City leaders discuss proposed laws, frustration 

Santa Clarita City Hall
Santa Clarita City Hall

The Santa Clarita City Council Legislative Committee had a certain “Law & Order” theme to its agenda Tuesday, with all eight items connected to criminal justice reforms Sacramento lawmakers are considering during the current legislative term. 
The city’s Legislative Committee, composed of Councilman Jason Gibbs and Mayor Cameron Smyth, meets on an as-needed basis to discuss whether the city wants to take formal positions of support or opposition on bills culled by their relevance to the city’s legislative platform.  

On Tuesday, all of the items chosen for discussion by Masis Hagobian, the city’s intergovernmental relations manager, related to theft and fentanyl abuse, two issues the city has been discussing more and more in recent years because of local concerns. 

The committee voted to support all the bills it discussed, which sought stiffer penalties or prosecutorial policies in the prosecution of offenses related to fentanyl and property crimes, particularly organized retail theft. 

The theft bills 

Assembly Bill 1772, introduced by Assemblyman James Ramos, D-San Bernardino, would reinstate the ability to charge a repeat offender convicted of petty theft of shoplifting, and who has two or more prior theft-related offenses, with a felony.  

The bill “proposes to amend Proposition 47, creating a mini-‘Three Strikes’ within the penal code that would allow for those that are prosecuted three or more times with a theft-related offense, on that third offense, to be prosecuted as a felony,” Hagobian said.  

A corollary bill, Senate Bill 928, “extends the sunset provisions indefinitely for special sentences for organized retail theft to be punishable as a misdemeanor or felony.” 

While the city officials supported the tough-on-crime policies, they also expressed reservation about the idea that state lawmakers offering local prosecutors a chance to give stiffer penalties would make a difference to the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office.  

Smyth reiterated his comments from the 4 p.m. meeting during the City Council meeting later that evening. 

“The challenge that we have,” he said, referring to a call for change in the D.A.’s office that Councilwoman Laurene Weste had just made, “is that a lot of the changes in legislation still will leave it to the prosecutor to decide whether or not to pursue charges.” 

“If you have a district attorney who will not prosecute, it doesn’t matter what the state law says,” he added, calling it a two-step reform process. “We need to support those bills and support a change in the District Attorney’s Office.” 

District Attorney George Gascón has defended a series of nine criminal justice intitiatives he signed hours into his first day in office that provided dramatic reforms of how crimes are prosecuted in L.A. County, as well as pretrial detention policies. He also stated his policies would not allow for the filing of “strikes” for repeat offenders to seek sentencing enhancements, a move that angered his own prosecutors and local officials.  

AB 1779, which was introduced by Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, would expand the jurisdictional authority for city and county prosecutors, which is another attempt by state lawmakers to address organized serial retail theft.  

AB 1802 and SB 928 similarly offered greater prosecutorial discretion in pursuing these crimes, and addressed extending a California Highway Patrol task force that pursues retail theft. 

Again, City Council members didn’t express optimism that Gascón would increase the pace of prosecutions if the law passed, but it was brought up more than once during the discussion that it would give the Kern County DA, for example, an opportunity to prosecute criminals in instances where crimes can be proven across multiple jurisdictions, as well as be tied back to Kern County, or whichever county prosecutes. 

Another bill on the agenda for discussion provided local leaders with what they referred to as a “here we are” moment in terms of the fight against crime. 

SB 905 from Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, sought to fix a problem in the state’s vehicle-theft law that forces a prosecutor to prove a vehicle was locked in order to prove a conviction for vehicle theft. One reason cited is that tourists were repeatedly victimized and when they fail to appear in court for the case, the judge must dismiss charges. 

Hagobian described the senator’s effort as an attempt to close a loophole, but Smyth called it a “bizarro” moment that the common-sense “tough-on-crime” call was coming from San Francisco.  

Fentanyl crimes 

The laws council members supported seeking to strengthen the penalties against fentanyl abuse included AB 1848, which adds fentanyl to an existing prosecutorial enhancement involving selling a controlled substance to a minor and codifies areas where such sales would be punishable by longer sentences, such as schools and churches. 

AB 1804 “reduces the amount of fentanyl involved in an investigation to authorize law enforcement to intercept communication involving the suspected parties,” according to the Legislative Committee’s meeting agenda. 

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