Tag Archives: california

California Can Really Use a Homeless Bill of Rights

A “Homeless Bill of Rights” is being considered in California’s legislature must pass to help defend the state’s neediest people from local ordinances which, in the words of the bill’s backer, “infringe on poor peoples’ ability to exist in public space.”

Last week, Assembly Bill 5, sponsored by state assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, cleared a committee of California’s lower legislative house with margin of seven votes to two. The bill currently exists in a stripped down version, but even the narrowed form of the Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights and Fairness Act provides some valuable protections for Californians whose only wrongdoing is to not have a fixed place to call home.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that there are 15 rights outlined in the bill, which include “the right ‘to move freely, rest, solicit donations, pray, meditate, practice religion, to eat, share, accept or give food and water in public spaces without being subject to criminal or civil sanctions, harassment or arrest.” There are all legal guarantees that would, should the bill pass, fly in the face of many local laws (including San Francisco’s 2010 sit-lie ordinance) that keep people from sitting or lying down in public places — both activities which are central to homeless life.

The bill also includes common sense provisions which recognize that the daily reality of homelessness is persistent and does not simply vanish with anti-homeless ordinances. For example, California would pay for “‘health and hygiene centers’ that would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and would be required to include bathrooms and showers.” The law would disallow sit-lie ordinances in cities that have high unemployment, that have a long waiting list for shelter beds, or that do not provide “readily available public assistance” to the poor. Additionally, attorneys would be provided for people who were given citations based on their housing status, and homeless people would be entitled to be compensated for personal property that was improperly removed or destroyed by law enforcement.

Enumerating the rights of California’s most destitute is a key step toward addressing the root causes of homelessness and extreme poverty, rather than just masking the symptoms of this social condition. Currently 3.7 percent of our city’s population does not have any form of shelter. It is San Francisco’s duty to recognize their right to public existence, and if San Francisco in unwilling to fulfill that duty, then the state in the form of this Homeless Bill of Rights needs to step in. Not passing the current bill risks further incriminating a population that is already marginalized by many of their fellow citizens.

USF Hosts California Supreme Court Hearings

To commemorate the 100th year of USF School of Law, the Supreme Court of California was invited to hold three cases to be deliberated at USF on Feb. 5,  including medical marijuana in Riverside county, plea bargaining, and the death penalty.

The event was held to give the public a better understanding of the way the state’s justice system works, as well as allow the students to participate in a question and answer session with the Justices. The hearings attracted hundreds of students, professors, and other legal scholars from all over the Bay Area.

Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye said the session would “provide a group of law school and local high school students with a unique opportunity to question Supreme Court justices and to experience their constitutional democracy in action, and hopefully will inspire some to a career in public service.”

Due to the growingly contentious debate of medical marijuana possession and distribution, the case involving this topic received special attention from the bulk of university students. In the first hearing of the City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, Inc., the debate revolved around the recent ordinance that the city of Riverside passed which outlaws medical marijuana dispensaries, defining them as a “public nuisance.”

In 1996, the Compassionate Use Act (CUA) was enacted by voters that allows California citizens to use marijuana for medical purposes if they are deemed seriously ill. The court was debating whether or not Riverside’s recent ordinance violates the statewide act.
Jeffrey V. Dunn was the defendant representing Riverside and the appellant involved in the case. An appellant in someone who applies to a higher court for reversal of a lower court decision.  J. David Nick, is the primary attorney for the Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center. Nick, who graduated from the USF School of Law in 1991, has been practicing law for the past 20 years.

“The court’s decision is going to determine the future of medical marijuana outlets throughout California. State law cannot be contradicted by local municipalities,” Nick said.

The second case involved a process that is used to resolve criminal charges in California and is known as plea bargaining. Plea bargaining is used by the defendant in order to give them a lesser charge so they don’t have to go to trial.
The defendant Dallas Sacher involved was charged with primarily theft-related felonies and misdemeanors. He argued to not go to trial because he was already given one strike within the parameters of the Three Strikes Law, which says that if the defendant is convicted of three felonies, they are sentenced to life in prison on the third strike.

In a bargaining process such as this, the court is not allowed to agree upon any bargain because it is based on the decision of the prosecutor. In this People v. Clancey debate, the issue was whether or not it was proper for the court to become involved in the plea bargaining process.
The last case concerned George Brett Williams, who was found guilty for the murder of Willie Thomas and Jack Barron in Los Angeles on January 2, 1990.
At the previous trial, there was no police officer that Williams had worked with as an informant, so he thought the trial would have resulted in a more favorable outcome, even though his fingerprints were found in the room in which the victims had been shot as well as on the truck where the victims’ bodies were dragged.

The importance of these cases being present on the USF campus rings true for students after the hearings took place. Franky Peterson, a sophomore legal studies scholar said she was extremely grateful she was granted access to the event. “USF School of Law is already nationally renowned and I think this helped bring attention to our strong interest in both legal action and social justice,” he said.
Being that these cases were preliminary hearings, final decisions remain to be seen.

To follow the cases, go to www.courts.ca.gov/opinions, which releases the opinions of the Supreme Court once a consensus has been made, about 90 days after the hearing.

Pulling the Plug- DA Gascon Explains Why He Rejects the Death Penalty

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon discussed his support for Proposition 34, which would repeal the death penalty in California, at USF last Tuesday. According to Gascon, a former death penalty advocate, there is no correlation between capital punishment and reduced homicides.

“When I came to San Francisco we were at 100 homicides a year, now we are at 50. When a person kills another human being, they are not thinking of the death penalty. The death penalty does not make us safer and there is no way of bringing back someone who’s dead,” he said.

Natasha Minsker, manager of the Yes on 34 campaign, also joined Gascon to speak in favor of reforming California’s Three Strikes law, which currently enforces state courts to impose 25 years to life sentences on individuals convicted of three or more serious offenses. Serious offenses include murder, rape, and burglary with an intent to commit a robbery or murder.

The proposition reform, also called Proposition 36, would impose the life sentence only when a new felony conviction is serious or violent, and continues to enforce the life sentence penalty if third strike involved a firearm, or if previous charges were for rape, murder, or child molestation.

Proposition 34 will replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole as the maximum punishment for murder in California. This will save California taxpayers $130 million a year. According to Minsker, this proposition will require individuals guilty of murder to work in prison and pay restitution to victims’ families.

That $130 million will make a big difference, Gascon said. “We incarcerate more people than any other nation and, economically, we can’t afford it anymore. We need to put more emphasis on unsolved crimes.” Minsker said that currently 46% of murder and rape crimes goes unsolved in California each year. If Proposition 34 passes, the $130 million annual savings is intended to go toward public safety resources and solving such crimes.

These unsettling statistics are one of the main reasons Gascon and Minsker urge people to vote for the proposition. “If you get nothing else out of this meeting today, please vote,” said Gascon, an advocate of prison reform. “I’ve come to the conclusion that our system is broken.”

Interested in voicing your opinion on the criminal justice system? Gascon suggested looking at the prison realignment referenced in Proposition 36. The proposition states that people who have committed less violent crimes go to county jail with heavy local level supervision, which will reduce incarceration costs. Gascon also suggested checking out the Innocence Project, a public policy organization that aims to bring justice to wrongly convicted individuals through DNA testing and political reform.

He attributed his experience in public safety to his opposition of capital punishment. “I have spent three decades in some of the toughest neighborhoods west of the Mississippi,” said Gascon, who grew up in Bell, California, a Los Angeles suburb, and attended college in Long Beach and Fullerton. “I come from a place where the slim potential of executing an innocent person is enough for me to oppose the death penalty,” he said. Should Proposition 34 pass, current death row inmates will automatically be switched to life in prison without possibility of parole.

Marvin Pascua, a senior politics major, found Gascon’s speech effective. He said: “[In targeting] such areas as cost and moral issues, [the speakers] accomplished their goal of persuading people to vote. I feel that it’s finally time we, as progressive city, try to pass prop 34.”

Politics professor Corey Cook, who moderated the question and answer session, said that the discussion provided even more reasons beyond morality to encourage voting.

“In addition to the philosophical reasons students might have for voting either way on the death penalty abolition or the three strikes amendment, I think the speakers offered numerous pragmatic considerations on cost and utility” he said.

Emily Whetherley, a graduate student studying international development economics, agreed with Cook. “I have been back and forth [about the death penalty] in general,” she said. “I don’t think it’s morally right, and as an economics major, it was interesting to hear the practical reasons and numbers for it.”

Cook is optimistic about the influence that Gascon and Minsker had at the discussion.

“I think the district attorney is a particularly effective spokesperson for these issues, not only as the city’s chief law enforcement officer with a depth of experience, but he’s someone whose own views have evolved,” he said. “I’m not sure it will influence how students will vote, but it might encourage them to get involved and influence others”.

University Ministry Raises Awareness about the DREAM Act

University Ministry held two events last week to spread awareness of the DREAM Act, a federal bill that if passed would grant thousands of undocumented immigrant students the opportunity to receive permanent residency in the country.
Last December the DREAM Act passed in the House of Representatives but was short five votes in the Senate.

The California DREAM Act benefits undocumented students under AB 540, a California law that allows high school graduates enrolled in a state-owned college, university or community college the opportunity to pay in-state tuition.

With the lack of success on the national level, states are now taking measures into their own hands. California has become the leader in the issue with the passage of AB 130, allowing students to receive private scholarships in the state. AB 131 is pending approval from Governor Brown. If passed, the measure would give students access to in-state public funding.

The DREAM Sabbath, proposed by Senator Dick Durban of Illinois, is a national campaign to be held from September 16 through October 9. Its goal is to raise awareness and support for the DREAM Act throughout universities, schools and organizations.

USF Resident Minister Ryan Murphy first proposed the DREAM Sabbath at a press conference in Washington DC. He worked in the capital last year as a lobbyist for the Columbian Center for Advocacy and Outreach.

“For University Ministry, social justice is a very important part of Ignatian spirituality, which is the spiritual foundation of the Jesuit priest society,” Murphy said. He added, “One of the ministries is helping migrants.”

Through events featuring guest speakers and an interfaith vigil, University Ministry’s goal was to create awareness and reflection on this nationwide issue.

Last Tuesday, Irvis 5th year student at UC Davis, shared his experience as an undocumented immigrant. Irvis said he finances part of his college education picking crops in fields. Despite his efforts to pay his college tuition, he said the obstacles become even greater with California’s rising tuition rates. Junior Sarah Bertero said she has friends who would benefit from the DREAM Act. She said, “[The act] is not offering special treatment, it’s just equaling out the playing field.”

At last Wednesday’s candle lit interfaith vigil, attendees heard faith perspectives, slam poetry, and guest speakers in support of the DREAM Act.

Noemi Degante, 28, spoke at the vigil expressing the hope she gained through the act. Even though publicly sharing her story of being an undocumented immigrant is a risk she said, “I’ve been afraid for so long that I’m tired of hiding myself.”

USF Psychology Major Sindy Vela also shared her testimony as an undocumented student at the vigil. She came to California at the age of nine. Her Jesuit education is funded through a university scholarship. During her speech, she said she was almost deported to Guatemala during her sophomore year of high school. However, during her court hearing the judge repealed her deportation order. Vela said the judge was feeling sick and decided Vela couldn’t be deported. However, she didn’t want to grant her legal documentation for permanent residency. Until a law is passed, Vela’s case remains closed.

“[The judge] literally left me in the middle. I can graduate from USF but I can’t work,” Vela said.

University Ministry plans to create a coalition of students to continue raising awareness about the DREAM Act. Murphy said the group will reach out to the USF community and support San Francisco movements fighting for this issue.

On both nights University Ministry collected signatures for a petition they hand-delivered to Representative Nancy Pelosi’s office on October 5. Those collaborating with University Ministry also held a call-in day to Governor Brown’s office representing USF’s interest in passing the DREAM Act.

“At USF the DREAM Act is still not out to the entire community,” Vela said, “A lot of people might know about it but not fully. They might think that at USF there’s no undocumented students. Our school supports many social causes but I think this one would be a great one to support.”

SF Native Skeptical of Transbay Terminal Project

Construction for the new Transbay Terminal has begun; well, actually, just demolition of the old one. The new Transbay Terminal will serve as terminal/stop for AC Transit, BART, Caltrain, Golden Gate Transit, WestCAT Lynx, Amtrak, Greyhound, Muni, SamTrans, Paratransit and the future high-speed rail to Los Angeles. A temporary terminal serves commuters up until 2017 when the four-billion dollar project is scheduled to be completed.

After reading these estimates, I heard the little voice in my head say: “2017? Uh, no.” “Four billion dollars? No.” If I’ve learned anything about public projects from being a San Francisco native, it’s that they always cost more than expected and are never completed on time. The problem seems to get worse as the years go by. Take our “future” Bay Bridge for example. It’s four billion dollars over budget and will possibly be open by late 2014, seven years behind schedule. A project as complex as the new terminal is probably going to go way over budget and probably won’t be completed until the 2020’s; I hope I’m wrong. Furthermore, should we really be focusing on a multibillion dollar publicly funded project during a recession? Shouldn’t we instead be spending the money allotted for this project to repay California’s debt and attract investors to the state?

Looking at the positive side of things, the construction project is providing many jobs (such as those lost because steel pieces for the new Bay Bridge were manufactured abroad) and will be a state of the art design that will bring California’s transportation system up to par with some of the most technologically advanced and efficient transit systems on earth. The new terminal will feature a 5.4 acre park on the roof and 100,000 people are expected to use the terminal on each weekday. A new neighborhood with housing, shops, and offices will also be created around the new terminal.. USF students who travel between home in the Los Angeles area and school in San Francisco will benefit from this terminal. Students travelling from parts of the Bay Area such as the East Bay and South Bay should also find the new to be beneficial and convenient.

The new Transbay Terminal is a great idea and will probably prove itself to be very functional and appealing. The start of this project seems to be timed right; with expectations for the human population to grow in size, rush hour traffic is just going to get worse and worse, and the modes of transportation to be offered by the new Transbay Terminal should definitely help diffuse some of that traffic flow.

The time and money allotted to complete the project look good on paper, but in reality, the project will probably cost more and take longer to complete than expected. The terminal is an extraordinary project, but I’m definitely looking at the numbers given for time and money with lots of skepticism.

Editor-in-Chief: Heather Spellacy

Chief Copy-Editor: Natalie Cappetta

Opinion Editor: Vicente Patino

Artifacts of Jesuit History Visit Thacher Gallery

IMG_1041 Artifacts from four sunken trading ships, delicate Chinese silk shawls and Philippine tabernacles are just some of the treasures featured in the new exhibit in the Thacher Gallery. Over 125 objects from 12 California missions and private collectors reveal California’s cross-cultural history. “Galleons and Globalizations” takes a look at the extraordinary artifacts from 17th and 18th century California missions and the Pacific Rim.

The Rev. Thomas Lucas S.J., gallery director, said at the opening of the new exhibit, “Then, as now, the whole world ended up in California.” All the artifacts were brought here from missions in Baja, China, Japan, Mexico, North America, Paraguay, Peru and Spain. From the 1560s to the 1800s, American silver was traded on the Acapulco-Manila Galleons along the Pacific trade routes.

These artifacts tell a story of complication and beauty at a time when explorers discovered new lands on every voyage. The problem was that the Native Americans who lived on the land did not see the explorers’ right to take it away from them. Lucas said, “We have pieces that are concrete physical evidence of the first encounters of the European population and the Native American population here.”

Alejandra Bandala, an alumna of USF interning at the gallery, said her favorite piece is the Spanish dictionary. “I find it amazing that there is such an old dictionary. It’s an amazing language and it’s almost dead. I think it’s important to preserve it so we have a reference. It is very significant to my roots,” she said. Other pieces that really stand out in the gallery are the Native American baskets woven with the Spanish imperial coat of arms in Ventura.

photo2Lucas said, “What we’ve tried to do here is create a little world that looks at these complicated relationships of trade, with all of its benefits and all of its downsides. To look at a moment of cultural encounter that was very respected…We see the beautiful and flawed, tragic experience of the California missions that, nonetheless, produced extraordinary works of art which had within it hybrid pieces.”

Although the artwork collected during this period was extraordinary, Spanish pioneers were responsible for many Native American deaths in claiming the new lands. Multiple “hybrid pieces” can be seen within the gallery. A Madonna painting shows the Lady of Guadalupe with traditional clothing, but with Chinese features. Similarly, a 1783 Philippine tabernacle sits next to its California-carved counterpart. Statues of saints sit in the middle of the exhibit with other treasures from Japan.

Not only does this exhibit speak volumes about California’s history, it celebrates the Jesuit tradition. Anna Tull, an arts history/arts management senior interning at the gallery, said, “This show is a centerpiece of the whole University’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of the death of Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit martyr who died in 1610. He has been really influential for the theme of the University.” As an Italian Jesuit, Ricci collaborated with China during early European Catholicism’s interactions with intercultural dialogue and reverence.

photo Kalie Patterson, a fine arts junior, commented on the high quality of the new exhibit. “This exhibit is a lot more museum-quality than we have had before. More than just hanging pictures, we’re learning about restoration and cleaning artifacts and how to properly mount things. It’s a good experience,” she said.

“Galleons and Globalization” runs Aug. 20- Dec. 19, 2010. The opening reception is on Thursday, Sept. 2, 3- 5 p.m.

Editor-in-Chief: Heather Spellacy
Chief Copy-Editor: Burke McSwain
Scene Editor: Tamar Kuyumjian