Sacramento, Calif.- by Robert J Hansen
Sacramento County District 2 Supervisor Patrick Kennedy is running for his third term as supervisor.
In the last election, Kennedy ran unopposed but has a challenger, Duke Cooney this time around.
Supervisor Kennedy sat down with the reporter to talk about running for reelection, the culture of the Sheriff’s office and the homeless crisis around the County in an in depth conversation about the issues that concern everyone in the County of Sacramento
The interview was edited for clarity and occurred on Wednesday, February 9, 2022.
Q: Why are you running for a third term for Sacramento County District 2 Supervisor? What have you yet to accomplish that you’d like to with another term?
A: The thing about this job and Supervisor Notolli would probably tell you that you could run for six or seven terms and there would still be things that you need to accomplish. Government acts slowly on every level and the County is no different. I do believe that the last seven and half years or so have taught me a lot and that coupled with my experience on the school board, I’ve got 30 years experience in public service, but I think I’m hitting my stride.
There are some things I’d like to see come to fruition. The climate action plan is something that’s going to be an ongoing thing, It’s not something the Board is going to adopt and then just go away. I’d like to be on the board providing what I think is sound judgment on how that continues to evolve.
A little over a year ago I introduced an alternative for 911 for those suffering from mental health crises. When someone makes a call suffering from a mental health crisis, it doesn’t mean someone with a gun and a badge are the best people to respond to those calls.
We expect that to be online in July but again it’s going to need continual work to make sure it’s serving the needs of the community.
One of my focuses has been, for the last seven years, to work on mental health providers and work with our community providers to better provide that service. We’ve made great strides but I want to continue to do more.
The homeless situation is something that we have not gotten our arms around yet but I will tell you this, and I would have never said this three years ago, I believe there is light at the end of that tunnel. Particularly when we get out of COVID which only exacerbated the problem. The City and County are working together better than they ever have. I’m on the two-by-two with Councilmember Schenirer, the Mayor and Supervisor Desmond and we’re making some real progress at the City and County working together. Two projects that I finally got approval on that I’ve been working on ever since I’ve been a Supervisor. They’re large-scale affordable housing projects in District 2 I’m extremely proud of and those will soon be breaking ground.
I want to use my experience in that area to make sure that we’re getting those online as quickly as we can because even when we have homeless people in a place that is more acceptable than what you see today, we still have a housing crisis.
Then there is something as esoteric as the culture change that’s needed in the County. This County needs real culture change at all levels and I think bringing in Ann Edwards as the new CEO is a fantastic step in the right direction.
These are issues that are important to the people I represent and I’m proud of my record.
Q: How do you feel about having an opponent in the election this time around?
A: Democracy is a beautiful thing. If any one of my constituents would like to run against me, clearly they have that right and I support them to have that right.
City facing a lawsuit from District Attorney & Sheriff over Howe and Fair Oaks encampment
Q: Some in the community are growing tired of the lawsuits regarding homelessness so what is your position regarding the situation at Howe and Fair Oaks with the City, District Attorney, and the Sheriff?
A: It's a terrible situation going on there right now, it's a dangerous situation. There are assaults, there's drug dealing, there's the destruction of public property and it's on city property so we don't have a lot of jurisdiction there. The sheriff doesn’t have any jurisdiction but the district attorney could prosecute. It's a Sac PD issue but that’s not to say we're not looking to help look for a solution. Recently we talked about how we can get Regional Transit to provide transportation to get them to the campground once the City gets their 102 acres ready. Once we have alternatives we can take them, we can move them off that property. The City’s and the County’s opinions don't exactly line up when it comes to the Boise decision.
Q: But the crime you mentioned, if there was a crime there like you say, I think the Sheriff or the police there would make those arrests for the most part?
A: I have been told by a member of the sac PD that unless the Mayor and majority of the Council give them direct instruction to do something like that, they won’t do it.
Q: Well they’ve done it before?
A: I’ll give you an example of something that happened in my district on Stockton Boulevard. We had a situation on Stockton Boulevard where we had porta-potties delivered, I had a dumpster delivered, we sent out social workers and people with vouchers and the situation just kept degenerating. The businesses around were being targeted and theft was happening, just as importantly, the people in the encampment shouldn’t be living in that type of situation. Again there were assaults, drug deals, rapes.
Q: Part of the issue is that criminals are among the homeless more so than homeless people are criminals.
A: Sure. We can’t criminalize homelessness at the same time we can’t stand back and let lawlessness occur.
Q: But do you think the Sheriff and the district attorney are going about this situation in the right way?
A: I can’t dump on the Sheriff because it’s not in his jurisdiction. You can’t blame him for what’s going on at that corner. We looked at doing a temporary tiny home project where we could relocate them from that property and put them in a more secure area. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.
Q: A significant portion of the community is demanding the decriminalization of behavioral health crises and excluding law enforcement from those situations. Do you support that idea?
A: I’ve been a part of those discussions. I will say that my position is a little more moderate than others. I’ve been on a ride-along with deputies and what happens is the officer makes sure the situation is safe and then they bring in the clinicians to do their work. Now the 911 alternative goes a bit farther and in all circumstances, you don't have a deputy you would have dispatch assess the situation and send out mental health professionals. But, if I have somebody who is wielding a weapon, I’m sorry but that’s going to require a law enforcement response. The key is to get that law enforcement response to have the lowest profile possible but to say that law enforcement is going to be completely out of answers to any of these calls is just not realistic.
Q: If there is a weapon I can understand that but then again there was Stephon Clark who didn’t have a weapon?
A: Remember people have been using 911 since 1968 so it’s embedded in our culture. If somebody calls 911 because their neighbor or family member is having a mental health crisis, we have to have law enforcement involved to the degree so they can do a handoff to 899 or whoever it’s going to be. We’re still working that out because the State is not sure what it's doing. There has to be training in the 911 centers to determine when you pass that on to the alternative. It’s to minimize law enforcement participation in these situations as much as possible.
Q: Do you have plans to hold Scott Jones accountable for the disregard for detainees, particularly what happened with another inmate dieing in the Main Jail a few days ago?
A: The thing about the consent decree is that the litigants were right.We should have more appropriate options available to us and that’s one of the reasons we looked at adding on to the downtown jail. While a lot of advocates accused us of growing the jail to put more inmates in there, it was never intended to add one more inmate.But there is no question that we were not and are not serving that population in the jail or RCCC the way that we should. We are going to get there but I think it takes more capital projects. It became clear to us that we need to exhaust everything from a policy and procedural standpoint and I don’t think we’re anywhere close to doing that. I think there are things we could do that would not be nearly as costly. We did get more out of cell time which is particularly important for those with mental health issues. Being locked in a cell all day, if you didn’t have mental health issues before, you will. We still need to improve programs. I think it’s going to be a combination of programs and resources, as well as capital improvements.
Q: What if the county worked toward promoting more alternatives to incarceration?
A: There’s no question about that particularly when you’re talking about mental health. We also have the alternative court system, even the judiciary who aren’t typically the most liberal people, they wholeheartedly endorse our veterans court, our mental health court, our drug court. I think the SURE center is going to provide opportunities. The key is to identify why the person is behaving that way and keep them from them ever being booked into jail. Because once you are booked into jail, they're part of the system which often deteriorates their situation.
Q: How much impact will a new sheriff have, whoever it is, on changing the culture in the Sheriff’s office?
A: Until there's a change at the top, I don't see that there's going to be a great deal of culture change. I have spoken with both candidates (Barnes and Copper) and found that both candidates believe that to be the case. Both have told me that they intend to be change agents.
Q: How is the Climate Change Declaration coming along and are there any roadblocks you foresee?
A: I wouldn’t say roadblock, it’s up to the five of us to make sure there aren’t any but that’s not to say it’s not a heavy lift. It’s going to be a lot of work, some of these things sound like they’re easy fixes but they’re actually very complex issues like electrification. Existing commercial, new commercial, existing residential, new residential, all have to be treated differently and then you have to take equity in mind. If someone wants to change out their water heater, and they're barely able to make the rent or their house payment, are we going to tell them, ‘well, you need to upgrade your electrical panel?’ So they are very complex issues. That's why one of the things I recommended was to have this emergency task force. A broad base coalition to help Our staff through the implementation of the climate action plan. The climate action plan is going to face criticism from some by not going far enough and others from going too far, that's why I consider it a living document. We approved thirteen for the task force. Half of which will represent environmental justice communities and the other half will be industry related and there will be one youth member because climate change doesn’t mean more to any group than it does the youth.
Q: How come the county can’t just say make more charging stations?
A: That’s all part of the plan. Electric vehicle charging stations are all part of it and electrification of our own fleet. We have one of the largest fleets in the county. That’s a huge carbon footprint. You’re going to see all of those things in the plan. We have one of the fastest growing electric school bus fleets in the nation, so we are doing some good stuff.