A few weeks back, at a protest, I met a woman named Fatima Malik. She was demanding the Sacramento county board of supervisors take action on policies affecting the climate and spreading the word of her campaign. A campaign for a seat not too many people pay attention to because it’s not the high profile elected seat people care about in our elections.

Fatima Malik is running for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District board (SMUD) ward 5 seat. She believes representation matters, and the SMUD board needs a change.

“The reason I decided to run for the SMUD board is because representation is important, and there is very little representation in the energy sector,” Malik said.

Ward 5 covers downtown, midtown, North Sacramento, Rio Linda, Elverta, and Natomas. According to Malik, Rob Kerth, who currently holds the seat, has been running uncontested since 2008. ”This is the first time in 12 years that voters will even have an option,” Malik said. Unlike PG&E, SMUD is a publicly owned energy company for Sacramento residents, and most people Malik has been talking with don’t understand how SMUD operates.

Fatima Malik

“Most of my job since I’ve been running has been education and awareness that this (SMUD) is a publicly owned utility company. We as the customers own SMUD. We should have a say in all the decisions and policies that are being made on our behalf.No one really cares about SMUD. All we care about is that our lights stay on and our bills being low; Well, guess what, we’re in jeopardy of our lights not being on and our bills not being low” Malik said.

Fatima Malik’s top priorities she is hoping to change if elected are to fight climate change, give SMUD customers the power to eliminate or lower SMUD bills with rooftop solar and battery storage, reducing set rates based on peoples ability to pay, and lastly, she hopes to have SMUD provide internet to all SMUD customers.

Fatima Malik at capitol park

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been forced to stay at home, which has increased people’s utility bills. “My neighbor has come crying to me asking for help because her SMUD bill has doubled, and she doesn’t know how she is going to afford it,” Malik said. SMUD has set policies to increase rates depending on what time of day a customer uses their power. Usually, from 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm having the highest rates. Now that people are home more while California has seen record-breaking heatwaves, people are forced to use their Air conditioning during hours when SMUD has placed higher surcharges.

“This isn’t about changing light bulbs anymore; we’ve hit the energy efficiency ceiling. This requires new leadership,” Malik said, paraphrasing Governor Gavin Newsom. “So that’s where I come in. It’s time for new leadership and to do the right thing,” Malik Said.

17

Seventeen used to be the age where teenagers were just starting to find their place in the world. As I look through old hard drives for photos from my youth, I can recall Friday nights being special; football games, bowling, skating, and although I don’t condone it, it would be disingenuous to my childhood not to mention street racing. We were careless teenagers. That’s not the case anymore.

My friends(left) and I(right) enjoying being teens
Fridays for Future Sacramento, banner drop in front of Sacramento County Administration Center

With so many catastrophic events happening caused by climate change, teenagers today face a different reality. Kids have to fight for their future now. A future that, for most of us, was just expected.

I can remember many things from my youth, and some things I wish to forget but never do I remember strategizing with my friends on policy changes from our city and county governments. Instead, I had less important things to worry about, like what to wear or what CDs to bring in my 5-disk CD holder for the day. In my defense, the existential threat of climate change wasn’t in our faces every day. We learned about climate change in school, but our families’ houses weren’t burnt down every year from wildfires.

My friends(left) and I(right) 2008-ish

Teenagers today are faced with the harsh realities the effects of climate change will have on their futures. Rather than enjoying their times as kids, they have to spend their evenings after school organizing and protesting their city, state, and national governments to take action so that they too can have a future on this planet. “This crisis affects me and my generation, so we should be fighting,” Hannah Karsting, a 17-year-old member of Fridays for future Sacramento, Said.

Fridays for future Sacramento is part of an international youth movement started by Greta Thunberg. Who became internationally known for her decision to skip school to bring awareness to the climate crisis. Greta Thunberg has inspired many people to organize climate strikes of their own throughout the world.

Hannah Karsting

Hannah and many of her peers spend their time after school planning protests and demanding action from the Sacramento county board of supervisors. “I feel a sense of absolute morality tied to the climate crisis. There’s no gray area in whether it’s genuinely affecting people; it just is. I felt compelled to because I saw that there was people my own age fighting for our future, and it would not only be morally improper not to join but also wouldn’t make sense for myself.” Karsting said.

A poster from Fridays for Future Sacramento Banner drop(2020)

When I was in school, climate change was taught as something that would happen in the future, and the most significant thing being sea-level risings across coastal cities. Flash forward over a decade later, and California sees massive wildfires that get bigger and more destructive every year. The East Coast sees increased hurricanes, the Midwest has more tornadoes, and the North has seen less snowfall. Not to mention what is happening to other ecosystems that plants, insects, and sea-life rely on to live. The vast majority of scientists agree that human activity is causing global temperatures to rise. 97% of publishing scientists, according to NASA.

Chris Brown

With the increasing threat the climate crisis has on the world, let alone in Sacramento, Fridays for future, and other climate action organizations, feel their political leaders aren’t doing enough to meet the challenge. “The county has been really slow when it comes to climate change programs. They have delayed doing their climate action plan… we do take that as an indicator that they are not as serious as the city is.” Chris Brown, who is part of the Sacramento climate coalition, said. Sacramento county adopted a climate action plan(CAP) in 2011. Still, members of Fridays for future Sacramento and the Sacramento climate coalition don’t believe the plan holds anyone accountable if the county doesn’t reach its goals of lowering greenhouse gases. According to the 2018 Progress Report from the California Board of Air Resources, local emissions have only increased since the county has adopted the CAP. Instead, climate activists like Hannah Karsting are demanding the county declare a climate emergency declaration. “We need a climate emergency declaration because that will enable the county to address the crisis like it’s a crisis,” Karsting said. 


The climate emergency declaration is not an end-all to the Sacramento climate crisis, but it allows more resources for the county to enact meaningful change. “It is a first step… under the way the statutes are organized, if you declare an emergency, you have access to other powers in government that are not currently being used. If you don’t declare an emergency, you can’t use those powers,” Chris Brown said.

Coffey Park neighborhood after wildfire destroyed the homes. Santa Rosa, CA. 2017

As it goes with most cities in America, the south side of town is synonymous with Black people; South Side Chicago, South Central Los Angeles, Southside Jamaica Queens, and yes, even South Sacramento. Black communities in America, often located in neglected parts of the City, remain the same. No matter how big the city grows, that expansion never seems to make it to the Black neighborhoods.

Golden1 Center home of the Sacramento Kings

Sacramento Convention Center renovations
Downtown Sacramento Construction site

Railyards: site of new soccer stadium

Sacramento, Ca.

 As one of the fastest-growing cities in California, Sacramento is no exception. The disparity of resources South Sacramento communities receive in comparison with other parts of the city is self-evident.  

Sacramento has been going through a rebuilding phase in recent years. The city spent over $200 million to build the Golden One Center downtown, to keep the Kings basketball team from leaving Sacramento. City council approved $27 million to build a new major league soccer stadium downtown. $42 million was approved in 2019 to revamp the old Sacramento waterfront. Sacramento approved the issuance of $350 million in bonds to renovate the convention center in downtown. Low housing prices have brought in Bay Area transplants looking for more affordable housing. And with a little rebranding, the Capital city is not the cow town it once was. Instead, Sacramento has chosen to appeal to a more affluent group of people. Switching its name to “America’s farm-to-fork capital” from “the city of trees” has left many residents to feel left out of the conversation about who the City represents. 

A Beautiful City


Although the city is growing, some neighborhoods in Sacramento manage to maintain their small-town charm. Canopy covered communities protected from the blazing California sun, wide-open parks centered around the community, bike trails, running trails, and even old movie theaters make some parts of Sacramento a beautiful city.

Tower Theatre

A man Jogging in Land Park

Anyone living in these communities would be lucky enough to benefit from the expansion of the downtown area just a few blocks away.

Curtis Park


Sacramento water tower with new slogan painted over the old slogan

The Southside is Black

Whatever name Sacramento decides to go by a gold rush town, cow town, City of trees, America’s farm-to-fork capital, there will always be some level of controversy from its citizens. When a city grows this fast, there are bound to be disagreements from its residents on the direction the city should take. The one thing Sacramentans do agree on, however, is that the southside is Black. No matter how many sports arenas the city builds, the southside is Black. No matter how many name changes the city goes through, the southside is Black. No matter how much money the city invests in downtown, the southside is Black.

“It’s like the dollars stop at freeport.”

Tracy Shaw
Tracy Shaw

Black residents in south Sacramento have built a community here to call their own. The community would like the city’s help to see this area grow. “Now is the time for Mayor Steinberg and city council to recognize and jump on the bandwagon. This is going to happen with or without city government, but you don’t want to be on the wrong side of the story. Where we have to say, we did all of this with no help from the city,” Shaw said.

The city’s renovations and rebuilding have left some residents in south Sacramento wondering when they will see those same renovations in their community. Renovations often promised to them by politicians asking for their vote. Tracy Shaw, a business owner in South Sacramento, would like to ask Mayor Steinberg, “when you leave your house in the pocket, and you drive down Florin(road), from 5(interstate) to 99(highway), you don’t see the disparity as soon as you get passed Freeport?” Shaw said. Florin road, located in the middle of south Sacramento, spans across most of the City from East to West and is where many Black businesses are located. Florin Square, a shopping plaza, has over 20 Black businesses where people can buy items such as soaps, candles, clothes, eyeglasses, food, and there is even a little museum they can visit located in the building.

Adesino Prodects located in Florin Square

Charlotte Howard

“That breaks my spirit, not only did we not know about the $2.5 million on a piglet statue, we also didn’t have a choice… we need grocery stores.” Charlotte Howard, a community member in South Sacramento, said when she learned how much money the city spent on a statue in the downtown common area. “It’s a disappointment to me as far as the council members, and because we are the state capital, we should be an example for the rest of California,” Howard said when asked about how she feels the City of Sacramento is spending its money.

Jeff Koons “Coloring Book #4”

Sacramento and UC Davis have recently started a $1 billion project in Oak Park, which used to be a Black community; some south Sacramentans feel this area has been gentrified. “They gentrified Oak Park… it was a Black community, not anymore.” Dale McKinney, an attorney and native of South Sacramento said. “I have mixed feelings; on the one hand, I would like for them to invest in the community. I wouldn’t like for them to gentrify like they did with Oak Park, because this is one part of town my people can still afford to live.” McKinney said.

Oak Park Sacramento, California

“When people want to take over certain areas, they flush people out, they come back in and make their money. I’ve seen it in Curtis Park and Tahoe Park, and I’m expecting to see it here.” Kelly Keys, who’s lived in Sacramento for 57 years, said.

Kelly Keys

“We are currently negotiating with UC [Davis] and the developer for a commitment on local jobs, affordable housing, a community investment fund, and other aspects of a community benefits agreement.” Councilmember Jay Schenirer, who represents part of South Sacramento, said. “Hopefully, it will be staffed by a lot of the minorities who live in this area. Who are qualified to handle those jobs.” Willie Green, who runs a mentor program in South Sacramento, said. Some community members are skeptical that the negotiations will turn into actual jobs for the people in south Sacramento. “Nine times out of ten, they are already looking in other areas to bring people in for those jobs. When the people of this area should get first opportunity for those jobs.” Green said.

Willie Green

A reason to be skeptical

South Sacramento residents have a reason to be skeptical of improvement projects in their communities. Driving through this part of town looks unrecognizable from other parts of the city. The streets are littered with trash. Empty lots lay vacant waiting for investment. Sidewalks need repair. Homeless encampments block sidewalks. What improvement projects have the city been doing up until this point?

Terrance McKinney

“These politicians talk about [how] they want to get along with the community, well prove it.” Terrance McKinney, a local business owner, said. “After school programs, job training, something tangible. It’s too much wide arrange of things they can do to help the future generations here, anything. Anything will help.” McKinney said. “Unfortunately, Sacramento is still living with the legacy of very racist land-use policies. Until just a few decades ago, people of color were not able to buy homes or access capital to invest in communities built for white people. While those policies have long been considered illegal, the fact remains that people of color in Sacramento are more likely to be living in areas of the city with less infrastructure and assets.” Katherine Valenzuela, the new Councilmember for District 4, said.

Confronting this inequity takes a level of intention that does not exist in our planning or investment practices. For instance, we should have a “scorecard” of sorts that helps us understand where there are gaps in infrastructure (like sidewalks, trees, bike lanes, etc.) and community amenities (libraries, youth programming, job opportunities, etc.) so we can invest more thoughtfully in those areas with the highest need, and we should be evaluating all of our decisions — both before and after they are made — to understand the impact those decisions have on communities and to inform future work. This sort of metric-based style of governing is something I campaigned on, and am really hopeful we can implement as a City

Katherine Valenzuela