Increasingly, city governments are becoming the last resort for resistance to policies adopted by both 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 persons arrested for nonviolent or legally non-serious crimes (which can range up to 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. But voters in 2022 canceled that law via a referendum that passed by a resounding 2 million votes, a margin of 56%-44%.
That should have ended no-cash bail. But a couple of so-called “progressive” district attorneys informally re-instituted 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’s actually begun.
Now 12 of the county’s 88 cities have filed court papers saying zero bail threatens public safety by loosing accused criminals onto the streets without considering whether they constitute a threat.
It’s unclear whether the cities will get the injunction they seek against this. If not, they’ll have to carry their case to the appellate level.
But they are adamant 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 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 born of a widespread conviction among progressives that cash bail favors the rich, allowing well-heeled suspects to win pre-trial 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 Department of Housing and Community Development imposing construction quotas on every city and county in California, whether or not there is demand or public 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). But even affordable housing is often priced above what many who would like to buy California real estate can pay, 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.
Judges have not yet ruled definitively in these cases, so it remains to be seen if the many housing laws passed in the last five years will stand up against charter cities, normally entitled by the state Constitution to exercise great independence.
Similarly, no one knows if things like no-cash bail can ultimately stand up legally even after voters resoundingly rejected the concept.
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 [email protected].