Gov. Newsom’s proposal to dismantle death row may not have as much impact on California’s death penalty as other reforms.
CalMatters is dedicated to explaining how state government impacts our lives. Your support helps us produce journalism that makes a difference. Donate now.
“Government-sponsored premeditated murder.”
That’s how Gov. Gavin Newsom recently described capital punishment when asked about his plan to dismantle San Quentin’s Death Row, repurpose it for rehabilitation programs and integrate condemned inmates into the general prison population — setting off the latest debate over California’s long and complex relationship with the death penalty.
But although the governor’s proposal sparked national headlines and immediate backlash from Republicans who decried it as yet another example of Democrats going soft on crime, it may not have nearly as transformative an effect on California’s death penalty as reforms proposed by an obscure committee that’s already seen some of its other ideas codified into law, CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff reports.
Some of those proposed reforms are moving through the state Legislature — and could put Democrats in a tough spot in an election year that’s seen top party members adopt tough-on-crime rhetoric as a majority of voters express concern about local violence and street crime.
Among the proposals on which lawmakers could have to take a stance later this year:
- A bill that would make it easier to challenge convictions and sentences as racially biased.
- A bill that would limit punishment for people who are convicted as an accomplice in a homicide.
The author of the latter bill, Democratic state Sen. Dave Cortese of San Jose, acknowledged it could be a tough sell:
- Cortese: Lawmakers’ “world view, on even the case of the death penalty, ultimately comes down to 100 feet in front of and to both sides of their front door. Tomorrow morning, something could go down in any one of those neighborhoods that becomes a punching bag for the opposition.”
- For example: A bill that would have required state courts to take into account a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail was tabled last year after a man released on zero bail allegedly raped and murdered a Sacramento woman, killed her dogs and set her house on fire.
Meanwhile, prominent Democrats continue to sound the bell of funding — not defunding — the police. Rep. Karen Bass, one of the leading candidates for Los Angeles mayor, on Tuesday unveiled a public safety plan that calls for hiring hundreds more police officers, noting “people don’t feel safe today.”
A message from our Sponsor
The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 8,127,081 confirmed cases (+0.6% from previous day) and 80,640 deaths (+0.1% from previous day), according to state data. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
A message from our Sponsor
Other stories you should know
1. Addressing California’s housing crisis
Single-payer health care wasn’t the only controversial bill — and progressive priority — to die a silent death in California’s supermajority-Democratic Legislature last week. Another high-profile casualty: a bill that aimed to preserve California’s dwindling stock of affordable apartments by forcing larger property owners in rent-controlled jurisdictions to hold onto their buildings for at least five years before invoking the Ellis Act, which gives them a path to exit the rental market and evict tenants. What caused this proposal — supported by an unlikely alliance of diverse groups of advocates — to bite the dust? CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias takes a closer look.
In other California housing news:
- San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston is seeking to put a measure on the city’s November 2020 ballot that would tax thousands of vacant homes, encouraging landlords to rent them out while raising millions for rental subsidies and affordable housing projects.
- Los Angeles developers are leveraging a housing model called tenancy-in-common that experts say could make homeownership more accessible.
- San Diego missed a Jan. 31 deadline to apply for $61 million in state funds to build homeless housing — but leaders said it wasn’t for lack of trying, underscoring the challenges officials face in easing California’s homelessness crisis.
2. Will CA get a health equity fund?
With a disproportionate number of Latino and Black Californians dying from COVID-19, nonprofit health clinics, tribal organizations and other community groups are renewing their push for California to funnel $100 million per year into a health equity and racial justice fund, CalMatters’ Jesse Bedayn reports. Although Newsom last year approved $300 million annually in new funding for state and local health departments, he nixed Democratic lawmakers’ proposal to create the health equity and racial justice fund — even as a bill to create a statewide Office of Racial Equity stalled in the Legislature. Still, some legislators are determined to move the health equity fund forward.
Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story
State Assembly, District 65 (Gardena)
State Assembly, District 65 (Gardena)
Time in office
Councilmember / Youth Pastor
Asm. Mike Gipson has taken at least $1.8 million from the Labor sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 28% of his total campaign contributions.
- Assemblymember Mike Gipson, a Los Angeles Democrat: “We have the money. The time is now. … We can no longer hide our heads in the sand.”
3. Get your sunscreen ready
Temperatures are expected to climb to record- or near-record levels across California starting today and lasting through the weekend, prompting multiple National Weather Service offices in Southern California to take the rare — and perhaps unprecedented — step of issuing excessive heat warnings in February, the Washington Post reports. San Diego will likely be among the hottest spots in the nation today and Thursday with temperatures near 90 degrees, and experts warn that attendees of Sunday’s Super Bowl in Inglewood could be at greater risk of heat-related illnesses if they aren’t accustomed to the unusually warm weather.
The heat could further dry out a state that just experienced its second-driest January on record and where state-managed reservoirs are only at 42% of capacity. And with no rain in the forecast for the next few weeks, San Francisco could log its longest mid-winter dry spell since 1849.
- David Rizzardo, hydrology section manager for the California Department of Water Resources: “The worst possible scenario is it just remains completely dry. We’ve been at zero now for several weeks, and we really want to see that turn around.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Erratic weather requires California to take a new approach to water policy.
California families need more utility debt relief: Newsom and state lawmakers should extend the statewide ban on energy shutoffs and provide at least another $2 billion in utility debt relief, argues Amulya Yerrapotu of The Greenlining Institute.
The Central Valley should diversify its economy: Arguing that it must remain dependent solely on agriculture is equivalent to arguing that Appalachian coal miners can’t transition to other forms of employment and shouldn’t need to, writes Cary Lowe, a retired land use lawyer and planning consultant.
Other things worth your time
LA County still weeks away from lifting indoor mask mandate, Ferrer estimates. // Los Angeles Times
Motion would remove sheriff’s vaccine mandate enforcement powers. // Los Angeles Times
Bay Area looks to regional approach when California mask mandate ends. // San Francisco Chronicle
‘Explosion of people dying’ has led to huge backlog of bodies at the Alameda coroner’s office. // San Francisco Chronicle
California Republicans elect new leader in state Assembly. // Associated Press
ReOpen San Diego leader to challenge Nathan Fletcher for county seat. // San Diego Union-Tribune
Costs climb again for California’s high-speed rail project. // Associated Press
California bill aims to outlaw controversial seabed mining in state waters. // San Francisco Chronicle
“Uber for nurses” may soon be on the ballot in California. // Jacobin
Tesla facing new racism complaint by California civil rights watchdog. // Los Angeles Times
Mapping a bold vision for the California African American Museum. // New York Times
Judge signs off on Santa Rita jail settlement over inmates’ objections. // San Francisco Chronicle
UC to pay $243 million to settle sexual abuse claims. // New York Times
Trevor Bauer won’t face criminal charges stemming from allegations of sexual assault, DA’s office says.// ESPN
Sex trafficking during the Super Bowl is a myth, these Los Angeles sex workers say. // Washington Post
Super Bowl dancers’ contract is ‘disappointment,’ advocates say. // Los Angeles Times
The freak rain storms that saved a Los Angeles Super Bowl. // Wall Street Journal
Editorial: California’s solar-power welfare state. // Wall Street Journal
San Jose mayor’s ally wrote city gas exemption policy to his benefit. // San José Spotlight
Sunnyvale’s laser is keeping crows out of downtown, now the FAA has concerns. // Mercury News
Flock of turkeys wreaking havoc at NASA center in Mountain View. Now, feds are trying to relocate them. // Mercury News
See you tomorrow.
Tips, insight or feedback? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow me on Twitter: @emily_hoeven
Subscribe to CalMatters newsletters here.