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January News Roundup: Tech's Role in Media Layoffs, San Mateo County Criminalizes Camping, SF's District Attorney Race

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In this edition of The Bay’s monthly news roundup, Ericka, Maria and Alan discuss how mass layoffs at the L.A. Times have brought renewed attention to a California bill that would force tech companies to pay news outlets, San Mateo County’s vote to make it a crime to camp in certain areas when shelter beds are available, and a former prosecutor under Chesa Boudin who’s decided to enter the race for San Francisco District Attorney. Plus, we introduce our new intern!


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Episode Transcript

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

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Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I’m Ericka Cruz Guevarra, and welcome to the Bay and local news to keep you rooted. And welcome to our first news roundup of the New Year. I don’t know if it’s weird to say Happy New Year anymore, but happy New year.

Maria Esquinca: Happy new year.

Alan Montecillo: It’s still okay.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: This is where we take some time at the end of the month to sit down with the entire Bay production team, to talk about some of the other stories around the Bay area that we’ve been following this month that we maybe didn’t get to make an episode on. I’m joined by our senior editor, Alan Montecillo What’s up? Alan?

Alan Montecillo: Hello.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: And our producer, Maria Esquinca. And also a very special guest, our intern, Eleanor Prickett-Morgan, who is in their second week with us here at KQED. Welcome, Ellie.

Ellie Prickett-Morgan: Hi. Very excited to be here.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Well, before we dive into our news roundup, l’m wondering if you can just tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

Ellie Prickett-Morgan: I’m a bay transplant by way of Santa Cruz, and I have spent the past couple of years doing some reporting with KPFA on housing and homelessness. I followed the Wood Street encampment for somewhere around a year through their eviction, and then I’ve continued to follow the community. And, yeah, I’m just really passionate about local news.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: And I know you’ve done a lot of stories out of the East Bay, in particular homelessness and housing. What kind of stories are you excited about working on on our show?

Ellie Prickett-Morgan: I’m really excited to kind of expand the different areas of coverage and pretty rooted in Oakland right now. And I’m also really excited to talk about potentially more labor issues, obviously, like the election coming up and maybe some transit stuff too.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Well, Ellie, thank you so much. It’s really exciting to have you here, and we are so excited to see all the things we make with you. Likewise. And right after the break, we’ll talk about the three stories that the Bay team has been following this month. Stay with us.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: And welcome back to The Bay’s monthly news roundup, our first of the year. We’re going to go ahead and start with my story, which is about a recent wave of layoffs in the media industry and the role that some local lawmakers here in the Bay actually believe that tech can and should play in saving the industry from further catastrophe. Last week, the L.A. times laid off 115 journalists, which amounts to more than 20% of the newsroom. Many of the cuts were to culture writers, the team covering LA’s Latino community, the Washington, D.C. bureau, which I mean, of course, is really crazy to think about in an election year.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: The union says that the cuts also disproportionately affected black, Latino and Asian American employees, and the paper’s owner, Doctor Patrick Soon-shiong, said the cuts were necessary because the times could no longer lose up to $40 million a year without boosting advertising. It’s also bringing renewed attention to efforts by some California lawmakers to hold tech companies accountable for their role in the plight of the media industry.

Maria Esquinca: Can you explain to us how is the tech industry connected to the news layoffs?

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: So, I mean, if you think about back in the day, right, when everyone needs to get newspapers and the main source of revenue for those newspapers was the advertising, the internet platforms like Google and Facebook. As we all know, those platforms have changed the entire industry. Many of these newspapers are no longer making money from advertising in their newspapers. Right, because everyone’s advertising online. And so the logic is that these platforms have contributed to this really devastating climate for news, while at the same time benefiting from the news articles that are posted to their websites.

Alan Montecillo: In some ways, this is part of a much longer story of local news getting cut and cut and cut. And when you say, you know, California lawmakers are trying to hold tech accountable, how does that factor in to this recent news about the L.A. times?

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: There is at least one local lawmaker, Buffy Wicks, Democrat from Oakland, who believes that tech companies including Google, Facebook and Microsoft have really benefited from the work of journalists whose stories end up on these platforms. And basically, there’s this bill called the Journalism Preservation Act, or AB 886 that would require platforms to pay a journalism usage fee to news organizations.

Alan Montecillo: This isn’t totally new idea, and from what I know, the tech industry is pretty hostile to any notion of paying for content that appears on their platforms. I have to assume something similar is happening in California.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Yeah, I mean, this bill actually stalled in the legislature last year, and its author, Buffy Wicks, decided to table it essentially in part because tech companies spent lots of money in 2023 lobbying California lawmakers and regulators against the bill. The LA times ironically reported that Google had spent $1.2 million and ad campaign against AB 886 last year, and that proved to be successful.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I mean, despite being passed in the Assembly in June of last year with notably bipartisan support, the bill stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And also meta went as far as to threaten removing news from its platforms last year. In particular Facebook and Instagram. If the bill became law.

Maria Esquinca: So I imagine the tech industry is going to pour a lot of money into trying to fight this bill again. What’s next for this bill?

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: With the recent news out of the L.A. times and this round of layoffs, it’s sort of come up again. Buffy Wicks told the San Francisco Chronicle that this bill and passing it will be a top priority of hers in the coming year. All right. Well, that was my story for the month. Now I want to transition over to our senior editor, Alan Monticello. Alan, what have you been following this month?

Alan Montecillo: My story is, I would say, the latest chapter in the ongoing fights, argument, public debate, whatever you want to call it. About homeless encampments. San Mateo County will soon make it a crime to camp in public and unincorporated areas where shelter beds are available.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Can you tell us a little bit more about the particular context around homelessness in San Mateo County? Like, why is this happening?

Alan Montecillo: Well, like all regions in the Bay area, San Mateo County has a housing crisis. It has a homelessness crisis. The most recent data, we have estimated about 1800 people who don’t have a place to live. About a third of those are estimated to be living outside or on the streets. Let’s be clear this law is specific to unincorporated parts of the county, that is, parts of the county that are not part of a city. But it does hit at this issue that residents and advocates and public officials are debating over, which is. And what do you do about homeless encampments?

Maria Esquinca: How is this law going to work?

Alan Montecillo: There’s a number of criteria that you’d have to meet in order to be charged with a crime. You need to have been given two written warnings and you have to have refused shelter twice. And then on top of that, last week they added a couple more provisions, including that there must be mental health screening before the first warning, and that unhoused people won’t be charged money for storing their belongings. Because what happens a lot during homeless encampments is that people’s belongings get taken away or thrown out or destroyed.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: How do supervisors explain why they want to do this?

Alan Montecillo: I think it is striking that the board voted unanimously. Our colleague Vanessa Rancaño reported on this for KQED, and one of the people she spoke to was board president Warren Slocum. He really frames it as an issue of public health and safety, saying that, you know, laws like this will help compel people who are otherwise resistant into getting the help that they need resources and, crucially, off the streets.

Warren Slocum: This is a, I think, a positive way to encourage homeless residents to get the mental health and drug. Counseling that they need. Plus, get a roof over their heads.

Alan Montecillo: I think the operative word there is encourage. There is, I think, much more political will to compel people into shelter, into mental health treatment. If the authorities can show that they’ve refused it.

Maria Esquinca: That’s what the supporters say. But I imagine a lot of people have something to say about that.

Alan Montecillo: Homelessness advocates are strongly against this, and they and other residents came out and said as much at the Board of Supervisors meeting last week. One of the people who spoke was Tristia Bauman. She’s the directing attorney of housing for the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley. She also spoke with our colleague Vanessa Rancaño about this.

Tristia Bauman: In many ways, it is an example of the failed punitive strategy that, cities and counties have attempted to implement in response to, the growing homelessness crisis.

Alan Montecillo: And you know, what Tristia and others are saying is, look, you’re just cracking down on people for living outside. You’re not actually getting at the root causes of homelessness. Again, this is a debate we’re very familiar with in the Bay area. Supporters of law like this will say, well, they’ve refused shelter a few times. So we now have the right to clear the encampment and in some cases, charge them with a crime.

Alan Montecillo: Advocates and others would say people refuse congregate shelter for a variety of reasons. People don’t feel safe. Some people might not want to leave their stuff there. Maybe they have pets and they’re not allowed. Shelters have all kinds of different rules. You have to leave during certain hours. And so there’s a whole host of reasons why somebody would much rather live outside than live in a congregate shelter.

Alan Montecillo: So this debate played out in San Mateo County. It’s played out in Alameda County, Los Angeles, all over the state, and of course, in San Francisco, where, you know, this is a different story, but the US Supreme Court recently agreed to take up a case that gets at a similar question about what authorities can and can’t do with homeless encampments.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Well, thank you so much for that, Alan. And last but not least, Maria, what do you got for us today?

Maria Esquinca: We have a another election story, but this time out of San Francisco, where Ryan Khojasteh has officially filed paperwork to declare himself a candidate against Brooke Jenkins in the race for district attorney.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Okay, honestly, that is not a name that I know. Who is this guy? What is his background? What’s his deal?

Maria Esquinca: So he is currently a prosecutor out of Alameda County. He’s 30 years old, which I think is pretty young. And when we’re talking about politics, but I think he’s most known for because he served under Chesa Boudin. But then he was one of 14 other staffers to be fired under Brooke Jenkins when she was appointed as a D.A. by Mayor London Breed.

Maria Esquinca: And according to the San Francisco Chronicle, he did say that he believes that he was fired because he wrote an article that was published in SFGate, where he basically talks about reforms that were implemented under Chesa Boudin. That should have continued.

Alan Montecillo: Well, that’s a good segue to the to my next question, Maria, which is what is Ryan Khojasteh: running on?

Maria Esquinca: So this is interesting because he describes himself as having a moderate approach between Chesa Boudin and Brooke Jenkins. And he talked to our colleague Erika Kelly a little bit about this.

Ryan Khojasteh: I would view the past D.A. as progressive and the current DA’s conservative. And I hope to bring a balance and be a responsible, moderating voice on public safety.

Maria Esquinca: He talks about both being someone that is willing to prosecute, but he also, at the policy level, is pushing against some of the things that Brooke Jenkins has done.

Ryan Khojasteh: You look at Brooke Jenkins reviving failed policies like the war on drugs. Of course, drug overdose deaths will reach a record level if you just arrest drug users.

Maria Esquinca: Yet he’s also willing to prosecute and work with police.

Ryan Khojasteh: I’ve actually prosecuted crime and made difficult decisions to hold people in custody. I’ve asked for jail time and have asked for prison time. I’ve worked directly with police and victims.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: While San Francisco voters won’t be voting on a Da this March, they will be in November. Right? And he is essentially the first candidate to announce that he’s running against Brooke Jenkins. Is that right? What is the significance of this announcement?

Maria Esquinca: Right now, San Francisco really has risen to the national spotlight when it comes to things like crime and addiction and homelessness. So I imagine that this is particularly a race that is going to get a lot of eyes, a lot of attention, a lot of coverage. And we have our first contender here. I imagine there’s going to be more. And so I think this is really getting the wheels in motion. And, you know, it’s almost feels like the engine is starting to turn on for one of the biggest races this season.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: And that is it for The Bay’s monthly news roundup this January. Producer Maria Esquinca, thank you so much.

Maria Esquinca: Thank you.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: And senior editor Alan Montecillo. Thank you.

Alan Montecillo: Go, Niners.

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Ericka Cruz Guevarra: The Bay is a production of member supported KQED. I’m Ericka Cruz Guevarra, thanks so much for listening. Talk to you next time.

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