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Californians who participate in serious crimes that turn deadly can be convicted of a murder they didn’t actually commit. It’s known as the felony murder rule and comes with a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
State lawmakers opened up a process three years ago so that felony murder defendants could make a case that they deserve a lesser punishment. The effort was portrayed at the time as a blow against mass incarceration. But there are still people in prison awaiting their new day in court.
In his Fine City column, Jesse Marx highlights one such case in San Diego. Prosecutors accused Brian Mason of playing a major role in a violent robbery at a National City motel and a jury found him guilty. He maintains today that he never intended to rob or hurt anyone, and witnesses misidentified him.
Mason has a hearing on March 15, where he’ll be allowed to challenge his decades-old conviction and introduce new evidence. Part of his defense includes research in the field of neuroscience to argue that he was young and impressible, a byproduct of a gang-infested community, but not a murderer.
The case will test the limits of SB 1437, a California criminal justice reform that went into effect in 2019.
La Mesa (and SANDAG’s Mileage Tax) Spotlight the Difficulty of Climate Change Policy
Time Magazine looked at San Diego’s fight last year over a plan to charge drivers for every mile they drive, and saw a story of national significance about the political headwinds facing attempts to combat climate change through local policy.
As SANDAG pushed its proposed fee — which is not yet legal under state law and would have needed additional approval before being implemented in San Diego sometime in the next eight years — conservatives led by talk radio host Carl DeMaio railed against the proposal. “This is kryptonite for the Democrats,” DeMaio says.
The Republicans made the fee “the singular issue” in last year’s La Mesa City Council race, which resulted in victory for Laura Lothian, who bragged to reporter Justin Worland about her recent “intimate” meal with “MTG,” or Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the QAnon-aligned congresswoman from Georgia.
Worland unspools Mayor Todd Gloria’s political about-face on the fee as the backlash to the proposal builds, especially after Lothian’s win. As we reported at the time, Gloria led a group of elected Democrats to abandon the proposal at the last minute.
“I think that there’s a wrong time to ask San Diegans to consider this,” he told Worland.
- Here’s our story last year on the proposed fee, and how removing it after the fact screws up not just SANDAG’s blueprint to pay for transportation fixes in the coming years, but its attempt to hold down emissions to comply with state mandates. Even without it, SANDAG is counting on a bunch of different, uncertain sources of tax revenue in the coming decades to make everything work.
Gloria, Newsom Urge State Mental Health Reforms
Mayor Todd Gloria on Thursday joined Gov. Gavin Newsom in San Jose to announce a plan to create new civil court branches statewide to compel more people with serious mental illnesses into treatment.
The goal is to give officials a way to connect both homeless and housed residents with untreated mental health and substance abuse challenges to court-ordered treatment, medication and housing. What appears to be an increasing population of homeless residents struggling with those issues fueled the reform proposal.
The Newsom initiative, which Gloria has promised to champion, would require counties to provide services and assemble care teams to support people ultimately ordered to seek treatment. Public defenders would also be assigned to assist.
If an individual ordered to seek treatment doesn’t accept the care, they could end up being hospitalized or referred to a conservatorship under Newsom’s proposal.
The proposed policy — which Newsom said he hopes to push through the state legislature by the end of the year — differs from the conservatorship reform that Gloria and Newsom each described in broad terms earlier this year. Gloria had said at the time he was lobbying the state to make changes to the state’s conservatorship process.
Now he’s rallying behind a new court process that state officials have described as one that would offer those enrolled with more agency than a conservatorship.
But, as the Associated Press writes, advocacy groups including ACLU California and the California State Association of Counties are already raising flags.
Gloria argued Newsom’s proposal is far better than the reality.
“What our current system is, is one where you’re shuttling these people from the jails to our ERs to the streets and ultimately, to their death. I don’t know how anyone can look at that and just want to continue to persist down this path,” Gloria said. “We need different alternatives. We need more tools. We need to have more options for people with these most acute conditions.”
In Other News
- Apartment construction is booming and most of the new units are located outside downtown. (Union-Tribune)
- San Diego County is launching a pilot program to provide underserved pregnant women with doulas, which are expensive to hire and not typically covered by insurance. (KPBS)
- San Diego officials have chosen a vacant site in eastern Mission Valley to build a large purification plant needed for phase two of the Pure Water sewage recycling system. The goal is to boost San Diego’s water independence by creating a local source. (Union-Tribune)
- After more than a year of negotiations, the Padres and the city of San Diego have reached an agreement to develop the surface parking area known as Tailgate Park that neighbors Petco Park downtown. As the Union-Tribune reports, the deal would mean the city sells the four-block property to the Padres for $35 million so they could build some 1,800 apartments there. But, there’s a catch! If the city and the developers can’t formally close the deal by the end of the year, the project could be killed. That’s because the property would then fall under the same state law that shuttered the city’s attempt last year to redevelop the Sports Arena property in Midway.
This Morning Report was written by Jesse Marx, Andrew Keatts and Lisa Halverstadt. It was edited by Megan Wood.