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California towns’ battle for local control still being fought

Increasingly, city governments are becoming the last resort for resisting policies adopted by elected state officials and appointed functionaries who assume authority normally reserved for votes of the people.

The latest prominent example is no-cash bail, a system in which people arrested for nonviolent or minor crimes (though they do include some assaults) can be released quickly with a mere citation telling them to appear in court at a later date.

It’s a policy first adopted in 2020 by state legislators and signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom. Voters in 2022 canceled that law, though, in a referendum that passed by a resounding 2 million votes, a margin of 56 to 44%.

That should have ended no-cash bail. However, a couple of so-called “progressive” district attorneys informally reinstituted the rejected rule, ordering their deputies not to participate in setting bail for any but the most serious criminals.

Then the nation’s largest local court system — Los Angeles County’s Superior Court — took it a step further, deciding on its own that no-cash bail would apply in virtually all cases starting Oct. 1. That actually has begun.

Now 12 of the county’s 88 cities have filed court papers saying zero bail threatens public safety by releasing accused criminals onto the streets without considering whether they constitute a threat. Whether the cities will get the injunction they seek against this is unclear. If not, they’ll have to carry their case to the appellate level.

They’re adamant, though, that a zero-bail policy “fails to support local leaders in their pledge to protect their residents, and that is unacceptable,” as Glendora Mayor Gary Boyer said in a statement.

Other cities joining Glendora include Whittier, Artesia, Covina, Downey, Lakewood, Santa Fe Springs, Palmdale, Arcadia, Industry, Vernon and La Verne. The court system’s new policy quickly found most arrestees getting cited and released in the field, never even seeing a police station. Law enforcement was not pleased.

“It’s frustrating,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna, who notes that the policy is one reason many citizens who witness crimes no longer bother reporting them because they don’t think it will lead anywhere. “I’m very concerned,” Luna said.

The no-cash-bail system is borne of a widespread conviction among progressives that cash bail favors the rich, allowing well-heeled suspects to win pretrial release even after serious crimes. People who violate release conditions under no-cash bail are subject to arrest if they violate release terms, just as those out on bail always have been.

The cities’ effort to beat back public policy that has either been rejected by voters or is based solely on beliefs and not statistics is similar to an effort by some cities — led by Orange County’s Huntington Beach — to resist one-size-fits-all housing mandates imposed by the state.

They see California’s Housing and Community Development Department imposing construction quotas on every city and county in California, whether or not there is public demand or desire for that housing.

One result of this policy has been construction of many high-rise buildings loaded with “affordable” apartments (available to families with incomes at or below 80% of any area’s median). Even “affordable” housing is often priced above what many who would like to buy California real estate can pay, though, so vacancy signs abound on most of the state’s new buildings.

Meanwhile, California Attorney General Rob Bonta has filed lawsuits against several cities, threatening their state grants for items like police, sewers and roads if they don’t cave in and permit whatever levels of new housing they’re told to.

Judges have not yet ruled definitively in these cases, so if the many housing laws passed in the last five years will stand up against charter cities, which are normally entitled by the state constitution to exercise great independence, remains to be seen.

Similarly, no one knows if policies like no-cash bail can ultimately stand up legally even after voters have resoundingly rejected them. The bottom line: Thanks to some cities, folks who favor local control with citizens having a strong influence on their surroundings still have hope, but it may be growing slimmer by the day.

Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com, and read more of his columns online at californiafocus.net.

https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2023/11/11/elias-california-towns-battle-for-local-control-still-very-much-in-play/ California towns’ battle for local control still being fought

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