This story is taken from Opinion at

Two different worlds

Where the needs are greatest, the resources are fewest

By Robert W. Wassmer -- Special To The Bee - (Published August 1, 2004)

Cross-jurisdictional disputes between counties and cities in our region continually seem to erupt over urban sprawl, how to share local sales tax revenue and provide shelter for the homeless, care for the indigent, mass transit and adequate housing for low-income residents.

Perhaps it would be easier to understand and deal with these issues if residents and policymakers had a better grasp of the current geographical distribution of the demographic, social, economic and educational characteristics of the residents of the greater Sacramento region (defined here as El Dorado, Placer, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba counties).

This was the motivation behind a report, "A Regional View of Social Disparities," issued earlier this year by the Community Services Planning Council and funded by the Great Valley Center. The spatial distribution of these variables should be of interest because upon observing them in the form of color maps, unmistakable patterns of disparities emerge that reveal clear pockets of prosperity and pockets of need.

These maps illustrate for all to grasp that cities and counties in the greater Sacramento region face vastly different health, education and human service needs. Unfortunately, they also face varying levels of resources to deal with these needs. Closer examination reveals that greater local needs are often associated with fewer local resources to deal with them. Public policies to address this imbalance are unlikely to be accomplished through local jurisdictions working alone.

The greater Sacramento region is expected to grow by 50 percent from a 2000 population of 2.84 million to 4.27 million by 2025. Currently this region's highest population densities occur in the City of Sacramento and the communities that extend eastward from it along interstate highways 5, 50 and 80; and in and near population centers like Yuba City and the cities of Woodland, Davis, Vacaville, Suisun City, Lodi, Stockton, Manteca and Tracy.

As shown in the map tothe right, in the next 25 years most of the population growth in our region is expected to occur at the fringe of current settlement areas, expanding both the size and density of existing population centers. If nothing changes in the way that we govern ourselves and raise local revenue, the spatial patterns of inequality in our region will continue, or even be intensified by this growth.

Adults who never graduated from high school are concentrated along the north-south boundaries of Yuba and Sutter Counties, Sutter and Yolo Counties, Solano and Yolo Counties, Sacramento and Yolo Counties, and a band that extends from the heart of Sacramento City south into a very large portion of western San Joaquin County. School sites in our region that have achieved at least a 700 Academic Performance Index (API) score - a score of 800 on API is the goal desired by the state - are nearly all in Placer and El Dorado Counties, and the northeastern corner of Sacramento County.

Although Time magazine has previously designated the City of Sacramento as the most racially and ethnically diverse place in the United States, diversity in the remainder of the region is far from this achievement. El Dorado, Placer, Yuba and Solano counties are all much less diverse than California as a whole. Only the counties of San Joaquin and Sacramento exhibit a race/ethnicity distribution that mimics our state. Placer, El Dorado and much of Yuba County are greater than 85 percent white.

Alternatively, Sutter, Yolo, San Joaquin and eastern Solano Counties have large Latino populations. African Americans in our region are concentrated in isolated neighborhoods in the largest population centers. The settlement patterns of people of Asian heritage and two or more races are similar to that of African Americans; one exception being the densely settled places in Sutter and Yuba Counties near Yuba City and Marysville.

K-12 public school students in the greater Sacramento region who are English-language learners are most likely to live in Yolo, San Joaquin or Sacramento counties. Overall, one of every four children in our region resides in a single-parent household.

But, the percentage of single-parent families is particularly high in Sacramento County at 31 percent, while the percentage of married-parent families is highest in Placer County at 80 percent.

Only El Dorado and Placer counties exhibited personal income measures that were greater than that observed for all of California. Sutter, Yuba and Yolo counties have overall higher poverty rates than California as a whole (see map to the right).

Poverty in elementary and high schools is concentrated in school districts in Manteca, Stockton, Lodi, Sacramento, Ranch Cordova, West Sacramento, Citrus Heights, Yuba City, Marysville, Suisun City and Vallejo. To some degree the same pattern is observed regarding English language learners, but an important difference is that there are more rural districts that face a population where at least 30 percent of students are learning English. More than 50 percent of public school students in Yolo and Yuba counties are eligible for free or reduced price school meals.

In map after map, the Community Service Planning Council report depicts a curving band that runs through the center of the Greater Sacramento Region from central Yuba and Sutter counties, through the eastern portions of Yolo and Solano counties, down through southern Sacramento County and into San Joaquin County where residents are more likely to be racially and ethnically diverse, less well-educated, more likely to be impoverished and more likely to have children living in single-parent families than other areas of the region.

Along this band that splits our region, residents are likely to exhibit greater demands for human services. Traditionally, municipal and county governments are responsible for providing these human services. Those counties in our region with the greatest demands on the local systems for human services are in most cases the same counties that generate the least per-capita tax revenue. Conversely, the more affluent and sparsely populated counties tend to generate a higher level of per-capita local sales and property tax revenue (as shown in the map on Page 1).

How revenues are generated and disbursed within California's regions to provide needed services is increasingly being debated at local and statewide government and policy-making levels. As widely reported, a major reason for the state budget deadlock was the insistence of the Legislature's Democratic leadership that California's flawed way of raising local revenues not be permanently locked into the state's constitution.

Currently, California's city governments raise about 17 percent of their operating revenues primarily from local sales taxes and property taxes, and county governments raise about 20 percent of operating revenues from these taxes. In large part, these are the revenues used for municipal and county-level "discretionary" spending. Discretionary spending covers a wide range of community interests - everything from parks and animal control to funding for law enforcement, street maintenance, after-school and human service programs, investigation and prosecution of child and elder abuse, support of the arts, nuisance abatement and community projects.

The bulk of local governmental funding in California (approximately 83 percent of city revenue and 80 percent of county revenue) is collected through state and federal taxes and fees and redistributed to the local level. Most of this revenue is restricted, i.e., local governments are mandated to use the funds to pay for a myriad of specific programs such as legal and court services, public education systems, health care for low-income individuals and homeland security.

High-end housing and large commercial developments generate more property tax revenue than smaller projects and more affordable housing. One example of a significant regional disparity in terms of commercial tax revenue generation is the location of an auto or shopping mall. The mall is situated in one county, and patronized by residents of that county as well as surrounding counties. The local property and sales taxes generated from that business primarily benefit the county where the mall is sited.

Only the most expensive housing and retail development generate sufficient property tax revenue for local governments to provide municipal services to area residents, so there is a disincentive to enforce low-income housing construction requirements.

Ironically, in our region, those counties with the greatest demand on the local systems for human services (Yuba, Sutter, Yolo, Solano and San Joaquin Counties) are the same counties that generate the least per-capita sales and property tax revenue.

Conversely, the more affluent and sparsely populated counties (El Dorado and Placer Counties) tend to generate a higher level of per-capita local tax revenue. Limited local tax resources in Yuba and Yolo counties, combined with the greater health and human service needs in these counties, allowed those counties to only spend an average of $49 per resident for county-sponsored health care. There is no easy public policy answer to the quandary presented here of the wealthiest areas of the region, with the least need for publicly supported human services, possessing the greatest tax-generated resources to pay for such services. All the more reason that these issues need to become more widely discussed.

In a quality-of-life survey conducted in December of last year by Valley Vision, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) and the California Institute for County Government, 84 percent of our region's surveyed residents believe that local governments should collaborate across jurisdictions to create common regional solutions.

In an effort to promote principles of smart growth for our region, SACOG has embarked upon an ambitious "Blueprint Project" to engage residents in the process of how this region should develop over the next 50 years. Interestingly, a vast majority of the project's participants have said they would prefer that a larger number of the region's new residents locate in current densely settled places than is expected to occur without active cross-jurisdictional planning.

But do these participants realize that these densely settled places contain a disproportionate number of poor, minority and single-parent households, where public school test scores are often lower than in the rest of our region and the rate of crime is higher? It will be hard to sell new residents on the desirability of these neighborhoods, and hence the implementation of the Blueprint Plan, unless steps are taken to change the geographic-based outcomes just described.

Solutions to our region's challenges need to come from cross-jurisdictional proposals. In 2002, the California Assembly Speaker's Commission on Regionalism noted:

"We compete in a global economy, region to region. Conflict between conservation and development worsens. On top of all this, our anticipated population growth in the decades to come and regional and cross-regional settlement patterns exacerbate the problems mentioned, and stretch our current governmental processes beyond their capacity. Only a fundamentally different mode of governance, what we call regional stewardship, will be adequate to the challenge. Stewardship, that is collaboration among local and state government and the private and civic sectors, is the fundamental building block of the 21st century."

Land-use and human-service planners must jointly develop creative responses to the needs of a diverse, growing and geographically isolated greater Sacramento region. Solutions to our regional challenges will need to come from cross-jurisdictional proposals. Perhaps if more would seriously ponder the ramifications of the information contained in the Community Service Planning Council report, more proposals of this nature would be forthcoming.

About the Writer

Rob Wassmer is an economist and professor in the Master's Program in Public Policy and Administration at California State University, Sacramento. He was the lead author of the regional study for the Community Services Planning Council. He can be reached at

A full copy of the report described above may be viewed at


Graphic: Percentage of population living below poverty [96k JPG]

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