Sacramento councilmember aims to lift all boats in diverse district
June 23, 2020 by Amber Bolden
(Photo: Eric Guerra)
California Forward is committed to advancing policy intersections that create a more inclusive and sustainable California where all people can prosper. To move this forward, we must address the racial and geographic inequities that have been exacerbated by a public health and economic crisis, and we must answer the call to dismantle structural racism. The Voices of Shared Prosperity series amplifies the stories of Californians who are committing their time and talent to solutions that embrace equity, the environment, and the economy.
Councilmember Eric Guerra represents Sacramento City Council District 6, one of the city’s most ethnically and socio-economically diverse districts. While he celebrates the rich culture and progress made in the city, glaring health disparities in the wake of COVID-19 and protests in response to the nation’s historic race inequities remind Councilmember Guerra of the critical importance of community investment and shared vision.
Guerra immigrated from Mexico as a child with his family and he has used his experience to help guide and inform his leadership.
Guerra recalls moving to Esparto, a small farming town in Yolo County, being deported as a child and having his family separated. He reflects on the long hours and hard conditions he experienced as a farm worker, adding “this is the foundation that guides me, especially when I think of struggling families.”
COVID-19 is shining a light on some of the generational inequalities facing the district, such as language barriers and access to capital, government, and housing. “Unfortunately — and it’s a sad part of Sacramento history — the district has a history of redlining.”
Guerra adds that he firmly supports the importance of systemwide change to make positive impacts for underestimated and underserved communities. In response to the current movements that are protesting police brutality and race-based violence, the councilmember encourages residents to be active at every level to influence the type of change they want to see.
With plans to go into the Navy after high school, a fortuitous conversation with a college recruiter led him to earn his bachelor’s degree in electrical and electronic engineering. While Guerra considers himself lucky and grateful, he insists that people should not have to rely on fortune to prosper and, instead, better systems should be built to serve all community members. “If you truly believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, then we have to make sure we focus on that. It’s not just about pouring all of the money into fixing one boat,” he added.
After earning his degree, Guerra had a successful stint at the CalTrans Transportation Laboratory before seizing an opportunity to work in the state legislature through a fellowship program. That experience ultimately motivated him to earn his master’s degree in public administration.
He started his public service career in 2008, at the height of the Great Recession and remembers the toll that economic instability had on the state and even on his own family. The state faced a multi-billion dollar deficit, major industry layoffs and a collapsing pension system during that time.
“Everybody had to work together, through high emotions, to figure out how to solve a problem. It really made me realize, from the state level to the local level, how much you can do to solve problems to address people’s issues and really empathize with food insecurity, hunger, lack of access to government [and] language.”
His lived experience inspired his development of the Immigrant Legal Defense Fund and Education Fund in Sacramento. This resource supports immigrants, refugees and employers who need help navigating very complex and challenging circumstances around immigration. He says this was a way that we can set the stage at the local level to inspire the state level.
Looking towards the future, Councilmember Guerra is focusing on creating a new vision for the district and using community-based approaches to create sustainable solutions. His recommendations to actualize this goal include:
- Intentionally building inclusive communities. Deliberate inclusion strategies must be built-in to hiring practices, community outreach, and communication. More specifically, Guerra supports using feedback loops to assess if goals have truly been met for all communities. “Being intentional means you are going to get some criticism but you have to be able to communicate the collective benefit.”
- Protecting vulnerable populations. Councilmember Guerra highlights that low-wage, low-skilled workers have played a critical role in keeping the state healthy in the face of COVID-19 and that, as the state recovers, we need to find a way to make sure that these workers are protected and that we are providing them with the services needed to continue to contribute to society.
- Encouraging voters to take action. The issues of race and equity go far beyond police reform. The Councilmember expressed “I am inspired to see the great activism happening throughout our city, state, and nation but the public needs to step up at the ballot.” Major changes happen when citizens use their voting power in addition to exercising their other civil rights.
As the state explores how it will re-vision its future, Councilman Guerra will keep challenging historic inequities and using his personal experience to guide his leadership. He will continue to explore ways to support opportunities to be a part of the rising tide that lifts all boats.
The Voices of Shared Prosperity stories will be shared in advance of the 2020 California Economic Summit, taking place on December 3-4.