Steve Hansen was the first candidate to announce that he was running for retiring City Councilman Rob Fong’s seat for District Four, which includes the central city. Hansen is deeply familiar with the district – he not only lives in Alkali Flat, he also served on the Sacramento Redistricting Citizens Advisory Committee that redrew the district’s lines in 2011. Though this is Hansen’s first time running for elected office, he’s no stranger to professional politics: he’s served as an election monitor in several foreign countries, and spent two years as the Legislative Director of Equality California, a statewide advocacy group for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals. Hansen currently works as a Senior Regional Manager for Genetech. We sat down with him at Bows and Arrows in January to talk about his goals and what he loves about Sacramento…
1) What are your top priorities? What are you going to put in motion as soon as you can?
My top priorities are really the basic function of any government, especially city government: public health, safety and welfare. …[If] we don’t have a safe, livable city then I don’t think we can have economic opportunity.
The city does not compete in this region at all economically. I think we have some natural advantages because of the grid that, since nobody has really represented the grid before, haven’t really been able to be maximized. The challenges are [that] good people, good jobs have left to the suburbs consistently for a lot of reasons, but I think the city has… they haven’t fought to keep people here. If you told me you were gonna leave, I’d say, ‘why?’ And I’d say, ‘can we keep you? What would it take to make you stay here?’ Maybe it’s an amazing opportunity and you should go – OK, fine, but come back.
…I’d like us to compete better in the region and beyond for jobs, good jobs, like high tech, clean tech, I think, especially I think we have an opportunity at…. [And] we have arts opportunities… that are very unique because of our proximity to San Francisco… the arts can be an economic driver… those are the kinda things I wanna talk about…
2) What do you see as the relationship between Midtown and Downtown since you would be representing both of those neighborhoods?
It’s an artificial barrier… between Downtown and Midtown. I think they’re overlapping. We’ve got a lot more density in the Downtown, we’ve got highrise structures, we’ve got office workers, we’ve got a lot of things, but Midtown is where some of those people live. It’s definitely where they eat, where they shop, where they enjoy themselves, and I think the artificial nature of the distinction has led us to believe that they compete with one another instead of seeing things as a positive sum – that if Downtown does well, then Midtown does well. It’s become a zero-sum game. I think that’s unfortunate because Midtown’s success is not Downtown’s failure and Downtown’s success is not Midtown’s failure or loss. I’d like to see people that care about either Midtown or Downtown working together for the central city because it’s one of the most unique places, not just in our region, but in the state…[but] we haven’t merged all of those micro-identities into a macro-identity. I think we can begin to do that… and begin to sort of turn the energies away from sprawl and back into the hub, which is the central city.
K Street’s moving forward.
We definitely need to find a way to turn Westfield back into a productive part of the Downtown community… it could be an economic engine. I hope [that] either Westfield makes a big investment, or somebody willing to sort of rethink how we do urban retail comes in and helps us do that. That’s a huge opportunity. The revitalization of the 700 block will do a lot to start to complete some of the pieces. Pretty much east of 10th street I think we’ve made a lot of progress, and that’s beginning to creep the other way. And the more activity we’ve had, the more it’s sort of diluted the feeling that you’re all alone when you’re there, or that it’s unsafe… [We] don’t have a unique urban problem with homelessness – a lot of urban areas have homeless – but we haven’t had enough people around to make you feel like it wasn’t just you and the people who were needy, so we’re beginning to turn that table. I think, in addition to the 700 block, if we could get more housing in the core, in particular in the JKL corridor, it would begin to create sort of a feeling like there was energy… at 5 O’clock things didn’t just shut down, that there was life after the closing bell…
3) How do you plan to balance the interests of central city residents interested in neighborhood livability and businesses interested in attracting more suburban customers? i.e. the Second Saturday Question.
I think it’s a false question to a certain extent. Most of the people who come from out of town, from the suburbs… the neighbors never have a problem. It’s a very small group of people [who cause problems]. What I’ve told the people who I’ve talked to… [who] have raised that concern, I’ve said, ‘you have my cell phone number, call me. If you call me and wake me up at 1 in the morning because you’re awake, I’m going to go over there, and I’m going to try to sort it out.’ It’s not too often that a city councilman has to appear at a restaurant or a bar in the middle of the night that the problem will linger. I think that we can resolve problems by actually just dealing with them, instead of letting them fester. Just be very direct. If somebody’s not a good neighbor, let’s figure out how they can run their business, because they’ve made an investment, but also [so] the people who live nearby who’ve made an investment in the place that they live can feel comfortable and happy that they’re being respected…
4) What do you think of the current Strong Mayor Proposal and what do you think of the current Arena Proposal?
It seems to me that just changing the way we do government isn’t going to make people work together any better. I think we have to come to terms with the fact that if we’re not willing to actually be on the same team – because we all love the city and care about it – [and] put some of our personality differences aside, just charter reforms are not going to make the difference. I think the conversation is a good conversation. I’m not optimistic that it’s going to change much, so at this point, you know, I’m skeptical, but I’m willing to let people talk about it because I think the conversation will be healthy.
And on the arena, it’d be a great investment. I don’t know at this point that the conversation has been about why this is right for the city, why it’s not about the Kings, because it seems to be on their timeline.
It’d be a huge investment in our future. There’d be a lot of synergies that come from having a really vibrant entertainment complex. The last time we made an investment like that that was a lasting investment, was probably Memorial Auditorium, and look, here 80 years later, 90 years later, we still have what is a major civic square…. I think the city has done a bad job of attracting major amenities. Raley Field is across the river, the Mondavi Center is in Davis. You look at the way that our sales tax base has atrophied, with the movement out of the city of not just auto dealers, but also retail, to places like the Galleria in Roseville, and we really have to start to invest in the city’s opportunities to have these amenities so that we continue to reap the benefit of those amenities.
5) Last question: what are your favorite central city fixtures?
Well that’s a hard question because there’s so many things… One is our coffee houses, our independent coffee houses. Whether it’s Naked Lounge, Insight or Old Soul …but they really have added this vibrancy, this community feeling. When I go to those places I see people and I get to know them and we have a camaraderie – that, for me, is really meaningful because it ties me together with the people around me.
There are three commercial corridors that I spend a lot of time in, that I think really are representative of our city: Broadway from one end to the other, is the most diverse set of restaurants, people, of any of our commercial corridors in the city. I think it’s amazing and I think it’s been under-loved, but if we made some strategic investments in Broadway’s streetscape, making it easier to bike, [or] be a pedestrian, it’d be so awesome and could really do a lot to connect the central city to the adjoining neighborhood of Land Park.
J Street, especially as you go up into Midtown. It’s a wonderful place to spend an afternoon, whether it’s Second Saturday, or when the Dia de Los Muertos was happening, just the whole street was alive. And people come, they spend an afternoon, they walk around in the sun, they have lunch, they have a cocktail, whatever, it’s really awesome. And 15th-16th street, that area, again, a gathering point, so… you know, I like to eat, I like to spend time with my friends. I like to have a drink here and there, and I think that’s really a part of Sacramento… that camaraderie and places like that are what I love about the city.