Year in review: Five biggest non-story California stories, and what they really mean
Get ready soon for end-of-the-year features on the biggest news stories of 2011. But not yet. First, the biggest non-stories (or stories that ought to have been non-stories) of 2011, and what they really mean:
It was big news coast to coast, even though everyone knew it would never happen. What it really means: (1) Everyone loves breakup stories, and this was the best one from California since Arnold and Maria; and (2) Inland Empire Republicans became disoriented upon discovering that there are actual consequences to cutting the vehicle license fee. Several Riverside County cities were threatened because there wasn't enough VLF money for them, and they thought breaking away might somehow make more money appear.
Some state officials really messed up! Heads must roll! Except, well, no, the cross-check of sex offender addresses with foster homes showed that maybe eight registered sex offenders had connections (were related to the owners, for example). Not good, but eight is still not 1,000. Uncorrected stories remain on many news sites, along with other misinformation gleaned from the report. What it really means: (1) The Bureau of State Audits knows how to get headlines, even if it doesn't really know how to do an audit; and (2) Outrage is exciting. Corrections are boring.
That assertion was made by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to describe "realignment" of public safety. Not true. No offenders have been or will be transferred to Los Angeles. Some who were to be released here on parole will now be released here on "community supervision," another type of parole. Offenders are coming to the same place, at the same pace, as always. The county may not be up to supervising them properly, so realignment is indeed a public safety issue, but anyone being let out of prison and returning to Los Angeles would have been coming here anyway. What it really means: Either (1) Realignment is hard to understand, and even the mayor is confused; or (2) The mayor knows how to use fear to garner attention and maybe some state funding.
All those new convicts under realignment are being sent to county jail instead of state prison, and the jails are bursting at the seams! Except they're not. Sheriff Lee Baca, with all his problems at the county jails, is keeping the daily census of inmates just about constant. Yes, he does this by releasing people before their full sentences are served, and that's not good; and yes, he has pretty much unfettered discretion of whom to release, and when, with only sketchy guidelines or oversight -– and that's not good either. But the jail population is not exploding. What it really means: (1) Baca is so secretive or inept in keeping track of his jail population that it's easy to misunderstand whom he's holding; and (2) Fear of crime is always a crowd-pleaser.
Dr. Conrad Murray was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to four years but is expected to serve only two. But that has nothing to do with realignment or jail crowding; it's the law. Convicts are eligible for up to 50% off on their sentences when calculated time for good behavior and for work. Maybe that should be called a two-year sentence so the public truly understands, but no one here got away with anything. Of course, Baca could decide to release Murray whenever he wants (see #4 above). What it really means: (1) Sentencing laws aren't that easy to understand; and (2) Even now, Michael Jackson keeps us guessing.
Cartoon: Ted Rall / For The Times