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

“What the DA has done is say that police have the right based on their imagination to use deadly force. … That is a threat to all of the young people in this city when you make a legal precedent that all a policeman has to do is say ‘I thought yes’ and he becomes the judge and the jury and the executioner.”—The Rev. Al Sharpton, urging a change in California’s legal standard for the use of police force on Monday, the anniversary of Stephon Clark’s death.

Media join forces on police transparency

Richard Perez, one of many seeking police records under a new California law.

In an extraordinary statewide news project, dozens of California media outlets, including CALmatters, are collaborating to report on previously secret records of police misconduct in the wake of a new transparency law being resisted by law enforcement organizations throughout the state.

  • “As of Monday, the coalition of over 30 news organizations had made requests to 675 police agencies in all 58 counties since Jan. 1,” KQED and the Bay Area News Group report today.
  • The project arises from Senate Bill 1421, which took effect Jan. 1 and requires public access to records of the most serious police misconduct and deadly use-of-force information.
  • Though more than 100 cities have started turning over records, some have also destroyed documents from before the state law took effect.

Using the records, The Los Angeles Times reported Monday on an assortment of misconduct cases, including one in which an award-winning, off-duty South Pasadena police officer fled a DUI crash and then let his mother try to take the blame.

From the KQED report: “One had sex in the front seat of his squad car, another stole thousands of bullets. Others used force illegally, cavorted with sex workers, lied in reports and trumped up charges. None of those police officers were prosecuted.”

Richard Perez, whose unarmed son was killed by Richmond police in 2014 told the Bay Area News Group: “Every one of us has the same story. It’s the police will not release information. And then what little information they do release, it’s basically the same story. It’s like, ‘I feared for my life.’ So that gets them off every time.”

Police unions have also tried to block the record release in courts, but so far, few courts agree. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has also declined to provide records prior to 2019.

David Mastagni, a lawyer who represents police officers: “What’s concerning to me is the demonization of police.”

The California Reporting Project started in December with KQED, The Bay Area News Group, UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program, KPCC, Capital Public Radio and The Los Angeles Times. As it has grown, participating news organizations have blanketed the state with more than 1,100 public records requests.

The Project: “The newsrooms have agreed to set aside competition and work collaboratively given the public service this reporting will provide.”


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Sharpton weighs in

The Rev. Al Sharpton wants new standards on CA police shootings.

As Sacramento marked the one-year anniversary on Monday of the death of Stephon Clark, who was shot to death when police mistook his cellphone for a gun, the Rev. Al Sharpton endorsed AB 392, a bill that would make it harder for a police officer to legally justify using deadly force.

  • Under the proposal by San Diego Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, police could only pull the trigger when it is “necessary” to avoid imminent danger.  That would set a higher standard than the current one set by the U.S. Supreme Court, which says police may use deadly force whenever a “reasonable officer” in the same circumstance would do the same thing.

Sharpton: “All the policeman has to do is say ‘I thought—‘ and he becomes the judge and the jury and the executioner.”

Neither Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert nor California Attorney General Xavier Becerra chose to charge the police officers who shot Clark, citing the Supreme Court standard as a justification for the shooting.

  • Law enforcement groups say the standard protects them legally in a dangerous job. They’re backing a different bill by Sen. Anna Caballero, a Democrat from Salinas, that would enshrine the national standard in state law and require police departments to adopt new use-of-force training policies.

Look ahead: CALmatters’ Laurel Rosenhall has reported extensively on the two bills, which portend an epic clash at the Legislature this spring.

High cost of poverty

A new bill would target "poverty tows."

The movement away from punishing the poor with fines and fees got another push on Monday, as San Francisco Assemblyman David Chiu introduced a bill to ban cities from towing vehicles just for lapsed registration, too many parking tickets or parking in a legal space for more than three hours.

  • Such “poverty tows,” as advocates call them, have been targeted by advocates who argue that they penalize car owners for being unable to pay fees and fines and disproportionately afflict the homeless.  

Chiu:The hammer of taking away someone’s car solely because they did not pay a debt will not help someone pay that debt…[towing] should be used to ensure public safety and proper traffic flow, not to push people further into poverty.”

The bill was timed to coincide with a report by the American Civil Liberties Union of California, the Western Center on Law & Poverty and other nonprofits and legal aid groups.

From the report: “Vehicle seizures are so expensive that low and moderate income people often cannot retrieve their vehicles after a tow; the resulting permanent loss of the vehicle deprives many people of their ability to earn a livelihood, and even their homes, and is financially ruinous.”

The authors argue that even tow truck companies see little benefit from towing cars with expired registrations or too many tickets since poor car owners often cannot afford to reclaim their vehicles. That forces the lot owners to sell the vehicles, sometimes at a loss. 

  • Advocates for the towing industry did not respond to requests for comment.

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Online college networks

Carolyn Carpeneti has a $500,000 recruiting contract.

The new leader of California’s nascent online community college is moving fast—and tapping Bay Area connections—to establish her executive team with the goal of starting classes this fall.

  • In her first board meeting MondayHeather Hiles pushed to retain executive recruiter Carolyn Carpeneti in a no-bid contract worth as much as $500,000. The board approved it, despite objections from some members who thought the contract should have been put out to competitive bid.

Before becoming a recruiter, Carpeneti was a fundraiser whose clients included then-San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. Brown and Carpeneti became romantically involved and had a daughter in 2001.

  • In 2003, The San Francisco Chronicle reported that “nonprofit groups and political committees controlled by the mayor and his allies” paid Carpeneti $2.33 million over a five-year period.

Carpeneti, who left politics in the early 2000s and transitioned to executive recruiting, told CALmatters’ Dan Morain that Brown is a good friend but has had no role in her executive recruiting business.

  • Carpeneti did, however, say that her relationship with Hiles was key to her hiring: “I really believe in the mission. If the right people are in place … this can be a beacon for the rest of the nation.”

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Bloom boomtown

Walker Canyon, March 2019.

The Mayor of Lake Elsinore on Monday begged the rest of California to go look at someone else’s wildflowers for a while, as the Riverside County destination reeled with sightseers thronging to this year’s “super bloom.”

  • With California poppies and other flowers thick on the ground — and tourists thicker — the city had to temporarily shut off access to Walker Canyon, a favored access point for floraphiles, over the weekend.
  • Highways were gridlocked, and the town’s population doubled overnight. The massive floral display is the result of this winter’s heavy soaking.

Access reopened Monday, but only because officials lacked the resources to enforce the poppy blockade, explained a good-natured if clearly flustered Mayor Steve Manos in a video streamed on Facebook.

Manos: “I’m here at Walker Canyon, here at the site of the Super Bloom, ‘Poppypalooza,’ whatever you want to call it. … We are full. If you have the opportunity to come back here maybe later or on another day, we would really appreciate that.”

Nunes v. Trolls

Congressman Devin Nunes, a Republican from Tulare and one of Congress’ most vociferous Trump defenders, said Monday he has filed a lawsuit against Twitter and an assortment of defendants with social media accounts on the platform, including a Republican consultant, a user purporting to be the congressman’s mother and a parody account by someone who self-identified as Nunes’ cow.

Nunes told Fox News’ Sean Hannity he was defamed by Twitter trolls and that the San Francisco-based tech giant enabled the harassment to punish the congressman for his political leanings. Buzzfeed reported no such suit was showing up as of last night under the online filing system in the Virginia court where Nunes said he was asking for more than $250 million in damages.

  • One tweet cited in the case, from GOP consultant Liz Mair, links to a Fresno Bee article on a harassment lawsuit filed against a winery in which Nunes was an investor. The suit also included tweets by @DevinNunesMom, who called the congressman a “presidential fluffer and swamp rat,” and by @DevinCow, who referred to the Nunes as “udder-ly worthless.”

From the complaint, as shared on Fox News: “Twitter let it happen because Twitter had (and has) a political agenda and motive … to undermine public confidence in Plaintiff and to benefit his opponents and opponents of the Republican Party.”

Commentary at CALmatters

Delta management rules are too rigid.

Jennifer Pierre, State Water Contractors: We who are part of the California water community and who work every day from one perspective or another are paralyzed and in our respective bunkers. We must take a leap of faith to admit that the current rigid rules on Delta management fail all of our missions. And that only together can we do a better job managing our water resources going forward.

Dan Walters, CALmatters: Gov. Gavin Newsom hopes to have a balanced state budget through his first term. But some economic clouds are looming on the horizon.

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