PJ Media

Ex-Cons in San Francisco May Soon Enjoy 'Protected Class' Status

When I grow weary of being a lonely conservative in Los Angeles, when I get frustrated at living in one of the bluest of cities in the bluest of states, when I begin to despair of being represented by a liberal at every last level of local, state, and federal government . . .

I remind myself it could always be worse in San Francisco.

And indeed it is worse. San Francisco is a city of abundant beauty and charm, but it is governed by people so far out on the left fringe that they make their counterparts in Los Angeles look like pikers. For proof of this, I refer you to this story in the July 13 San Francisco Chronicle, in which it is reported that the city’s ex-convicts may soon enjoy “protected class” status, joining blacks, Latinos, homosexuals, the transgendered, pregnant women, and the disabled. Yes, you read that correctly: the city may soon adopt a law that will make it illegal to discriminate against criminals. The proposed law would bar landlords and business owners from inquiring about the criminal past of any prospective tenant or employee. As if to show they haven’t completely lost their minds, the law’s proponents say sex offenders and those convicted of “some violent crimes” would not be covered.

Some violent crimes? Dare one ask where the line might be drawn? First-degree murder and, sorry, you’re out of luck, but second-degree or manslaughter gets you the third-floor walk-up in Pacific Heights with the view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Or how about this scenario: a burglar sneaks into the home of some luckless landlord and relieves him of his television set, DVD player, jewelry, and some cash, but by some miracle is arrested, prosecuted, and sent to prison. But when he walks out of the big house with his parole papers in hand, he goes right back to the same landlord and applies to rent an apartment. Can the landlord object? No, the proposed law would not allow it. Our unfortunate landlord would have little recourse, even if his new tenant asked for his help in carrying the television set that once belonged to him up the stairs.

Ex-cons in San Francisco already enjoy protected class status when applying for city jobs or for public housing, but the city’s “Reentry Council,” made up of representatives of the mayor’s office, the Police Department, the district attorney’s office, the Sheriff’s Department, the Adult Probation Department, and ex-convicts, now urge the city to apply these protections to private businesses as well.

And well, why not? San Francisco is already covered by a strict rent-control ordinance, an unintended but predictable consequence of which is the 31,000 vacant housing units in the city. Landlords are increasingly taking their properties off the market rather than deal with the twin hassles of pesky tenants and petty bureaucrats for little profit. The proposed measure will in all likelihood only increase that number as property owners elect to leave their apartments empty rather than see them occupied by criminals. And, as any landlord knows, sometimes all it takes is one problem tenant to drive the good ones away.

The proposed law is even endorsed by someone who presumably should know better, District Attorney George Gascón. “Trust me, I recognize the concern,” Gascón said. “But if we want to reduce the likelihood of people going back to prison, then we have to provide them with an opportunity to reintegrate themselves.” Yes, but if we want to reduce the likelihood of crime occurring in our rental properties — such a quaint notion! — we won’t rent them to criminals.

Gascón’s comments would ordinarily be dismissed as the blathering of pandering pol, but before becoming district attorney he was San Francisco’s police chief. He came up through the ranks of my own Los Angeles Police Department, retiring as an assistant chief in 2006 to accept the job of chief of the Mesa, Ariz., police department. In 2009, he was appointed chief of police in San Francisco, and earlier this year he was appointed as district attorney, replacing Kamala Harris, who was elected as California’s attorney general.

In January, I reported over at the Tatler on Gascón’s political metamorphosis from Republican to Democrat, timed, coincidentally I’m sure, to accompany his campaign to retain his office in this November’s election. With his endorsement of the proposed law, his transformation would seem complete, perhaps giving you an idea of why he isn’t missed much at the LAPD.

But Gascón is just one man, no better or worse than any other leftist politician in San Francisco, where it would surprise no one if the proposed law is enacted and enforced with a vengeance. The late Herb Caen, longtime civic cheerleader and columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, used to refer to his beloved city as “Baghdad by the Bay.” Both San Francisco and Baghdad have changed much since he coined the phrase some 70 years ago. He’d be disappointed to see how apt the comparison is today.