California crime reform gets 'unheard of' support from DAs, small businesses, progressive mayors

A measure to reform California’s crime referendum that downgrades penalties for petty theft and drug possession will be on the ballot in November after garnering an “unheard of” number of signatures. 

The 2014 law in question, Proposition 47, reclassified several felonies, including retail and property theft, as misdemeanors. 

Under Prop 47, petty theft of goods valued under $950 is classified as a misdemeanor, even for multiple offenses. It also took a broad swath of narcotics possession offenses that were previously felonies and converted them to misdemeanors.

But a ballot initiative to amend Prop 47, called the Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act, secured over 900,000 citizen signatures required to put the measure to an official vote in November, far surpassing the roughly 500,000 required signatures.


San Francisco Mayor London Breed

San Francisco Mayor London Breed is supporting reform to Prop 47. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho, who supported the effort, said in an interview with Fox News Digital that some Golden State residents waited hours in line to sign the petition. 

“That’s how, that’s how popular it is. That’s the sentiment of people, and it’s across all spectrums,” Ho said.

“It cuts across party lines and cuts across racial lines, social and economic lines. It’s small businesses, big businesses, everyday people” who are “very passionate” about seeing reforms, he added.

Prop 47, enacted in 2014, was an effort to reduce incarcerations. One of the mechanisms for making any changes is that it can’t be done through legislation, only through the people’s direct vote. 

“We needed about almost 500,000 signatures in order to get it on the ballot. Instead, we ended up collecting orders and turning over 900,000 signatures. That is unheard of,” Ho said. 

The DA said that while he is in favor of the “spirit” behind Prop 47, the law needs to be changed to stem its “unintended consequences,” which he identified as a “fentanyl crisis,” a “retail theft crisis” and a “homeless crisis.” 

Ho noted a big-box retailer in Sacramento told him that the region ranks No. 1 in theft for the company, and that one of their stores in the area saw a 253% increase in theft between 2022 and 2023. 


Sacramento aerial

Sacramento County District Attorney Thien Ho noted a big-box retailer in Sacramento told him that the region ranks No. 1 in theft for the company. (Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

He also said one mom-and-pop convenience store in the area reported that 6 out of 10 of their customers were committing theft.

“And then you talk about fentanyl. We see a true crisis in terms of fentanyl overdoses and deaths. Four hundred people last year died of fentanyl poisoning in Sacramento County. We see the No. 1 cause of death in our homeless population is drug overdose primarily from fentanyl,” Ho remarked. 

Should the initiative pass, it would add fentanyl to the list of hard drugs — like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine — that are illegal to possess with a firearm and authorizes greater consequences for selling deadly quantities. 

It would also enable stricter penalties for dealers whose trafficking causes death or serious injury, and warns traffickers of potential murder charges if continued drug trafficking results in fatalities.

“So there are a number of things that kind of interplay together here, and I think people see a public safety crisis. And as a result of that, people were standing in line waiting up to half an hour, an hour to sign the petition,” Ho said. 

Two Democratic progressive mayors in two of California’s biggest cities — San Francisco Mayor London Breed and San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan — endorsed the reform campaign earlier this year.

Breed, who initially supported Prop 47, said she’s now seeing unintended consequences of the measure as she tries to crack down on illegal drugs and theft in her city, the San Francisco Chronicle reported in February.

“Our goal is not to keep people locked up,” she said. “But when there are no real consequences for crimes that are committed in this city, that’s a real problem.”


police crime scene

If passed, reforms to Prop 47 would classify repeated theft as a felony for individuals who steal less than $950 if they have two or more prior theft-related convictions. (iStock)

If passed, reforms to Prop 47 would classify repeated theft as a felony for individuals who steal less than $950 if they have two or more prior theft-related convictions.

It would also allow stolen property values from multiple thefts to be combined, so repeat offenders can be charged with a felony if the total exceeds $950.

It authorizes judges to impose an enhanced penalty when an offender steals, damages or destroys property by participating in organized theft with two or more offenders or by causing losses of $50,000 or more. 

The initiative would also enact a new class of crime called a “treatment-mandated felony,” where offenders with multiple hard drug possession convictions would be given the option of participating in drug and mental health treatment in lieu of incarceration. It also would allow offenders who successfully complete treatment to avoid jail time and have the charge fully expunged.


Among the many signatories are California business owners who are looking for a policy change to curb crime affecting their livelihoods.

Tony Konja, owner of high-end liquor store chain Keg N Bottle in San Diego, told Fox News Digital that the opportunity to allow voters to change the crime law gives him and other business owners “hope.” 

“It gives us hope that it’s going to change, because something has to happen,” he said. “You know, it’s hard to make it these days as a small business owner.”

Konja, who inherited the business from his father, said, “What’s insane is just how, before, when some crimes happened, you call the police, and they come, and people were scared to commit crime.” 

But now, he said, “the brazenness of the homeless and the brazenness of the people that come in to steal is insane.” Konja said the crimes span all levels of sophistication and happen so frequently that sometimes police don’t ever come to the scene. 

“Police don’t even come out sometimes, and it takes too long for them to come out because they know that there’s nothing that really can be done,” he said. 

Konja said the success of the ballot initiative is “because it’s just such common sense.” 

Fox News Digital reached out to Breed and Mahan for comment. 

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