Change could be coming for future Alameda County recall elections
on December 13, 2023
Alameda County voters will be asked in March to change recall election rules, which has the campaign to oust District Attorney Pamela Price — as well as those opposed to a recall — calling foul.
In July, less than a year into Price’s tenure, a group of residents and business owners launched a recall campaign, citing concerns about her being soft on serious crime.
In the months since, that effort has intensified. The group behind the recall — Save Alameda for Everyone, or SAFE — has argued that Price’s progressive policies brought a spike in crime and that she doesn’t pay enough attention to crime victims. Now, the recall process in Alameda County may change.
In late November, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 in favor of abandoning recall rules in the county charter and adopting state regulations instead. The supervisors then moved to put the measure on the March ballot.
Currently, the county’s requirement that individuals distributing recall petitions must be registered voters in Alameda County conflicts with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. State law stipulates that petitioners only need to be at least 18 years old, not registered voters. Aligning the county’s rules with state law would help minimize potential legal complications.
Changing to California rules would also increase the number of signatures required to trigger the recall by roughly 20,000 and remove the public’s ability to choose a replacement candidate. That power would lie with the Board of Supervisors.
Both SAFE and Price proponents oppose the changes. Advocates for Price’s recall argue that the changes unfairly alter the required signature count and recall process during their ongoing campaign, amounting to what they perceive as election interference. Those against the recall claim permitting individuals from outside the county to gather the required signatures can sway the vote to the opposition’s favor.
Donna Zeigler, the county counsel, said the changes are in line with the Constitution and avoid potential legal challenges, while making the elections fair and lawful.
The recall election could cost $20 million, according to county estimates.
Recall efforts require 73,195 signatures, roughly 15% of the total votes (487,969) cast in Alameda County in the last governor’s election in 2022, and the completion of necessary paperwork to qualify for the ballot. Once signatures are gathered, election officials then certify the petition to see if the recall should proceed to a vote.
SAFE is currently gathering signatures for a June special election, with a deadline of March 5. But the county Board of Registrars would make any decision on when a special election would be held.
An emerging trend
Price, a longtime civil rights attorney who ran on a progressive platform, took office in January with about 53% of the vote. She defeated Terry Wiley after then-District Attorney Nancy O’Malley decided not to seek reelection. Price is the county’s first Black district attorney.
“She cares both about the victims and she cares about creating a society where people aren’t locked in prisons for the rest of their lives. She had this agenda and people have voted for her to do it,” said William Fitzgerald, a spokesperson with Protect the Win, Price’s campaign against the recall.
SAFE and its supporters disagree. “In less than nine months, district attorney Price has … unapologetically empowered criminals in an unprecedented way by refusing to charge cases, lowering sentences, and gutting the District Attorney’s Office of experienced, competent prosecutors,” SAFE wrote in a statement on its website.
The county’s recall scenario mirrors a recent pattern with progressive district attorneys in California. In 2022, San Francisco voters recalled Chesa Boudin, with many blaming him for a spike in crime. After that, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón survived the second recall campaign against him, both of which failed to get enough signatures.
Price campaigned on a progressive agenda focused on restorative justice, abolishing the death penalty, introducing equitable justice practices and ensuring police accountability.
“She was elected on a vision of criminal justice reform, of holding everyone, including those who are powerful, accountable. And it’s critically important on the campaign side that we ensure that she stays in office for the duration of her term,” Fitzgerald said.
While Oakland is dealing with an increase in violent crimes, Price’s supporters say much of the rise was happening before she took office and it’s unfair to place all the blame on her shoulders.
Violent crime has increased 12% since 2021, rising in each of the past three years, Oakland Police Department data shows. Overall crime rose about 20% between 2021 and 2022, and has increased by about the same percentage since then.
Price’s opponents have linked the increase to her policies.
A 2022 study of homicide and larceny rates by the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy at the University of Toronto found no evidence linking 10 cities with progressive prosecutors to spikes in crime.
“It’s really challenging to beat a recall, especially with Price and Boudin where they didn’t have much time in office before the recall started,” said Jim Ross, a political consultant based in Oakland.
Rocky Hunt, a coordinator for Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, a nonprofit dedicated to halting youth criminalization and mass incarceration, said recalling Price would not effectively reduce crime rates. Hunt also served on Price’s transition team and worked with the Alameda County DA Accountability Table.
“With all these crimes going on, people want to arrest their way out of it. We know that doesnt work. When you try to arrest your way out of it, you don’t make it safer. We all want people to be safe, and putting programs in place, teaching people, and helping people will get to the root of the problem,” Hunt said.
Price’s term is up on Jan 4, 2027.
(Top photo by Saumya Gupta)
Oakland North welcomes comments from our readers, but we ask users to keep all discussion civil and on-topic. Comments post automatically without review from our staff, but we reserve the right to delete material that is libelous, a personal attack, or spam. We request that commenters consistently use the same login name. Comments from the same user posted under multiple aliases may be deleted. Oakland North assumes no liability for comments posted to the site and no endorsement is implied; commenters are solely responsible for their own content.
Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: firstname.lastname@example.org.