In Love With His CityPosted on May 5, 2010 – 2:27 AM | by OldManFoster
Shawn Eldredge is a house painter, general contractor and neighborhood activist. His first attempt at public office, a bid for Sacramento mayor in 2008, gave him more notoriety for his long hair and Led Zeppelin T-shirts than his policy positions. After shedding the hair for a charity event this spring, and trading the T-shirt for a Kevin Seconds-designed “Shawn Eldredge for District 3” T-shirt (with a zeppelin on it), Shawn explained some of his vision for Sacramento while hanging out at Temple Coffee’s 28th & S Street location.
What do you think people should know about Shawn Eldredge?
I’m a Carmichael boy, born at Kaiser Sacramento, and spent all of my youth in the same house in Carmichael, behind Carmichael Park. I was corporate America for 10 years, something a lot of people don’t know about me—suits and ties, gold and diamonds, all of that stuff. I traveled all over the country, kind of a rock star in that time of my life as a corporate boy. I was a manufacturer’s rep- I sold construction equipment. I was shipped across the country to Florida and became a corporate trainer. I was with Home Depot’s paint sprayer trainer program in the mid-‘80s…in the mid-90s I went through a change of life and a religious experience. I became a Bible geek for about 5 years, taught Sunday school, was an elder in my church, all those things. I got a divorce in 1997 and moved downtown along with my daughter. I ended up as a single dad in Midtown and fell in love with that. Right before that, I decided that corporate America wasn’t for me—there was lying and cheating that I couldn’t live with…that didn’t work for me. I went from corporate America back into the construction trade.
I fell in love with my city, with the Midtown environment. I grew up in suburbia all my life and didn’t grow up with the same sense of community that I found in Midtown. That started my Midtown adventure. I was invited into the neighborhood association by (founder of Midtown Neighborhood Association and historic preservation advocate) Karen Jacques. I restored my Victorian home and became involved in the Midtown Business Association. I do what I do because I am in love with my city. I truly enjoy the fact that I can have an impact! I feel privileged to be able to participate in democracy.
I also believe personal human success is doing what you’re passionate about doing. In a perfect world, you get paid for it too! I have a passion for three things: My trade, I love to build things; motorcycles, whether it’s wrenching on them or racing them; and I have a passion for politics—but I don’t have a passion for campaigning. I almost loathe the campaign process, but I have a passion for the work.
We’ve raised about $12,000 and you need $7500, but I still don’t qualify because of the parameters put on the money. ! Cash and anonymous donations don’t count towards the match—every dollar has to be identified. So a fundraiser show doesn’t count as a match unless you collect all their information, which makes that even more difficult to do. They’ve made it harder to get, not harder to spend. Now, I need the money, because I have spent most of the money I raised. I spent about $20,000, but I’m embarrassed I spent that much—I’d rather spend $20,000 to keep a pool open for the summer. Look at the campaign contributions out there; close to a million dollars will be spent on this year’s local elections.
What is it about this area (District 3) that you like? What are the best attributes?
One of the reasons I enjoy Midtown and Downtown, the urban core of the city, is that I can sit at a coffee shop and almost guarantee that I will have an intelligent conversation with someone there, something I didn’t experience in suburbia. My mom lives in Hagginwood/Ben Ali, someplace that many in Midtown seldom think about, but I am emotionally connected to that area. I didn’t think about it for a while, focusing more on Midtown Business Association, but now that I look at the district as a whole, I want to ensure that those parts of the district aren’t forgotten. It’s the responsibility of government to take care of, not people individually, but the community in general—providing for their safety and welfare, their ability to go to work, to have a safe home, for their kids to go to school. Everything they do affects people’s lives. I can stand up in front of city council once a month and remind them of their responsibilities, but if I thought that was enough, I wouldn’t be running.
What sort of changes would you like to make?
When we discuss, say, an arena for example, I want to know the economic impact of that deal. Obviously we’re going to do an environmental impact report, but what will it cost us? What’s the impact to Cal Expo, to North Natomas, to the Downtown railyards? Let’s give our residents some credit to be able to digest that information. City council doesn’t lie to us, but they don’t disclose, and therefore we struggle to make decisions about things as a community. It takes a lot of effort to snoop and find out what’s really going on. Why was the first thing Sandy Sheedy asked about a labor agreement? What does that mean to us, if only union workers get to work on this project? Does that work for a majority of our people? I want to know what that meant, and I want city council to discuss it openly and honestly with us. We shouldn’t have to read between the lines to understand what is said.
What doesn’t need changing in Sacramento?
We have a more active community than most. If you look around the country compared to other cities, we (in Sacramento) are much more engaged as a community. There is no question that we have phenomenal amounts of social equity. We volunteer, we have nonprofit groups that clean rivers, help children—we have very active humans who participate in the community. Kevin Johnson, I believe, has tapped into some of that with his arena proposals. That’s not something that City Hall is doing, that’s something that Sacramento has. As the economy continues to falter, that will be a huge asset for all of us, and have to ask “how do we keep this pool open, how do we keep this park clean?” Things that are no longer addressed by the general fund will fall to the community.
(New city manager) Gus Vina is a rock star—Gus and Ray worked together very well, however, when you have a change like that, you have an opportunity to make some big drastic changes that need to be made. It may be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s the right time to make them. I think he’ll do wonderful things for us. And long-term, because of the fiscal demand, the special interests won’t have the power because we don’t have the money! We’ll be a lot leaner, even as the economy returns.
Who are you referring to when you say “special interest”?
Unions, developers and “influential residents,” for lack of a better description, who get more attention than others. Too many politicians cater to special interests to be re-elected. Elections are expensive, a City Council run costs about $150,000. If you want the Plumbers & Pipefitters union to give you $25,000, you have to be their guy. Unions are important, it’s important to have union wages here, but they’re not more important than you or I or anybody else. Government is there to take care of us, so we can’t allow any special interest to dominate human interest, and that happens on a regular basis. I think developers are the bad guy more often than they should be. They get some favors, because they’re stimulating the economy and they’re putting money into the system, but they need assistance just like everyone else. But I think there are other special interests that get more, that are less visible, and that costs our city a ton of money. Unfortunately, small business owners don’t get the help that they need. When a new small business owner comes to town, there is nobody there telling him how to get through the process. If you’ve never done it before, it’s hard and expensive and time-consuming. I know more about the special interests in this city than I want to know, and I’m saddened by it. That’s one of the reasons I commit myself to not caring about getting re-elected, because I’m not going to make friends! If something’s good for the city it’s good for the city, but if it ‘s not, I’m going to say that it’s not.