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San Francisco Mayor London Breed backs GOP initiative to stiffen penalties for retail theft

San Francisco Mayor London Breed
San Francisco Mayor London Breed has endorsed a tough-on-crime ballot measure effort to reform Proposition 47.
(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)
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Democratic Mayors London Breed of San Francisco and Matt Mahan of San Jose have endorsed a tough-on-crime ballot measure effort to reform Proposition 47, a controversial initiative that reduced some drug and theft felonies to misdemeanors.

The measure, called the Homelessness, Drug Addiction, Retail Theft Reduction Act, will reform a 2014 law by increasing penalties for fentanyl dealers and repeat organized retail theft rings, as well as providing mandatory treatment for drug users, according to the proposed ballot initiative.

“In San Francisco, we are making progress on property crimes, but the challenges we are facing related to fentanyl and organized retail theft require real change to our state laws,” Breed said. “I fully support this measure and know it will make a meaningful difference for cities across California.”

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These endorsements come in the weeks after Gov. Gavin Newsom told reporters during his January budget presentation that altering Proposition 47 would not curtail the wave of high-profile retail thefts in the state. The Newsom administration instead has proposed six ways lawmakers can expand criminal penalties for organized theft without bringing the issue back to voters. Newsom agreed that tougher enforcement is needed, and has called for more arrests in these cases.

This week, Newsom also assigned 120 California Highway Patrol officers to combat crime in Oakland.

Proposition 47, the 2014 voter-approved ballot measure that Newsom supported, reclassified some felony drug and theft offenses as misdemeanors and raised from $400 to $950 the amount for which theft can be prosecuted as a felony. Newsom often points out that some of the nation’s most conservative states, including Texas, have a higher threshold for felony charges.

Breed’s announcement comes as she runs for reelection and faces low approval ratings .

In 2022, San Francisco had the highest rate of property theft among all California cities, according to data from the Public Policy Institute of California, a leading nonpartisan group that researches crime trends and policies. Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Mateo also experienced an increase. However, according to the mayor’s office, property crimes in the city were lower than any period in the last 10 years, except for 2020. This year, in the first three weeks of January, property crime is reportedly down 41 percent.

Mahan told The Times in a phone interview that he was less aware of the governor’s plans and instead was more focused on the results of this bipartisan effort.

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“The Legislature will be limited as far as what they can do without the voters,” Mahan said.

He cautioned that if Proposition 47 isn’t reformed now, there might be future support to repeal it altogether, which he said “would be a mistake.” Mahan said he witnessed firsthand a smash-and-grab theft at a local grocery store.

“That feeling of no accountability is harmful to our society,” he said.

Greg Totten, chief executive of the California District Attorneys Assn. and co-chair of the campaign, said that since 2015 lawmakers in Sacramento have tried and failed to tackle this issue.

“We feel the responsible approach to this is to push forward with the ballot measure,” he told The Times.

Totten said the measure would make a third conviction for property theft a felony charge, broaden the law to include a series of thefts of items with a total value of more than $950, and also hold those who “act in concert” accountable.

The proposed ballot measure has collected 360,000 signatures, already more than half of what is required to qualify for the November ballot.

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In 2020, voters rejected Proposition 20, a ballot measure that would have rolled back Proposition 47 by toughening some criminal sentences.

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