The Edward J. Schwartz federal courthouse building in downtown San Diego / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, a graduate of San Diego State and Western State College of Law, thrust himself into the national spotlight late last week – and into the path of Democrats’ fury – when he deemed California’s assault weapons ban unconstitutional in a truly wild ruling. The case was brought by the San Diego County Gun Owners Political Action Committee.

In his decision, Benitez made a number of jaw-dropping claims, including comparing an AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife, and writing this outright falsehood: “More people have died from the Covid-19 vaccine than mass shootings in California.”

He also wrote that people are rarely harmed by assault weapons, and that when they are, their wounds aren’t any worse than those caused by other firearms. Harvard Law professor emeritus Laurence Tribe called Benitez’s claims in the ruling “utterly without factual foundation.”

Los Angeles’ Times columnist George Skelton (who’s no progressive champion) called Benitez “the gun lobby’s best friend in recent years” and noted he previously blocked California’s requirement of background checks on ammunition purchases and ruled against the state ban on magazine sales.

As CNN reported, Benitez’s colleagues in the California legal community had deeply negative feedback about him when Congress weighed his nomination to the federal bench. An overwhelming majority of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary deemed him “not qualified.”

Another California lawyer who had a lot to say about Benitez’s latest ruling was the defendant in the assault weapons ban case, Attorney General Rob Bonta.

Bonta and Gov. Gavin Newsom announced they’d seek a stay of the ruling – an order stopping it from going into effect – and that they plan to appeal the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Newsom didn’t just excoriate the decision but focused on Benitez personally. At a press conference Thursday, he called the judge a “wholly-owned subsidiary of the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association” and said “he will continue to do damage. Mark my words.”

The plaintiff in the case, San Diego County Gun Owners PAC, for its part seems to agree that Benitez is in their corner. It’s posted numerous articles supporting Benitez to its website, including one from the site Ammoland that calls Benitez “Judge Weinstein in reverse,” referring to a New York state judge who’s ruled in favor of gun control measures in numerous cases.

Maienschein Bill Would Require Posting Youth Health Info

The North County district Assemblyman Brian Maienschein represents has been vocally, uniquely fixated on youth sports throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

A lawsuit that led to a settlement allowing youth and high school sports to resume earlier this year originated in San Diego, and North County politicians like County Supervisor Jim Desmond have seized on the issue and urged state officials throughout 2020 to allow youth sports competitions.

Meanwhile, as recently as late April, top U.S. health officials have warned that youth sports activities could be creating dangerous coronavirus-spreading events, because athletes come into close contact with one another during games and often aren’t wearing masks.

But Mainschein’s AB 856 approaches the youth sports dilemma from a different angle: the potential long-term impacts the disease can have on athletes’ health.

It would require the Department of Education to post information about the safe return to exercise following COVID-19 and guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and would encourage schools to distribute the information.

“Providing this information to youth and their parents will ensure that they are aware of telling symptoms and will help protect youth from developing serious short-term, long-term and potentially fatal health issues,” Maienschein wrote in an op-ed for the Pomerado News.

Maienschein’s bill contains an urgency clause, which means it would take effect immediately upon being signed by the governor. The bill has already passed the Assembly, and this week gained the approval of the Senate Education Committee.

San Diego Trying to Set Modest State Housing Precedent

San Diego has finalized its explanation for how it will meet housing demand over the next eight years, and housing advocates across the state are paying attention.

Because it’s the first city in California to submit a housing plan since the Legislature passed a series of changes to the state’s decades-old “housing element” law, San Diego is in position to set precedent. If the state accepts its housing outline, other cities can follow San Diego’s lead.

Last month, the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development told San Diego its housing plan needed some changes before it passed muster – specifically, that it needed more detail on how the city would actively combat discrimination in housing, and that it needed to say how likely it was that all the new housing the city envisions will actually get built. The city, though, doesn’t seem especially concerned that the state is looking to force the issue: City planners proposed, and the City Council unanimously approved, cosmetic changes to the plan they first submitted last year.

“We hope San Diego’s work on housing can serve as a model for the rest of the state,” said Mike Hansen, the city’s planning director, after listing recent city moves to make it easier to build housing. “I’d like to thank the Department of Housing and Community Development at the state and their staff for working so closely and collaboratively with us throughout this process.”

The state department now has 90 days to determine if the city’s tweaks to its plan are enough to satisfy the state’s stricter housing element requirements. If the Council meeting is any indication, they’ll be lobbied by state housing advocates pushing for a tougher precedent.

“San Diego does have a pro-housing record to be proud of, and it’s in a tough position, but unfortunately I don’t think what’s proposed is good enough for the city San Diego wants to be,” said Aaron Eckhouse, the regional director of housing policy for CA Yimby, a housing advocacy group.

He was joined by other state-focused advocates who said if the city didn’t take a tougher stance now, it would just be forced to do so in a few years after being penalized by the state, or others who argued the city hadn’t followed the proper procedural steps to vote on the amendments in the first place.

Most local housing advocates sat the fight out, though some equity-focused nonprofits urged the Council to reject the minor changes and revamp the whole plan.

“Each of you have an opportunity here today to fulfill the goals of the civil rights movement,” said Ricardo Flores, executive director of LISC San Diego, who is advocating for San Diego to end single-family zoning citywide, then bring a new housing plan for state approval in six to twelve months.

– Andrew Keatts

Golden State News

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

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