Sacramento mayoral candidate Dr. Richard Pan. (Photo by Fred Greaves)

CapRadio interviewed the four major candidates for Sacramento mayor in the March 5 primary election. We asked how their life experience has shaped their approach to dealing with two of Sacramento’s most pressing problems: The city’s homelessness crisis and severe lack of affordable housing.

Dr. Richard Pan is very much at home in Sacramento’s med center neighborhood on Stockton Boulevard. It’s where he worked as a pediatrician at UC Davis Health and it’s also not far from the county health clinic where he volunteers, helping patients who are uninsured or on Medi-Cal.

“I was recruited here and was actually practicing and teaching here for 12 years before I ran and got elected to the legislature,” Pan said on a rainy day last month, speaking at Cancer Survivors Park across from his former pediatrics office.

After moving from the East Coast to Sacramento 25 years ago, Pan said he’s thrived both personally and professionally. He got married here, is raising two teenage boys in the community and has helped a generation of Sacramentans grow and improve their health.

Now with the city facing persistent health, housing and homelessness problems, the 58-year-old Pan said he believes he’s uniquely qualified to lead Sacramento as its next mayor.

“This is the city that I love,” he added. “This city has so much potential and I see this in the work that I’ve done both as a physician and community leader as well as being an elected official. But at the same time, we’re challenged. Too many of our fellow Sacramentans are unhoused.”

Who is Richard Pan?

Pan represented Sacramento in the state Assembly and state Senate from 2010 to 2014 and 2014 to 2022, respectively.

In 2015, he authored some of the nation’s toughest childhood vaccine mandates, including Senate Bill 277, which eliminated personal belief exemptions to vaccinations for children attending schools.

Pan introduced SB 277 after a measles outbreak at Disneyland infected more than 100 people in the U.S. and Mexico the year before.

Pan’s advocacy on the issue made him the target of anti-vaccination activists who for years organized protests against his bills at the Capitol, called him a liar and harassed him both publicly and privately.

In 2019, an anti-vaccine activist even shoved Pan on a downtown Sacramento street after he introduced legislation to crack down on vaccine medical exemptions.

Who is supporting Pan?

If he wins the mayor’s race, Pan would be Sacramento’s first elected Asian American mayor. Jimmie Yee briefly served as interim mayor after the death of Mayor Joe Serna in 1999, but was not elected to the position.

Pan is endorsed by elected and community leaders including Yee, Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho, state Senator and former Sacramento City Council member Angelique Ashby, homeless advocate Sister Libby Fernandez and small business leader Patrick Mulvaney.

He is also backed by groups including the Asian American Business Club, AFSCME Union of American Physicians and Dentists and the Sacramento District Dental Society Political Action Committee.

Since leaving the Senate in 2022, Pan has worked as a senior policy advisor to AAPI Data, which publishes demographic research on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Confronting Sacramento’s homeless crisis

Sacramento’s homeless population hit a record 9,300 people two years ago, up 67% from 2019, according to the most recent count.

Pan said there’s no shortage of ideas for how to solve the crisis. Instead, he argues there’s a lack of follow through.

“I believe that people are frustrated because they hear a lot of announcements like, ‘We’re doing something,’ and they don’t see the change,” he said.

With experience at the state and local level, Pan said he knows how the different layers of government work and will ensure there’s a focus on implementing policies, not just promoting them.

During his time in the Legislature, Pan said early each week he would help shape the rules. “By the end of the week,” when he said he volunteered at a county clinic, “I had to live by them. My patients had to live by them. I had to deal with the real world consequences of what actually happened as a result of the bills or laws that I passed.”

Pan said one of the best ways to tackle homelessness is to prevent more people from falling into it. That’s not happening fast enough in Sacramento County, where for every person on the street who gets connected with housing, three more fall into homelessness, according to the nonprofit Sacramento Steps Forward.

If elected mayor, Pan said he’ll urge the city to use federal dollars to support people at risk of losing their home, through a program called CalAIM. Pan said the program provides Medi-Cal enrollees with help finding a home and a subsidy to help them stay housed.

More than 40% of Californians are enrolled in Medi-Cal, which offers free health care coverage to low-income residents.

“That is certainly one thing we can draw on to keep people housed, instead of having them on the street,” Pan said.

‘Drastically cut the cost of doing this’

On housing, Pan said Sacramento needs more affordable options. But he said the region can’t subsidize projects at the cost of $600,000 a unit like the planned affordable housing development on Stockton Boulevard at the site of the former San Juan motel.

“We need to find a way to really drastically cut the cost of doing this,” he said, “because at $600,000 a pop we can go buy houses in North Natomas for less than that — single family homes.”

“We’ve got to figure out how to do better,” he added. “We want a city culture that helps people.”

Specifically, Pan said the city must streamline its building permit process to make it easier and cheaper for developers to build.

When he’s not seeing patients or working on public policy, Pan said he likes to travel and to visit art and science museums.

“And also I’m a systems person. So, I like to think (about) how systems work. How do we build and constantly improve better systems to get better outcomes?” Pan added. “I think my wife gets a little annoyed sometimes, but I’m always looking at how can we do things better.”

Pan said he’s also a history buff. As mayor, he said he would avoid Sacramento’s mistakes from the past like the lack of cooperation between governments that allowed the region’s homelessness problem to spiral. He said the ensuing finger pointing hasn’t helped either.

“People don’t want to see blame throwing,” he said. “They want to see problems solved. It’s about us working together. We’re on the same team.”

Mail ballots for the March primary were sent to all registered voters in Sacramento County starting Feb. 5. If no mayoral candidate wins more than half the vote, the leading two will face off in November.

Contact CapRadio reporter Chris Nichols at

This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and James B. McClatchy Foundation. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.

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