Today, Insight is airing conversations with three candidates for Sacramento’s District 8 City Council seat. District 8 is made up of the South Sacramento communities of Meadowview, Parkway, North Laguna Creek and Jacinto Creek. These candidates are running to replace retiring Council Member Larry Carr, who has represented the district since 2014.
Les Simmons is one of the candidates running for the seat. Here are some highlights from his conversation with Beth Ruyak.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
How do you describe District 8 to someone who might only know Sacramento?
It's really large, it's really diverse. It's really culturally rich. When you look at the demographics in Sacramento District 8, South Sacramento has a large part of the cultural, rich heritage within Sacramento. So you have a large group of my Latino brothers and sisters, and you have the [Asial Pacific Islander] community, which is pretty large as well. Then the African American community, and then the rest of the community are there as well. You have some of everybody in District 8 and it's a beautiful place to live.
When we talked to voters in the district, most of the comments were about homelessness. What do you think you can do as a city council member?
I've canvased in my campaign the district all the way through from North Laguna to Parkway to the Meadowview area. And that is one of the number one issues that people really care about, in a way that's not saying we shouldn't deal with this, but in a way, saying we have to deal with this in a very humane way. I found myself months ago really as a leader, working to offer solutions to the shelters in District 8, one of the only candidates that was found in that space really offering solutions and driving a set of values and how we treat homelessness.
I was there through the whole, what do we do in Meadowview? And I asked the question of, if a shelter is not in Meadowview, then where is a location for a shelter? Because I strongly believe we not only have a moral obligation to use our resources, but to use every resource out there. Through Black Child Legacy Campaign, we've already worked to house, just in the last couple of months, over 42 individuals that were homeless and really get them some support and some affordable housing. In connecting with our county partners, they have a homeless navigator to do some scattered placement. Those are vital things that have to continue to happen when we talk about addressing homelessness. Find out what's currently being done, support that and then think of solutions to really drive those that need that support and bring that support to them.
How much has Meadowview moved following the Stephon Clark shooting, and in what ways?
Well, as you know, I was deeply involved in helping to broker peace during the Stephon Clark shooting. I really just continue to support the Clark family and their process of healing, their process even of advocacy. Next month, they celebrate Stephon Clark's birthday in March, and I'm definitely supporting them in their efforts.
The community has asked a question, and I was in every one of those actions and community gatherings, and the question was: Where are our community centers? Where are our resource centers? Where are our libraries? Where is the opportunity? So we're at a place of opportunity, but it does need targeted efforts to drive that opportunity. Measure U is a big part of that. Now we have to drive that economic engine to where we create a space where all boats float.
How do you view the relationship between law enforcement and diverse communities?
When we talk about community and police relationships, I think there were some things that did happen that is a direct result of Stephon Clark's death. When you talk about AB 392, and the use of force policy that has been passed — and I was a big part of that alongside a lot of other great advocate leaders, including Stevante Clark — I think we're better as a state. Now our city did lean forward a little bit before that and put a citywide charter to have a use of force policy. But when we talk about opportunity, when we talk about economic development, I think those things are still developing.
Some voters don’t trust government and city leadership. Their comments include:
- I don’t vote because I don’t think I have an impact.
- I don’t see any change.
How do you engage these people?
That thought is definitely real, of why should I vote? Why should I be a part of this system that I feel like has not worked for me? When I'm talking to voters ... and when I go through my credentials of delivering goods and services to our community, not from a government position or title, but as a community leader … they say, and I heard somebody say this to me yesterday, a 25-year-old young kid living off of Center Parkway and Mack Road, said this will be my first time voting because I've seen what you've done around programs like Summer Night Lights and the Valley Hi Community Center. I seen what you done in converting an old skating rink into a place of community and bringing in a brand new skate floor and I'm hopeful for what you will do as a city council member. When you have somebody like that, making those kind of comments, you're inspiring people to be a part of the change.
If you don’t win, what value will this campaign have had for you?
It still will be a learning experience. I think life is not only about the destination, but it's about the journey. Through this journey I've got to meet new people. I've got to connect with different folks from the Teachers Association who came out and endorsed me. I've connected with our business community. I've connected with folks in our community that have not felt like they had a voice.
I've lived those experiences out to now have those relationships for whatever the next chapter is of my life, if it's not city council. And life is about those key moments. It's about the journey. It's about the connections, about who you meet in those kind of off ramps when you go to fill up. It's not just about the destination only.
What else is a key issue for you in the District, something you would work towards or push for as a city councilmember?
It's also economic development and targeted, inclusive economic development in a way that is felt, that is seen. One of the things I've been really blessed to experience is working with community-based organizations in the district to target a set of issues, whether those issues are developing safe space, a place of belonging, developing community centers, like the Valley High Community Center. Supporting things like Reimagine Mack Road. I think those are some major issues that we have to really target and continue to support community-based organizations. I'm thinking of a good friend of mine, Jackie Rose and the Rose Family Development Center. And I'm thinking of another friend, Berry Accius and the Voices of Youth. I've worked with a lot of organizations that have been in the district really focused on youth and children. I think those have to be supported in a long term way where they can count on the partnership that is public and private coming together to really drive a set of values.
And then continuing to build on the work of reduction of African American childhood death. We've seen some great successes in infant mortality rate and that has to continue within both Sacramento city and Sacramento County to really continue to make the impact that’s felt and that's needed within our city.