Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Feb. 14 and I’m writing from Los Angeles.
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On Thursday, Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey announced the dismissal of 66,000 marijuana convictions in L.A. County.
As my colleagues Alene Tchekmedyian and Leila Miller note in their story, the dismissal of convictions, which comes years after California voters legalized, means that 22,000 people no longer have felonies on their records in California, and 15,000 no longer have a criminal record at all. It’s a reversal of decades of drug enforcement that disproportionately targeted people of color, who then faced barriers in finding housing and jobs and enrolling in school. (More than two-thirds of people who received relief are black or Latino.)
[Read the story: “L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey announces dismissal of 66,000 marijuana convictions” in the Los Angeles Times]
You see, Lacey is facing an election in a few short weeks. And she’s being challenged from the left by former San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascón and former public defender Rachel Rossi.
“Most political observers have noted this is a mirroring of something George Gascón did in San Francisco earlier, and it also happens to come the same day Lacey is avoiding a debate with Gascón and Rachel Rossi,” James explained in a follow-up tweet.
Thursday’s sweeping dismissal of convictions not only undoes decades of drug enforcement that disproportionately targeted people of color, but it’s also a savvy bit of political maneuvering that offers a window into the L.A. district attorney’s race — a race that has quickly and unexpectedly become one of the more interesting local battles on the ballot.
Let’s take a step back for a moment and examine the lay of the land. As the first woman and first African American to lead the district attorney’s office, Lacey was framed as a barrier- and glass ceiling-shattering candidate when first elected in 2012. Four years later, she sailed into a second term unopposed. But 2020 will be a different story.
The field has gotten crowded. And the progressive prosecutor movement — which was still nascent when Lacey last faced reelection in 2016 — has been gathering steam. Gascón is widely considered to be one of the most progressive prosecutors in the U.S.
Which brings us back to yesterday’s dismissal of convictions. When California voters approved Proposition 64 back in 2016, they not only legalized recreational marijuana, they also made it easier for people with pot convictions to expunge their records. But the process is known to be difficult to navigate, and relatively few people requested expungements themselves.
As San Francisco’s top prosecutor, Gascón was a pioneer in seeking mass expungements and built the partnership with Code for America to create technology for the job. In 2018, as San Francisco was working to dismiss thousands of marijuana convictions, Lacey said that her office would not automatically dismiss or reduce marijuana convictions and that people seeking to clear their records should do so using the courts.
But the law also changed. As Alene and Leila noted in yesterday’s story, state legislation signed in 2018 requires that California prosecutors automatically clear such criminal records by July of this year.
Criminal justice reformers notched a major victory in November in the San Francisco D.A.'s office with the election of former public defender Chesa Boudin. The effort was part of a partnership with Code for America, a nonprofit tech organization that developed a computer algorithm to quickly analyze county data to determine which cases were eligible to be cleared.
So, what’s next and why does it matter? The size of the Los Angeles D.A.'s office, coupled with the city’s position as a capital of innovation, put the office “in a position to influence justice policy not just here but throughout California and, arguably, around the nation,” as our editorial board put it last year.
The decision being weighed by L.A. voters is much broader than just whether Lacey should get a third term. It’s about what the future will look like for the nation’s largest local prosecutor’s office.
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
A new online map highlights black history sites across Los Angeles. The map allows users to explore places of worship, museums, notable residences and other historically and culturally important public landmarks and spaces. Eastsider LA
Where to find the best breakfast breads in L.A., from the cinnamon sugar brioche at Milo & Olive to the fresh citrus loaf cake from Lodge Bread Co. Los Angeles Times
For 40 tough years, this couple’s devotion has kept their Crenshaw dance company on its feet. Happy Valentine’s Day only to Lula and Erwin Washington of Lula Washington Dance Theatre. Los Angeles Times
IMMIGRATION AND THE BORDER
The Trump administration is seeking to shift $3.8 billion more from the defense budget to pay for constructing a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Pentagon notified Congress on Thursday, immediately provoking bipartisan objections for a second year. Los Angeles Times
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
President Trump endorsed Big Bear Lake Assemblyman Jay Obernolte’s bid to succeed Rep. Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley) in California’s 8th Congressional District. The district is the state’s largest in area, spanning more than 33,000 square miles from Joshua Tree National Park up to Mono Lake. Desert Sun
Sen. Bernie Sanders dominates Democrats in donations from tech workers. “While ‘tech worker’ conjures images of well-paid professionals in fleece vests, a Times analysis of the data showed Sanders receiving much of his support from the companies’ blue-collar employees, including Amazon warehouse staffers and Apple store salespeople.” Los Angeles Times
Former Fresno police chief Jerry Dyer is running for Fresno mayor. As police chief, he was long a political force. Fresno Bee
CRIME AND COURTS
An El Dorado County Superior Court judge freed a man convicted of murder 15 years ago. The same DNA evidence used to exonerate Ricky Davis led authorities to a different suspect in a 1985 slaying, who was arrested this week. Sacramento Bee
McClatchy — publisher of the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee, Modesto Bee, Merced Sun-Star and San Luis Obispo Tribune — filed for bankruptcy protection. The company is likely to emerge from bankruptcy under the control of its largest creditor, the hedge fund Chatham Asset Management. Los Angeles Times
Inside the world of elite Bay Area matchmaking: Most Silicon Valley outsourcing is done out in the open, but this is a service few will admit to paying for. Mercury News
And a video game about breaking up, as a Valentine’s Day treat. Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles: sunny, 71. San Diego: sunny, 65. San Francisco: partly sunny, 59. San Jose: partly sunny, 64. Sacramento: sunny, 64. More weather is here.
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