California crime concerns spark protest in Oakland

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La September 27, 2023
Presented by New California Coalition and California Water Service

California crime concerns spark protest in Oakland

Small business and restaurant owners in Oakland have had enough. Tuesday, dozens gathered together in a tense and raucous rally downtown, and several owners went on “strike,” closing for a few hours or the whole day, to demand public safety reforms.

Concerns about rising crime reverberate far beyond Oakland: In a February survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, 76% of respondents said violence and street crime is a big or at least somewhat of a problem where they live. And for good reason: violent crime increased by 13.5% from 2019 to 2022 statewide.

In Oakland, violent crimes jumped by 18% from 2019 to 2022, according to police department figures provided to the state. The department reports that robbery is up 33% this year compared to last year, and commercial burglary is up 9%.

Durell Coleman told me at the rally that the Dominican restaurant Sobre Mesa that he co-owns has had two attempted break-ins during the three years it’s been in business. It closed Tuesday in solidarity with the protest.

  • Coleman: “A lot of us who are born and raised here, betting on our communities…. And now that we’ve done that, we’re dealing with this issue of public safety…. But for whatever reasons we’re not protected…by police, by city government right now and that’s unfortunate.”
Durell Coleman, co-owner of local restaurant Sobre Mesa, stands for a portrait at a strike event aimed at stopping business closures and supporting public safety in Oakland on Sept. 26, 2023.
Durell Coleman, co-owner of Oakland restaurant Sobre Mesa, takes part in a rally calling on city officials to address public safety on Sept. 26, 2023. Photo by Loren Elliott for CalMatters

Holding the rally in front of the well-known restaurant Le Cheval was a conscious decision. Established in 1985, the family-owned Vietnamese eatery recently announced it will close its doors for good on Saturday. Its owners told CBS News that “the lack of office workers” caused by the pandemic “did not kill us,” but rather “the crime, the criminals killed us.”

It’s not just mom-and-pop businesses: Retail giant Target announced Tuesday that it will close an Oakland store and two others in the Bay Area due to organized retail theft. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office announced earlier this month that the state will send more than $267 million to 55 cities and counties to fight retail theft rings. But in what The Mercury News calls “a stunning oversight,” Oakland won’t get any of that money because it missed a deadline to apply. Mayor Sheng Thao, who asked for six more Highway Patrol officers and plans to install 300 security cameras, said the mistake stemmed from “a personnel issue.”

For some at the rally, that missed opportunity was just the latest failure by city officials.

Squeezed onto a narrow sidewalk in the late morning heat, business owners and others held signs that read, “Safe streets, happy eats,” and “Robbed 3 times in 5 months,” as they heard speeches from a handful of restaurant owners and local business leaders. During the hour-long event, those in the crowd often shouted their frustrations about the lack of support from local politicians and what they called a shortage of police.

“The truth is, our homes are not okay,” said Jennifer Tran, president of the Oakland Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce who is also running for Congress next year. 

Tran spoke at the rally and talked about how her 80-year-old uncle was recently burglarized in his Oakland home. She told me that while Oakland and East Bay have a diverse and inclusive culture, it “will continue to disintegrate” as long as the community’s basic needs are not met — “which is public safety, which is small business, which is our parks, which is our schools.”


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1 Newsom signs gun bills, warns on courts

Flanked by lawmakers and gun safety advocates, Gov. Gavin Newsom signs new gun legislation into law at the Capitol Annex Swing Space in Sacramento on Sept. 26, 2023.
Flanked by lawmakers and gun safety advocates, Gov. Gavin Newsom signs gun legislation into law at the Capitol annex in Sacramento on Sept. 26, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

From CalMatters state Capitol reporter Alexei Koseff:

Bill-signing ceremonies are generally a jubilant affair — an opportunity for legislators to celebrate their hard-fought victories and governors to tout California’s values.

But an event Tuesday in Sacramento where Gov. Newsom signed several new gun control laws, including revised rules for carrying a concealed weapon in public, bore a far more somber tone. Given a momentous U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that upended the framework for determining whether firearms restrictions are constitutional, would these measures even take effect?

Indeed, within minutes, gun rights groups had already filed a lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 2 by state Sen. Anthony Portantino, a La Cañada Flintridge Democrat, which establishes numerous “sensitive places” where guns are still not allowed, including hospitals, public transit and playgrounds. The measure is a response to the Supreme Court decision, which struck down a New York law, similar to California’s, requiring people to show “proper cause” to obtain a concealed carry permit.

“We’re no longer immune from those assaults,” Newsom said after signing SB 2. “You can’t just be a blue state and advance a blue state framework. They’re coming after these laws and they’re winning in federal courts.”

The governor signed two other bills at the ceremony, alongside 20 others that he announced via press release: SB 452 by Sen. Catherine Blakespear, an Encinitas Democrat, which seeks to reestablish a requirement tossed by another federal judge this spring that all semi-automatic pistols sold in California incorporate microstamping technology; and Assembly Bill 28 by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, a Woodland Hills Democrat, which imposes an 11% excise tax on gun and ammunition sales.

Though Newsom has been reluctant to embrace new taxes as governor, he said he had a different view of AB 28 because it is a “sin tax” justified by the huge cost of gun violence on California communities. It will raise an estimated $160 million annually for violence intervention programs, school safety improvements and law enforcement efforts to confiscate guns from people who are prohibited from owning them.

“This is a pretty modest investment in prevention and reducing those costs ultimately,” Newsom said.

Even as he expressed confidence that SB 2 and the other bills he signed would survive any legal challenges, the governor seemed resigned. He bemoaned “the recklessness of the federal courts and the ideological agenda,” calling a recent wave of court rulings overturning California gun laws “pre-baked.” Just last week, a federal judge struck down the state’s prohibition on magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

  • Newsom: “This is a serious moment, and it requires perhaps a pivot in the way we approach the issue of gun safety in this country.”

He offered no specifics, but suggested it would require “a national frame” — hinting, perhaps, at his ongoing push to add a gun control amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

2 Surprise amendments in CA housing bills

An apartment building under construction in San Francisco on June 2, 2015. Photo by Robert Galbraith, Reuters
An apartment building under construction in San Francisco on June 2, 2015. Photo by Robert Galbraith, Reuters

From CalMatters housing reporter Ben Christopher

On Thursday, Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener, Mayor London Breed and a gaggle of pro-housing activists will gather in San Francisco to celebrate the passage of a closely watched housing bill.

Supporters are also hoping — if the governor is willing to make the trip — that the confab might turn into the official signing ceremony.

SB 423 re-authorizes a Wiener bill from 2017 that makes it all but impossible for development-averse local governments and litigants to delay the approval of new apartment buildings in most of California, so long as a certain share of the units are set aside for lower income residents.

As Gov. Newsom considers whether to sign or veto the bill before his Oct. 14 deadline, he has a legislative surprise.

Wiener tucked a last-minute amendment into the bill that would tighten the screws on the senator’s hometown of San Francisco, as first reported by The San Francisco Standard this month. 

A little background: 

Wiener’s surprise amendment: State regulators will now check on the city’s progress every year.

  • Erik Mebust, Wiener’s spokesperson: “We decided to go over their heads.”

This isn’t the only surprise bill amendment to rattle California housing circles this month. 

SB 684 by Merced Democratic Sen. Anna Caballero would speed up the process of splitting lots into smaller parcels to make way for smaller, potentially more affordable duplexes and townhouses. The bill was sponsored by a coalition of organizations that push for more homeownership opportunities for lower-income Black and brown Californians. 

But in the final hours of the legislative session, an amendment added by the Assembly Appropriations Committee exempted single-family home parcels. That led one of the bill’s irate backers to call upon Newsom not to sign their bill after all.

  • Adam Briones, CEO of California Community Builders: “The surprise amendment reinforces an unfortunate message that many people of color still feel is true: Our neighborhoods matter less to those in power than wealthy, white neighborhoods.”

3 Thurmond for governor, in 2026

California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond speaks outside of Enrique S. Camarena Elementary School in Chula Vista on July 21, 2021. Photo by Denis Poroy, AP Photo
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond speaks outside Enrique S. Camarena Elementary School in Chula Vista on July 21, 2021. Photo by Denis Poroy, AP Photo

State schools chief Tony Thurmond made it official Tuesday: He’s running for governor in 2026. 

In his nearly 4-minute announcement video, he leans into his life story — losing his immigrant mother at age 6, being raised in poverty by a cousin, pulling himself up through public schools. 

“California has had a lot of governors,” he says. “My story is nothing like theirs. I didn’t come from money, power or influence.”

While he doesn’t mention it, he’s seeking to become California’s first Black chief executive.

Thurmond does emphasize his working-class background, and he pledges to help others like him succeed. 

  • Thurmond, in the video: “Our state is home to some of the wealthiest people on the planet. We are also home to the poorest people in America. And the crises are only growing: homelessness, homeownership an unreachable dream, children gunned down, a climate that’s only growing hotter, underfunded schools and a growing gap between the rich and the working poor.”

While his announcement is an introduction to California voters, Thurmond may be best known for working with Gov. Newsom on the COVID school closings during his first term and for becoming a key combatant in the classroom culture wars so far in his second. His campaign launch came a day after Newsom signed a Thurmond-backed bill to fine local school boards that ban books solely for their inclusive content. 

While the election is more than two years away, Democratic statewide officials are already maneuvering, since it’s a rare open seat, with Newsom termed out. Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis was first out of the gate in April. Former state Controller Betty Yee announced her intentions soon after, though she hasn’t formally announced. (They would also make history, since California has never had a female governor.) And Attorney General Rob Bonta is exploring a run.

Speaking of elections: California Common Cause and a coalition of advocacy groups issued an extensive report Tuesday on expanding language access to make sure all voters have equal rights, arguing that requirements and resources haven’t kept up as the state moves toward mail ballots.  

  • The report: “Our democratic institutions are stronger when all voters have access to the polls and have confidence in and an understanding of the electoral process. Unfortunately, voters who are not fluent in English face unique hurdles to understanding the voting process and the content on their ballots.”

This issue came up last year when the secretary of state’s office reduced the number of ballot language translations — then reversed itself after CalMatters highlighted the situation.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Gov. Newsom appears to be following Jerry Brown’s “canoe theory,” paddling to the left and then to the right with his vetoes and bill signings so far.

CalMatters contributor Pedro Rios: In the Imperial County desert, volunteers fill blue barrels with water to keep migrants alive


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

Newsom asks high court to kick anti-tax measure off 2024 ballot // Bloomberg Tax

Why it takes Democrats years to pass CA criminal justice reform // The Sacramento Bee

What writers got from the Hollywood studios to end the strike // Los Angeles Times

Hollywood strikes have put a crimp in political fundraising // Politico

Scientists union hits impasse with state, moves closer to strike // The Sacramento Bee

It pays better to work for a Democrat in the state Assembly // Politico

CA high-speed rail project gets $202M federal grant // San Francisco Chronicle

Biden visits Bay Area for technology consultation, campaign events // The Mercury News

Amazon invests $4B into SF AI startup Anthropic // San Francisco Chronicle

Lawsuit seeks repeal of LA homeless emergency declaration // Los Angeles Times

Mayor wants mandatory drug screening for SF welfare recipients // San Francisco Chronicle

See you tomorrow


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