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Sacramento Report: The New Front in the SB 50 Battle Is Toni Atkins’ Wikipedia Page

State Sen. Toni Atkins speaks at a health care town hall. / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s shocking decision on May 16 to shelve SB 50, the year’s most high-profile housing bill, set off an intense debate that’s gotten national attention.

But since that time, a much smaller-scale clash over the measure has been playing out on the battlefield of Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins’ Wikipedia page [1].

A section detailing the demise of SB 50 and Atkins’ role in it has been added to her page. Here’s how it currently reads:

In May 2019, Atkins was criticized by affordable housing advocates[19] [2] for siding with Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Anthony J. Portantino [3] to block SB50, “a major legislative push to spur more apartment construction around public transit and in wealthy suburbs.” Atkins said she deferred to Portantino despite “my own personal feelings” because it’s “part of my job.”[20] [4] According to David Garcia, policy director for UC Berkeley [5]’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, it would have been extraordinary for Atkins to do otherwise.[21] [6] The bill will not be considered again by the Senate until at least 2020.[20] [4]

But that’s not how the SB 50 section started. It used to be far more critical of Atkins’ role in the bill’s demise and include passages like “Atkins refused to step in and take the bill out of committee (which was in her powers).”

Then those passages disappeared, and passages more supportive of Atkins and her perspective were submitted – from Atkins’ office itself.

Earlier this week, Atkins’ press secretary Lizelda Lopez attempted to edit the section to add “more context,” she said in an email.

Her adds included the statement she sent out on Atkins’ behalf following the Senate committee’s decision, links to a Sacramento Bee op-ed Atkins wrote explaining her position on SB 50 and other details painting Atkins as a champion of housing.

But those changes were blocked by another Wikipedia editor, who included the note “removed primary sources and campaign messaging. content here needs to be sourced to reliable secondary sources and be void of puffery.”

Wikipedia’s conflict of interest policy [7] strongly discourages contributing to Wikipedia when it involves “yourself, family, friends, clients, employers, or your financial and other relationships.” Doing so, the policy says, “undermines public confidence and risks causing public embarrassment to the individuals and companies being promoted.”

Emotions Run High as AB 392 Clears the Assembly

The fate of AB 392, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s bill to limit police use of deadly force, was all but sealed last week when she struck a deal with law enforcement groups, who removed their opposition to the measure.

But the vote on the bill this week nonetheless represented the first chance most lawmakers in the Assembly had to publicly weigh in on the bill, which meant the vote was preceded by hours of intense emotional speeches.

A few noteworthy moments:

The Signature Deadline for DeMaio’s Constitutional Amendment Came and Went

Even before voters weighed in on November’s Prop. 6, the effort led by Carl DeMaio to repeal the statewide gas tax, DeMaio had another plan to challenge the tax: a constitutional amendment.

It would have shifted the responsibility for doling out gas tax funds to localities instead of the state, and mandated that 100 percent of gas tax funds go exclusively to roads projects instead of transit or other infrastructure projects.

His group Reform California sent out press releases announcing the initiative in September, and drummed up press for it again in late November when it was cleared by the secretary of state’s office [9] to begin collecting signatures.

The deadline to turn those signatures in – it required 585,407 signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot – were due this week.

San Diego County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu says they never came. He confirmed on Thursday that no signatures had been delivered to his office for inspection.

A spokesman for DeMaio’s group Reform California did not return a request for comment.

Waldron Opposes Email Retention Bill

Assemblyman Todd Gloria’s bill requiring government agencies to retain email records for at least two years [10] passed the Assembly this week.

Many agencies around San Diego County keep emails for a shockingly short period of time [11] – some for as few as 30 days. Public records law, however, requires that they be kept for two years. This bill clarifies that the rule also applies to emails.

The only San Diego-area lawmaker to vote against the bill was Republican Assemblywoman Marie Waldron. I asked her office what motivated her no vote.

“With my experience in city government, I know how hard local agencies work to be open and transparent. If bad actors are keeping public documents hidden by clicking into a different email account or communicating through a personal device, we should certainly address that,” she said in an emailed statement. “Unfortunately, AB 1184 goes too far in creating a burdensome, unfunded mandate for local governments to retain even the most minor, inconsequential emails.  At a time when we’re expecting cities, counties and special districts to be more and more efficient, adding the cost of retaining documents that may not even be public records will take us in the wrong direction.”

The bill does not, however, necessarily require that agencies keep “the most minor, inconsequential emails,” as Waldron argues. It requires the retention of emails “containing information relating to the conduct of the public’s business.”

Golden State News