Criminal justice reform under fire in California

Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies inspect a cell block at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca says he plans to implement all the reforms suggested by a commission in the wake of allegations that a culture of violence flourished in his jails. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

Not only has it been a disappointing year for the lawmakers and civic leaders behind the recent push for sweeping reforms of California’s criminal justice system, their achievements are under harsh fire in Los Angeles County.

Last December, Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, and state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, proposed to largely scrap cash bail on the grounds that it wasn’t essential to getting people to show up for their trials, was destructive of individuals’ lives and would sharply reduce costs and crowding at county jails. But while one of the two related bills the lawmakers introduced passed the Senate on mostly party lines, the other stalled on the Assembly floor, only getting 35 votes in support. The bail bonds industry has strong relationships with both parties, especially in urban areas where bail bond agents are often significant donors.

On Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown and Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye announced their support for the measure – but for review and passage in 2018, not the remaining few days of the current legislative session.

The support of Brown and Cantil-Sakauye was depicted as good news by Bonta and Hertzberg. But the governor’s and chief justice’s delay in getting on the bandwagon and the Assembly’s coolness to the concept showed that bail reform never enjoyed as much support as two other recent criminal justice reform measures. Adopted by state voters in 2014, Proposition 47reclassifies several nonviolent crimes as misdemeanors instead of felonies for those without criminal records involving crimes of violence or related to guns. Approved in 2016, Proposition 57 made it easier for those guilty of “nonviolent” crimes to win parole.

Reforms face intense blowback in L.A. County

Now, however, enthusiasm for these reforms has faded in the largest county in the state and nation.

In Los Angeles County, some law enforcement and women’s groups are upset with Proposition 57 over how many of the crimes it considers “nonviolent” involve considerable violence, including types of sexual assaults.

But many local leaders, politicians, law enforcement members and citizens are furious over the effects of Proposition 47. They say it amounts to a “get out of jail free” card for drug addicts who no longer face incarceration for their crimes but who face no punishment when they don’t honor requirements they meet with drug counselors. Anecdotes about addicts being arrested over and over and over without consequence have been common in police circles for more than two years. Similar stories abounded in a harsh October 2015 Washington Post analysis of the early effects of Proposition 47. It concluded the well-meaning state law kept addicts out of jail, but not out of trouble.

These concerns led Los Angeles County supervisors to vote 3-0 on Aug. 15 to set up a commission to examine “the challenges and opportunities” created by Propositions 47 and 57 and AB109, a 2011 state law that “realigned” criminal justice by having those convicted of many “low-level” crimes serve their sentences in county jails instead of state prisons.

The reforms have been the focus of anger over two gun murders on Feb. 20 in Los Angeles County, allegedly committed by convicted felon Michael C. Mejia – one of a family member, the other of Whittier police Officer Keith Boyer. Mejia had been released from state prison 10 months before the killings and the Los Angeles gang member reportedly committed several parole violations without being sent back to state prison before Feb. 20.

After the killings, Whittier Police Chief Jeff Piper and the Los Angeles Police Protective League blamed AB109 and Proposition 47for making it easier for Mejia to avoid being returned to state prison for breaking parole.

Reformers said Proposition 47 had nothing to do with Mejia’s treatment. They said that while AB109 changed how Mejia was treated after being released from prison, it did so by assigning responsibility for his oversight to the Los Angeles County Probation Department – not the state corrections department.

But the argument that the county was blaming state reforms for its own failings never took hold. The day after officer Boyer’s death, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said state reforms were “putting people back on the street that aren’t ready to be back on the street.” He said his jail system had so many dangerous inmates that it amounted to a “default state prison” – undermining claims that reforms would have positive or benign effects on local communities.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Bullet train is likely to face more environmental hurdles

As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

California’s high-speed train project is likely to continue to be buffeted by environmental challenges as a result of a decision by the state’s top court.

In a 6-1 ruling last week written by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the California Supreme Court decided that federal rail law does not usurp California’s tough environmental regulation for state-owned rail projects.

The decision has broad significance, lawyers in the case said.

It clears the way for opponents of the $64-billion bullet train to file more lawsuits as construction proceeds and also allows Californians to challenge other rail uses, such as the movement of crude oil from fracking.

A federal court could later decide the matter differently, ruling that U.S. law trumps state regulation.

But lawyers in the field said …

Click here to read the full article

CA Supreme Court Forces Affordable Housing on Developers

affordable housingMany Golden State developers must now include so-called affordable housing units in their sales plans. The California Supreme Court sided against the builders, who brought a contentious, high-profile suit against municipal policymakers.

“At issue was a 2010 San Jose law that requires some new residential developments to set aside 15 percent of their units for sale at below-market rates,” noted the San Jose Mercury News. “The California Building Industry Association said the city failed to justify the 15 percent requirement and should base any such quota on an assessment of possible negative effects of the market-rate housing.”

But the impact of the ruling went far beyond San Jose city limits. “The League of California Cities and California State Association of Counties estimate more than 170 municipalities have some kind of ordinance on the books,” according to KQED. Officials in Sacramento have also brought attention to the diminishing quantity of less costly urban housing. As the Los Angeles Times observed, the state’s Legislative Analyst reported months ago that California’s housing is among the nation’s most expensive.

Given the court’s protection of the laws, their continued expansion became all but certain in liberal-leaning urban areas. “The decision clears the way for Los Angeles and other cities to require developers to sell a percentage of the units they build at below-market rates as a condition of a building permit. Developers also could be given the option of paying into a fund for low-cost housing,” the Times reported.

In a statement, the Times added, L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti applauded the ruling. “This gives Los Angeles and other local governments another possible tool to use as we tackle our affordable housing crisis,” he said.

A hands-off approach

Describing California’s paucity of cheap housing as a crisis of “epic proportions,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye went well beyond the bounds of San Jose’s set-asides to endorse broad municipal regulatory powers. Cities, she wrote, should “regulate the use of real property to serve the legitimate interests of the general public and the community at large.”

Rather than seeing itself as indulging in judicial activism, however, the court embraced city attorneys’ contentions that its powers simply didn’t extend to pricing rules. “There is no basis for the courts to second-guess the City Council’s considered judgment in adopting an inclusionary housing ordinance as a means to comply with its affordable housing aims,” they argued, according to the Associated Press.

Judicial gymnastics

Behind the hands-off approach, however, the court followed a complex line of legal interpretation. Plaintiffs claimed that San Jose’s “inclusive housing ordinance,” or IHO, amounted to an unconstitutional “taking” of property. Previously, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that the possibility of such a taking triggered heightened judicial scrutiny, a stricter standard of interpretation than the city’s attorneys wanted the California Supreme Court to use.

Under heightened scrutiny, a so-called “exaction” imposed by an IHO can only pass constitutional muster if regulators “can establish a reasonable relationship between the amount of a city’s need for affordable housing and the portion of that need attributable to a particular development project,” as the National Law Review noted.

The city admitted that it broke new ground in the aggressiveness of its housing regulations. As KQED noted, “the city side-stepped the usual study showing a relationship between the development of for-sale housing and the city’s need for affordable housing.”

But the court, the Review continued, ruled the set-aside in San Jose’s IHO was not an exaction at all, “because it did not constitute the payment of a monetary fee but rather simply placed a limit on the way a developer may use its property.” Rather than requiring developers to pay money or turn over its property to the public, the IHO placed “a restriction on the property by limiting the price for which the developer may offer certain units for sale.”

Originally published on CalWatchdog.com