By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

For the past nine years, Valley High School graduate Michael Lynch has been dedicated to breaking the school-to-prison pipeline and closing the college opportunity gap for young men of color.

Now Lynch, who was raised by a single father, wants to make a difference in the political arena by running for the Sacramento City Council’s District 3 seat in the June 7 primary.

Lynch faces Karina Talamantes, a member of the Sacramento County Board of Education since 2018, and Adrianne Gonzales. Jeff Harris represented District 3 until redistricting drew Harris’ residence out of the district. He has been its representative since December 2014.

In 2013, Lynch co-founded the youth nonprofit Improve Your Tomorrow, which is dedicated to closing the college opportunity gap for young men of color. Improve Your Tomorrow grew from serving 17 students at one school to 3,000 at more than 50 schools across northern and central California.

Before founding Improve Your Tomorrow, Lynch was a policy consultant and legislative adviser at the Capitol, working to craft and pass progressive policies that improved the lives of working people and those in California’s most vulnerable communities.

Lynch, who has been endorsed by California Secretary of State Dr. Shirley N. Weber and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, responded to three key questions concerning his campaign when The OBSERVER interviewed him May 5.

Q: A lot of Black businesses in Sacramento were adversely affected during the COVID-19 pandemic more than other businesses. What can be done to strengthen existing Black businesses and create more business opportunities in Sacramento?

A: Sacramento’s vibrant Black community, like other communities of color, needs strong connections to city resources and deeper levels of investment. This includes direct support for small businesses, investments in historic business corridors, culturally competent services, and ensuring that we are meaningful and consistent stakeholders in the broad spectrum of the city’s critical policy issues and funding decisions – and not only in the aftermath of officer-involved shootings.

Our diverse communities need to be first in line for COVID relief dollars from the state and federal governments for investments and programs that will help our minority-owned businesses recover and thrive. We need intentional investment targeted at neighborhoods that have been left behind for too long. We need to be aggressive about attracting high-wage employers to our Black neighborhoods. We need workforce development to ensure our sons and daughters are first in the line for good-paying jobs in Sacramento. 

Most importantly, we need our city to be committed to creating an environment where every individual, family, man, woman, and child has an opportunity to thrive, with a specific focus on uplifting Black and Brown neighborhoods where those opportunities have historically not existed.

Q: What was the most glaring issue you’ve found on your campaign trail and what can you do to correct it?

A feeling that the city has forgotten about certain communities. As the CEO of Improve Your Tomorrow, I have seen firsthand the abysmal conditions that too many young people go home to because of a lack of investment and corresponding opportunity in their neighborhoods.

As a city councilmember, no one will fight harder than me when it comes to investing in our youth so that we can achieve positive education, health, and economic outcomes for the next generation. This includes investing in after-school programs for youth, sidewalks so kids can walk to school and through their communities safely, and ensuring our neighborhoods receive the economic development resources needed to create good-paying jobs and opportunities for our residents.

Q: The homeless issue in the city of Sacramento is growing every day. Can you share a couple of ideas to help solve problems?

Homelessness is personal for me. Growing up, I was homeless twice. These deeply personal experiences motivate me to want to move with an urgency that is unlike anything the city or county has displayed as we’ve watched the numbers of people living on the streets skyrocket.

There are many economic, medical, and social reasons people become homeless. … Nobody’s pathway to housing is linear, so there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to getting people off the streets and into housing with the supportive services they need to reclaim their lives. 

My top proposals to better address homelessness in Sacramento are, number one, we need to be much more aggressive about building quality affordable housing throughout the city. We need to be laser-focused on going after state tax credits and resources like Project Homekey that will allow us to build traditional affordable housing, and convert hotels into units for the unhoused, while simultaneously investing more in innovative housing types that can be built quicker and cheaper. This also means utilizing city-owned parcels for these types of projects.

Number two, we need to better coordinate our system and end the finger-pointing between the city and county. We need to work with our regional elected officials to expand mental health and substance abuse services, and improve coordination of our region’s resources.

Number three, we must expand prevention resources like shallow rental subsidies that keep people from becoming homeless, create new relationships with landlords to increase housing options to people with troubled rental histories, and ensure that people who have housing choice vouchers are able to find the housing opportunities they need without being unfairly discriminated against.