KATIE VALENZUELA, A Councilwoman with a Mission
Photo curtesy of Katie Valenzuela's Youtube
Katie Valenzuela, age 36, has been drawn to helping people all her life. At age 13 in Kern County, her father introduced Katie to activism within her Community. When she moved to Davis to attend Graduate School, she was thrilled to learn offered a Graduate Degree in Community Development.
After she moved into the Downtown area of Sacramento, she began seeing for the first time with her own eyes, why our City is third on the list for the number of homeless people in the State, following closely after Los Angeles and San Francisco. The last official count was over 5,000 homeless people in 2019, before the Pandemic. There are many more in 2021, and approximately one-quarter to one-half are women, sometimes with children.
What crystallized Katie’s desire to focus on the Homeless Population was an incident in December 2019. She had just walked into a nice warm restaurant, when a homeless older black man with all his gear, walked in too. The staff greeted him and were very nice to him, trying to help in any way they could. But Katie knew that he would be going out very shortly into that bitter cold December air and that there would be no nice warm shelter waiting for him, while she had a home to go to. “It just broke my heart”, she says, “and I resolved to do something about it”.
When she was endorsed by many, including NWPC Sacramento, and won her election in 2020, she remembered that man. She also knew by living downtown in her District 4, that many of her neighbors had been concerned about the unhoused people. Katie had been hearing about this problem for years as an activist in her soon-to-be District Seat for the Sacramento City Council.
Katie says, “I live and work in downtown. I encourage myself and others to look at people on the sidewalk and talk to them. I won’t just walk on by and not pay attention to them as if they were not there”.
It was this attention to detail and talks with the County, that led to Katie’s interaction with Cal Trans and a group of Medical Students and Nurses that had banded together to help the homeless population stay safe. Katie managed to score 100 J&J vaccine doses and went down to the area under the WX freeway with the medical volunteers to administer the doses. The WX freeway is being widened for HOV lanes, and the homeless community living under the structure in the parking lot will have to be moved before construction begins. Katie’s concern was that the people be vaccinated in order to make a safer move into a smaller space.
This is not the only part of the work that the new City Council Member has taken on. She will continue to work with the community to come up with solutions on where safe places might exist for the homeless to live. One solution she is collaborating with Cal Trans, who owns several tiny homes that have already been outfitted with filtration systems. These tiny homes were previously used by Firefighters and their management team as shelter during the Paradise fire in the Butte County Area. And since they have already been outfitted with air filtration, these tiny homes would also filter out vehicle emissions near or under freeway areas where many homeless people live.
“We have to be proactive”, Katie says in regard to her partnership with the County. “It is a newly formed alliance, like building muscles that haven’t been used before”. One chance missed, due to timing, was the sale of the old Holiday Inn Hotel on 16th Street, which would have made a perfect shelter for the unhoused. Unfortunately, because the City/County alliance wasn’t in the right place at the right moment, they were just about a week late into the process, and someone else had bought the property.
“Being on the City Council is more than I ever expected, but in a good way,” Katie says. “There is just so much myself and my staff can get done.” But don’t worry, there are other issues that this new Council Member wants to tackle. For example, “there is the South River Trail that District 7 worked very hard on, but when it got to District 4, the work stopped there,” she says. “I think there should be a South Trail, so I, and my staff, will be working on that. It is a project that simply wasn’t being focused on”.
“It is amazing from the position of City Councilwoman, just how much you can get done to help people in District 4 and the people in the Sacramento region” Katie says. “I see so much that can be done that my staff has to rein me in sometimes so we don’t get overwhelmed, and that we focus on completing one project at a time. There is just so much that is possible from this position”.
Sacramento is very fortunate to have such a hardworking new Councilwoman in Katie Valenzuela.
Written by Susan E. Holbrook,
NWPC Communications Co-chair and Board Member At-Large