into a ballot campaign that aimed to deflate the plan for a new Sacramento Kings arena.

illustration by jason crosby

Billionaire bros club

When Chris Hansen tried to steal the Sacramento Kings away to Seattle, it was nothing personal, just business. The grinchy thing, though, was when he secretly and illegally pumped $100,000 into the ballot campaign by Sacramento Taxpayers Opposed to Pork to put the new Kings arena subsidy to a public vote.

Not helping. Billionaires buying ballot access are bad enough. But Hansen’s maneuver also set off a bro-swarm of phony outrage about the sanctity of Sacramento elections—from people in Antelope, Citrus Heights and the Arden neighborhood. Hell, the opinion writers at The Sacramento Bee are still bitching about it. And while the folks at pro-arena groups The4000 or DowntownArena.org act all indignant about Hansen’s meddling, they know it was a godsend for them. That way, they can talk about him instead of about whether the arena is really a good deal for local taxpayers.

Cortez Quinn, a Twin Rivers Unified School District board member, didn’t report thousands in loans and gifts given to him by Sherilene Chycoski, a school-district employee with whom he had a romantic relationship. That got him into a heap of trouble—and earned him a spot on SN&R’s annual grinch list.

illustration by jason crosby

The slicker picker-upper

That Cortez Quinn, such a scamp. According to court documents filed in November by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office, the Twin Rivers Unified School District board member didn’t report $55,000 in loans and gifts given to him by Sherilene Chycoski, a school-district employee with whom he had romantic relationship. That’s illegal. Quinn allegedly used the money to save a Vallejo property from foreclosure and to repair his BMW, in addition to other expenses. The California Fair Political Practices Commission fined Quinn $14,000 back in 2010 for not reporting the dough. (That was when he was still chief of staff to Assemblyman Roger Dickinson.) Quinn, who owes child-support payments to a woman in Yolo County, may have also attempted to fudge a paternity test to avoid making payments to Chycoski for a child she had last year. The evidence for that claim came from a damp paper towel Quinn used and tossed while taking a bathroom break during a school-board meeting. The paper was fished out of a trash can by a DA investigator. Ew.

Unconventionally greedy convention center

Can a building be a grinch? Sure, if it’s the Sacramento Convention Center. As SN&R reported in the fall, Sacramento’s downtown Death Star gobbles up 80 percent of the city’s hotel tax, way out of line with the practice in other cities. Other towns use their hotel taxes to pay for core services like cops and swimming pools. Remember those? Rather than put the Convention Center on a diet, the plan is to use more tax money to expand it. What’s the point of putting a big dumb box in the middle of your city if it’s not for making money? Decoration?

You're off the case, Scully

Say what you will about lame-duck District Attorney Jan Scully, but she doesn’t lack for boldness. After getting called out by the Sacramento County Grand Jury earlier this year, Scully pretended to reinstate her office’s “independent” reviews of officer-involved shootings. But that was just some clever PR, since the office is continuing the same hands-off approach it’s employed since July 2011, when Scully pulled the reviews to protest budget reductions county supervisors made to her department (and basically every other agency). Notably, 2012 saw a sharp increase in cops discharging their firearms, with 13 officer-involved shootings in the sheriff’s department alone.

To be fair, it’s not like the DA’s office provided that much oversight even before the cuts. In more than 30 years of supposed scrutiny, Scully’s grinchy office took issue with only two law-enforcement shootings. Don’t you feel safe?

Big box, bad logic

Once, the city had a rule: If a big-box store like Wal-Mart wanted to move into a neighborhood, it had to produce an economic-impact report detailing the effect the new megastore would have on local businesses. Perfectly reasonable thing to want to know, since small business is what puts food on Sacramento’s table and presents under its tree.

But developers who want to turn the undeveloped bit of south Sacramento into any-mall USA said the big-box ordinance is bad for business, and it had to go. Not because the rules were too expensive—the economic-impact analysis costs were pretty minor as a portion of the fees needed to site a new store. Retailers and developers just don’t want people talking about wages and benefits and “category killing” when its time to get their project approved.

Some council members vote how the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce tells them to, we get it. And Mayor Kevin Johnson and Councilman Jay Schenirer took an awful lot of Wal-Mart dough in recent years. But Councilman Steve Cohn actually gets the Grinchy here, for asking some pretty good questions that showed it really didn’t make sense to scrap the big-box rules, then voting to scrap them anyway.

More ghoul than grinch

Garden of Innocence National bowled over Sacramentans this fall thanks to heart-tugging images of child-sized coffins stacked in solemn rows. But no one checked the fine print. Garden of Innocence rakes in donations by saying it buries children who died and whose bodies were abandoned by their parents. But here in Sacramento, at least—where the nonprofit arrived in September on a wave of glowing, superficial press—that turned out to be bunk. Through an agreement with the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office, the charity actually conducted extravagant funeral rites for fetal miscarriages and stillborns collected from hospitals—(re)naming the fetuses, writing poems about them and burying their cremains with Beanie Babies-type toys. The organization also kept calling the fetuses “abandoned children.” Following SN&R’s coverage, the coroner’s office amended its contract with Garden of Innocence’s Sierra chapter and no longer releases miscarried fetuses to the group. Merry Christmas.

Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jonathan P. Raymond and his wrecking crew have done a bad, bad number on the board of education.

illustration by jason crosby

Sac city's wrecking crew

What’s left to say about Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent Jonathan P. Raymond and his wrecking crew on the board of education: Jeff Cuneo, Jay Hansen, Patrick Kennedy and Darrel Woo?

Sneaky. Anti-democratic. Self-serving. These men definitely have a future in politics. Even now, the school district is concealing public records related to the school closures they rammed through earlier this year. Raymond won’t be around for another Christmas in Sacramento. Having had his fun with a real urban school district, he’s headed back to his Massachusetts home. Kennedy is being rewarded with what looks like a clear shot at a county supervisor seat. The other guys? Stink. Stank. Stunk.

Monkey-wrenching for developers

Joshua Wood of the Region Builders group had his hands in just about everything sleazy in local politics this year. He attacked the Sacramento Area Council of Governments for speaking up against sprawl. He endlessly talked up “$7 billion” in new economic activity from a new Kings arena, even though he knew the number was phony. He tried to monkey-wrench the Kings arena ballot effort, getting people from outside of Sacramento to fill out signature-withdrawal forms—thus bogging down the signature count and making the whole process more expensive and confusing. If you can’t beat ’em, cheat ’em.

Bad cop, bad cop

We sure hope there aren’t any more like deputy Donald Black in the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. Black was arrested in September on suspicion of child molestation; he figured now was as a good a time as any to retire. He leaves the department having racked up a jaw-dropping $2 million in settlements for lawsuits where he was accused of excessive force—including tossing a flash-bang grenade into an inmate’s cell, letting a K-9 dog maul a 19-year-old, and aiming and firing an unloaded pellet gun at a man during a traffic stop. Black edges UC Davis’ Lt. John Pike off the naughty list this year, though Pike, the infamous pepper-spray cop of college students, was awarded $33,350 in October for the wounds his psyche suffered after unloading a family-size canister of pepper spray into the faces of several peaceful protestors on campus in 2011. That one still stings.