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What’s Next in the Recall of Progressive DA Pamela Price

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A woman wearing a red dress speaks into a microphone.
Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price addresses attendees at the launch of her 'Protect the Win' campaign in Oakland on Nov. 16, 2023, to fight back against her recall. (Annelise Finney/KQED)

View the full episode transcript.

A recall effort to remove Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price from office is well underway, but when voters will actually be asked this question is still up in the air. A lot needs to happen before we get to that point, including one consequential decision voters will have to make in March that will have a big impact on how recalls work in Alameda County. 


Episode Transcript

This is a computer-generated transcript. While our team has reviewed it, there may be errors.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I’m Ericka Cruz Guevarra, and welcome to the Bay. Local news to keep you rooted.

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 [townhall audio]

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Welp, it’s an election year, y’all. And tensions are high in the campaign to recall Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price from office.

 [townhall audio]

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Price faces a recall effort less than a year into her role as the county’s first black district attorney. Price, who promised to focus on the roots of crime, has been criticized for not doing enough. And nowhere were the tensions over her recall more evident than at a pro recall. Town hall in Emeryville crashed by opponents.

 [townhall audio]

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: As much as the recall feels very much in full swing. There’s still a lot that needs to happen before voters in Alameda County are even asked to decide whether they want to remove price from office, including one huge decision voters will have to make in just two months about how recalls in Alameda County are run at all. Today, KQED Annalise Finney explains what we know about how the recall campaign is going so far, and the consequential decisions that still need to be made before voters decide on what to do with their DA. Stay with us.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: So, Annelise, remind us who was behind this recall and why do they want Pamela, price recalled.

Annelise Finney: The recall is being led by an organization known as SAFE, which stands for Saving Alameda for everyone. Its two principal officers are Karl Chan and Brenda Grisham. Brenda Grisham is a black woman from East Oakland whose son, Christopher, was killed in a shooting in Oakland in 2010. So since then, she’s become a strong victims rights advocate.

Annelise Finney: Karl Chan was previously the president of Oakland’s Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. He’s also a realtor. Karl Chan himself was allegedly the victim of an anti-Asian hate crime a while ago. He is often advocating for increased police presence in Chinatown, and very critical of the DA’s treatment of people who are accused of crimes. These two people have really become the face, um, at least within the media, of who the recall campaign represents.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Yeah, you’re getting into this a little bit, Annelise. But, I mean, these are two folks who are very rooted in the community in Oakland, at least. What are some of the specific policies of Pamela Price that they’re criticizing?

Annelise Finney: Yeah. So generally, they’ve been talking a lot about what they see as Pamela Price being, quote, soft on crime. One particular policy they point to are sentencing enhancements. There’s gun enhancements. There’s gang enhancements. The three strikes rule, which some people have heard of, was also an enhancement. In California, there are over 100 different types of enhancements, and a lot of people are critical of them, not only D.A. price, because studies have shown that enhancements are applied in an often racially biased way.

Annelise Finney: Pamela Price, back at the beginning of her term, issued a directive that asked her deputies to only charge enhancements in very specific circumstances. And the reason she asked for that is because historically, young people who may be involved in gangs who are black and Latino are more likely 72% more likely to be charged with gang enhancements, which can really bump up the length of a prison sentence.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: And I mean, that policy of hers are not really surprising, right? Because this is exactly what Pamela Price ran on. She ran as a super progressive district attorney who really wanted to focus more on how do we address the root of crime, as opposed to throwing more folks in jail. Can you remind folks, analise, that this recall effort actually started well before her first year of office even finished? Right?

Annelise Finney: Right. So Pamela Price completed her first year in office this month. But Brenda Grisham says that she really began talks with people about starting a recall effort back in April. And even before that, there was an online petition asking people to sign if they were in favor of a recall. So since her first months in office, there have been whisperings of people trying to remove her from office.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Well, what new information have we learned in most recent months and a about who is actually supporting this recall campaign? Beyond these two faces of the effort that we’ve just been talking about.

Annelise Finney: So recently, a number of documents from the recall were released by the anti recall campaign, which is Pamela Price’s supporters known as Protect the Win. And it showed that there’s a lot more there beyond Brenda Grisham and Carl Chan. One of those groups is called reviving the Bay area. It’s a political action committee, in other words, a fundraising committee that previously we knew about, but we didn’t know how closely connected they are to the recall campaign. And what we learned is that they’re working in close coordination.

Annelise Finney: So reviving the Bay area is responsible for raising money from affluent individuals in the Bay area and other large businesses is run by two investors. Those are Isaac Abed, who’s a real estate investor in Oakland, and Philip Dreyfuss, who manages the money of affluent people at an investment company in San Francisco. Beyond those two, we also learned about a number of campaign consultants, one of which is Richard Lachman. He is a pretty well known campaign consultant, and one of his major wins in the last few years was running the campaign to recall San Francisco Progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Hmm. Why does this matter Annelise?

Annelise Finney: Well, what’s interesting about this information is it reveals the sort of political machine that’s behind this recall. When we look more closely at these other folks, we see the other interests at play here. A lot of the money that has so far been raised by safe, we know, has come from a lot of tech and real estate interests. And when you add in reviving the Bay area, we know that’s may be a major player here.

Annelise Finney: Now, an interesting fact here is that reviving the Bay area hasn’t yet disclosed who any of its donors are, but they’ve donated more than half $1 million to the recall. Supposedly, at the end of this month, they’re supposed to release the information about who some of their donors are. But until we know that, it’s really hard to know exactly who is funding this. But we know they’re pretty well resourced because they’ve hired some pretty high brass political consultants to support their efforts.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: So at least that’s what we know right now about who is behind this effort. Where are we at right now in the recall campaign?

Annelise Finney: And so we’re still sort of at the beginning of a recall. They haven’t qualified this yet for the ballot, which means that nobody’s voting yet. On whether or not to keep Pamela Price in office.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: It sounds like there are still a few things that need to be ironed out before voters in Alameda County are even going to be asked this question about the recall, right? What are those things exactly Annelise?

Annelise Finney: Yeah, there are definitely a few things that need to be ironed out. First, the recall has to qualify for the ballot, which means they have to submit the correct number of signatures and their signatures have to be validated. After that, there’s the question of when would an election take place? And there’s been a lot of debate in the county about what type of rules would apply to deciding when a recall election would happen.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Before we get into them, Annelise is this normal?

Annelise Finney: This is not normal. Alameda County hasn’t had a recall election in more than 30 years. So as the county looks back at their rules, they have realized that some things are very outdated and may in fact be unlawful. So the is having to figure out a lot about how to do this as they’re doing it.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Okay. So let’s start with the first piece there. The signature submissions that the recall campaign needs to gather in order to get this question on the ballot for voters. Remind us what needs to happen exactly as it relates to these signatures.

Annelise Finney: Right. So here’s what happens. The recall campaign will submit pages and pages and pages and pages of signatures that they’ve gathered from around Alameda County. Then the registrar takes a look at those. They verify them. Then they tally the number of validated signatures to get a grand total. That grand total has to be over 73,195 signatures in order to qualify for the ballot. And the deadline for them to do that is March 5th. If you talk to the recall, they say they’re getting pretty close.

Annelise Finney: And according to members of the recall, around 80% of the signatures they’ve gathered so far have come from this third party signature. Gather, called PCI consultants, in order to collect signatures. And that’s actually really normal for a campaign to pay people to help get signatures. It’s a lot of work, but this is where things get really complicated. The Alameda County rules about how recalls can work. Currently require that signatures be collected by people who are registered voters.

Annelise Finney: That might invalidate some of the signatures collected by this third party, because, at least anecdotally, we’ve heard that some of the signature gatherers are from out of state, or at least out of the county. The recall says they didn’t know about that rule, and they don’t think it’s lawful. It’s likely that there’ll be a court battle around what signatures will be counted as valid, and what ones will be invalidated.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Well, if they do get the signatures and if the recall campaign actually does have the signatures that it says it has, and this question goes before voters of whether to recall Pamela Price. This will actually be the first recall Alameda County has had in 30 years. What does that mean, exactly?

Annelise Finney: Well, it means a few different things. Essentially, the most important part is that the Alameda County rules about recalls are pretty outdated. The Alameda County Council recommended that the county update its charter, so its rules for recall to match the state rules.

Annelise Finney: The Board of Supervisors voted at the end of last year to actually put this question to voters in March. So on March 5th, there will be a question on the ballot about whether Alameda County should adopt its state recall rules or stick with the county rules. And the reason why this matters is because those rules may impact parts of this potential recall of District Attorney Pamela Price.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Yeah. How exactly could this decision in March ultimately affect everything?

Annelise Finney: County rules lay out a different timeline for when that election would happen and the state rules. The county rules make it more likely that an election would be held separate as a special election. So an election that would happen on its own, on its own ballot, and the state rules make it more likely that the election would be paired with a regularly scheduled election. So, like our election, this coming March is a primary election. It includes national, state and local issues. It’s more likely that a recall would then end up on a ballot like that, as opposed to being its own item that voters would vote on on its own, perhaps sometime in April or May.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Hmm. So you’re talking about one of those elections that we do randomly in the middle of the year. We’re asked one question. Aren’t those elections usually elections that people pay less attention to? Like, what do supporters and opponents think about this question of the timing here? That seems like a big deal.

Annelise Finney: Yeah. I mean, election experts say that special elections, where it’s just the one issue on the ballot, tend to have a way lower turnout. And the people who turn out to special elections tend to be more conservative voters. In generally scheduled elections. There’s a way bigger turnout. It’s a much more diverse body of voters, and the results tend to be a little bit more progressive. So what this means for the recall is that folks who support the recall are really wanting to have a special election.

Annelise Finney: They think it would favor the chances that Pamela Price would be recalled. The anti recall campaign want it to be scheduled with a general election for the exact opposite reason, essentially because of the same logic, they think a general election will skew more progressive and make it more likely that D.A. price would be allowed to stay in office.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Okay, so that is a lot to remember. Annelise. So how would you maybe just summarize what voters should keep at the top of their minds for now?

Annelise Finney: So this March, there won’t be a recall on the ballot. We’re not quite there yet, but this question of whether the county should adopt state rules on how to run a recall or stick with county rules will be on the ballot. And this is honestly just sort of a kind of technocratic how government works question. It’s unfortunately become very politicized because there’s a recall effort underway right now. One supervisor said that, you know, there’s never the wrong time to do the right thing. But if there was, maybe this is it.

Annelise Finney: It’s become this big question of like, oh, will you vote for the county rules because you support the recall? Or will you vote for the state rules because you support price? If the rules do end up changing, there may be more court battles about whether or not this applies to Pamela Price’s recall. But in the meantime, the question before voters is just this basic question should the county follow state rules for a recall, or should they stick with county rules?

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Right. And I guess just for voters to remember that, that this question may seem boring and procedural, but that it could affect the outcome of the recall campaign. Well, Annalise, what are you going to be watching moving forward?

Annelise Finney: So I’m really keeping a close eye on two things. The first is whether reviving the Bay area. That’s the pact that’s in part behind the recall. Whether they disclose who their donors are, they’re supposed to at the end of the month. And that will give us an interesting insight into who’s funding this effort. The other thing I’m keeping an eye on are the signatures the recall is gathering, and whether they produce enough signatures to qualify a recall for the ballot.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Annelise. Thank you so much for helping us wade through all of this. I really appreciate it.

Annelise Finney: No problem. Thanks for having me, Ericka.

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Ericka Cruz Guevarra: That was Annelise Finney, a reporter for KQED. This 40 minute conversation with Annelise was cut down and edited by producer Maria Esquinca. I produced this episode, scored it, and added all the tape. The Bay is a production of member supported people powered KQED in San Francisco. I’m Ericka Cruz Guevarra. Thanks for listening. Talk to you next time.

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