Darrell Steinberg's Regionalism Part I - What is old is new again

Darrell Steinberg, circa 1992. |  If you were to look at the bookends, as they stand today, of Darrell Steinberg's political career, y...

Darrell Steinberg, circa 1992. | 

If you were to look at the bookends, as they stand today, of Darrell Steinberg's political career, you would see his current position as Sacramento mayor as the current end. The start was as a Sacramento City Council member.

In between, Steinberg was elected to the California Assembly and Senate. It was in these legislative bodies that Steinberg made his name. As the Democratic Senate President pro-Tem, Steinberg was part of the crucial budget negotiations in 2009 with former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. For his role in negotiating the budget amidst the Great Recession, Steinberg was honored with a Kennedy Presidential Library 2010 Profile in Courage award.

During his six-year Assembly tenure, starting after his 1998 election, Steinberg introduced noteworthy legislation. Among them was Assembly Bill 680.

Its 2001 introduction was headline-grabbing news. Editorial pages either praised or punked Steinberg's groundbreaking idea.

AB 680, the so-called Sacramento Regional Smart Growth Act, which passed the Assembly in early 2002 but ultimately stalled, would have shared tax revenue in the six-county Sacramento region, the same jurisdiction as the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. Equal measures of sales tax revenue would have gone to a regional council, one-third to the place where the sale took place, and another third to the origin city if they met affordable housing goals.

At the time of its January 2002 passage, the Associated Press reported, "Backers believe the measure will combat widespread problems of air pollution, traffic, and expensive housing. Opponents view the bill as an assault on city treasuries."

Assembly Democrats supported the bill, while Republicans, many representing suburban and rural districts, were opposed. The late former Republican Assemblymember Dave Cox of Fair Oaks told the Associated Press, "This is a bill that literally wipes out local control."

Although no record could be located about the city of Elk Grove's reaction to the legislation, long-time observers would agree there would be open hostility to Steinberg's regionalism. In the early years of cityhood, the Elk Grove City Council had outright hostility to any regional cooperation and even feuded with the Cosumnes Community Services District.

Reflecting that hostility, in a December 2021 story, the Sacramento News and Review reported the late Roy Herburger, publisher of the Elk Grove Citizen, expressed condescension toward the idea. The SN & R reported that Herburger "told Steinberg at a recent press conference that AB 680 was 'socialist,' and said the bill basically amounted to a money grab by poorer communities. 'Mr. Steinberg is doing a good job of looking after his constituents,' said Herburger, noting that Steinberg is a former Sacramento City Councilmember who now represents the city in the Assembly."

Even though the bill was limited to the Sacramento region, municipalities feared it could be applied statewide. In an analysis of the bill, the city of Pasadena said, "AB 680 sets a bad precedent and should be opposed."

Locally, a Sacramento Bee editorial (see below) offered qualified support for Steinberg's proposal. The editorial quoted Steinberg, who, in a tone of cooperation, said, "I'm committed to a process that brings everyone to the table."

Interestingly, the clip is dated 02/02/02, Ground Hogs Day. As we will explore in Darrell Steinberg's Regionalism Part II, are we about to enter Steinberg’s Ground Hogs Day loop?

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