California group pushing Prop. 47 changes says it has 900,000 signatures to qualify for ballot

A California group pushing an initiative to change portions of Proposition 47 says it has collected enough signatures to qualify its plan to increase penalties for some drug and theft crimes for the November ballot.

Californians for Safer Communities on Thursday plans to announce it has collected more than 900,000 signatures in favor of putting the Homelessness, Drug Addiction, and Theft Reduction Act before voters, said Becky Warren, a spokeswoman for the group.

The group will now submit the signatures to county elections officials to begin the certification process, she said. They need a total of 546,651 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The group’s ballot measure aims to make changes to Proposition 47, an initiative voters approved in 2014. It loosened penalties for some crimes involving drugs or theft and set a $950 threshold for misdemeanor shoplifting.

Previously, prosecutors frequently treated shoplifting-like crimes as misdemeanors, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. However, they could also have charged them as burglary, a “wobbler,” meaning it could have been a felony or a misdemeanor. Proposition 47 made shoplifting property under $950 only a misdemeanor.

Californians for Safer Communities claims the measure has had “unintended consequences” and blames Proposition 47 for increases in retail theft and addiction treatment challenges.

Viral online videos of smash-and-grab robberies have drawn public concern about the measure, even though many of the crimes shown could likely be prosecuted as felonies if they involve use of force or theft of expensive items.

Public Policy Institute of California data from 2022 showed the rate of shoplifting incidents was 8% lower that year than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Retail Federation’s 2023 report said its 2022 countrywide shrink rate — losses caused by external theft, employee stealing and systemic errors — was 1.6%, up from 1.4% in 2021, but “in line with shrink rates seen in 2020 and 2019.”

Among other provisions, Californians for Safer Communities’ ballot measure would make repeated theft a felony, even for those who steal less than $950, if they have at least two theft-related convictions. It would also allow prosecutors to aggregate the value of items from multiple thefts to exceed the $950 felony threshold.

To address fentanyl use, the initiative would add it to a list of drugs illegal to possess by someone with a firearm and create more penalties for dealers who sell substances that kill or seriously injure people.

Ballot measure opponents say increased penalties for theft and drug crimes do not deter would-be criminals and would only put more people behind bars.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas, D-Hollister, and Senate President Pro Tem Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, have said they are against Proposition 47 changes that would require voter approval.

Rivas on April 9 announced a package of Assembly retail theft bills with strategies that mirror some of those in the ballot measure, including theft aggregations.

But initiative proponents continue to insist seeking voter approval is necessary to make the changes they are seeking.

“Because of the way Proposition 47 was written, we believe that voter approval is required for any new enforcement or accountability enhancements,” Warren said in a statement after Rivas’ announcement earlier in the month.