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Reforms to Prop 47 Likely Headed for Ballot


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By Jorge Casuso

April 18, 2024 -- Proponents of a statewide ballot initiative to amend California's Prop 47 announced they are submitting more than 900,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

The Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act -- which imposes harsher penalties for repeat offenders arrested for certain drug and theft crimes -- requires the valid signatures of 546,651 California voters to qualify.

The measure proposes major changes to Prop 47, which was approved by California voters in 2014 and reduced the prison population by reclassifying certain non-violent felonies as misdemeanors, including drug possession and all thefts under $950.

The announcement was made by the Californians for Safer Communities Coalition at press conferences in San Francisco and in front of the music shop owned by Councilmember Lana Negrete's family in Culver City.

Negrete, who had surgery for breast cancer Thursday, was unable to join Mayor Phil Brock and the small businesses owners, social justice leaders and the families of drug victims who spoke at the press conferences.

Negrete made a video statement that will be posted on the Californians for Safer Communities Coalition website outlining how Prop 47 has had unintended consequences on small businesses like the Music Center stores her family owns in Santa Monica and Culver City.

"Our family business has been open for over 52 years, but in the last few years we have struggled to keep our doors open," Negrete said. "We have been the victim of over nine organized retail thefts and smash and grab robberies.

"None of the suspects have ever been held accountable, and we have considered closing our doors for good," she said, adding that the Centers' insurance costs have increased and the stores have been unable to replace the stolen items.

"California's justice system and Prop 47 need to reform," Negrete said. "People need to be held accountable. Repeat offenders need to be held accountable."

Brock, who in February became the first mayor in Los Angeles County to endorse the proposed measure said he has "seen firsthand the heartbreak of retail theft's consequences and the impact on community safety."

San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan echoed the Santa Monica officials' concerns during the press conference in San Francisco.

“We cannot be afraid to challenge the status quo when it is clearly not working for our residents," Mahan said. "Prop 47 was well-intended but what really matters is its impact -- and unfortunately, it’s hurting far too many families and small businesses across the state.

"We need reform that doesn’t take us back to the era of mass incarceration but allows judges to mandate treatment for those struggling with severe addiction, hold repeat offenders accountable, and treat fentanyl like the killer it is.”

The proposed measure would give prosecutors the discretion to charge a felony for hard drug possession after two previous drug convictions, while allowing those who plead guilty and complete treatment to have the charges dismissed.

In addition, "an offender with two prior convictions for theft can be charged with a felony, regardless of the value of the stolen property," according to the text of the proposed measure.

"Along with the hard drug provisions in this Act, these theft law changes will stop the vicious cycle of hard drug users stealing to support their habits without legal consequences for their actions," the text states.

The measure has been met with stiff pushback from criminal justice reform advocates, who fear it will unravel the key components of Prop 47, which critics, in turn, blame for a rise in homelessness, drug addiction and theft.

On Tuesday, the speaker of the California Assembly and fellow Democrats announced a package of bills targeting retail theft that leaves Prop 47 intact.

Proposed by Speaker Robert Rivas and Assemblymember Rick Chavez Zbur, who represents Santa Monica, the legislation would allow police to make arrests for crimes they don't witness or view on tape.

It also allows the value of stolen items targeted in retail thefts to be aggregated into a grand theft if they are stolen from retailers within 60 days.

Proponents of the Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act are pushing the measure as both a deterrent to retail theft and to the deadly impact of drugs, especially fentanyl.

The proposed measure imposes stronger penalties for those engaged in the trafficking of hard drugs and for repeat offenders of drug possession

"This measure will prioritize treatment over punishment and hold traffickers accountable for the harm they cause," said Pamela Smith, Founder of Mothers in Grief Support Group, Fresno.

"By passing this act, we send a clear message: California means business when it comes to tackling the fentanyl crisis.”

The proposed ballot measure will likely prove a divisive issue in Santa Monica -- where voters approved Prop 47 with nearly 79 percent of the vote -- and further split a deeply divided Council.

The Mayor and Negrete are joined on the Council by Christine Parra and Oscar de la Torre, who form a faction that ran on a pubic safety platform and have been pushing to move a County needle distribution program out of public parks and into an indoor location that offers services.

The Council minority -- composed of Gleam Davis, Caroline Torosis and Jesse Zwick -- are strong advocates of criminal justice reform and argue that the move would hamper the County's "harm reduction" efforts.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include comments from Mayor Phil Brock and Councilmember Lana Negrete.

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