Akilah Weber
Dr. Akilah Weber / Photo courtesy of Weber for CA Assembly 2021

This post has been updated.

Dr. Weber will replace Dr. Weber in the 79th Assembly District.

Akilah Weber, whose mother Shirley Weber vacated the seat to become California’s secretary of state, won enough votes in Tuesday’s special election contest to avoid a June runoff. She secured more than 51 percent of votes, with just 300 ballots left to be counted as of Thursday evening.

Weber is a member of the La Mesa City Council, and director of the Pediatric & Adolescent Gynecology Division at Rady Children’s Hospital.

“My campaign is focused on one mission: creating healthier communities for everyone who lives and works in the 79th District,” Weber wrote in a statement. “Although there are votes yet to be counted, I am eager to start that work restoring economic prosperity, expanding high quality health care, investing in education and protecting our environment. There are innumerable tasks ahead to create an equitable and prosperous California, but together I know that we can achieve these essential ambitions.”

The race saw some incredible spending in a short amount of time – and it started to get nasty in the waning days of the race. A mailer sent by an independent expenditure group backed by law enforcement blamed Weber for riots in La Mesa during this summer’s racial justice protests, drawing a sharp rebuke from the head of San Diego County’s Democratic Party.

“To lay a ‘riot’, especially considering that the conditions for unrest were set by Police use of force policies & the disproportionate treatment and killings of BIPOC ppl throughout the country, at the feet of the sole Black council member in La Mesa is a racist act,” Will Rodriguez-Kennedy wrote on Twitter. He also reiterated that the party unanimously passed a resolution calling on Democratic candidates to reject financial support and endorsement from law enforcement unions.

In the end, despite more than $100,000 in spending from outside groups to boost Munguia, she finished a distant third. Republican businessman Marco Contreras won 33 percent of the vote – a similar total to previous Republican candidates who’ve challenged Shirley Weber.

A spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said the office is waiting for the election results to be certified before it moves ahead with scheduling a swearing-in ceremony. The registrar’s office told VOSD it expects that to happen on April 15.

Though it’s too late to introduce new bills this session, Rendon’s office said the new member will be placed on legislative committees, meaning Weber would be able to weigh in on other members’ bills as they make their way through the legislative process and can vote when the full Assembly takes up bills.

Weber will not be the first member of the Legislature to follow a parent – this CALmatters video lays out the other family ties in the state Assembly and Senate.

Police Are Mobilizing Against Bill Requiring College Degrees

Top right clockwise: The seal of the Oceanside Police Department, the San Diego county Sheriff’s Department Administration Center and the Chula Vista Police Department. / Photo by Megan Wood and Adriana Heldiz
Top right clockwise: The seal of the Oceanside Police Department, the San Diego county Sheriff’s Department Administration Center and the Chula Vista Police Department. / Photo by Megan Wood and Adriana Heldiz

Two different bills aimed at police hiring and training requirements are making their way through the Legislature. Both were written by Democratic lawmakers, but they reflect wildly different approaches – one was offered by police groups themselves and represents their preferred changes, and one would impose far stricter hiring requirements that police groups are mobilizing to oppose.

The latter was supposed to go before the Assembly Public Safety committee this week, which is chaired by the bill’s author, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer. AB 89 would require officers to be older than 25 or to have a college degree in order to be hired. Jones-Sawyer announced at the beginning of the hearing that he was pulling the bill from consideration that day to allow more time for discussions between stakeholders – but he tore into police groups’ criticism that the bill would impact minority recruitment efforts, calling that contention racist.

Jones-Sawyer was referring to opposition letters his office has received so far from statewide police groups, including the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the Police Officers Research Association of California, the California Police Chiefs Association and others.

Jones-Sawyer, who is Black, was especially incensed by a contention made by PORAC President Brian Marvel, a former San Diego police officer.

“Due to the low percentage of college graduates among the minority population, PORAC believes that mandating a college degree for peace officers will only further exacerbate the lack of diversity in law enforcement,” Marvel wrote in the group’s opposition letter.

“The claim that individuals of color cannot meet education requirements so far has been proven unjustifiable, assumptive and, frankly, as an African American male, I find totally offensive,” Jones-Sawyer said at the hearing. “Insinuations from particular stakeholders that recruitment of Black and Brown individuals is hampered by higher education requirements not only misses the mark on why those individuals do not want to be police officers at this time, it is also lazy and does not change how or where to recruit.”

That same contention – that strict hiring requirements would hamper minority recruitment – was echoed by law enforcement agencies in San Diego County.

We surveyed the county’s law enforcement agencies to get a sense of how AB 89 might impact them. Their responses varied significantly: Some said a vast majority of their officers already hold four-year degrees; others said they don’t even keep track. Some were not yet willing to take a position on the bill; others said outright that they oppose it. No local police agency said outright that it supports the measure.

Oceanside’s new police chief, Fred Armijo, said “I agree in concept with what AB 89 is trying to get at. I do have a little bit of concern of what will be the result of the economically-disadvantaged getting into the profession and the impact on our hiring.” But he acknowledged that the assumption that minority candidates are underrepresented among degree-holders is “anecdotal.”

“Otherwise I like the idea of people with higher-level of education coming into the profession. Perhaps there’s positions where people could be a little bit better,” he said.

Here’s what we heard from other departments that responded:

  • “It appears about 72 percent of our officers have degrees. Many have several, all the way up to a [Ph.D.] and Juris Doctorates,” wrote Jodee Reyes, community relations manager for the Carlsbad Police Department. Reyes said the department has no stance on AB 89.
  • Chula Vista Police Capt. Eric Thunberg wrote: “I do know that prior discussions about degree requirements have raised concerns about exclusion and diversity for agencies.” Chula Vista says it doesn’t track college degrees among officers. Thunberg said the chief there agrees with the California Police Chiefs Association statement opposing the measure. Chula Vista PD doesn’t track college degrees among officers.
  • Megan Blake, a senior human resources analyst for El Cajon, said in an email: “We don’t have a document that gives an exact answer. The city offers education incentives – employees submit documentation of a bachelor’s degree when they become eligible. Based on our records, about 37.7% of our sworn officers have a BA/BS.” El Cajon has 114 sworn officers, Blake noted.
  • “The La Mesa Police Department is aware of AB 89 but it’s too early in the legislative process for the department to have a position,” La Mesa Police Department Sgt. Daniel Herrin wrote in an email. “As of today, approximately 69% of our sworn personnel have degrees ranging from an associate’s degree to a Juris Doctorates. The number is approximately 60% if we only account for a bachelor’s degree or an advanced degree as worded in the current draft of the legislation.”
  • “Our employees are not required to tell us if they have their degree or not,” San Diego Sheriff’s Department Lt. Amber Baggs wrote in an email.

Sen. Anthony Portantino’s bill, SB 387, has the backing of the Police Officers Research Association, and would incentivize police officers to pursue higher education – but would not require it. Portantino’s bill would add academic coursework to training requirements and help cover the costs of a college degree for current and prospective officers.

Speaking of Law Enforcement Reform Bills …

VOSD’s Maya Srikrishnan spoke with San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan this week, and asked her about an idea being debated in the Legislature: whether police officers who belong to hate groups should be fired.  Here’s what Stephan said:

“I think they should be fired and they don’t belong in law enforcement. You cannot be in law enforcement and belong to a hate group. Absolutely cannot be. That’s my view and hopefully, every system as they employ people will continue to monitor and learn better monitoring, learn how to check open source intelligence to see social media contacts and what the influence groups looks like to do the best they can in terms of psychological tests – I know they’re not foolproof – but to continue to really closely monitor. And then the duty to report is something that is very, very important to me. It’s something that we’ve pushed for, advancing for educators, for kids to protect abuse by people in positions of trust – the mandating reporting duties – and those need to be enforced and reinforced in law enforcement, so there is a duty for each officer to report activity that is not professional, that is not just illegal activity, but any activity that doesn’t promote respectability and dignity for the communities that we serve.”

Stephan wasn’t talking specifically about AB 665, a bill by Assemblyman Ash Kalra, but that measure seeks to weed officers who belong to hate groups out during the hiring process, and would also create a process to trigger investigations of current officers. But the bill has drawn criticism for what opponents say is language that they believe could ensnare officers for legitimate political beliefs and affiliations.

Golden State News

Update: This post has been updated to add information about the timeline of the AD-79 election certification provided by the San Diego County Registrar of Voters after this post initially published.

Kayla Jimenez and Jesse Marx contributed to this report.

Sara Libby

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

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