Category Archives: Essays

Features and essays

Strong Mayor

An essay by Pat Lynch

Voting time again. This is generally a ho-hum election because there’s no big sexy neck-and-neck contest to rivet us. Jerry Brown will likely sail through and, unlike Scotland, the wannabe separatist counties in California haven’t managed to get their rural independence cravings on the ballot. But we do have our local propositions.

Prominent among them is Measure L, the Strong Mayor proposal. Many oppose the Strong Mayor scheme because, apparently, they have read American urban history. They recall Strong Mayor (“Boss”) Daley who ran the infamously crooked Chicago political machine. Then there’s Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall who orchestrated the high-functioning New York operation that cranked out batches of strong mayors, patronage and graft. Tweed biographer Kenneth Ackerman asserts, “the Tweed ring at its height was an engineering marvel, strong and solid, strategically deployed to control key power points: the courts, the legislature, the treasury and the ballot box. Its frauds had a grandeur of scale…money laundering, profit sharing and organization.” In sum, the Tweed era was a heyday for expansion, and insiders—developers especially– got rich and richer.

The power grab excesses of Strong Mayors are pretty much legendary, that is, if one takes the time to research. Our current mayor wants to be one of the strong ones. He spent most of his last State of the City speech orating about the King Arena. He pushed through a publicly subsidized arena even though Sacramentans twice voted down this subsidy. Bankrolled by developers, his priorities are clear. His champions are rich. What chance do mere pipsqueak citizens have against this array of power and money?

Take heart. Last year in Columbia, South Carolina, citizens opposed a Goliath Strong-Mayor coalition made up of the Governor (Nikki Haley), a former governor, the Chamber of Commerce, the mayor of Charleston, and the State newspaper editorial board. “Never doubt the power of a small group of citizens coming together and working together,” said Kit Smith, one of the Davids who slew the giant. Said another, in defense of the City Manager-Council form of government, “If it’s not broken, don’t break it.”

Portland is so charming and successful a city that a TV series presently satirizes its more far-out residents.  You know a city has arrived when Hollywood acknowledges and exploits it. Portland thrives. It retains a Mayor-City Manager-City Council form of government. Why? Because people there believe that “shared leadership is better than centralized power.” Portland also employs its City Council as a “governing board that focuses on coherent policymaking and oversight of administrative performance.” Sounds like checks and balances to me. Simply, shared power is bound to be more representative, more democratic.

I don’t think we should pass a Strong Mayor ordinance in Sacramento. We need to pass a Clean Vote ordinance that keeps big money out of our city politics so we don’t become a cesspit of slippery, greed-based deal-making, nepotism, and patronage like our State Legislature (where mandatory ethics training is now instituted–too little, too late, in my view). No, we don’t need a strong mayor. But how about a Smart Mayor ordinance?

This is not to say that our mayor isn’t smart, but when the bulk of the State of the City speech goes to sports arena accomplishments, that’s simply not smart enough. The Smart Mayor ordinance will give the mayor his council vote and the right to use his office to advance worthy policy. He can promote the Kings all he wants. He can even wear their purple suits to meetings. But he will be required to work with the council to repair the parks and preserve the tree-lined neighborhoods (he lives in one) that make us, like Portland, a destination. He will be required to use his bully pulpit to hold developers to much, much higher environmental standards. He will have to put poverty, air quality and crime on the front burner and declaim relentlessly on these issues to TV and Bee reporters. The mayor has, because of office, an automatic public forum. That is power. To use that power for good is virtue. Maybe that’s the law we need, a Virtuous Mayor Ordinance.

Smart, virtuous politicians doing the right thing, uninfluenced by big donors? Not a chance, you say. Maybe. But it will be our fault if we don’t pay attention and thwart as many bad schemes as we can. We can start with rejecting Measure L. I know, we voted Strong Mayor down before. But it’s back. Think of voting it down again the way you think about your flu shot: something healthy you keep having to do. The flu comes back every year too. But we don’t have to catch it.


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East Sacramento Knob and Tube Wiring

This post is courtesy of Nathan Sherman, long time resident and East Sac real estate specialist. Enjoy a peek at our past.

Knob and Tube Wiring and Appliances

I sold a neighbor a house that I once lived in when I first moved back to California. It is a great older home in East Sac, on one of the friendliest blocks you could ever want.

The lender called me with the concern from the insurance company that the house still has knob and tube wiring. The lenders concern was that modern appliances shouldn’t be run on knob and tube wiring and they wanted to know if the whole house is knob and tube.

I looked at the inspection report and the pictures of the electrical panel all opened up by the inspector. Sure enough, there is plenty of new wiring connectors in there. Looking at the pictures in the crawl space there is a mix of knob and tube as well as new wiring. When I asked my favorite home inspector what he remembered of this job from two weeks ago and if the wiring was updated for the appliances, he made a comment about the fact that most appliances weren’t around when knob and tube wiring was around.

This got me thinking and I did a bit of digging on the internet. Apparently knob and tube wiring was used from the 1880s through the early 1940s.

The next search turned up that the first hand powered dishwasher was invented in 1887 but the first domestic dishwasher didn’t come about until 1926 and they didn’t gain main stream use until the 1950s.

The first clothes washing machine goes back to 1752 and the first electric one was advertised in 1904. Demand for the electric washing machine really started picking up in the 1940s and by the 50s they were very popular.

Electric stoves were first patented in 1892 but were just a novelty until after the 1930s since electricity prices were so high and other fuel was more affordable.

While there is some overlap of the use of knob and tube wiring and some of our main electrical appliance, the majority of American homes probably never had knob and tube wiring run to these appliances.

What did I learn from this hour long trip down the historical rabbit hole of wiring and appliance? That I’m very lucky to have been born when I was and to have always lived with these great luxuries! Sure, when I was a kid we didn’t have cell phones and console games were things like Pong and Tang. Kids these days have no idea how good they have it, but then again, neither did I when I was their age (but I didn’t have the internet to look up how good I had it).

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