Meet the Candidates: Katie Valenzuela
If Dems are going to create long-lasting structural change in 2020, we have to elect smart progressive leaders to state and local office. Enter Run for Something. This year, we’ve already endorsed 130 first-time and second-time down ballot candidates, ready to shake up the status quo and usher in bold reforms at the local level. All year, we’re offering a closer look at some of our most prolific candidates in our new Candidate Spotlight Series.
Meet Katie Valenzuela, a community organizer running for Sacramento City Council! With over 20 years in advocacy — eleven of which were spent in Sacramento — Katie decided to throw her hat in the ring to represent her community. Her biggest concerns: homelessness, rapid development, and income inequality. Learn more about Katie in the interview below!
Hi Katie! Tell us, what inspired you to run for office?
In 2018, we were seeing our rents go up faster than anywhere else in the country. Homelessness was approaching record levels, while developers were building luxury units for people moving here from the Bay Area. Something HAD to change, but after months of organizing it was clear that the city — and in particular, the representative for my district — wasn’t interested in doing something about the problem. So I decided it was time to run.
Since I declared in April 2019 we’ve mobilized over 200 volunteers. Time and time again, we’ve heard from our neighbors that they are frustrated with our city and worried about our future. Now is the time for us to change course and ensure that Sacramento is a city for ALL of us.
What issue is most pressing in your community and how do you plan on remedying it?
Homelessness is by far our number one concern. Sacramento’s homelessness rates have gone up 19% and we have more people sleeping on the street than we ever have before.
I want to triage the crisis by designating and providing resources at safe camping sites around the city. These sites can be on public land and could be resourced with bathrooms, shower trailers, dumpsters for trash, and case workers. This would cost far less than what the city is currently spending on clean-up and enforcement of camping, and could really help stabilize our current situation.
Long-term, we need to invest in the housing units that help people transitioning off of the street as well as stabilize folks at risk of ending up on the street. “Housing first” focuses on putting people in an appropriate unit and providing them the case management and services they need. While working to permanently house people experiencing or at risk of homelessness is far more cost effective and humane than other approaches, Sacramento is far behind on building and protecting the units that could be utilized for that purpose.
In the last 8 years, Sacramento has built almost 9,000 housing units, but only TWO of those units have been for extremely low-income individuals. This is in addition to losing a significant number of previously affordable units to market rate conversion. I have a package of proposals that will help us tackle this issue:
- Allow Sacramento residents to vote on a stronger and permanent rent stabilization policy.
- Reinstate requirements for developers to build affordable units (called “inclusionary housing”).
- Reserve the hundreds of publicly owned parcels in the City exclusively for affordable development.
- Partner with the Sacramento Community Land Trust — a nonprofit I helped to start — to preserve affordability by removing parcels from the market.
- Adopt the Community Opportunity to Purchase Act, which is currently helping San Francisco groups transfer units for sale into community ownership.
- Work with affordable housing developers to innovate on new forms of housing development that could reduce the cost of building affordable units.
As you’ve been meeting with voters in your community, what is something that you’ve learned?
This is a big and very diverse district, but we have so much in common. I have encountered many people who live in very different neighborhoods, with very different lives, share a common idea or frustration about the community. It always surprises me, but also gives me hope. I think people tend to feel alone in their experience — I am really excited about what could happen when we get together and realize we share values/experiences/ideas. We can accomplish a lot when we work together!
What’s surprised you the most about being a candidate?
Without fail, it’s people who walk up to me in the street to say that they’re voting for me. Or all of the people who are first time donors, canvassers, phone bankers for this campaign. I wasn’t expecting such enthusiastic support!
If you could change one thing in politics today what would it be?
The whole conversation about “viability.” I don’t think people realize just how harmful it is to pre-judge someone based on common perceptions of who is “supposed” to be elected. I’m proud prove them wrong — but I really wish people took more time to think about how their own experience or bias informs their judgement when they talk about electability.
For example, I have over 20 years of community development experience. I have a bachelors and masters degree in community development from UC Davis. I’ve spent the last 11 years in Sacramento making policy change at the local and state level. Every example or policy idea I have is backed by research and/or examples in other cities. But the number one thing I hear? I’m too idealistic and inexperienced, I won’t be able to get anything done, and that I won’t be able to beat an incumbent.
Comments like this can deter good folks with great ideas from running. If people are brave and organized enough to get a campaign off of the ground, we should welcome the opportunity to have different ideas and experiences in the conversation.
On a lighter note, what song keeps you energized while canvassing?Anything by Lizzo :)
What is one takeaway you’d like to leave your constituents with?
The status quo isn’t working for too many of us, and we CAN do something about it.
Final Question: What would you say to someone who is thinking about running for office?
You need to be in it for the right reasons. Running because you authentically want to help your community will keep your fire lit for the long road you have ahead.
Once you decide to jump in, make sure you have a core group of folks around you who are willing to throw down with you — you’ll need them from everything to picking up checks to starting canvassing shifts, to lending a sympathetic ear when things get frustrating. That core group of friends will be a lifesaver!
Campaigning can be really hard, but it’s also quite possibly one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do!