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Good morning, California. It’s Monday, April 11. This is political reporter Ben Christopher filling in for Emily Hoeven, who will be back with you Tuesday.
Timing is everything.
Since the early months of the pandemic, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has been scrambling to reduce crowding in the state’s COVID-racked prison system by making it easier for certain inmates to get out early.
In February, the agency announced yet another raft of changes and, as required by state law, invited Californians to provide feedback. The public comment period on changes to “inmate credit earning” regulations isn’t typically the kind of thing that garners much media attention or political controversy.
But then six people were killed in a shootout in downtown Sacramento.
Now we know that one of the suspects arrested in connection with that mass shooting was released from prison last February after serving less than half of a 10-year sentence for domestic violence and assault.
The 27-year-old suspect, Smiley Allen Martin, was not the beneficiary of the state’s emergency COVID rules. Instead, the Associated Press reported last week, he was granted credit for good behavior thanks to Proposition 57, the ballot measure that California voters overwhelmingly back in 2016.
No matter: District attorneys and Republicans across the state are harnessing public outrage to rally opponents against this new release regulation.
- San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan called the proposed rule change “a slap in the face to crime victims who are still suffering.”
The public comment period ends on Wednesday.
This isn’t the first time county prosecutors have taken aim at early release during the pandemic. In May 2021, 44 out of the state’s 58 top prosecutors, led by Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, sued the state, arguing that the “emergency rules” weren’t justified by an actual emergency.
Expect to hear much more about this from Schubert. A former Republican who now goes without a party affiliation, she’s running to be the state’s next attorney general.
- Schubert on Fox40: “When you have individuals that are committing crimes and using guns…we have to not let them out of jail early.”
In voting for Proposition 47 and 57, and in 2020 against Prop. 20, a majority of California voters have been consistent on criminal justice policy over the last half decade.
- Schubert, along with Republican attorney general candidates Nathan Hochman and Eric Early, are hoping 2022 will be the year that streak breaks.
While conservatives rail against the state’s early release rules, most Democrats in Sacramento have drawn a very different conclusion from last weekend’s bout of public violence: Now is the time for more restrictions on firearms.
President Joe Biden is expected to take a page from that playbook later today when he announces new restrictions on untraceable “ghost guns.” That would keep a promise he made last April. For some Democrats frustrated at Biden’s apparent low prioritization of the issue, it’s about time.
The proposed rules would subject the components used to fashion homemade guns to the same rules that apply to functional firearms. In California, home to more gun restrictions than any other state, those ready-to-assemble gun parts can only be sold by licensed dealers. But new, tougher restrictions may soon be on the way.
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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Thursday, California had 8,513,771 confirmed cases (+0.2% from previous day) and 88,557 deaths (+3.6% from previous day), according to state data now updated just twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.
California has administered 73,272,145 vaccine doses, and 83.8% of eligible Californians are fully vaccinated.
Other stories you should know
1. The “naughty list” of California housing
Mountain lions in Woodside were just the beginning.
Remember back in February when the well-heeled Bay Area ‘burb earned itself censure from California’s attorney general, disavowal from a conservation foundation and derision across social media when it tried to circumvent a new statewide housing law by declaring itself a mountain lion sanctuary?
The law in question was Senate Bill 9 from last year, which allows property owners to build between two- to four-unit housing developments on most of the parcels in the state currently zoned exclusively for single-family homes.
As CalMatters’ Manuela Tobias reports, Woodside may not be alone. The state’s Housing and Community Development Department is currently, or plans to begin, investigating 28 other cities and towns for trying to weasel their way out of the zoning law.
- Another example: Temple City in the San Gabriel Valley passed an ordinance would prevent residents of the new units from having parking or even owning a car.
- Temple councilmember Tom Chavez, upon passing the ordinance: “What we’re trying to do here is to mitigate the impact of what we believe is a ridiculous state law.”
Not that this will come as a surprise to anyone, but housing really is unaffordable to a growing number of Californians. A recent report out of UC Berkeley found that while household incomes grew by 23% between 2000 and 2019, the median home value across the state shot up by 180%.
And it’s not just a coastal affliction. San Joaquin and Riverside counties have seen some of the steepest declines in the share of homes sold that are affordable to local middle-income families.
“These areas that used to be affordable to working-class families, middle-income households, are increasingly becoming out of reach,” said report co-author David Garcia.
2. Local redistricting woes
Not everyone was pleased with the way that California’s independent redistricting commission diced up the state’s electoral map for the next 10 years, but its cartographic work was met with neither significant protest nor wholesale reversal nor litigation.
Not every redistricting commission has been so lucky.
- Exhibit A of redistricting dysfunction: San Francisco.
In a process riven by the same raw ideological fissures that define just about everything in local politics, the redistricting process reached a new level of discord in the wee hours of Sunday morning. At 2 a.m., after 19 hours of debate and map-drawing, four of the commission’s nine members stormed out of the meeting in protest.
The main issue, according to the San Francisco Standard: Whether the Portola neighborhood, with a large Asian American population, would be placed in the same district with the city’s largest concentrated Black population, potentially diluting the latter’s political influence. One irate commissioner alluded to genocide.
This comes after last week’s fracas when the board voted to split two downtown neighborhoods at 3:30 a.m., prompting calls of “gerrymandering” that launched an ultimately unsuccessful campaign to have three offending members removed just days before the final maps are due.
What’s the cause of all this controversy? An ongoing special election for Assembly may have further politicized matters. Unequal housing development across the city could have made the job of line drawing harder. Or maybe, as the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board wrote, the city just needs to “get it together.”
But the drama in San Francisco is about more than local politics, redistricting consultant Paul Mitchell told me. Unlike the state commission, which is randomly selected by lottery, the members on the San Francisco board are appointed by the mayor, the board of supervisors and the city’s election commission.
- Mitchell: “The risk with those types of commissions is that you’re going to have shenanigans led by political people — or at the very least you’re going to have the perception that these are just partisan actors.”
And San Francisco isn’t the only city struggling with its new maps. After Sacramento rolled out new lines for its city council, city staff instructed its elected members to start representing voters in the new districts immediately — rather than wait until the next election.
That has the odd effect of putting Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela, a Democratic socialist elected by downtown voters, in wealthy East Sacramento where some voters immediately launched a recall campaign.
But last week the city attorney weighed in, reversing city policy and sending the councilors back to their original districts. Nobody said democracy is easy.
3. Joseph Castro and Title IX, an FAQ
In the latest from the CalMatters College Journalism Network, Michaella Huck, Zaeem Shaikh, Julia Woock and Felicia Mello answer questions they received from their readers about the resignation of former California State University system chancellor Joseph Castro.
It all happens to quickly, you could be forgiven for being unclear on some of the details.
- First, USA Today published an investigation into Joseph Castro, then-chancellor of the California State University System, and his mishandling six years of sexual harassment complaints against a senior administrator when Castro was president of Fresno State.
- Two weeks later, Castro resigned — though he’ll be collecting $400,000 on his way out of the door.
At Fresno State and across the system, this has all prompted a discussion and a reckoning. Why did the Title IX system designed to protect employees and students from sex-based discrimination, harassment and retaliation fail so catastrophically and for so long? How was the system designed to work? What exactly are “retreat rights” and does Castro really get to keep his job as a teacher?
As Fresno State launches its own investigation, this much is clear to many students and employees alike. The system “completely failed,” said Cal State trustee Jack McGrory.
- McGrory: “We had a senior executive for six years sexually harassing people on on one of our major campuses, even to the point where he’s sexually harassing a student for two years, and nothing happened.”
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California’s population is due to start shrinking. That’s not a good thing.
Vaccine mandates are essential to California’s recovery: We’ve used such requirements to halt the spread of measles, mumps, rubella and polio. It’s time to do the same in our fight against COVID-19, writes Dr. Eric Ball, board member of the California Immunization Coalition.
Other things worth your time
Reformer D.A. Gascón struggling to prosecute police for fatal shootings // O.C. Register
One thousand per day: Ukrainian refugees amassing at Mexico-California border // NPR
Must be nice: Top PG&E exec took home $51.2 million in 2021 // Mercury News
Aspiring viral stars slapped with temporary restraining order after disrupting USC Holocaust lecture, escorting “boring” professor from class // Daily Trojan
Honorable discharge: Parents protest afters San Diego high school nixes some honors classes citing racial disparities // San Diego Union-Tribune
How Rising Sea Levels Could Push Up a ‘Toxic Soup’ Into Bay Area Neighborhoods // KQED
More state aid for low-income renters could be on the way // Los Angeles Times
Watchdog: Feds ignored mold and asbestos exposure at Bay Area women’s prison // Associated Press
Much ado about A.D.Us as Oakland homeowners flock to “casita” fest // San Francisco Chronicle
20 million champagne bubbles. A 4.5 million year shift. The surface of the sun. Here are nine ways to visualize Jeff Bezos’ wealth // New York Times Magazine
Californians getting more miles per gallon thanks to EV surge // E&E News
See you tomorrow.
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