SACRAMENTO – Sacramento City and County staffers acknowledged that the issue wasn’t “super sexy” and might not draw as much input as some others locals are dealing with of late, but is important in its far-reaching implications.
They held the first of several virtual conversations about the disparate impact of fines and fees on low-income residents and people of color this past weekend. The discussions are part of the Cities & Counties for Fine and Fee Justice reform program that granted Sacramento City and County $50,000 to reform harmful fines and fees that can have detrimental effects. Amy Williamson, who manages Sacramento’s City Empowerment Center, said Sacramento was one of 10 urban and rural areas selected for the grant. Other areas include Seattle, Dallas, Durham, North Carolina, and Philadelphia.
“The expectation from the national organization is that by the end of 2021 is that we will make three meaningful reforms to reduce the burden of fees for low income and communities of color,” Ms. Williamson said.
She and others have gathered and identified opportunities for fine and fee reduction and reform from City and County entities like Police, Community Development, Public Works, Finance, Utilities, Fire, Youth Parks & Community Enrichment, and Convention and Cultural Services departments.
Residents are encouraged to participate in the online discussions to share personal stories that will show officials the “long term effects of their decisions.”
Henry Ortiz, an ex-felon, now working in the community, said monetary punishment can impact job and housing opportunities for former inmates already having a hard time getting back into being productive members of society. Zuri Colbert, with Community Lead Advocates spoke of a long, personal battle with fines and their repercussions, stemming from mistaken identity, which she says has impacted her as a parent and foster parent.
Residents are also being asked to take a survey to help determine which fines and fees have impacted them the most. The survey is available online at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MQ8B2GN.
“This is just the beginning in terms of engagement,” said County program planner Tim Choi.
Lynette Hall, community engagement manager for the City’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development, said the fines and fees reform goes “hand in hand” with an racial equity initiative the City will be discussing during a special meeting on January 26.
“Once we move forward, get Council to adopt this resolution, it will provide a racial equity lens on all decisions being made at the City,” she said. “That would have a direct impact on the budget, on what projects, what neighborhoods we’re working in, who we’re contracting with, so it’s really important that we have community participation in January.”
District 5 City Councilmember Jay Schenirer agrees.
“This is very much aligned with the issues around equity that we’ve been bringing forward,” Schenirer said.
“This is an important piece of that puzzle as we look at who is more severely impacted by this, whether that relates to your socioeconomic status, the color of your skin or whatever that looks like. I’m very excited and proud that Sacramento can be part of a nationwide initiative on this. It’s about doing the right thing and I believe we will and I think it will lead to better policy making,” he continued.
The next conversation, held via Zoom, is set for February 20 from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m Residents can register to participate at http://www.cityofsacramento.org/fines-fees.
By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer