AG Bonta: CA police shooting cases will move faster

AG Bonta: CA police shooting cases will move faster

Although he’s eyeing to one day become California’s governor, for now Rob Bonta is still the attorney general. Today, that means preserving reproductive rights, preventing gun violence, enforcing housing laws — and investigating fatal police shootings of unarmed civilians.

CalMatters’ criminal justice reporter Nigel Duara is tracking these cases and recently talked to families who have been waiting a year or more to get answers. Nigel has repeatedly asked Bonta why the investigations are taking so long. In statements, Bonta has cited a lack of funding.

On Monday, I asked him again at a Public Policy Institute of California event and Bonta gave his most detailed answer yet. He acknowledged that while the law he co-authored as a legislator intended for cases to be resolved within a year, that didn’t happen for the first cases on his watch.

  • Bonta: “It’s more important to get it right than fast, but the goal is to get it done right and fast…. It took some time to work out the kinks and to get through some of the hiccups, and we’re moving more rapidly now.”

Bonta also said his office is doing things that “haven’t been done before.” That includes determining if charges against officers can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and writing reports that detail the legal analysis and lessons for law enforcement.

To family members who are still awaiting closure, however, Bonta says “they’re right to be frustrated.”

Besides police shootings, Bonta covered a broad range of issues during Monday’s question-and-answer event. Here are some highlights:

On housing enforcement: Bonta announced he has carved out a new position in the department’s Housing Strike Force, newly rebranded as the less-confrontational sounding Housing Justice Team. The team works with cities to enforce California’s housing laws, which “are not advice, or counsel, or suggestions” but are “required to be followed.”

On red flag laws: Praising San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott for aggressively using red flag laws to take guns from dangerous people, Bonta wants others to follow her lead: “Over a third of the gun violence restraining orders in the state of California came from San Diego, not because there’s such a greater need there, but because they’re utilizing, more fully, the tool.”

On fentanyl: Bonta viewed fentanyl as the biggest challenge in public safety. He briefly mentioned the new fentanyl task force and said that approaching the crisis “from all sides” and viewing it as a public health issue will help “move the needle.”

On hate crimes: Seen as a top priority, Bonta said his office continues to work with district attorneys to identify hate crimes and investigate criminal hate groups. He also established an outreach program to engage with underrepresented communities. 

On running for governor in 2026: Though he said he will make a decision at some point, “that point is not now.” Less than five months into his first elected term, he is “focused on the work.”


Focus on homeownership: CalMatters is hosting a panel discussion 8:30-9:30 a.m. today. In “Generation Locked Out: Is Homeownership in California Now Only for the Rich?” reporter Alejandro Lazo will moderate a panel of experts and advocates who will discuss the affordability crisis and what it means for first-time homebuyers. Register here to attend in person at our Sacramento office, or virtually.


The pros and cons of Newsom’s budget

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at San Quentin State Prison announcing that the facility will be transformed to focus on training and rehabilitation on March 17, 2023. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at San Quentin State Prison on March 17, 2023. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to spend $381 million to start transforming California’s most iconic prison into a model for rehabilitation. On his March state policy tour, he highlighted his vision to remake San Quentin State Prison from a home for 3,300 inmates, including 663 on death row, into a “center for innovation focused on education, rehabilitation and breaking cycles of crime.” 

But the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office isn’t too keen on the idea. In a new report, it said that while the goals are “laudable,” there are no “clear or specific objectives for meeting these goals.”

The report also says that the $361 million in lease-revenue bonds — to demolish an existing building and build a new education and vocational center — would cost $25 million a year in debt payments for 25 years. And if the “California Model” is copied at 30 prisons not on the closure list, it would cost $800 million a year in debt payments, when the Legislature is trying to reduce prison spending.

The legislative analyst says that the capital spending, which also includes $20 million in the general fund, lacks key information for the Legislature to assess its merits, including operational costs, the precise programs and a “clear policy rationale” for finishing the projects by 2025. 

Other elements of Newsom’s latest spending blueprint are also coming under scrutiny: 

  • Pay for Medi-Cal providers: A plan to boost reimbursements for certain Medi-Cal providers by using funds from a bigger tax on health insurance plans is raising concerns from the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Analysts warn that increasing taxes on managed care plans will add more pressure on future budgets and suggest providing temporary supplemental payments to Medi-Cal providers instead. Read more about this from CalMatters’ health reporter Ana B. Ibarra.
  • Student housing: The governor proposed speeding construction of new student housing at the University of California and California State University by borrowing money. Though the analyst’s office called this approach “reasonable,” it told senators last week that adjusting for inflation, the interest payments would increase the final price tag by 1.4 times the projects’ cost than if the state provided the money upfront. And saddling UC and Cal State with more debt also stymies their ability to borrow for other projects. Read more about this from CalMatters’ higher education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn.

A big deal on Colorado River

Jeff Dollente, a zanjero with the Imperial Irrigation District, opens a gate on the Redwood Canal north of El Centro on June 1, 2022. Photo by Mark Henle, The Republic via Reuters
Jeff Dollente of the Imperial Irrigation District opens a gate on the Redwood Canal north of El Centro on June 1, 2022. Photo by Mark Henle, The Republic via Reuters

Last summer, federal officials gave California, Arizona and Nevada a warning: Figure out how to reduce their water draw from the Colorado River by 15% to 30% or the U.S. government would impose its own restrictions.

After a year of negotiations, the three states reached an agreement on Monday to give up 3 million acre-feet of river water through 2026. (In most years, about 13 million acre-feet comes out of the Colorado.) The U.S. Interior Department still must review the proposal, explains CalMatters’ water reporter Alastair Bland, and renegotiations are expected to take place before the end of 2026. Nonetheless, the deal is a major, though temporary, breakthrough towards addressing the water supply crisis.

For California, the deal’s biggest takeaways include:

  • The Metropolitan Water District, which serves about 19 million Southern Californians in six counties, will sacrifice 130,000 acre-feet per year and will voluntarily leave 250,000 acre-feet in Lake Mead this year. 
  • Farmers in the Imperial Valley, who are the biggest users, will reduce usage by 250,000 acre-feet per year, about 10% of their average amount. 
  • The Imperial Irrigation District expects $250 million from the federal government to compensate growers who cut back. 

Because of the unprecedented rainy season boosting supplies from the State Water Project, the Colorado cuts will not impact Southern Californians this year. But celebrating the wet winter and this agreement would be premature, experts say. With population growth and worsening drought conditions, the West will continue overdrafting water supplies until a longer-term solution is found.

Shrinking the divide in Fresno

Monita Porter, deputy director of Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce, stands in downtown Fresno on March 15, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local
Monita Porter, deputy director of Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce, stands in downtown Fresno on March 15, 2023. Photo by Larry Valenzuela, CalMatters/CatchLight Local

With more than 20% of residents living below the federal poverty line, Fresno is one of California’s poorest and unequal places, as well as its fifth most populous city. But one initiative, working alongside local business groups, is hoping to turn things around, writes Nicole Foy of CalMatter’s California Divide team.

Known as Fresno DRIVE, the program is a 10-year investment plan to raise $4.2 billion in collaboration with 150 other organizations and boost the region’s economic growth.

Since its launch four years ago, it has received high-profile support: In 2019, Gov. Newsom announced $10 million in state funds to go towards one DRIVE initiative to raise college graduation rates, and more recently he allocated $250 million toward Fresno’s downtown redevelopment plan. Local leaders also told Nicole that DRIVE’s initiatives in minority businesses and agricultural technology are beginning to show headway.

Despite the program’s progress, one DRIVE leader recognizes that there are still longstanding inequities in the Central Valley, and the region still has a long way to go.

  • Ashley Swearengin, former Fresno mayor and current CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation, which sponsors Fresno DRIVE: “Just because a job gets added in Fresno doesn’t mean that an under-resourced community or community of color is going to necessarily know about, be prepared for, or have access to that economic opportunity.”

Rent deposits: Speaking of the economic divide, sizable security deposits can keep people from renting their own place. Monday, the state Assembly passed a bill to ban landlords statewide from charging more than one month’s rent.

Now, prospective tenants can be required to pay as much as two months rent for an unfurnished apartment and three months for a furnished place. So if a furnished two-bedroom in San Francisco goes for $5,000 a month, someone has to have $15,000 to move in. If the bill becomes law, California would become the 12th state to limit security deposits to one month’s rent, according to the bill’s author, Assemblymember Matt Haney, a first-term San Francisco Democrat.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Even with a ballooning budget deficit, Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislators also face demands for billions of more dollars for troubled vital services.


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