Bonta floats changing definition of violent crime

Your guide to California policy and politics
Emily Hoeven BY Emily Hoeven October 13, 2022
Presented by Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership, Southern California Gas Company and Earthjustice

Bonta floats changing definition of violent crime

If this week is any indication, Attorney General Rob Bonta is on a mission.

On Wednesday, he announced that his office would conduct an independent investigation into last year’s redistricting in the city of Los Angeles following the explosive publication of a secretly recorded meeting in which three city council members and an influential labor leader could be heard making racist comments, insulting their colleagues and plotting how to draw city council district boundaries to consolidate Latino political power.

  • Bonta said in a statement: “The decennial redistricting process is foundational for our democracy and for the ability of our communities to make their voices heard — and it must be above reproach. The leaked audio has cast doubt on a cornerstone of our political processes for Los Angeles.”
  • Nury Martinez, who stepped down as council president on Monday, announced her resignation Wednesday. Gov. Gavin Newsom applauded the move, but stopped short of calling on Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo, the other council members present at the meeting, to resign. The governor’s reticence marks a sharp departure from other top Democratic officials: President Joe Biden on Tuesday said all three council members should step down.

Also Wednesday, Bonta issued an update on his office’s efforts to limit the spread of fentanyl, a super-powerful synthetic opioid largely responsible for record-high fatal overdoses in California. Since April 2021, Bonta said, his office has seized more than 4 million fentanyl pills and nearly 900 pounds of fentanyl powder and performed more than 200 arrests.

  • The update may have also served as an implicit clapback at Nathan Hochman, the Republican former federal prosecutor running against Bonta for attorney general. Hochman has repeatedly slammed his Democratic opponent for failing to act aggressively on fentanyl, including in a campaign ad that says California has seen a 2,100% uptick since 2016 in the number of residents under age 24 dying from fentanyl poisoning.

Also this week, Bonta unveiled guidance for local governments considering housing developments in areas of high wildfire risk, waded into housing and development battles in Marin County and Southwest Fresno and announced that California’s seasonal task force combating illegal cannabis cultivation would transition to year-round enforcement.

If it sounds like Bonta — who was appointed attorney general by Newsom in March 2021 — has broadened the scope and emphasis of the Department of Justice, you’d be right.

In an hour-long interview with CalMatters, Bonta said he’s “never, ever” followed the advice he received early in his political career to focus on just a few signature issues. For other takeaways from the interview — including Bonta’s stances on the death penalty and cash bail, and what he plans to do after lawmakers killed a bill he sponsored in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision expanding gun rights — check out this comprehensive breakdown from CalMatters’ Ben Christopher.

  • Something to keep an eye on: Whether Bonta will push for changes to Proposition 57, approved by California voters in 2016, that allows certain prison inmates to earn good conduct credits at a faster rate and narrowed the number of crimes considered as “violent” felonies, among other things.
  • Prop. 57 reentered the headlines following an April gang shootout in Sacramento that left six dead and 12 injured. It later emerged that Smiley Martin, one of the suspects charged with murder in the case, had spent just four years in prison despite a 10-year sentence — partially because the crimes of which he was convicted, including domestic violence and assault likely to cause great bodily injury, are considered “nonviolent” under California penal code.
  • Bonta told CalMatters: “Domestic violence, human trafficking, rape of an unconscious person — all of those should be discussed and potentially changed under whatever the appropriate means is for Prop. 57. I think if people are asked … ‘Is this a violent crime? Or is it not a violent crime?’ I think people will say, ‘It’s a violent crime,’ so I think those should be considered for change.”

Study up on the props: CalMatters reporters are hosting a free election event on Oct. 19 from 5-6 p.m. to discuss the seven November ballot measures and answer your questions. Register to attend the event virtually.


1 Sports betting proponents admit likely defeat

Betting odds for Super Bowl LV are displayed on monitors at the Circa resort and casino sports book in Las Vegas on Feb. 3, 2021. Photo by John Locher, AP Photo
Betting odds for Super Bowl LV displayed on monitors at the Circa resort and casino sports book in Las Vegas on Feb. 3, 2021. Photo by John Locher, AP Photo

The backers of two dueling November ballot measures to legalize sports betting in California aren’t exactly folding — but they acknowledged in Tuesday panels at a Las Vegas gambling convention that they aren’t likely to end up with winning hands even after campaigns on both sides of the initiatives raised more than $440 million. The news comes less than a week after a UC Berkeley and Los Angeles Times poll found that both Propositions 26 and 27 were significantly underwater with likely voters, with just 31% in favor of allowing Native American casinos and horse race tracks to offer in-person sports betting and merely 27% in support of authorizing online sports gambling.

  • But, even if both measures go down this year, the battle over a multibillion-dollar industry is far from over.
  • FanDuel CEO Amy Howe and DraftKings founder and CEO Jason Robins — whose companies are among the biggest donors supporting Prop. 27 — said at the convention they’d “live to fight another day” in California, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
  • Native American tribes, meanwhile, are preparing to resolve their differences “to fight the corporate intrusion into the state,” Cody Martinez, chairman of the Sycuan Band of Kumeyaay Nation, a backer of Prop. 26, told the Sacramento Bee.
  • Whether the intricacies of allowing sports betting in California will be worked out at the ballot box or in the state Legislature remains to be seen: “The legislative solution is the path of least resistance but it requires the most difficult task here, which is to which is to bring the disagreeing stakeholders together and find common ground,” gambling law expert and sports betting attorney Daniel Wallach told the Bee.

In other ballot measure news: The coalition behind Prop. 1, which would enshrine the right to abortion and contraception in the California Constitution, is bringing out the big guns: Hillary Rodham Clinton, former secretary of state and the 2016 Democratic Party presidential nominee, is set today to visit San Francisco to drum up support for the measure with Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California President and CEO Jodi Hicks and other officials.     

2 How is housing anti-discrimination law shaping up?

Section 8 voucher holder struggles to find an apartment in Fresno.
Fresno resident Reina Richter, who is disabled, said she was unable to find housing in Fresno with her Section 8 voucher in August 2019. Photo by Craig Kohlruss, The Fresno Bee

From Jeanne Kuang of CalMatters’ California Divide team: Seeking to ease the housing search for low-income tenants receiving federal rental aid, California lawmakers in 2019 made it illegal for landlords to refuse to accept housing vouchers — categorizing it as a form of housing discrimination based on the potential tenant’s “source of income.” 

But in 2020, the state’s civil rights agency found more than half of renters’ discrimination complaints under the new law were unsubstantiated, according to records obtained by CalMatters through a Public Records Act request. The documents offer an early but limited glimpse into the state’s enforcement of the anti-discrimination law at a crucial time: CalMatters reported in August that landlord reluctance to take government rental aid was hampering the rollout of emergency COVID rental vouchers in some California housing markets. 

  • Records show that of the 82 source-of-income discrimination complaints filed in 2020 with California’s Civil Rights Department (formerly the Department of Fair Employment and Housing), 45 were closed due to a lack of evidence that state fair housing laws were violated. Another 16 were withdrawn or dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, and 21 were settled by either a state investigator or through department mediation. The department said 2021 data is not yet available. 
  • The records also show that complaints took anywhere from just longer than one month to one full year to be resolved.

Fair housing advocates say the numbers aren’t necessarily cause for concern: 2020, the year the law went into effect, saw many changes in the rental housing market due to the pandemic. And a voucher holder who suspects discrimination after being rejected for an apartment might be more focused on finding housing than on following up with the department, said Sasha Harnden, public policy advocate at the Inner City Law Center in Los Angeles, who helped draft the law. 

  • But Harnden also said the state receiving just 82 complaints in one year shows more outreach and education is needed for both renters and landlords.  

Effective enforcement often requires a tenants’ rights organization to use its own resources to investigate and help prove a discrimination complaint, sometimes by sending “testers” to pose as prospective tenants. The state mediated a settlement this year between a Marin County landlord and Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California, which heard about the property owner’s anti-voucher policies through a prospective tenant, investigated the landlord itself, and filed a complaint. 

  • Caroline Peattie, executive director of Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California: “Many more people with housing vouchers experience discrimination but just move on until they find landlords who will accept them.”

3 Community college system far from meeting equity goals

Students walk through campus at Sacramento City College on Feb. 23, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Students walk through campus at Sacramento City College on Feb. 23, 2022. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

“We’re not going to close the equity gaps.”

That’s what Pamela Haynes, president of the California Community Colleges Board of Governors, told CalMatters’ Mikhail Zinshteyn when asked about Newsom’s ambitious goal to close by 2026 the system’s graduation-rate gaps between students of different racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds and between students with and without disabilities.

Haynes meant that California’s sprawling community college system, which enrolls 1.8 million students, wouldn’t be able to achieve that goal by 2026. But the system isn’t on track to meet other self-imposed ambitious goals and has virtually no chance of narrowing the current graduation rate gap among its Black, Latino and white students by 40% in five years, Mikhail reports. Nor is it on track to reduce geographical graduation-rate gaps, such as between the Bay Area and the poorer Inland Empire.

  • To make matters even more complicated, the system is publishing two widely divergent graduation rates, and is using as its accountability metric the one that shows higher graduation rates for different demographic groups, Mikhail writes.

CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: As California ramps up pressure on local authorities to build more housing, it also should be more specific on where that housing can and can’t be built in light of the state’s propensity for destructive wildfires.


Other things worth your time

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At $600 a month, these units offered a haven to California’s unhoused. Now, residents are being displaced. // USA Today

Several L.A. County cities — including Compton — on brink of financial distress, state auditor says. // Daily News

Struggling L.A. students won’t get a longer school year but can seek help during vacation. // Los Angeles Times

California’s electric grid operator calls for near-term power procurement, even with possible Diablo Canyon extension. // Utility Dive

Voter poll: San Francisco moves a step closer to the center. // San Francisco Standard

National Labor Board dings Starbucks for actions during Castro Store union drive. // San Francisco Standard

Why more California nonprofit workers are joining the labor market. // KQED

Hundreds of tech and biotech layoffs rattle Bay Area job market. // Mercury News

Blue Shield of California sues state over Medi-Cal changes it says benefit Kaiser Permanente. // Fierce Healthcare

California county defies Biden and Newsom administrations on move to rename Squaw Valley. // Fresno Bee

Column: Republican-backed candidates presented as Democrats in Carlsbad, La Mesa mailers. // San Diego Union-Tribune

Salesforce enters the carbon credit business. // Wall Street Journal

Study shows how California can forecast earthquakes like weather. // San Francisco Chronicle

California extends digital license plate option to everyone. // Car & Driver

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