This week, the official push to recall DA Pamela Price kicked off, with petitions expected to start circulating in Alameda County in early September.
But an online petition on Change.org has been making the rounds since February and has gathered nearly 25,000 signatures.
Before getting any further, let us be clear: The Change.org petition is unofficial and any money paid on Change.org goes to Change.org. It does not go to the actual Price recall campaign or the person who created the Change.org recall petition.
It's also worth noting that the Change.org signatures aren't vetted or in any way counted for the official recall, and that many of the names may well have come from outside Alameda County.
Still: The Change.org recall petition may well prove to be a powerful organizing tool as the official campaign, dubbed Save Alameda For Everyone (SAFE), gets off the ground.
That's because Change.org allows petition creators to contact signees — in this case, all 24,749 of them — and mobilize them to take action.
But who's behind the DA Pamela Price recall petition on Change.org? In June of this year, The Berkeley Scanner set out to find out.
And, in fact, the answer was surprisingly easy to discover. But no one but The Scanner appears to have tried.
At a glance on Change.org, one can only see that someone going by the name "P Gonzo" based in Castro Valley created the petition in mid-February.
But, unlike sites like GoFundMe, there is no way to message the organizer directly.
Enter Change.org's media team. The helpful folks there made no promises, but said they were happy to ask "P Gonzo" if they might be up for talking to a reporter.
And so it came to pass, not two hours later, that we had our answer: "Philip is happy for me to share their email address," a Change.org spokeswoman responded. "Hope that helps!"
It turned out that "P Gonzo" is actually Philip Gonsalves, an Oakland native and a retired educator who now lives in Castro Valley.
Early this year, Gonsalves said he began hearing about unusual incidents in Castro Valley and got concerned about increasing crime. There was a sideshow and reports of smash-and-grabs.
Around the same time, Gonsalves began hearing that DA Price — who took office in January — was "really soft on crime." And he got worried that problems would worsen if something didn't change.
Gonsalves, who retired in 2016 after more than 30 years as a Bay Area educator, decided early on that Price and her approach to public safety was contributing to increasing East Bay crime. But he wasn't sure if others would agree.
"I need to speak up, I need to do something," he thought. And he wondered: "Are there other people out there like me who are interested in getting tougher on crime in Alameda County?"
It was someone on Nextdoor who encouraged him to create a Change.org petition. Gonsalves had been on Change.org once or twice in the distant past but he didn't know it well. Still, he decided to give it a shot.
Gonsalves also started doing research online about recall elections in California.
"I knew it was gonna take a lot of money, a lot of effort and a lot of people," he said.
Thousands, and then tens of thousands
To qualify for the ballot, possibly in June 2024, the official Price recall committee estimates that it will need either 75,000 or 95,000 signatures, roughly, plus another 20% to account for disqualified names.
Many of those signatures will likely be collected by paid campaign workers, an approach that was key to the successful recall in San Francisco of DA Chesa Boudin.
(The Alameda County Registrar of Voters says, as of this week, it is still trying to hash out those requirements.)
Read more about Pamela Price on The Scanner.
Gonsalves said he initially posted his Change.org recall petition on Nextdoor, which promptly removed his post. But it wasn't long before hundreds of people found the petition on their own and began sharing the link all over social media.
"I started getting thousands of people responding, and then tens of thousands of people," he said. "I was just blown away."
If a good number of the Change.org signees translate into official signatures and campaign donations, Gonsalves said, "we're in good shape."
On Tuesday, he said, many people got in touch to alert him that the official recall campaign had launched.
Gonsalves was surprised to hear the news: He had not had any contact with the official campaign or even seen its website.
But he said he was "actually thrilled that it’s taken the next step."
He said he initially considered organizing an official recall himself, but he knew he would need legal guidance, and was glad to learn others have now forged ahead.
Moving forward, he said, his plan is to use the Change.org petition to encourage fundraising and signatures for the official campaign.
"I want to overwhelm the county with signatures saying we want her out," he said.
Pamela Price campaign says recall "amounts to a coup"
During her first six months in office, DA Pamela Price has worked to reduce prison sentences and rethink charging decisions with an eye toward addressing pervasive racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
The Pamela Price campaign has not responded directly to requests for comment about the recall.
But, in a statement last month, the campaign said the recall "amounts to a coup to undo the will of Alameda County voters," who elected Price in November with 53% of the vote.
"The people handily elected her to implement criminal justice reform and make our system fair and balanced, rooting out racial, gender and economic disparities," the campaign wrote. "DA Price is the People’s DA. She remains undeterred by this undemocratic effort and will continue to focus on enacting the reforms county voters mandated."
The campaign also described the recall effort as "a page out of the January 6th playbook" and said that "outside special interest groups, supported by the Republican party, are trying to seize control from local voters because they refuse to accept the results of a legitimate, democratic election to remove the status quo."
Who is Philip Gonsalves?
Critics have pushed back against the idea that the recall is undemocratic — particularly as it is part of the California constitution.
"Recall is the power of the voters to remove elected officials before their terms expire," writes the Secretary of State. "It has been a fundamental part of our governmental system since 1911 and has been used by voters to express their dissatisfaction with their elected representatives."
Gonsalves, too, said he found it offensive to see the recall effort dismissed as a Republican-driven "coup" attempt.
"That’s one of the problems in politics now," he said. "We cannot agree to disagree without getting personal. This is not Jan. 6. My God, what are you talking about?"
He said he does not vote along party lines and has no party affiliation.
"If I did, I would be a Democrat," he said. "But I'm really not political."
Gonsalves said he also could not be further from "outside special interest groups."
"I was born and raised in Oakland," he said. "I love Oakland. And, frankly, I’m tired of people who weren’t born and raised here saying this is how it should be."
Gonsalves dropped out of middle school after getting mixed up with a bad crowd and then later became a math teacher at the very school he dropped out of, Bret Harte Jr. High in Upper Dimond.
Gonsalves had another close connection to the middle school, too: His father was the principal there, and worked for Oakland public schools for more than 30 years, with about 20 of those years split between Bret Harte and Oakland Tech as a school administrator.
Before he retired, Gonsalves taught math in Oakland and Union City and at Cal State East Bay when it was Cal State Hayward.
He was a math coordinator in the Alameda County Office of Education and also worked as a math educator at the Lawrence Hall of Science, an associate superintendent in Santa Clara Unified and as STEM director for West Contra Costa Unified.
Much of his work has involved helping historically underserved students access STEM education: science, technology, engineering and math.
"That's where my passion is," he said. "And I believe in giving kids multiple chances. But to allow kids to get away with smash-and-grabs and allow kids to get away with sideshows and the things that they’re doing is not helping kids."
He continued: "It’s not good for kids and it’s not good for the community."
As part of her campaign platform, Price said she is committed to "stop over-criminalizing our youth," which includes establishing "age-appropriate programs to address criminal violations by youths between 18 and 25" and not charging or incarcerating people under 18 as adults.
Gonsalves said, from what he saw in his long career working with kids, structure and a focus on education are "actually really important" for underserved students.
"They don’t need to be allowed to do anything they want regardless of the laws," he said.
Meanwhile, on Change.org, people continue to sign Gonsalves' unofficial petition to recall DA Pamela Price, nearly 140 already this week.
When he first launched the petition in February, he said more than 100 people signed it on the first day alone.
"I was texting my friend: Can you believe it? I haven’t even promoted this," he said. "I was shocked."
As of Tuesday, there were 24,749 signatures on it. And the petition page had been viewed half a million times.
Gonsalves said he still felt rather amazed to see how much attention his petition attracted, particularly as he only promoted it during its first week up.
"I don’t know how I got involved in all this, frankly," he said. "I only started it because I wanted to see what the interest was."