MEADOWVIEW – When then-Sacramento City Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell sat down with friend Larry Carr to make a list of people who could potentially be her successor for District 8, he thought he could help her, after all, he had already turned down the request for the position.
Citing health concerns, Ms. Pannell, a longtime City Councilwoman, had privately announced that she would step down as the District 8 representative on June 23, 2014.
Carr was contemplating to run for a Sacramento County Board of Supervisors’ seat but he bypassed that to do other things with his life. Under the circumstances, Ms. Pannell was ill, though relentless.
After the process of elimination of potential candidates, Pannell circled back to Carr. She adamantly wanted him to take over the Meadowview district to ensure projects she was overseeing made it to completion.
“That’s the way it went down. I was trying to find anybody else to do it but me. I didn’t want to do it,” Carr told The OBSERVER in a telephone interview on Dec. 6. “I had other plans with my life. But she knew that she had an incurable disease and nothing could be done about it medically. So she started thinking about the future of District 8. Isn’t that like Bonnie?”
Carr was still a member of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) Board and the Florin Road Business Partnership. But those were the only responsibilities that intrigued him.
Ms. Pannell had a neurological condition called primary progressive aphasia, an illness she quietly suffered from for years. She had been a City Council member since 1998, taking over the seat after her husband Sam Pannell passed away.
In the end, Ms. Pannell got her wish. Carr decided to fulfill her request and then decided to run in a special election in November 2014. Carr won the seat as expected, and Ms. Pannell passed away in June 2017.
“I looked around and I was the last man standing. It’s just like everything else that has happened in my life. It was fruitful, I’m happy that I did it, and it was challenging,” Carr said of finally deciding to lead District 8.
On Tuesday, Dec. 15, there was a changing of the guard for District 8 on so many levels. Mai Vang was sworn in as the representative, just weeks after beating South Sacramento Christian Center senior pastor Les Simmons for the seat.
“I’ll never stop fighting for you District 8 at City Hall,” Vang said. “You can count on me to stand up and fight back for District 8.”
Ms. Vang’s upcoming leadership will mean District 8 residents will have someone without the last name Pannell or Carr representing them for the first time since 1992. Ms. Pannell’s late husband Sam served in the seat from 1992 until his death in 1997. Ms. Pannell had held office from 1998 until 2014 while Carr put in six years of service.
Ms. Vang, the oldest of 16 children, will preside over areas such as Sacramento’s south area, including Meadowview (northern portion), North Laguna, Jacinto Creek, Center Parkway, and the Pocket.
Ms. Vang will be the first Hmong woman and Asian American to hold a Sacramento City Council seat. She previously served as Carr’s community affairs director for four years before successfully running for a trustee position for Sacramento City Unified School District.
Carr’s and Vang’s working relationship actually goes back further than Sacramento city government.
“I have a lot of confidence in Mai. I think she is going to do a great job. I’ve known her since she was 16 years old,” Carr said. “I was in charge of the AVID MESA Academy (math, engineering, and science achievement) when I was teaching at Sacramento High School and she was one of the students in the program. She basically forged her own path and has done well doing it.”
Carr has lived in District 8 for 31 years. He holds a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) from UCLA and is a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel. He has also been an advocate for helping the disadvantage in the district, especially the Black community.
Carr has bought coats and clothing for youth that couldn’t afford them and he has been a torch-bearer to help individuals and groups open their own businesses. He was never seen out of good character while sitting on the dais during City Council meetings.
During his swearing-in ceremony in December 2014, Carr told his fellow City Council members and the people in attendance that he is representing District 8 and the city as a whole.
“To all my colleagues, we are all working for the same boss — the people of Sacramento,” Carr said. “They expect us to work together and they don’t expect us to agree on everything, but they do expect us to put their interests ahead of our own. I honestly believe that our city’s best days are ahead of us.”
In his opinion, Carr began to see a change in the leadership in the City Council and mayoralship when he took D8’s seat. As he stepped away from the council chambers at City Hall, he declared the environment as “dysfunctional” before his arrival.
Carr has never been shy about expressing his feelings publicly.
“The council was so dysfunctional,” Carr said. “I do regret that I wasn’t able to have a dramatic impact on that dysfunction, the circus before I got there. We still don’t completely work from a citywide perspective. We don’t have that discussion. That’s where the dysfunction comes in.”
One citywide effort that went south on him was the installation of a homeless shelter near the Sam and Bonnie Pannell Community Center on Mack Road.
Carr was totally against it as most of the residents in the area but Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg made it possible by forming an alliance with nonprofit groups that wanted an immediate solution for unhoused women and children.
“I still don’t think it’s the ideal area to put it next to a swimming pool and park,” Carr said. “I was never against having a shelter; but not there. Now there have been some COVID-19 cases coming out there since it opened. It’s a dormitory setting. Of course, some people are going to be exposed to the virus.”
With the addition of Ms. Vang, Katie Valenzuela (District 4), and Sean Loloee (District 2) we elected to the City Council this year. Carr said he sees a “new dynamic” and possible burst of energy on the dais.
“With Mai, Katie Valenzuela, Sean Loloee, along with Jeff Harris (District 3) and Angelique Ashby (District 1) they will have a strong powerbase,” Carr said. “The whole time I walked into the council room, the mayor had five votes, maybe six. Whatever he wanted to do was done. Whatever you wanted to do was maybe. So, I think the power dynamic will change…”
Carr was able to show his leadership that reflected upon the entire city. As he put it, “We were able to do some things while I was there.”
Carr pushed to get a law enforcement use-of-force policy and help advocate the Sacramento Police Department to release officer-involved-shootings video within 30 days. Police chief Daniel Hahn’s administration has been able to do that and sometimes the videos are released within 10 days.
Carr did share that there were technical reasons why SPD could not release them within 30 days, issues beyond the department’s control. But now there is no question why they can’t be released in a timely manner.
“Well, now we have to see what happens. We’re not going to wait two years later,” Carr said. “It took them awhile to be able to do that (within 30 days). Then, they didn’t have the proper equipment to block or screen out other people, license plate numbers or addresses that were not involved. But now they have the technology that will allow them to do that easier.”
Carr also saw the completion of Ms. Pannell’s projects that she started, including the light rail destination at Cosumnes River College and the opening of the Valley Hi-North Laguna Public Library.The library also accommodates programs for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Sacramento.
Carr also went after unsavory apartment landlords and commercial property owners, such as the former Evergreen Plaza on Mack Road, who posed a problem for surrounding residential areas.
In addition, Carr pointed out that District 8 is not the No. 1 crime-ridden area in the city. Data has shown over the years that D8 is far less dangerous than it has been perceived.
In late 2018, the Sacramento Police Department Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program reported that among the total of 13,799 crimes reported in all eight districts, only 26 homicides were committed in a nine-month span.
Five homicides were in District 4, four in District 3, three in District 5, two in District 8, and one in District 7. There were no homicides in District 1 or District 6 while 11 murders were committed in District 2.
Like the late Ms. Pannell, Carr is thinking about the future of the district as he goes out the door.
“We’ve had some problems, the Stephon Clark case, but I had to tell our constituents that you don’t live in a ghetto,” Carr said. “What we’ve seen in the last five or six years by continuing to change the environment and the perception of the environment, we’ve seen over $250 million in public and private investments in D8. And there’s more on the way.”
By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer