Newsletter: Oakland bans criminal background checks for rental housing

Rows of homes in Oakland.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Jan. 23, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Lee “Taqwaa” Bonner was born in Oakland. His job is in Oakland. He owns and drives a vehicle in Oakland. But living in Oakland? That was another story.

Bonner has a felony conviction. When he got out of prison in 2017, he had a job lined up and nonprofits willing to provide rent money during his transition. But the Mercury News reports that he ended up living in his Toyota Camry “after getting rejected by multiple landlords because of his record.”

This week, Oakland became the first city in California to prohibit landlords from conducting criminal background checks on potential tenants for most public and private rental housing. Similar but less broad measures already exist in Richmond and San Francisco. The San Francisco ordinance is limited to affordable housing, while Richmond’s pertains to publicly subsidized affordable housing and nonprofit housing.

[Read the story: “Oakland bans criminal background checks on potential tenants” in the Los Angeles Times]


The passage of Richmond’s ordinance a few years back “set off a ripple effect in the Bay Area, inspiring organizers in the East Bay to make a push for similar ordinances,” according to Curbed. The Berkeley City Council will vote on a similar ordinance next month.

Bonner, who served three decades in prison for second-degree murder, said the Oakland ordinance could change his life. A criminal record creates a major barrier to finding housing for many, and research from the Prison Policy Initiative found that formerly incarcerated people in the U.S. were nearly 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public.

The ordinance was passed unanimously by the Oakland City Council, but it did face some criticism from rental associations.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Gov. Gavin Newsom urged a judge to reject PG&E’s blueprint for getting out of bankruptcy and renewed his threat of a state takeover: Newsom’s lawyers gave a sternly worded rebuke of PG&E’s plan, escalating the intrigue in a year-old bankruptcy case that will determine the fate of the nation’s largest utility. Los Angeles Times


Jeff Bezos’ phone hack trouble all started with dinner at Brian Grazer’s house. U.N. experts believe that Bezos’ phone was hacked when the Amazon founder received a video file in a WhatsApp conversation with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a month after the two exchanged numbers at an April 4, 2018, dinner in California. A quick cross-reference of the U.N. report with the gossip pages makes clear that the dinner in question was held at spiky-haired über-producer Grazer’s house and co-hosted by Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel. Business Insider (h/t The Ankler)

The latest turn in a long-standing battle at City Hall over how L.A. should handle cleanups for homeless camps: First, the city announced more “sensitive” cleanups. Now, it’s taking a harder line. Los Angeles Times

In search of Weetzie Bat’s Los Angeles: Retracing locations from the YA cult classic with author Francesca Lia Block. LitHub

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A private prison company is attempting to dramatically expand the number of immigrant detention beds in Kern County, drawing large crowds of protesters and counter-protesters to a planning commission meeting outside Bakersfield. Bakersfield Californian


President Trump on Wednesday hardened his opposition to allowing former national security advisor John Bolton to testify in his Senate impeachment trial, as House Democrats began their methodical arguments for removing the president from office for having abused his office to “cheat an election.” Los Angeles Times

They like Mike: Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg has picked up dozens of new endorsements from California elected officials, including Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach) and the mayors of Chula Vista and Imperial Beach. Politico

Does Tom Steyer have real momentum or just a ton of money? A dispatch from South Carolina, on the trail with the Bay Area billionaire. Los Angeles Times

Separating fact from fiction on California’s most controversial housing bill: SB 50 is back in play at the state Capitol, and PolitiFact spoke with the bill’s author and housing experts to break down the accuracy of the claims around it. CapRadio


Harvey Weinstein sat in a Manhattan courtroom Wednesday as prosecutors described him as a sexual predator who used his influence to sexually assault women. Los Angeles Times


Geothermal energy is poised to start growing again in California: Geothermal plants can generate emissions-free, renewable electricity around the clock, unlike solar panels or wind turbines. Los Angeles Times

Fentanyl and heroin overdoses in San Francisco more than doubled in 2019. San Francisco Chronicle


The hottest 24/7 reality show in Southern California right now could be called “The Real Bald Eagles of Big Bear Lake.” As many as 5,000 people at any moment are watching eagles nicknamed Jackie and Shadow on a live-streaming webcam. Los Angeles Times

Big Bear Lake's resident bald eagles Jackie and Shadow are clearly here for the right reasons.
(Friends of Big Bear Valley)

Stockton is the most racially diverse city in the United States, according to a new analysis. U.S. News and World Report

West Marin’s only pharmacy could lose its license over alleged violations. According to the pharmacy’s owner, the nearest alternative pharmacy is about 17 miles away in Novato. Marin Independent Journal


Los Angeles: sunny, 75. San Diego: sunny, 68. San Francisco: cloudy, 59. San Jose: cloudy, 64. Sacramento: cloudy, 56. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Sam Ludu:

My father would take me to Dodger games in the 1960s, the golden years when the team was led by Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Maury Wills. I’ll never forget the many transistor radios that were on in the stadium during the game broadcasting the voice of the great Vin Scully, so revered were his play-by-calls and commentary. His voice was one of the things I missed most when I left Southern California.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.