SAN FRANCISCO — With California counties reopening after months of suppressing economic and social activity, the state’s judicial rule-making body will decide on rescinding eviction protections for renters and the emergency $0 bail schedule designed to keep low-level offenders from adding to coronavirus risks at local jails.
The $0 bail schedule, which went into effect April 13, has been divisive since it was enacted. Law-enforcement agencies took to social media to denounce it as a way for repeat offenders to treat jail as a revolving door, coining terms like “Zero Bail Fail.” Supporters say $0 bail has provided a massive sample showing that keeping people out of custody for misdemeanors and low-level felonies has no significant effect on public safety.
Combined with a statewide movement to approve pretrial releases of nonviolent defendants, and amnesty of expiring sentences, California’s jail population decreased 30% between the end of February and the first week of May, from about 72,000 to roughly 51,000 inmates, according to survey data from the Board of State and Community Corrections.
“Despite being in uncharted territory, crime rates stayed at historic lows, and the vast majority of people released on the COVID-19 bail schedule did not re-offend,” Justice Marsha Slough said in a statement. “We urge local courts to continue to use the emergency COVID-19 bail schedules where necessary to protect the health of the community, the courts, and the incarcerated.”
But Santa Clara County Public Defender Molly O’Neal said the prevailing bail order is still needed because the COVID-19 risks in jail are still prevalent.
According to data from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, after recording six infected inmates in the first two months of the local shelter-in-place order, there have been 12 cases confirmed since the beginning of June. In late May, the county’s entire minimum-security camp — nearly 350 inmates — was screened after two men housed there tested positive within days of each other.
“We are discouraged to hear that the Chief Justice is considering repealing the emergency order on $0 bail, particularly as many counties in California are experiencing COVID spikes in the wake of protests related to the killing of George Floyd,” O’Neal said. “This is the worst possible time to go back to the regular bail schedule.
Alameda County Chief Public Defender Brendon Woods had a similar reaction to the upcoming vote, which will not be open to public input before the vote deadline Wednesday afternoon.
“Rescinding the emergency bail schedule early is a great example of exactly the kind of systemic racism people are protesting against,” Woods said in a statement released late Tuesday. “Now is not the time to undo the progress we’ve made in the last three months and begin filling our jails with Black and Brown people again.”
In Santa Clara County, O’Neal’s office recently filed a writ of habeas corpus alleging that the sheriff’s office has been improperly holding and transporting arrestees eligible for release under the $0 bail schedule, meaning they’re being exposed to and housed in the very same jail facilities the order was supposed to keep them out of. The sheriff’s office has said previously that they are expeditiously processing $0 bail cases and any latency is a function of paperwork and compulsory criminal background checks.
Multiple protesters from the past week are among the $0 bail defendants who were not quickly released, including a 72-year-old man who is in a vulnerable age group for COVID-19, according to the writ and the public defender’s office.
Woods also took issue with how other emergency orders, like delayed deadlines for speedy trials he says has an outsized effect on jailed defendants, will remain in place.
“You can’t keep more people in jail, yet at the same time curtail their rights to litigate their cases. That’s just immoral,” Woods said.
California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has shown some interest in rescinding emergency delays on arraignment deadlines, which have meant people can be jailed for as long as seven days before they have to answer to charges. The standard arraignment window is two days. The arraignment delays are not a subject of the Wednesday vote.
The consideration of ending the statewide order halting processing of judgments for rental evictions and mortgage foreclosures — effective Aug. 3 — is driven by the Judicial Council’s determination that such protections should be shifted back to legislators.
“With the legislature back in session, lawmakers can address any measures needed to protect the homes and businesses of those affected by the pandemic,” Judge Marla Anderson, chair of the council’s legislation committee, said in a statement.
Renter advocates have called for an extension of the temporary order, contending it has prevented widespread evictions and worsening of the health crisis. Several Bay Area counties and cities have also enacted rent moratoriums, which will remain in place.
Lupe Arreola, executive director of Tenants Together, said many blue collar workers, particularly in minority communities, remain concerned about layoffs and lost income, and, similarly to O’Neal, contends the emergency created by the pandemic is far from over.
“We’re not out of the woods,” Arreola said. “We’re deep in the forest without a compass.”
The state’s largest landlord groups want the moratorium lifted. They say property owners need to be able to bring evictions to court, and state lawmakers should address relief for renters and property owners.
“We think this should be a legislative action,” said Tom Bannon, executive director of the California Apartment Association. He added the council’s measure was “well-intended, but clearly an overreach.”
Staff writer Louis Hansen contributed to this report.