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Sacramento to Vote on Merger of City, County


SACRAMENTO — If voters next week approve, the city and county of Sacramento will merge to become California's third largest city, behind Los Angeles and San Diego, and the seventh largest in the nation.

The new, 1,000-square-mile city and county of Sacramento would have a population of more than 1 million--340,000 living within the present city limits and about 700,000 who live in the county.

Much of the county population has settled in suburbs that have spread in the past 10 or 15 years from the tree-lined streets of the old city to new communities in the north, south and east. From the city to the foot of the Sierra 30 miles away, a solid wedge of homes, stores and increasingly crowded streets is forming, making the area one of the fastest growing in Northern California.

Measure S on the county ballot seeks to consolidate greater Sacramento's expansion under common elective bodies and unified city services. Supporters say the proposed charter for the new city and county of Sacramento would make it easier to deal with air quality, transportation and other regional problems and that combining the two governments would result in annual savings of at least $27 million.

Equally important, they say, incorporation of such new communities as Citrus Heights to the east and Elk Grove to the south--virtually unmapped 10 years ago--would deprive Sacramento County of the tax base to pay for health, welfare and other services.

"These new cities draw their boundaries and their tax districts and say to hell with everybody else," said Wendell Phillips, president of Sacramento County Deputy Sheriff's Assn., which is supporting consolidation.

Opponents argue that the merger would cost more money, lead to poorer services within what is now the city of Sacramento, and would create a metropolitan government that would be less responsive to local neighborhood needs.

"You're going to create a mega-government that's going to make this entire county into one humongous city and it's going to be a financial nightmare," said Jim Jorgensen, president of Sacramento Police Officers Assn., which opposes the measure.

Sacramento City Councilwoman Kim Mueller used the same argument to make a different point. "What tipped the balance for me (in favor of merger) was the planning argument," she said. "We don't want this to become another Los Angeles, to be frank."

The outcome has importance beyond the state capital because of the recent statewide flurry of interest in regional government as a solution for runaway growth, traffic gridlock, polluted air and other problems that have accompanied California's rapid growth.

Although the Sacramento vote is confined to a single county, "people are looking at this as an attempt to deal with problems through an areawide structure," said Julie Nauman, a Sacramento urban planner and member of the commission that recommended consolidation.

The proposal, which must be approved by a majority of voters in both the city and county, calls for a two-tier government that would begin to function in January, 1993.

At the top is an 11-member Council of Supervisors, which would replace the present Sacramento City Council and County Board of Supervisors. This new council would approve the budget, pass ordinances and adopt a General Plan to guide development in the combined city and county.

The new supervisors would be elected within geographic districts to staggered four-year terms.

The mayor, elected citywide and countywide, would not have veto power over Council of Supervisors actions but would have two votes on the Council when a second vote is needed to break a tie.

The second tier of government would be made up of 20 Local Community Councils (LCCs), each with five elected members, representing all areas of the city and county.

These LCCs would produce community plans and make local zoning decisions, but these would have to conform to a General Plan for the entire area that is approved by the Council of Supervisors.

The city police and the county sheriffs would be merged into one department, a highly controversial proposal in view of a long history of rivalry and bad feeling between the two groups.

"We've had a hell of a time getting these two law enforcement agencies to cooperate," said County Supervisor Illa Collin, a consolidation supporter.

Because city and county officers could not work together, a joint city-county narcotics unit had to be dropped two years ago, said Sheriff Glen Craig, a merger supporter.

Thirteen fire districts would be combined into one, but the unified district would be accountable to its own governing board, not to the Council of Supervisors. "That was a sop to some of the chiefs in the outlying areas, to get them to come along," said a source who was involved in writing the new charter.

Most special districts--governing parks, recreation and water use--would be exempted from the plan, as would the other three cities in the county, Galt, Folsom and Isleton, all of which have asked to remain independent.

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