Two days after a deadly shooting near a synagogue in Halle, Germany, the third such highly visible attack by radical right-wing extremists this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that Jewish and other legislators in Sacramento hope will improve safety at vulnerable places of worship across the state.
AB 1548, signed by the governor on Friday, “establishes the California State Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP)” — a state funding initiative meant to “harden soft targets,” such as synagogues, mosques, community centers and schools. The NSGP itself is not new. The program began in 2015 as a line item in the state budget, and its funding levels have fluctuated from year to year. Over four years it has paid out $4.5 million in grants, but this year, the governor revised the 2019-2020 budget after the Poway attack to pour $15 million into the program.
Citing a rise in hate crimes in California, the governor said in a release that it was urgent to “act to defend those targeted for their religious beliefs, who they love or how they identify.” Jesse Gabriel (D-Los Angeles), vice chairman of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, introduced the bill. He said he hopes that codifying the NSGP into law will send a message and help ensure that the program receives adequate funding moving forward. “The fundamental and most important obligation of government is to protect its citizens,” he said in an interview with J. on Friday. “We’re making a statement that this is something California will continue to do.”
The measure was co-sponsored by Assembly member Brian Maienschein (D-San Diego), a longtime Republican who recently changed his party affiliation and is not a member of the Jewish caucus.
Funds will be administered through the Office of Emergency Services in a competitive grant process, funding target-hardening features such as security cameras, up-to-date doors, locks and gates, and the hiring of professional security guards. Other similar grants have been issued by the federal government.
State action on the NSGP follows concerted lobbying efforts by the Jewish caucus. The group met with the governor at a bagel breakfast earlier this year, laying out a series of asks called the 2019 “Tikkun Olam Bill Package.” “It was a wonderful meeting,” state Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) told J. at the time. “Our message really got through.”
The text of the measure lists “schools, clinics, community centers, churches, synagogues, mosques and temples” as potential recipients — specifically organizations that are “at high risk for violent attacks or hate crimes due to ideology, beliefs, or mission.” The maximum grant amount per institution is $200,000.
The measure had the unanimous support of lawmakers and a broad coalition of interest groups, including the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, Muslim and Catholic organizations, and the LGBTQ civil rights group Equality California.
“Hate crimes against people of color, immigrants, the Jewish community and LGBTQ people are on the rise,” said Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California. “We applaud Gov. Gavin Newsom for showing that California is better than hate.”