ACLU response to Governor Brown’s State of the State

Natasha Minsker delivers the Keynote Speech at Davis MLK Day
Natasha Minsker delivers the Keynote Speech at Davis MLK Day

By Natasha Minsker

In his State of the State speech yesterday, Gov. Jerry Brown failed to mention a critical dimension to economic inequality in California: racial inequality. People of color are uniquely impacted by government policies that fall most heavily on the poor, like the Maximum Family Grant rule, unchecked police abuses and over-reliance on incarceration as a response to chronically homeless people with mental illness.

Investing in California’s families

At a time when one in five California children live in poverty, we should be doing everything in our power to make sure parents and their children are able to lead safe, healthy and successful lives. That includes making sure parents are not punished for their family planning decisions. Unfortunately, for more than 20 years, California has denied financial support to babies born while their families are receiving CalWORKs basic needs grants for older siblings. This unfair policy is known as the Maximum Family Grant (MFG) rule.

Intended to coerce poor women, particularly women of color, into having fewer children, the MFG rule endangers the health and wellbeing of babies born into poverty while simultaneously pushing their families deeper into poverty. Today Gov. Brown touted the addition of millions of dollars to CalWORKS, but did not include funding for repeal of the MFG rule in his proposed budget earlier this month and has yet to speak on the issue.

Fair policing

The American ideal of fair, humane and transparent policing is still a long ways away for many Californians, especially African Americans and Latinos. Last year alone, we saw 1,134 Californians killed at the hands of law enforcement, with unarmed African American men seven times more likely than unarmed white men to die by police gunfire nationwide. And still, California continues to have the most secretive laws in the country when it comes to police misconduct.

Equally troubling is continued abuse of civil asset forfeiture by law enforcement agencies in California. Civil asset forfeiture laws were created in the heyday of the drug war in the 1980s. Originally intended to take booty away from drug “kingpins”, civil asset forfeiture has been perverted into an ongoing attack on low-income people of color and families who can’t afford to fight the government in court.

Despite laws and guidelines intended to protect against it, civil asset forfeiture has become a relied-upon source of funding for law enforcement agencies all across the state. The fact that civil asset forfeiture has become a primary funding source for law enforcement has not only led to greater abuses, but also to an unhealthy and growing overreliance on it. This is well documented.

Human dignity and treatment for California’s most vulnerable

Earlier this month, Senate leaders announced a plan to provide approximately $2 billion for housing and treatment for some of California’s most vulnerable: chronically homeless people with mental illness.

By investing in permanent supportive housing, California would make significant strides in prioritizing human dignity and treatment for Californians who are all too often either shoved into our criminal justice system or left to be forgotten on our streets. With the largest homeless population in the country, we can no longer turn a blind eye to the needs of our fellow Californians.

Providing them with shelter and treatment could also help avoid the sometimes deadly interactions between law enforcement officers who lack adequate training and people suffering mental or emotional crises – particularly people of color, who frequently bear the brunt of police violence and harassment when they have no other option but to sleep outdoors.

So while California leads the nation on many things – last year California passed the strongest racial and identity profiling, sex education and digital privacy laws in the country – work remains to be done to address a legacy of racial oppression still entrenched in state programs and institutions that dictate how our communities are policed and punished.

We hope Gov. Brown will lend his support to an MFG repeal, increased transparency and accountability in policing, and the Senate’s permanent supportive housing proposal to make the great state of California even greater.

Natasha Minsker is the Director of the ACLU of California’s Center for Advocacy and Policy. 


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12 thoughts on “ACLU response to Governor Brown’s State of the State”

  1. Tia Will

    That includes making sure parents are not punished for their family planning decisions.”

    If this were actually a matter of “family planning decisions” I would agree. Sadly, this is not the case. Between 40-50 % of pregnancies in California, as well as across the country are not “planned”. They are unintended and in many cases, unwanted. This is true across all economic groups, but has disparate effects on the child, the remainder of the family and on our society. The wealthy family with an unintended child may experience emotional disruption with adverse consequences for the psychological and social well being of family members, but they will not suffer the potentially devastating effects of deepening poverty as will the poor family.

    For me, the answer is not a unilateral MFG repeal, but readily available, free highly effective contraception for all reproductive age women, age appropriate and factual sexual education at all schools levels, and a uniform base income so that no child, whether the result of a planned or unintended pregnancy suffers materially at least from the planning, or lack thereof, of her parents.

    Obviously there would need to be gradual implementation of the latter two , but there is no reason at all that effective reproductive services could not be provided to all women now. What is lacking is not the resources, it is the will to do so. And apparently by Ms. Minski’s words the lack of awareness of the real dynamics of family planning on both sides of the political divide.


    1. sisterhood

      “Between 40-50 % of pregnancies in California, as well as across the country are not “planned”. They are unintended and in many cases, unwanted. This is true across all economic groups, but has disparate effects on the child, the remainder of the family and on our society.” 

      “…there is no reason at all that effective reproductive services could not be provided to all women now. What is lacking is not the resources, it is the will to do so.”

      Catholics need to get on board.


  2. Tia Will


    California’s high housing costs that eat up large percentages of poor peoples incomes a phenomenon driven by lack of supply and opposition to new construction.”

    There are two sides to this coin. One is the opposition to new construction. The other is the profit of any given project on the part of the developers and investors in any given project hidden behind the term “pencil out”, which since the amounts are rarely specified, means to me, as much as we can get.

    Your post also misses an important nuance. There are some in the community who would mount no opposition to projects aimed at providing low cost housing, while strongly opposing changing local regulations and making exemptions for luxury projects funded by the already affluent for their own benefit.

    1. hpierce

      You’re absolutely right… developers should pay for all design, processing, development/construction costs, at a loss (or maybe if they are really favored, “break-even”), as a charitable contribution to society.  And if their project is not approved, too bad.

      I take it you have no investments of any kind, as they would all generate an evil profit.  I admire your principles.

    2. Frankly

      Jesus Tia, you are a perfect liberal socialist.  I can’t thank you enough for continuing to stick to your ideological guns chasing that perfect collectivist utopia.

      So, your argument now is that it is the profit margins of developers that is causing the high cost of housing in California.  If only we could just extract that profit from private hands of a few and move it to the public trust where it would benefit many.  I get it.  I’m sure you are thinking about voting for Bernie Sanders (who by the way is my choice over Hillary and a few GOP candidates… but for different reasons than you would be attracted to him I am guessing).

      Never mind that your understanding about housing costs in California being factually incorrect, let’s go ahead and walk the fact pattern of your points.   And we don’t even have to imagine what it would be like because we have copious real historical case studies to use.

      What you seem to be advocating is for government development of low income housing.  Instead of private landowners and developers building housing that they can sell for a profit, instead you would prefer that more of that land and development be developed by public agencies that would give up the profit and sell or rent the housing at cost to low income people.  Or maybe the government would buy the housing from the private developer and subsidize the rent of it for low income people.

      Of course I assume that you do know that these things already happen in very large numbers.

      There is HUD’s four programs provide free or cost-reduced housing programs for almost 5 million families.  That’s right Tia… 5 million.

      And this is only part of what the Fed and the State do to help make housing affordable for CA residents.

      Here is a great resource to see a list of all those programs and the number of families being helped.

      Here is the overview of California for those that don’t have time to click on the link and read…

      The population of California, according to the 2010 Census, is 37,253,956. The total number of households in the state is 12,577,498.  The total number of renter households in the state is 5,542,127 which means that 44.06% of households are renter households. Compared to all other U.S. States, California is ranked 3rd in percentage of renters. District Of Columbia is ranked first with 57.99% and West Virginia ranks last with only 26.55%.

      According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the median rent paid among all renter households and housing types and sizes in California is $1,216 per month. Ranked against all other states in the country, California ranks 3rd for the highest median rent. Hawaii ranks first at $1,387 and West Virginia ranks last at $618. Though rents are set more locally, statewide median rents provide a basic outlook of housing costs for each state.

      The number of vacant rental units in California is 276,042 representing a vacancy rate of 5.2%. Among all U.S. states, California ranks 5th for the lowest vacancy rates. New York ranks first with a vacancy rate of 4.5% and South Carolina ranks last with a vacancy rate of 12.9%. As lower vacancy rates are an indication of a healthier rental housing portfolio, California’s rental housing portfolio is performing well above the National average.

      The bottom line here is that there is already plenty of help for low income renters, but lacking enough of a supply of properties to rent, these programs cannot help enough.

      So, back to you.

      You know it is selfish California no-growthers like yourself that own most of the responsibility for the high cost of housing in parts of California due it causing a supply shortage.  Blaming developers’ profit is just your way of deflecting your personal responsibility.

      1. Tia Will


        I do not know about “perfect” but it should come as no surprise to anyone that I am a liberal socialist as I have said as much on many occasions. Now for some points of disagreement.

        I am not in search of a “collectivist utopia”. Utopia implies the inability to ever improve. I believe that in human endeavors, there is always room for improvement.

        With regard to my opinions about the “housing market in California” I wasn’t making any comment about that at all. That was made up entirely by you. I don’t have any opinion about the scope of housing markets in California because I do not have sufficient information on various markets in the state to have formed such an opinion. What I do have an opinion on is the local market. I do not believe in trickle down housing. I believe that we have people who  have wants such as luxury developments close to the downtown, and we have people who have needs for housing, such as the homeless, the unemployed, the underemployed and students. I do not believe that developments such as North Star where I previously lived, or the vast majority of the Cannery, or Trackside do anything to address the “needs” category of housing.

        If you can show me how I am wrong in this regard right here is town, I will be willing to reassess my position. However, the developments that have been built since my arrival here have done nothing to change my opinion of this needs vs wants assessment.

  3. Misanthrop

    Well it seems that you have evolved from when I first started posting and you were writing about how its not the communities responsibility to provide housing for those who can’t afford to live in Davis. It does seem that your consistent only in your opposition to housing and more people sharing the atmosphere and other resources with your family. Of course the best way to deal with the economics of a housing shortage is to build lots of housing of all types. Then the market dynamics will eventually resolve themselves.

  4. Davis Progressive

    “Unfortunately, for more than 20 years, California has denied financial support to babies born while their families are receiving CalWORKs basic needs grants for older siblings. This unfair policy is known as the Maximum Family Grant (MFG) rule.”

    glad to see this is starting to become an issue people are looking at.  mariko raised it last week.

    1. Frankly

      Interesting that you support forced financial pain in the form of taxes to encourage people to make better life choices, but not here.

      I guess it depends on which side of the victim ledger you categorize the people that would get hit with the financial pain.

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