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.

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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

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