Good morning, California. Ben Christopher is sitting in for Dan Morain, who is on assignment today.

“There is a protocol of death and an administration of death in the state of California, and it consumes the court’s time, it consumes the criminal justice system, it exhausts the soul and the pocketbook. I would ultimately like to shut down that system of death.”—Gov. Gavin Newsom in a conference call this week with reporters from ethnic news outlets, musing on a possible plan to ban new death sentences in local criminal cases, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Newsom vs. the death penalty

Gov. Gavin Newsom could order prosecutors not to seek capital punishment.

Doubling down on the moratorium he recently issued on executions, Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters this week he’s also considering a ban on death sentences in local criminal cases, yet another sign that California is swinging away from the state’s once-reflexive toughness on crime.

  • Making good on his musings, shared on a conference call with ethnic media on Tuesday and more widely reported by The Los Angeles Times on Thursday, could conceivably put Newsom at odds with Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

The attorney general must enforce state laws, capital punishment among them, and last year, Becerra sought the death penalty for a mass murder in Seal Beach, The Times noted:

“While it is not entirely clear how Newsom would implement such an order, he either could have Becerra direct local district attorneys not to seek the death penalty or order Becerra to not defend appeals. Both approaches would probably face legal challenges.”

The crime wave that wasn't

The 1990s "super-predator" panic didn't pan out as Californians feared.

Juvenile crime rates have plummeted, leaving California with thousands of empty juvenile detention beds—and the attendant fixed costs, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

So much for those “super-predator” youths California policymakers predicted in the tough-on-crime 1990s. Over the past three decades, the arrest rate among youths has dropped 84 percent, compared to only 9 percent for middle-aged adults, The Chronicle finds, citing statewide data:

  • Homicides dropped 83 percent between 1995 to 2017.
  • Violent felony arrests declined 68 percent between 1994 and 2017.
  • In 39 of 43 California counties with juvenile halls, facilities were less than 50 percent full last year.

The decline happened across the country “almost regardless of what local, state or national policies were adopted,” said Mike Males of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. (For a deeper analysis, see Males’ commentary for CALmatters here.)

Now counties are on the hook for nearly 9,000 empty juvenile detention beds, and per capita detention costs are so high that some counties are spending the equivalent of an Ivy League degree plus two years of law school for every teen they’re holding. After the report posted Thursday, three San Francisco supervisors pledged to close the juvenile hall there.

Los Angeles Democratic Sen. Holly Mitchell: “I think we need to figure out what to do with that excess property and figure out what a new environment looks like.”

Mark Varela, chief probation officer in Ventura County: “It’s really the opposite of what we thought it would be. We’re all kind of scratching our heads over what we’re going to do with all the extra space.”


Offshore oil fight

Another Trump threat on California offshore drilling.

The Trump administration is trying to “streamline” a federal regulation that would limit California’s ability to stop new offshore drilling, The Los Angeles Times reports:

The administration appears to be considering limits to the scope of states’ review powers and a shorter period of time to process an appeal. The full extent of its plans is unclear.”

The skirmish is the latest between California and the Trump administration over fossil fuel exploration in the Pacific.
  • 2017: The Trump administration begins reviewing locations in the Pacific for new lease sales. Six sales are proposed off the California coast.
  • 2018: The Legislature passes a bill, with bipartisan support, “strongly and unequivocally” opposing the leasing plan.

Earlier this week, 17 U.S. Senate Democrats including California’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Kamala Harris wrote an open letter to the acting Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt, asking him to explain his position on offshore drilling.

  • President Trump has nominated Bernhardt to formally replace the last Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke. Californians know Bernhardt as a lobbyist for oil and agribusiness. His confirmation hearing is scheduled for next Thursday.

Saber rattling the First Amendment

President Trump signs an executive order on campus free speech.

President Donald Trump—surrounded by conservative college students including a few from UC Berkeley—signed an executive order yesterday to “ensure” that universities that receive public funding “promote free inquiry, including through compliance with all applicable Federal laws, regulations, and policies.”

Trump: “Federal agencies will use their authority under various grant-making programs to ensure that public universities protect—cherish—protect the First Amendment and the First Amendment rights of their students or risk losing billions and billions of dollars.”

Policy consequences are unclear. The order doesn’t specify how agencies should “ensure” promotion of free speech—or what that would even look like. Funding cuts would no doubt be challenged in court. Californians responded:

  •  Janet Napolitano, UC President: “We do not need the federal government to mandate what already exists: our longstanding, unequivocal support for freedom of expression.”
  •  Harmeet Dhillon, RNC National Committeewoman from California who has sued UC Berkeley: “It is outrageous for public universities to with one hand choke free speech, and with the other, take federal dollars…this is long overdue.”

Speaking of free speech: A Republican legislator has introduced a resolution calling for the removal of a tenured UC Davis English professor who, in the past, has cheered the death of law enforcement officers.

From HR 22: “Incitements to violence are not protected speech under the First Amendment and the First Amendment does not entitle a person to teach impressionable students at a taxpayer-supported university.”

Equal pay for equal play

Is a level playing field worth the loss of female-only sporting events?

Women surfers scored big in California last year when an obscure government commission decided it would only lease a public beach to the Mavericks surf competition if men and women were awarded equal cash prizes.

  • They seemed headed for another win this year when a bill was introduced to require equal prize money for men and women at any sporting event on state-owned land.

But now the push to go further has opened a broader debate over how to advance equality for women in male-dominated sports—and whether men should be included in all-female competitions. The debate extends far beyond the Capitol and, for that matter, surfing:

  • Sabrina Brennan, co-founder of the Committee for Equity in Women’s surfing, argues that single-sex athletic events perpetuate inequality. She wants the bill to require that all sporting events on state land include categories for both men and women.
  • Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath wants to preserve female-only sporting events meant to empower girls and women in sports dominated by men.

Explore the debate with CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall.

Thurmond talks charters

State schools chief Tony Thurmond, right, with CALmatters' Ricardo Cano.

Anyone counting on Tony Thurmond, the state’s top public school administrator, to soften his stance on California charter schools after the November election is in for a disappointment.

  • Thurmond appeared Thursday evening at the Commonwealth Club Thursday with CALmatters’ education reporter, Ricardo Cano. When Cano mentioned charters, public schools that are privately managed, the superintendent of public instruction jokingly pretended to flee—feigning an aversion to the emotional topic. But after the laughter died down, Thurmond’s preference was clear.

 Thurmond: “The purpose of charter schools was to lend itself to some innovation…[but] I do not believe that education is an environment for competition.”

“There is a role” for charters, Thurmond said, but he repeated a campaign pledge to push for a controversial policy that would let districts consider their financial impact on traditional schools in determining whether to approve a charter. Charter advocates fear the criteria would make it easier to say no to new charter schools.

  • Thurmond’s fiercely fought 2018 victory over former charter school CEO Marshall Tuck was portrayed during the campaign as a referendum on charters—a characterization that both candidates rejected.
  • But of the $30 million in outside money spent on behalf of Tuck (or against Thurmond) most came from pro-charter groups, while Thurmond drew much of his support from public school teachers unions who oppose charters.

CALmatters will have more coverage on last night’s conversation later today.


Take a Number: 1.4 million

Those federal tax cuts haven't helped California's rental crisis, a new report says.

California is short 1.4 million rental units, even with last year’s massive package of housing bills, the California Housing Partnership reports. 

  • The non-profit measured the number of renters making less than the average income in their area and compared it to the number of rental units available that would allow them to spend less than 30 percent of their income on rent.

Federal policy shares the blame for that 1.4 million difference: One of the state’s biggest affordable housing programs is the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program, which allows investors to reduce their tax bill in exchange for backing construction of affordable units.

  • Big federal tax cuts for corporations and the very rich have diminished the appetite for tax-reducing investments.

Among Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposals to address the state housing crisis: Convince big tech companies to pick up the slack.

That’ll show ‘em

Jason Windus, "naked garden party" host.

When Santa Rosa city officials told Jason Windus that he would have to shorten the fence he had just built, Windus did what any aggrieved homeowner would do—if they happened to have a collection of “anatomically correct” mannequins.

Windus: “I guess the average person would get angry and cop resentment? I throw a naked party in my yard.”

The five mannequins in the buff (six, if you count the disembodied head) have fortunately been a hit with the neighbors, The Sacramento Bee reports.

  • The tony enclave of Hillsborough, south of San Francisco, is less understanding. The owner of the iconic domed “Flintstone House,” familiar to I-280 commuters, was recently sued by the city for creating a “public nuisance” by filling her backyard with dinosaur and Flintstone statues. Now she’s suing back, fighting for her right to prehistoric lawn ornaments.

Commentary at CALmatters

Glenn Sacks, teacher at James Monroe High School and co-chair of United Teachers of Los Angeles at Monroe High: Some charter parents assert their children’s charter school experience is positive. I can believe it. But sincere charter parents need to understand that while for some students charters can be beneficial, their overall impact on public education is destructive.

Ashley Gould, chief administrative officer at JUUL Labs: The JUUL system represents an unprecedented opportunity to help adult smokers switch off combustible cigarettes.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: California’s Democratic politicians aren’t very democratic when it comes to respecting the will of voters.

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See you Monday.