Will CA Legislature Pass SB 14 to Make Sex Trafficking a Felony Once Again?

Sen. Grove’s bill will make ‘non-serious’ sex trafficking children a felony and a strike

A bill to make sex trafficking a felony once again in California was blocked in the Assembly Public Safety Committee by Democrats in July, after passing unanimously in the Senate. Eventually and two days later, the committee was pressured by the public and lawmakers to reconsider their vote, and passed SB 14.

What should have been an easy vote for the safety and security of children should not have taken public outrage for passage. When and how did California’s Democrat lawmakers become so indifferent and callous to the people?

As Senator Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) said in July in an op ed, “the grim reality is that California is one of the largest sites of human trafficking in the United States.”

As the Globe reported in July, Currently human trafficking is defined as a “non-serious” crime which means the act of human trafficking cannot be considered a strike under California’s Three Strikes law.

While most people do not encounter the sex trafficking industry, the horrific stories of survivors are out there for anyone willing to listen. “Trafficking victims must meet daily sex or labor quotas before they’re permitted to sleep, eat or rest. In many instances, traffickers will brand their victims with facial or body tattoos to signify their ownership over the victim and the victim’s status as mere property,” Grove said.

The California Attorney General explains the magnitude of sex trafficking:

Human trafficking is among the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprises and is estimated to be a $150 billion-a-year global industry. It is a form of modern day slavery that profits from the exploitation of our most vulnerable populations. One common misperception is that human trafficking requires movement across borders. In reality, it involves controlling a person or group through force, fraud, or coercion to exploit the victims for forced labor, sexual exploitation, or both. This can occur entirely within a single country or it can cross borders.

The International Labor Organization estimates that there are more than 24.9 million human trafficking victims worldwide at any time. This includes 16 million victims of labor exploitation, 4.8 million victims of sexual exploitation, and 4.1 million victims of state imposed forced labor. The victims of human trafficking are often young girls and women. Young girls and women are 57.6% of forced labor victims and 99.4% of sex trafficking victims.

In the past, the U.S. Department of State has estimated that 14,500 to 17,500 victims are trafficked into the United States each year.

Six proposed bills in 2018-19 would have corrected unclear language and serious flaws in Proposition 57, passed in 2016 by voters, which reclassified many serious heinous crimes as “non-serious.” The initiative specified early parole for persons who committed non-violent offenses. However, the initiative never specified what is considered a non-violent felony.

But all 6 bills were killed by Democrats. Ironically, most of the bills were killed in Assembly or Senate Public Safety committees, just as SB 14 was.

Human trafficking involving a minor, assault with a deadly weapon, solicitation of murder, rape under various specified circumstances, grand theft of a firearm, elder and dependent adult abuse, were considered “non-violent” crimes under Prop. 57.

Senate Bill 14 by Senator Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) was voted down in the Assembly Public Safety Committee with 6 Democrats abstaining and 2 Republicans voting “aye”… that means Democrats wouldn’t even commit to a “no” vote lest it look bad during reelection time.

SB 14 will included sex trafficking of minors in the lists of crimes that are defined as serious under California law, making the crime a strike under the Three Strikes law, and would help strengthen protections for the millions of victims of sex trafficking.

As of today, Senator Grove says she has 64 co-authors which is more than half of the California State Legislature, including 46 Assembly members and 9 members of the Assembly Appropriations Committee who have signed on as co-authors. She has done a monumental job winning supporters and co-authors of SB 14,, and it’s taken a lot of heavy lifting.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

More Than A Month’s Worth: That’s the Size of LA DA Gascon’s Case Backlog

‘Crime is up and the current filings are not reflecting the reality’

Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón has been criticized – rightly – for any number of justice system reasons: soft on crime, does not add gun enhancements to charges, does not support victim’s families, does not oppose the parole of violent offenders, does use no cash bail which often results in a nearly instantaneous re-offense by the criminal, etc.

But it also appears he’s just really bad at even the most basic part of the job – filing criminal cases.

The office has a case backlog slightly larger than a whole month’s worth of offenses.  The office is sent about 11,000 cases a month – it’s reportedly behind by about 13,000.

In his “mid-term report,” Gascon said the office’s felony filing rate is in fact about the same as previous district attorneys.

But that means the backlog could also represent an increase in crime.  

“If felony filings are the same as before, and there is a huge batch of unfiled cases, that means crime is up and the current filings are not reflecting the reality,” said Marc Debbaudt, retired veteran prosecutor and former president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys.

The issue of staff incompetence should cut across the political spectrum, said longtime deputy district attorney Eric Siddall.  

“He’s a disaster, no matter the politics,” said Siddall.  “This had not happened with previous district attorneys – he just doesn’t know how to administer.”

DA’s office spokesperson Venusse Navid defended the operations, saying a new computerized and centralized filing system has helped and that office leadership went through every office to conduct a physical hand count, we “looked on shelves, on desks, in drawers, in boxes” to find every case.

“Up until 2021, the office mainly operated with hard-copy, paper file submissions,” Navid said.  “Two years ago, we dramatically expanded the use of the award-winning electronic charge evaluation system known as ‘eCER.’While the workload is high, we prioritize custody cases. We are proud to say that no case submitted for custody filing has been left unreviewed and unfiled by our office since December 2020.”

Siddall said Navid crowing about “custody filing” is irrelevant as those are cases involving people already in jail and – per the constitution –  must be filed within 48 hours.

But the system change – along with the office being unable to replace the hundreds of experienced deputy district attorneys who could not abide Gascon’s ludicrous, and often illegal, prosecution-related orders and directives have exacerbated the problem.

Debbaudt said he understand that the new system has ballooned the time it takes a deputy district attorney to actually file a case. “You used to be able to do 40 or 50 a day,” Debbaudt said.  “Now’s it about five.”

The new centralized system does have one benefit for Gascon – it allows him to monitor and control what gets filed, Debbaudt added.

The mid term report also noted that charges for misdemeanor offenses have dropped about 40 percent while charges for misdemeanor “addiction related offenses” have essentially dropped to zero per office policy, a policy many say has directly led to the degradation of the city.

Those offenses not charged anymore include drug possession, drug use, public intoxication, and possession of paraphernalia, etc.

The report states: 

“Do no harm” is also an overriding principle in our office, and we have decided to shift resources away from misdemeanors where prosecution serves no public safety benefit. We have, therefore, dramatically decreased our filing rate for cases associated with addiction, while focusing on those misdemeanors where violence, and especially domestic violence, occurs.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Retail Owners Frustrated With Gov. Newsom, Mayor Bass Responses to Multiplying Robberies

‘Bass keeps finding new ways to disappoint us – She’s not even doing the bare minimum’

Retail store owners in Los Angeles continued to remain frustrated at the recent string of smash and grab robberies, with many charging that state and local officials have not done enough to help deter the growing number of robberies. The Globe spoke with several retail owners in the LA area about what the situation currently is like for them.

“If a large number of people burst in here all at once, there is nothing we can really do,” said Nasser Odeh, a luxury store owner in Los Angeles, to the Globe. “Say 12 come in and start smashing the cases. If I call the police, they won’t respond in time, and even if some just happen to swing by, the most we can hope for is one or two arrests. If I pull down the shutters, then I’m stuck with 12 angry robbers who may or may not be armed. If I bring out bear spray or another weapon, they’ll retaliate. If I fight back, they’ll retaliate. The best case for me is that one or two of them are caught, but then because of the laws we have, who knows if they’ll even be sentenced.”

“This is where a lot of retailers are, especially ones that carry expensive clothes or jewelry or something else expensive that is easy to carry out and flip. We don’t know who to turn to in these cases. The best we can do is improve security as best as we can to deter robbers.”

A clothing boutique co-owner, Sarah Watt, added, “This is incredibly frustrating, and scary. If you look at those smash and grab videos, they all come in wearing black and face coverings, and just rip what they can. It’s brutal and effective. And there is only so much we can do. We can have armed security guards and cameras and everything, but they’ll still come. What we want is more police, stronger sentences, and for our security guards to be given the green light for more hands on action in case things take a turn. But this city just is not doing that. [LA Mayor Karen] Bass really doesn’t give a damn about small business owners.”

The uptick in ‘flash mob’ robberies did spur some action this week from both Governor Gavin Newsom and Mayor Karen Bass. Gov. Newsom announced on Thursday that he would be tripling its California Highway Patrol (CHP)resources in Los Angeles to help crack down on the issue, while Mayor Bass created a new task force to help counter the robberies. According to the Mayor’s office, the new task force will investigate, apprehend and prosecute all criminals involved in recent retail thefts.

“We are not treating it as organized crime in the traditional sense, in terms of, like, the Mafia,” said the Mayor on Friday. “But what is clear is that this is organized. You can’t go in and have a group of people, 20 and 30 people, who all get out of their cars at the same time, all go in to the stores. There might be connections between the groups. This is what the task force will establish.”

“No Angeleno should feel like it’s not safe to go shopping in Los Angeles. No entrepreneur should feel like it’s not safe to open a business.”

Disappointment with the response by Newsom, Bass

However, the actions of Newsom and Bass have rung hollow for many. Senate Republicans on Thursday pointed out the flaws in Newsom’s plan, including that, because of many current vacancies in the CHP, the increased presence would put a strain on the Highway Patrol as a consequence of the state not giving any additional resources (funding) to them. Others said that the state’s lax laws on reducing penalties to retail criminals, few to no prison terms for retail robberies, and early releases for those with sentences severely undercut what the Governor was attempting to do. In addition, it was also mentioned that the lack of arrests from similar flash mob robberies in the Bay Area two years ago showed how the Governor’s response would likely not accomplish much.

“Welcome to ‘CRIMEafornia,’” said Senator Brian Jones (R-San Diego) in a statement on Thursday. “The crisis we are experiencing is unfortunately a result of decades-long policies implemented by Democrat lawmakers that prioritize coddling criminals over protecting communities. While it’s welcome news that the state is investing more resources to combat skyrocketing thefts, it shouldn’t be happening in the first place. The governor is treating the symptoms, not the causes, including little-to-no penalties, early release, lenient or non-existent prison terms, and weak leadership from most of California’s Democrat politicians over the last two decades.”

More locally in LA, Bass’ task force announcement failed to impress retail owners.

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Crime is So Bad Near S.F. Federal Building Employees are Told to Work From Home, Officials Said

Officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advised hundreds of employees in San Francisco to work remotely for the foreseeable future due to public safety concerns outside the Nancy Pelosi Federal Building on Seventh Street. 

The imposing, 18-story tower on the corner of Seventh and Mission streets houses various federal agencies, including HHS, the U.S. Department of Labor, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the office of Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi. The area is also home to one of the city’s most brazen open-air drug markets, where dozens of dealers and users congregate on a daily basis. 

HHS Assistant Secretary for Administration Cheryl R. Campbell issued the stay-home recommendation in an Aug. 4 memo to regional leaders.

“In light of the conditions at the (Federal Building) we recommend employees … maximize the use of telework for the foreseeable future,” Campbell wrote in the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Chronicle. 

“This recommendation should be extended to all Region IX employees, including those not currently utilizing telework flexibilities,” Campbell wrote, referring to the federal government zone that includes California and other Western states.

The memo came on the same day that, according to Axios, President Biden’s White House chief of staff called for more federal employees to return to their offices after years of remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It was not immediately clear whether other tenants in the building had issued similar directives. Officials with Pelosi’s office and the Department of Labor said they have been working closely with local and federal law enforcement to ensure safety for their staffers, but they have not advised employees to work from home. 

The building has long been a locus of some of the city’s most intractable problems. 

Dozens of dealers routinely plant themselves on, next to or across the street from the property, operating in shifts as users smoke, snort or shoot up their recent purchases. The property’s concrete benches are an especially popular site for users to get high, socialize or pass out. 

While Pelosi’s five-person staff was not advised to work remotely, she raised concerns about the building’s tenant safety last week in a meeting with the U.S. attorney for the northern district of California, according to officials with her office. 

“The safety of workers in our federal buildings has always been a priority for Speaker Emerita Pelosi, whether in the building or on their commutes,” Pelosi spokesperson Aaron Bennett said in a statement. 

“Federal, state and local law enforcement — in coordination with public health officials and stakeholders — are working hard to address the acute crises of fentanyl trafficking and related violence in certain areas of the city.”

Pelosi recently secured more federal law enforcement assistance in cracking down on the city’s fentanyl crisis in the Tenderloin and SoMa areas. San Francisco is one of the cities included in a federal program called Operation Overdrive, which targets drug traffickers in areas with the highest levels of drug-related violence and overdoses. 

The Speaker Nancy Pelosi Federal Building is maintained by the federal General Services Administration, and policing is handled by Federal Protective Services. 

Richard Stebbins, a public affairs officer for GSA, said the agency coordinates with San Francisco police to enhance safety outside of the building, which includes routine patrols and camera systems around the perimeter of the building. 

“The building is a safe and secure space for federal employees and the visiting public,” Stebbins said in an email to the Chronicle. “There are a number of security controls GSA employs to make sure the building is safe including Federal Protective Services officers at the building and secure checkpoints.”

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Federal Protective Service, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

But a tenant of the building familiar with recent decisions said the agency and GSA have recently implemented a number of new security measures to address safety concerns. This included pulling FPS personnel from other nearby properties for additional security, a pending vote on funds for an additional “roving” guard dedicated to the property, and creating a “BART Buddies” program that has escorts on call from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. to walk employees to and from BART. 

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

How 600-plus California Inmates Got More Than 11,000 Years Cut Off Their Prison Sentences

Neko Wilson wasn’t present when Gary and Sandra DeBartolo were brutally killed in their Central Valley home in 2009. Still, Fresno County prosecutors alleged he was culpable for their murders because he had helped plan the botched robbery.

At the time, California law allowed for people to be charged with first-degree murder if they were involved in a felony that led to a killing, even if they hadn’t intended for anyone to be hurt and didn’t commit the violence themselves. For years, the felony murder law was used to lock up entire groups of offenders for the violent acts of one or two among them — often for decades, sometimes for life.

Wilson, who was 27 when he and five others were arrested in the DeBartolo murders, faced a similar fate.

“That was the hardest pill to swallow,” Wilson said. “A life sentence for something I didn’t do.”

Wilson, however, walked out of prison in October 2018 — the first of hundreds of state prisoners who have benefited from a pair of criminal justice reform measures that revised the way California punishes unwitting accomplices to killings.

According to a first-of-its-kind analysis by the Office of the State Public Defender, at least 602 people in California detention facilities had their prison sentences reduced between 2019 and 2022 as a result of the two laws. That erased an estimated 11,353 years from their combined terms and saved taxpayers between $94 million and $1.2 billion in prison costs.

“This is really tangible — not only real impact on the individuals who were incarcerated under this sentence, but also their families and the rest of California,” said Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who sponsored Senate Bill 1437 in the Legislature and worked to ensure inmates were aware of the change after it passed.

SB 1437, signed into law in 2018, and Senate Bill 775, signed into law in 2021, largely restricted the filing of felony murder and other manslaughter and attempted murder charges to people who actually commit or intend to commit a killing, or who are major participants in a related felony and acted with “reckless indifference to human life.”

Certain cases, including those involving the murder of a law enforcement officer, were exempted.

The bills applied retroactively and allowed people behind bars on convictions and plea deals reached under the old rules to be resentenced — usually for lesser crimes — under the new rules.

The bills set off substantial controversy. Advocates said they would save on prison costs, reduce the size of the state’s prison population and restore fairness to California law. Opponents said the laws would remove a critical deterrent to murder, overturn legitimate jury decisions, force prosecutors to relitigate long settled cases and release dangerous prisoners back into the public.

Both sides gave rough estimates for how many people might be released as a result of the changes and over how long of a period. The true numbers would depend on a host of factors, including individual district attorneys’ willingness to go along with inmates’ requests for resentencing or fight them in court.

Some prosecutors did fight, in part by arguing that the laws were unconstitutional. The state’s highest courts rejected that idea, allowing the laws to stand.

A major criticism of the state’s former felony murder law was that it was disproportionately applied to defendants of color. The state analysis, based on data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, found that 41% of the resentenced defendants were Black, and 39% were Latino — or, as the state broke them out, 20% Mexican and 19% Hispanic. About 12% were white.

The analysis found that 250 of the defendants, or 41.5%, were in Los Angeles County. Another 69, or 11.5%, were in Alameda County and 52, or 8.6%, were in Orange County.

There were 26 in San Diego County, 25 each in Sacramento and San Bernardino counties, 22 in Santa Clara County, 21 in Riverside County and 20 in San Francisco County. The rest were scattered across the state.

The analysis is almost certainly an undercount of people who were resentenced. Some prosecutors have simply cut deals to release detainees rather than go through the official process of resentencing and releasing them under the two laws, legal observers said.

Recidivism among those released was not part of the state’s analysis. However, the Office of the State Public Defender noted that individuals released after long prison terms, like many of those freed under the two laws, tend to reoffend “at a much lower rate than other populations.”

Robert Brown, an assistant district attorney in San Bernardino County, worked with other prosecutors in the state to fight the laws before and after they took effect, and believes they have since let dangerous offenders off the hook.

The laws make it relatively easy for people convicted of felony murder to petition for resentencing, without requiring them to prove they are eligible for such relief. Instead, the legal burden is on prosecutors to prove they are not eligible, Brown said.

That has meant a mountain of new casework for prosecutors — to prove resentencing isn’t deserved because a person had intent to kill or was a reckless, major participant in an underlying felony, Brown said. That work is often complicated or impossible in old cases where key evidence is gone or witnesses have died, or in cases where plea deals were struck and there are no trial transcripts, he said.

“It certainly left us with a less-than-ideal tool belt,” he said.

The new laws also leave families of murder victims “blindsided when they are suddenly told that this murder case from 30 years ago is suddenly coming back” and the people locked up for their loved ones’ murders may go free, Brown said.

“The victims really seem to be left out of consideration here,” he said.

Several inmates who have benefited from the law said they are doing well — and grateful to those who helped make it happen.

Patricia Ann Brown — known as Patty Ann Lamoureux when her well-known case was litigated — was arrested in Temecula in 2011 and charged with felony murder in the killing of Bradley Capen.

She was living at the time with her then-boyfriend, Ian Inserra. A friend named Kyle Miller was also staying at their home. Prosecutors allege that one night, Miller and Inserra went to Miller’s family home to rob Capen, who was Miller’s uncle, and that Miller fatally shot Capen.

Although Brown was not there, prosecutors charged her with murder along with the two men, alleging she had helped plan the robbery and gotten rid of the gun afterward. In 2013, a jury convicted her of felony murder and conspiracy to commit robbery, and sentenced her to life without the possibility of parole.

Capen’s family could not be reached for comment.

Brown says she was not part of planning the attack, and had only gotten rid of the gun because Inserra and Miller had hidden it in a tree outside their home, and she was worried Inserra’s young son would find it. When she heard the verdict in her case — guilty of murder — she said she went into shock.

“My ears were ringing and it was like slow motion, and my heart was beating so hard, and I could hardly breathe,” she said.

She eventually resigned herself to spending the rest of her life behind bars, she said. But one day someone slid a piece of paper under her cell door. On it was the language of SB 1437.

“I burst into tears, because I knew at that point that I was going to get to go home,” she said.

Not that it was easy. Prosecutors fought her release, and Brown’s case went to the California Supreme Court — which declined to take it. That left in place a lower appellate court decision that upheld the new law’s constitutionality and found she was eligible for resentencing, in part because the state had failed to establish that she had any intent for someone to be killed.

Brown’s victory helped clear the way for others convicted of felony murder to also go home.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

Bandits Hit Gucci Store in Century City

The brazen daytime heist by nine men is the latest targeting the luxury brand.

The Gucci store at a mall in Century City was robbed Monday by a large group of thieves, in a grab-and-dash heist that was caught on video, according to the Los Angeles Police Department and video of the incident.

A group of at least nine men could be seen sprinting out of the store around 3:10 p.m. Monday in video posted to Twitter. The LAPD confirmed that there was a robbery at a store at Westfield Century City mall. It was not immediately clear if the men were armed or if anyone was injured.

The video shows at least nine men wearing hoodies sprinting out of the entrance to the Gucci store with merchandise overflowing in their arms.

Bystanders looked on and took video, while a lone security guard walked helplessly behind the men as they sprinted away, the video shows. A suited man who appeared to work for Gucci could be heard on the phone calling the police.

It was not immediately clear how much was stolen or if any arrests had been made.

The LAPD could not provide any information on the amount of merchandise stolen, and declined to name which store at the mall was robbed. A spokeswoman for the department said she also did not know how many men were in the group of robbers.

The thieves drove off in a white SUV and a red Kia, according to the LAPD.

The robbery came just weeks after a Gucci store in San Francisco was robbed by a group of men who made off with about $48,000 in stolen goods.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

DA Won’t File Charges Now Against Pair Accused in S.F. Carjacking, Dramatic Crash

The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office said Friday that the pair accused of stealing a car and driving it over a set of steps in the Castro district last weekend will not face charges at this time

Kevin Nelson, 36, and Jennifer Bonham, 31, both of San Francisco, were arrested Tuesday afternoon on the 1400 block of Pine Street, after police investigated the dramatic crash, a video of which was widely circulated online. Authorities never elaborated on how their investigation led them to Nelson and Bonham. 

“The charges against Ms. Bonham and Mr. Nelson have been discharged at this time pending further investigation and witness availability. Anyone with information is asked to call the San Francisco Police Department tip line at 415-575-4444,” a statement from the District Attorney’s Office said. The DA could still file charges at a later date. 

Neither Nelson nor Bonham were listed as being in custody Friday, according to San Francisco jail records. 

San Francisco police responded to the scene Saturday after reports of a solo car crash at 19th and Sanchez streets. Officers found the crashed car upside down, but all of the occupants fled the scene, police said. City officials previously said there were perhaps as many as five people in the car when it crashed, some of whom may have been minors. 

Nelson was hospitalized for injuries he sustained during the crash, according to police. 

Click here to read the full article in SF Chronicle

California Democrats are Taking Absurd Positions on Crime and Housing — Making Republicans Somehow Relevant Again

California Democrats haven’t had to worry about being relevant in a long, long time.

A Republican hasn’t won statewide office in California since 2006, and Democrats control a supermajority of seats in the state Legislature. So dominant are Democrats that, if they were to face a serious threat, it wouldn’t be from the withered California Republican Party. It would be from Democrats themselves, whose votes this week on high-profile criminal justice and housing bills sent a glaring signal that some members are increasingly willing to sacrifice everyday Californians on the altar of ideology. 

Perhaps the most egregious example came Tuesday, when Democrats in the Assembly Public Safety Committee killed a bill that would have classified human trafficking of minors as a “serious” felony, adding it to the list of crimes under California’s three strikes law that results in longer sentences for repeat offenders. 

The notion that it isn’t a serious crime to traffic children for sex or labor would be so absurd as to be laughable if it weren’t for the gravity of the situation. The U.S. Department of State and the American Civil Liberties Union consider human trafficking to be a form of modern-day slavery. The thousands of Californians forced into various forms of human trafficking every year are disproportionately young, female and Black, according to a 2020 report from the Little Hoover Commission, an independent state watchdog. 

Despite garnering unanimous bipartisan support in the state Senate, the bill hit a wall in the Assembly Public Safety Committee, where other common-sense criminal justice proposals have met unceremonious deaths in recent months. The committee chairperson, Assembly Member Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles, noted that human trafficking can already result in lengthy sentences and can be classified as a “serious” crime under certain conditions, such as if great bodily injury was inflicted on the victim. 

This reasoning — child trafficking should only be considered “serious” if the victim endures additional horrifying circumstances on top of being trafficked — illuminates how far some Democrats are willing to go to uphold ideological principles that, when carried to their logical extreme, are no longer morally defensible. 

Understandably determined to avoid repeating California’s failed history of mass incarceration, many Democrats are now wary of increasing penalties for any crime, even the most egregious. This has resulted in stances that are almost impossible to justify.

We can and should debate what sort of sentence is most appropriate for an offender who traffics a child. But to say that trafficking a child is not a serious crime — and to uphold such a fallacy in our penal code — is absurd. Similarly absurd is the stance, taken by the Assembly Public Safety Committee in March, that domestic violence — despite its name — is not a violent crime.  

This refusal to call a spade a spade is not limited to Democrats in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom doubled the number of state police officers in San Francisco and directed the city to enforce the “damn laws” on drug and property crimes. Yet Newsom maintained that this war on drugs was definitely not him returning to the “old, failed war on drugs.” 

Nor is it limited to the issue of criminal justice. In the name of protecting the environment, Democrats in the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on Monday almost torpedoed a bill instrumental to advancing California’s battle against climate change. The bill, authored by Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, would improve upon and make permanent a 2017 law requiring cities that aren’t meeting state-mandated housing production goals to streamline the permitting process for certain multifamily projects — including along California’s coast.

The California Coastal Commission, which has long overseen development in these areas, opposed Wiener’s bill, arguing that housing shouldn’t be fast-tracked in sensitive environmental regions prone to sea-level rise and other climate impacts. But Wiener said the idea of exempting the coast was “offensive,” noting that those communities are among California’s wealthiest and whitest. 

Four Democrats, including committee chairperson Luz Rivas of Arleta (Los Angeles County), effectively sided with the commission by abstaining from a vote. And while four Democrats voted in favor, that wasn’t enough. Wiener needed Republican votes — and he got all three GOP committee members. 

“It was the Republicans that delivered the critical votes to pass major housing legislation,” GOP Assembly Member Joe Patterson of Rocklin (Placer County) tweeted afterward. “Republicans are not irrelevant.”

Indeed, it was Republicans, not Democrats, who proposed amending Newsom’s infrastructure streamlining package to also exempt housing from lengthy and often unnecessary environmental reviews. Democrats, many of whom are linked to powerful labor and environmental groups, shot the idea down.

Yet making it easier to build dense, affordable housing would help, not harm, California’s ability to combat the climate crisis by limiting suburban sprawl fueled by gas-guzzling cars. It would help create jobs. And it would help millions of Californians afford homes closer to where they work, further reducing hours-long commutes and slowing an exodus of lower-income residents to other states. 

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle

Annual Crime Report Shows Californians’ Fear of Increasing Crime Is Justified

Political officeholders at all levels and of all ideological stripes habitually pursue a time-dishonored practice when releasing data.

If it’s positive, politicians try to maximize its importance with lavish news conferences and self-congratulatory declarations.

If, on the other hand, the data have a negative cast, they will be released quietly, often late on a Friday afternoon, to minimize media coverage.

California’s annual report on crime was released this year on the Friday before what for many would be a four-day, Fourth of July holiday weekend. That’s a tipoff that it would not be good news – and, in fact, it received minimal media attention.

The 2022 report revealed that the state’s violent crime rate increased by 6.1% since 2021, and property crime was up 6.2%. Homicides dipped very slightly, but robberies jumped by 10.2%.

Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a low-key statement with the data release, saying, “While crime rates remain significantly below their historical highs, property and violent crimes continue to have devastating consequences for communities across the state, and gun violence remains a major threat to public safety.”

One can be certain that had California seen a drop in crime in 2022, Bonta would have trumpeted it as loudly as possible.

Let’s be clear: Neither Bonta nor any other attorney general can have more than a marginal effect on crime rates. Nevertheless, their campaigns often depict themselves as the state’s top cop and imply that they do have such authority.

Why crime rates ebb and flow is the subject of never-ending academic and political debate – and is colored by equally erratic public concerns about being victimized.

At the moment, Californians’ worries about crime appear to be on the upswing, as indicated by one of the Public Policy Institute of California’s periodic polls, conducted just before last fall’s election.

“Californians’ perception of crime spiked during the pandemic – as did certain types of crime,” PPIC found, adding, “nearly two in three Californians call violence and street crime in their local community a problem. This includes 31% who call them a big problem, a noticeable increase from February 2020 (24%).”

The poll found that among racial and ethnic groups, Black Californians expressed the highest level of concern about crime, women were more concerned than men, and Republicans more than Democrats or independent voters.

The data released on June 30 imply that those concerns are rooted in fact. Crime did increase sharply last year, particularly robberies, and it has not gone unnoticed in the media.

The proliferation of cameras in stores and in the hands of cellphone owners has produced a never-ending supply of crime video snippets, such as smash-and-grab invasions of stores, for television newscasts, which then reverberate on YouTube and other online outlets.

Just a few days after the crime report release, for example, a San Francisco TV station aired video of criminals breaking into a Bay Area visitor’s rental car in broad daylight, stealing the contents and driving away.

Bonta and the man who appointed him attorney general before he won reelection in November, Gov. Gavin Newsom, have pursued somewhat ambivalent postures about crime. They lament its effects on victims and take some public crime-fighting steps while championing criminal justice reform to reduce traditional punishment of those caught breaking the law.

A day before the crime data were released, Newsom dispatched more California Highway Patrol officers to battle open air drug dealing in San Francisco, a city he once governed as mayor.

In decades past, spikes in crime have had major impacts on California’s political atmosphere – helping Republicans become dominant in the 1980s, for example.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Tulare DA Warns of Bill to Release ‘Worst-of-the-Worst’ Murderers After 25 Years

‘These are murderers who killed multiple victims or killed in concert with a rape, robbery, kidnapping or torture’

One of the worst anti-victim, soft-on-crime bills looks as if it will be passed by the California Legislature under the guise of criminal justice “reforms,” Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward told the Globe Wednesday.

Senate Bill 94 by Sen. Dave Cortese (D-Santa Clara), “would give the state’s worst, most heinous murderers, who have been sentenced to death or life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), the opportunity to have their sentences invalidated and make them eligible for parole,” Michael Rushford of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation wrote in April at the Globe.

“If this bill passes the Legislature and Governor Newsom signs it, they are telling you that there is no crime so violent, so depraved, or so heinous that grants perpetual protection of our society,” DA Ward said. “This bill is a sham and an affront to the people of California.”

Why would any state lawmaker, sworn to uphold the California and United States Constitutions, support this lawlessness as Democrats in the California Legislature are?

The Legislature has tried to pass zero bail, despite many District Attorneys and Assistant District Attorneys warning how anti-criminal justice this concept is. One bail agent told the Globe that legislators want to kill the (bail) industry, while making it seem like judges retain discretion for bail, but they don’t because of the language about defendants’ “ability to pay.”

According to DA Ward, who also is President of the California District Attorneys Association, SB 94 is “the continuation of a social experiment run amok.”

He’s talking about so-called criminal justice “reforms” which primarily serve to undermine the rule of law in California.

Besides taking another swipe at California’s legal system, Ward said this bill is a “travesty to victims’ families.” Ward said victims and their families are told that life without parole means “no leniency, and especially in a death sentence.” But this bill completely undermines “no leniency.”

Senate Bill 94 would allow an individual serving a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole due to special circumstance murder to petition the court to recall the sentence and re-sentence to a lesser sentence if:

• the offense occurred before June 5, 1990

• they served at least 25 years in custody

DA Ward also said the California Legislature is purposefully creating a vague law which will tie judge’s hands. “This is chipping away at the legal system,” DA Ward added, “and will release the worst of the worst murderers.”

SB 94 allows a judge the authority to resentence life-without-parole murderers 25-to-life, which under this bill, makes them eligible for parole having already served at least 25 years in prison.

Ward also noted that SB 94 is “another unfunded mandate,” with no additional funding for county DAs and prosecutors. Ward said these murderers will come back into court which will be expensive, and cost prosecutors additional time and funding, for cases they long ago tried and prosecuted for murderers they thought were sentenced to life in prison. “How is this sailing through the Appropriations Committees?” he asked.

Ward also warned that the bill says “we as prosecutors no longer can write our own conditions.” The prosecutor decides which crimes to charge, not the judge.

In May, prior to amendments, the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office posted on Facebook, “In Tulare County, this would mean the possible release of the following inmates, among others:

Michael Allen Hamilton: Murdered wife with a shotgun in 1981. Sentenced to death in 1982, appealed. Currently serving life without the possibility of parole.

Ryan Michael Marshall: Sentenced to death in 1986 for 1985 execution style murder of 58-year-old woman during home invasion. Currently serving life without the possibility of parole.

Joseph James DeAngelo: Murdered 13 people in California in 70’s and 80’s, including Professor Claude Snelling in Visalia. Known as the Golden State Killer. Currently serving multiple life without parole sentences.

Steven Walter Gomez: Murder with special circumstances for 1985 Visalia murder and sexual assault of woman. Conviction result of cold case DNA hit. Currently serving life without parole.

When this devastating information was provided to the Legislature in May, Ward said they “watered SB 94 down so it’s not so aggressive” through amendments. Those now ineligible under SB 94 are:

  1. The individual was convicted of first degree murder of a peace officer engaged in performance of their duties or of a peace officer or former peace officer in retaliation for the performance of their official duties;
  2. b)  The individual was convicted of first-degree murder as the actual killer of three or more people; or
  3. c)  The individual was convicted of a sexual offense committed in conjunction with the homicide for which the petitioner is serving an LWOP sentence. Defines “sexual offense” as rape, sodomy, lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14 years of age, rape by instrument; and oral copulation.

“The beneficiaries of this measure, if passed, will be criminals convicted of first-degree murder with special circumstances,” Rushford wrote. “These are murderers who killed multiple victims or killed in concert with a rape, robbery, kidnapping or torture. While it would seem unthinkable for any legislator, let alone a group of them, to want their names on a bill that would allow murderers like these to go free, bear in mind that Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón, Alameda County DA Pamela Price and California Attorney General Rob Bonta all support setting murderers free after 15-20 years in prison.”

“Is it too much to ask of survivors to have truth in sentencing in court?” Ward asked.

The co-sponsor of the bill, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, explains their support:

“SB 94 aims to reach a population locked into extreme sentences from decades ago that are inconsistent with our present-day sentencing practices, taking mitigating factors into account.”

The Ella Baker Center offers no consideration of the victims of these heinous murderers. They highlight the “reforms to restore judicial discretion” by Legislature and support “allowing judges to consider mitigating factors at sentencing,” rather than the prosecutors. “Although individuals sentenced to LWOP have no path to parole today, many have exhibited decades of exemplary behavior, participated in extensive positive programming, have come to understand the contributing factors which led to their incarceration, and have devoted themselves to becoming positive members of society,” the Ella Baker Center concludes.

Notably, the entire staff and Board of Directors at the Ella Baker Center list their pronouns.

Convicted murderers are supposed to be confined and denied certain freedoms under the authority of the state as punishment for their crimes. If they demonstrate “exemplary behavior” as a result of their incarceration, good for them. But it does nothing to bring back the victims they murdered, or provide solace to their families.

The opposition to SB 94 was provided by the San Diego Deputy District Attorneys Association:

“By enacting Proposition 115, the voters of this state have told us they want to keep the worst of the worst in prison where they belong. If they feel differently, Penal Code section 1385.1 should be amended by them in a future initiative or legislatively referred ballot proposition. Dragging these murderers back into court will be prohibitively expensive, tie up judicial resources, and inflict further pain upon their victims. By creating presumptions favoring the release of these murderers, SB 94 will create unjustifiable risks to public safety.

“We strongly urge you to consider the unintended consequences to the families of victims and the public who potentially will lose faith in the judicial process and the finality of judgments.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe