The Bontas get their office
In an alley south of San Francisco’s Market Street, surrounded by the scraps of disassembled weapons and flanked by the mothers of young men killed by gunfire — including the one memorialized on the mural behind him — Attorney General Rob Bonta announced his latest idea for tackling gun violence in California.
But it wasn’t his idea alone.
Earlier this year, Assemblymember Mia Bonta, an Oakland Democrat and the attorney general’s wife, introduced a bill that would have created a new office inside the state’s Department of Justice tasked with researching, promoting and supporting new street-level policies to combat gun violence.
That bill failed, falling victim to the Legislature’s opaque “suspense file.”
At the press conference Wednesday, the Bontas announced that the Department of Justice would be getting its new office anyway.
- Mia Bonta: “This legislation served as a catalyst for the ultimate creation of this office within the Department of Justice…I thank the attorney general for this, my partner in life and my partner in service.
- Rob Bonta: “This innovative new office, the first of its kind — not just in the state but in the nation — will complement our existing robust efforts…(it) will serve as the hub for best practices and a valuable resource for law enforcement agencies, cities and counties and nonprofit partners.”
One of those best-practices — aggressively using the state’s “red flag” law to remove firearms from those deemed to pose a violent threat — already has a hub, but it isn’t the state’s Department of Justice. As CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff reported earlier this week, it’s the city of San Diego.
The attorney general praised San Diego’s program, but said his new office could more effectively serve as a clearinghouse for good ideas.
How did the attorney general set up a new office inside his department without the new funding in his wife’s bill? At the moment, it’s only an office on paper with enough funding for a single employee, the director. They’re accepting applications.
Less than two months from Election Day, Attorney General Bonta has been making a lot of news lately. Wednesday he answered a few other outstanding questions:
- Yes, he’s worried about a surge in new concealed carry permits. Because a bill he sponsored that would have tightened state restrictions on who can legally carry a concealed firearm failed in the final hours of the legislative session, Bonta said that “public safety is at risk,” but he vowed to push for “essentially identical” legislation when the new Legislature convenes in December.
- No, he has no new information to share about his office’s publication of the personal identifying information of concealed carry license applicants, which he said is still being investigated by an outside law firm. But he stressed that he’s “very disappointed and frustrated and angry about it.”
- No, he has nothing new to say about his department’s decision to take over the Los Angeles Sheriff Department’s investigation into County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. Bonta said he made the decision in response to a request by Sheriff Villanueva to look into whether someone tipped Kuehl off before her house was raided by sheriff’s deputies last week. Said Bonta: “We will take that part of the case but we’re also going to take the other inexplicably corresponding components of the case.”
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1 A scolding at the UC regents meeting
From CalMatters higher education writer Mikhail Zinshteyn: California’s lieutenant governor may not have a ton of power, but she does sit on the boards that govern the fate of about 2 million public college and university students.
Serving as acting governor in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s absence, Eleni Kounalakis ripped into a senior University of California official at a UC Regents hearing on Wednesday about a bill the system opposes but that lawmakers overwhelmingly approved in August. Senate Bill 1364 would require contract vendors to provide their workers the same pay and benefits as UC workers.
The UC argues its policies already require wage parity in most cases and that the bill would hurt small businesses that can’t offer the same wages. Newsom has until Sept. 30 to determine the bill’s fate.
Kounalakis grew frustrated with the UC’s inability to persuade lawmakers of its own position.
- Kounalakis: “How is it that the Legislature continues to see this through a very different lens such that they keep voting the way that they do?”
She later told Kieran Flaherty, director of governmental relations for the UC president’s office, that “this is a problem and it is not sufficient, Kieran, for you to come here and tell us all the reasons why you’re right.”
Outgoing UC Regent Eloy Ortiz Oakley seconded her remarks, which took place during a hearing of the Public Engagement and Development Committee, created eight years ago to mend regents’ strained relationship with lawmakers.
That left Flaherty promising a new tack.
- Flaherty: “We can take a fresh look and a fresh strategy and a fresh commitment…So I hear your comments and I take them humbly and we will make that strategy.”
Wednesday was the second time in as many weeks that Kounalakis lamented a university system’s inability to get through to lawmakers. Last week, she told the Cal State University Board of Trustees that it shouldn’t “look at the Legislature right now as if they didn’t know what they were doing” in reference to a bill that would raise wages for 30,000 Cal State staff, which Cal State opposed and legislators overwhelmingly endorsed.
Just who is Kounalakis and what does she plan to do after she leaves her high-rank, low-responsibility post as second-in-command?
- Kounalakis: “I think if we are going to have a woman governor of California, that she shouldn’t be coy in her ambitions.”
2 “No one’s happy to have to do this”
That’s what San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria told Politico in a story published Wednesday about how elected leaders in California’s most progressive cities are beginning to take a more hard-line approach on homeless encampments.
In Sacramento, city officials are gearing up to start enforcing a new ban on public camping. Oakland and San Jose are both shuttering tent cities. In San Diego, arrests for illegal lodging have surged.
- Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg: “I think it’s right for cities to say, ‘You know, there are certain places where it’s just not appropriate to camp.’”
Though state and local officials are scrambling to construct new housing and fund new services with the billions of dollars that have been dedicated to ameliorate the crisis in recent years, those are long-term solutions. In the meantime, elected officials are facing short-term political pressure.
In a recent Public Policy Institute of California poll, 14% of California adults surveyed named homelessness as the most important issue facing the state. And in a poll of residents in San Francisco, which has become synonymous in conservative media outlets with homelessness and urban decay, 39% of respondents named it as issue number one. Only 8% said it was very likely the crisis would get significantly better within the next three years.
Critics say that clearing encampments doesn’t produce the new housing or services needed to keep people off the streets for good. Not that cities and counties are having an easy time providing those services, either.
- What money? In Oakland, the city spent $69 million on contracts with homeless service providers between 2018 and 2021. What did the city get in return? According to a new report by the city auditor, no one knows. The city lacks the data to show how many people were actually housed as a result.
- Not in my motel: In San Diego County, a program that temporarily places unhoused people in hotel rooms is running into fierce opposition from El Cajon, where Mayor Bill Wells accused county officials of “dumping” homeless people into the East County suburb. Now the mayor is ordering motels to allocate no more than 25% of their rooms to program participants or risk being fined.
Friends of the housing pod: What do Los Angeles mayoral candidates Karen Bass and Rick Caruso plan to do about homelessness? CalMatters’ housing podcast Gimme Shelter rented out its space this week to the Los Angeles Times. Listen to columnist Gustavo Arellano talk with reporters Doug Smith and Ben Oreskes to flesh out the details.
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