State Sen. Toni Atkins speaks at a health care town hall. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s shocking decision on May 16 to shelve SB 50, the year’s most high-profile housing bill, set off an intense debate that’s gotten national attention.

But since that time, a much smaller-scale clash over the measure has been playing out on the battlefield of Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins’ Wikipedia page.

A section detailing the demise of SB 50 and Atkins’ role in it has been added to her page. Here’s how it currently reads:

In May 2019, Atkins was criticized by affordable housing advocates[19] for siding with Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Anthony J. Portantino to block SB50, “a major legislative push to spur more apartment construction around public transit and in wealthy suburbs.” Atkins said she deferred to Portantino despite “my own personal feelings” because it’s “part of my job.”[20] According to David Garcia, policy director for UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, it would have been extraordinary for Atkins to do otherwise.[21] The bill will not be considered again by the Senate until at least 2020.[20]

But that’s not how the SB 50 section started. It used to be far more critical of Atkins’ role in the bill’s demise and include passages like “Atkins refused to step in and take the bill out of committee (which was in her powers).”

Then those passages disappeared, and passages more supportive of Atkins and her perspective were submitted – from Atkins’ office itself.

Earlier this week, Atkins’ press secretary Lizelda Lopez attempted to edit the section to add “more context,” she said in an email.

Her adds included the statement she sent out on Atkins’ behalf following the Senate committee’s decision, links to a Sacramento Bee op-ed Atkins wrote explaining her position on SB 50 and other details painting Atkins as a champion of housing.

But those changes were blocked by another Wikipedia editor, who included the note “removed primary sources and campaign messaging. content here needs to be sourced to reliable secondary sources and be void of puffery.”

Wikipedia’s conflict of interest policy strongly discourages contributing to Wikipedia when it involves “yourself, family, friends, clients, employers, or your financial and other relationships.” Doing so, the policy says, “undermines public confidence and risks causing public embarrassment to the individuals and companies being promoted.”

Emotions Run High as AB 392 Clears the Assembly

The fate of AB 392, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s bill to limit police use of deadly force, was all but sealed last week when she struck a deal with law enforcement groups, who removed their opposition to the measure.

But the vote on the bill this week nonetheless represented the first chance most lawmakers in the Assembly had to publicly weigh in on the bill, which meant the vote was preceded by hours of intense emotional speeches.

A few noteworthy moments:

  • Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer said he still fears for his life every time he is pulled over by police and grips his steering wheel in the 10 o’clock, 2 o’clock position. He said when he turned 16, he took traditional driver’s training – and after that, he learned “black drivers’ training.” “I have a 1-year-old grandson,” he said emotionally. “I do not want to teach him 10 o’clock, 2 o’clock 15 years from now.”
  • Assemblyman Devon Mathis called himself a “proud white guy” and said that as a society, we teach children “no means no” but that we should also teach them that when dealing with police, “stop means stop” and “freeze means freeze.” He was one of two lawmakers who initially voted against the bill, but later changed his vote to abstain.
  • Assemblyman Mike Gipson, who is black and a former police officer, made a fiery and emotional speech in which he said, “we have to get it right – the first time.”
  • Assemblyman Tom Lackey, a Republican former CHP officer, choked up recounting his experiences. “Deadly force is something very few people can really understand, and I hope that you never have to understand it.” He thanked Gov. Gavin Newsom for taking an interest in the issue, and said the compromise reached was something he could support.
  • Weber got the last word. In a rousing speech – even from someone known for her oratory – she told lawmakers that “my community deserves the luxury of being able to call the police and knowing that life gets better as a result of them coming.” She said she was moved to carry the bill forward by thinking of her two young grandsons: “Their life is idyllic. They have great friends of all colors. They enjoy life, and they believe at this point that they have just as much right and respect as any other child in this nation – and that should never change.”

The Signature Deadline for DeMaio’s Constitutional Amendment Came and Went

Even before voters weighed in on November’s Prop. 6, the effort led by Carl DeMaio to repeal the statewide gas tax, DeMaio had another plan to challenge the tax: a constitutional amendment.

It would have shifted the responsibility for doling out gas tax funds to localities instead of the state, and mandated that 100 percent of gas tax funds go exclusively to roads projects instead of transit or other infrastructure projects.

His group Reform California sent out press releases announcing the initiative in September, and drummed up press for it again in late November when it was cleared by the secretary of state’s office to begin collecting signatures.

The deadline to turn those signatures in – it required 585,407 signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot – were due this week.

San Diego County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu says they never came. He confirmed on Thursday that no signatures had been delivered to his office for inspection.

A spokesman for DeMaio’s group Reform California did not return a request for comment.

Waldron Opposes Email Retention Bill

Assemblyman Todd Gloria’s bill requiring government agencies to retain email records for at least two years passed the Assembly this week.

Many agencies around San Diego County keep emails for a shockingly short period of time – some for as few as 30 days. Public records law, however, requires that they be kept for two years. This bill clarifies that the rule also applies to emails.

The only San Diego-area lawmaker to vote against the bill was Republican Assemblywoman Marie Waldron. I asked her office what motivated her no vote.

“With my experience in city government, I know how hard local agencies work to be open and transparent. If bad actors are keeping public documents hidden by clicking into a different email account or communicating through a personal device, we should certainly address that,” she said in an emailed statement. “Unfortunately, AB 1184 goes too far in creating a burdensome, unfunded mandate for local governments to retain even the most minor, inconsequential emails.  At a time when we’re expecting cities, counties and special districts to be more and more efficient, adding the cost of retaining documents that may not even be public records will take us in the wrong direction.”

The bill does not, however, necessarily require that agencies keep “the most minor, inconsequential emails,” as Waldron argues. It requires the retention of emails “containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business.”

Golden State News

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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