In 2022, then Sacramento, CA, City Council Member Jay Schenirer championed a campaign called “Yes on Measure L,” which created a voter-approved children’s fund to support essential programs for kids in the city. The fund will generate about $10 million annually for comprehensive services for children and youth, including mental health services; homelessness prevention; youth transition out of foster care; substance abuse prevention and intervention programs; youth job training; early childhood care and education; and programs to prevent crime, drug, and gang violence. The effort was led by Sac Kids First, a coalition of youth-focused community organizations including nonprofits, educators, law enforcement officials, and business leaders. After many years of persistence—and unsuccessful efforts in 2016 and 2020—children and youth advocates in Sacramento finally succeeded in creating a children’s fund when 62% of voters approved Measure L last November. As a result of the successful ballot measure, the city will set aside a portion of its annual budget equal to 40% of the city’s cannabis tax revenue.

We spoke with Mr. Schenirer and his colleague Claudia Jasin, who served as his youth policy specialist for nine years, about their efforts to help Sacramento become a more youth friendly city. You can watch the full video interview and read an edited version of our conversation below.



Children’s Funding Project: I’d like to begin by asking about the political landscape at the time you championed the voter-approved initiative. How much support did the effort have and did you face any opposition? Also, how has your community typically viewed ballot initiatives and levies?

Jay Schenirer: Sacramento is a pretty liberal city, and I think over time has generally voted for initiatives that will bring more revenue into the city. This one, actually, was not a tax increase, which was very important politically, but a shift in how some funds were used—an amount equal to 40% of our cannabis revenues, which will be about $10 million a year, and hopefully will increase over time. This initiative, you know, was my third try at it, and certainly not myself alone, but with lots of others. You mentioned Sac Kids First. The mayor was an advocate this time around, as were really a majority of the city council.

Things have changed since I first did this. Very importantly, we went to our unions—our fire department union and our police union—very early on to talk about how it could actually help them in many ways. When you think about a new definition of public safety in our neighborhoods, and also when you think about some of the academies that fire and police have where they’re trying to recruit young people from Sacramento to join their ranks, and also something that could vastly help with the diversity of those departments. So between the mayor and myself we worked with the fire union, who came along in support, and we talked a lot about the long-term relationship between the council and the unions, and I think that had something to do with it because we really wanted to foster a positive relationship. We didn’t quite get support with the police union, but we did keep them neutral.

So really, at the end of the day there was very little funded opposition. A couple of our colleagues on the council, one in particular did not like ballot box budgeting as he put it, voted against it and actually funded some work against it. But really nothing in comparison to the work done by the young people knocking on doors every weekend really running a ground campaign. These young people really carried the day.

Children’s Funding Project: Yes on Measure L made two attempts prior to being successful at the ballot. What lessons did you learn from this process and what were your main takeaways?

Jay Schenirer: Right, so our first try at it was a small increase in our cannabis tax. It moved money and then added 1%. The tax increase was a little bit difficult. Taking money out of the general fund and giving it to kids basically was not really positive for some individuals. Because it was a tax increase, it was a two-thirds vote. So 66.67% was the necessary bar that we had to get over, and we were less than 1% underneath it. So very, very close. But two-thirds of votes are incredibly difficult [to get]. You’re walking in the door with at least 30% who are going to vote no regardless of what the issue is. So, what we were able to do [with this most recent campaign]—because it was 40% of a current tax that will be moved over—this was a 50% plus one vote. So that made a huge difference. It wouldn’t have passed this time, either, with a two-thirds vote. So everything you can do, and different communities did it a little bit differently, but everything you can do to get to a 50% plus one [vote].

On the second time around, and this was led really by nonprofit groups, I signed on. I think there were some challenges with the writing of the initiative, just to be honest, where the council would have a yes or no vote on the entire package of spending versus being able to do what the council does. And so you had opposition from the mayor and from many of the city council members because of that, because it’s hard to give up some of your authority.

And that changed from Measure G [our second attempt] to Measure L [which passed] giving the council final authority to really look at and change, if necessary, the package brought by the citizens oversight committee on a spending plan.

Children’s Funding Project: What advice do you have for other elected officials who are thinking about pursuing something similar?

Jay Schenirer: That’s a great question. Every city, county, municipality has its own characteristics and its own relationships. The political world is built on relationships.It’s important to see the big picture. How does this fit into what you’re trying to do as a city or a county? How does this move toward your goals? How does this give you success that you can talk about? I think—and we don’t do this nearly enough and need to do it more—playing up public safety. When you provide after-school programming and positive youth development and spaces—all the things that we know work—let’s keep kids out of the back of police cars rather than buying more police cars, right? That has been my mantra for many, many years now. So I think we need to really try to change the narrative about this, what this will really do in a positive manner for the community. And again, I want to give so much credit to Sac Kids First. They really ran the campaign. They were out knocking on doors, and they were every day showing people the assets young people could be in a community, who can bring something to the community that moves it forward.

Children’s Funding Project: Is there anything I didn’t cover that you want to add, Claudia?

Claudia Jasin: Sure, I think I’d make two points about giving advice as you framed it. I think having an elected official as a champion plays a key role in how we get the measure to the ballot. Signature gathering is really hard and expensive for community groups. The key role an  elected candidate could play is to figure out a way to get their governing body to vote, to put it on the ballot. That saves a lot of money and a lot of time and energy for community folks to focus on the campaign itself. That would be first.

Secondly, Jay alluded to this about thinking about the big picture. One thing we did in Sacramento is we didn’t wait from one campaign to the other to think about kids and do things for kids. We were getting policies moved forward. We were getting infrastructure in place and programs as we moved from one campaign to the other, to show folks it’s not just about the money. It’s you, this larger big picture effort to make Sacramento, as a city, more youth friendly. So yes, the ballot measure and the children’s fund are critical, and we wanted to show people there are other things that cities can do in the meantime to support our kids.

Jay Schenirer: And if I can add a couple of things to that. I agree with everything Claudia says, because I’m smart enough to agree with everything that she says. But two things: One is you have to look at the big picture here, and we had a lot of momentum around what we were doing with young people. When I think about a legacy both for Claudia and myself, because she was so involved in all of this, I think about the use of a youth liaison position that will be sitting on the dais at the city council. I think that’s almost more important than the funds because it sets an example. We need young people in the right place. We put them on a lot of our boards and commissions to really have a youth voice in everything we do. I mean, we say young people should be involved in every decision that affects them. Every decision the council makes affects our young people, so having them in the right place at the right time is really important. The second thing I would say, and this can be difficult, is really try to work with your bureaucracy. For example, our city manager was not crazy about this. It puts some restrictions on him that moves money around that he may not want to move but at the end of the day it’s a council decision to do it. But we also work, for example, really closely with our city attorney’s office and the result was we got the language that we wanted on the ballot measure. I mean, that could win or lose a ballot measure. And we’re working with them on implementation of this going forward, because even if you pass a ballot measure if it’s not implemented correctly it could fail just as easily as if it had lost at the ballot.

Children’s Funding Project:  Thank you, Jay and Claudia, for joining me. One of the things I think is really powerful is that what I heard from both of you is that the work painted this very clear vision for children and youth in your community and the ballot initiative was just a step along the path of that vision. You were going to get this done. You were going to figure out a way. It was kind of like this is the train—you can get on, but we’re moving, and I think that approach is just so smart. I really appreciate you highlighting that in our time together.

Jay Schenirer: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here. We had a lot of help from everyone, including you all, to pay it forward. The more we can get communities to understand how important it is to support our young people, the better off we are as a larger community and certainly as a state. Thank you.

Children’s Funding Project: Thank you.

To learn more about the success of Sacramento’s “Yes on Measure L” campaign, read our 2022 Ballot Measure Recap blog. To watch additional interviews with elected leaders in our series, check out our recent conversations with Franklin County, OH, Commissioner Erica Crawley, Philadelphia, PA, Mayor Jim Kenney and U.S. Congressman Greg Landsman, a former member of the Cincinnati, OH, City Council.

Reginald Harris is a senior fellow at Children’s Funding Project.