News

A glimpse into Brown’s 4th term

California Gov. Jerry Brown at a public event. His wife, Anne Gust Brown, is in the background. (Photo: Randy Miramontez)

A little-known panel of Gov. Brown’s top administration officials is poised to play a critical role in his fourth and final term as governor.

The Strategic Growth Council, or SGC, is a cabinet-level body with a portfolio that cuts across virtually all aspects of California government. It works to conserve natural resources, limit greenhouse gas emissions, improve housing and transportation, cut urban sprawl and help state and local agencies plan communities so California can cope with a projected population of 50 million by 2049.

In the state budget, Brown approved jump-starting the grant-dispensing, “quiet little entity” with $130 million from the sale of greenhouse gas emission credits.

The SGC reflects Brown’s vision as much as any entity in government. Close observers of his administration say it will serve as a fundamental tool to shape California during his final term as the state’s chief executive – assuming, as is likely, that he’s reelected next week.

Brown says the Council “has been a rather quiet, little entity,” describing it as a “forum and a place where we can hopefully channel growth to the extent that government can effect that in a very thoughtful and positive way.”

He added that “we do need to get more conscious and thoughtful about how growth takes place.”

In the state budget, Brown approved jump-starting the grant-dispensing, “quiet little entity” with $130 million from the sale of greenhouse gas emission credits – a move that got little attention.

The Fisher-Gust connection “is a very, very important point,” says Peter Detwiler, formerly a long-serving Senate staffer and chief consultant for the Senate Governance and Finance Committee.

Curbing carbon emissions has been a fundamental goal of his administration, a position that has captured national and international attention.

“California has the most integrated response and strategy to deal with climate change of any political jurisdiction in the world. And we’re going to continue doing that,” Brown earlier told a reporter.

The SGC is comprised of Brown’s top officials. It is co-chaired by Ken Alex, who heads Brown’s Office of Planning and Research, an office long favored by Brown’s since his first days as governor nearly 40 years ago. Billionaire Robert Fisher, head of The Gap, the giant clothing retailer, is the other chairman. Anne Gust Brown, the governor’s wife, was an attorney and financial officer for 14 years at The Gap; in effect, Fisher was her boss there.

The Fisher-Gust connection “is a very, very important point,” says Peter Detwiler, formerly a long-serving Senate staffer and chief consultant for the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, and now a part-time faculty member at Sacramento State University’s Department of Public Policy and Administration.

“I have to imagine there is a preexisting personal relationship between the governor and Bob Fisher,” said Detwiler, who spent four decades in the Capitol. “And I regard that as highly important, highly positive, very hopeful.”

The Council includes California’s Health and Human Services Secretary Diana S. Dooley, Natural Resources Secretary John Laird; Environmental Protection Secretary Matt Rodriguez, Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, and Brian Kelly, the secretary of the newly formed State Transportation Agency.

“The people involved are virtually the entire cabinet – at least the part of the cabinet in charge of resources and construction,” said Bob Gore, a consultant with The Gualco Group, a lobbying, consulting and communications firm. “They’re collaborating on interagency policies and programs for sustainable resource management, and that’s a very broad category.”

During his two terms from January 1975 through January 1983, Brown appointed close confidants to lead OPR during a period that some described as the office’s “golden years.”

Two more public members — one appointed by the state Senate and one by the Assembly speaker — were added to the Council this year under the budget trailer bill that allocated the SGC its first permanent source of funding.The $130 million is for the first year, a figure that is expected to rise in succeeding years.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins recently appointed Executive Director of the Urban Land Institute of Los Angeles Gale Goldberg to the Council. The Senate’s appointee is still pending.

Under the trailer bill, SB 862, the SGC will receive some of the money collected from California’s sale of cap-and-trade allowances – a source of revenue that Brown has tapped before for other favorite projects, such as high-speed rail.

The allowances, or credits, are purchased at auction by companies, allowing them to continue to operate as they comply with California’s law ratcheting down on climate-changing greenhouse gases. The last auction brought in more than $831 million.

The OPR and Jerry Brown 1.0
Legislation authored by then-Assemblyman and future governor Pete Wilson created the OPR in Gov. Ronald Reagan’s administration. Wilson’s bill also reorganized some of California’s statutes on local and state planning.

“We know that during the Reagan administration, the Reaganites kept OPR on a very short leash,” Detwiler said. “But during the Brown administration, something very interesting and very important changed.”

Observers say past is prologue: Brown 2.0 is managing the OPR and the SGC in ways similar to what he did in the past; the relationship between the two bodies is important in analyzing Brown’s final term.

Jerry Brown 1.0, referring to Brown during his two terms from January 1975 through January 1983, appointed close confidants to lead OPR during a period that some described as the office’s “golden years.”

Former San Diego Planning Director Bill Fulton, now head of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University in Texas, said Brown’s OPR at the time “was very, very aggressive in shaping their policy and then using that policy, assisting local governments and finding other levers in state government to try to make things happen.”

During that time, the OPR innovated California’s first and only Environmental Goals and Policies Report (EGPR) called An Urban Strategy for California, which set the standard for the state’s planning priorities.

“Frankly, they read as fresh in 2014 as they did in 1978,” said Detwiler, who was in the OPR at the time. “While they rankled many local officials back in the day, those are the basic principles which are now widely accepted and endorsed by local leaders who have embraced smart growth, growth management, new urbanism – whatever watch word is trendy this decade – those policies are at the core.”

Brown 1.0 is the only governor to release his own EGPR. His OPR is currently crafting the next report, which looks at California at a population of 50 million.

Brown 2.0
Observers say past is prologue: Brown 2.0 is managing the OPR and the SGC in ways similar to what he did in the past. And that’s why the relationship between the two bodies is important in analyzing Brown’s final efforts to put his stamp on California.

“If you combine the SGC and the OPR, you have a governance structure that’s slowly taking shape, that’s coordinated and coalesced to an entirely new degree,” Gore said.

Not everyone is happy about Brown’s plan to tap cap-and-trade auction money for anything other than direct environmental purposes, as envisioned by AB 32.

After his first gubernatorial stint, Brown’s successors cut the size of the OPR by 90 percent. When he assumed office again in January 2011, Brown made his own severe cuts to the state bureaucracy, but the OPR was left unscathed.

“OPR was virtually empty when Governor Brown took office,” Brown spokesman Jim Evans said in an email. “The Brown administration was able to hire a few additional staff under the same budget as the previous administration.”

But Brown’s leverage of the SGC and his small increase to OPR staffing has created a stronger state planning outfit, Fulton said.

“It’s pretty much one operation,” Fulton said. “Ken Alex, who is head of OPR, is also the chair of the Strategic Growth Council. Although they put out separate work products, they’re in the same office and they work for the same boss. They still don’t have nearly as many people as Brown had 40 years ago, but it’s a much more robust and serious operation now than has been in any time between now and then.”

Strategic Growth Council 2.0
With the legislative action this year, the SGC was given its first permanent source of funding: the cap-and-trade auctions.

“We gave it the authority to oversee, if you will, the cap-and-trade dollars and that was one of the great victories of this past legislative session,” said former state Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who carried the bill creating the Strategic Growth Council. The bill, signed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, set the Council up as a distributor of funds from the 2006 water bond.

Not everyone is happy about Brown’s plan to tap cap-and-trade auction money for anything other than direct environmental purposes, as envisioned by AB 32, the state’s landmark law to cut climate-changing carbon emissions.

“It raises real legal red flags,” Alex Jackson, a San Francisco-based attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Inside Climate News last year. Environmentalists have contended that cap-and-trade revenue should only go to efforts to clean up the air and finance other environmental protection programs. But Brown has a broader interpretation of the funds’ use, such as his decision to provide hundreds of millions of dollars to the state’s bullet train project which he says, ultimately, will help cut carbon emissions.

Workshops were being held throughout the state in October to get public feedback on those guidelines, which are scheduled to be released in December.

At the start of the 2014-15 budget negotiations, Brown wanted only the high-speed rail project to reap permanent funding from cap-and-trade auction money, Steinberg said.

In the end, trailer bill SB 862 gave that project 25 percent of auction proceeds, while Steinberg’s Sustainable Communities was allotted 35 percent and piece of that goes to the SGC on the premise that the way growth is managed has an impact on cutting greenhouse gases, among other things.

“We met him half way as a result of our initiative and said if you’re going to invest in high-speed rail then we ought to also invest in transit, inner-city rail, commuter rail, housing that is consistent with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sustainable communities,” Steinberg said.

Now that the SGC has a permanent source of money, it’s drafting guidelines for how to spend that money through its Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program. That’s how it will be decided who gets what – and how much.

Workshops were being held throughout the state in October to get public feedback on those guidelines, which are scheduled to be released in December.

“I think what this does is… it really puts them [the counties] in a place to assess with us what’s most at risk, and we can decide where to go with that,” Natural Resources Secretary and SGC member John Laird said.

Jerry Brown 2.1
Brown has not clearly laid out what he’ll do during his final four years as leader of a state that is now the world’s eighth largest economy, home of the country’s largest agriculture industry, and a state suffering through a historic drought and growing income inequity.

But the SGC, at least theoretically, gives Brown the ability to craft policies across all departments and control California’s growth in a way that hasn’t been done before.

“A potential role for the SCG was articulated in the 2013 draft of the [Environmental Goals and Policy Report] as an entity that, number one, can foster collaboration among agencies with responsibilities to meet California’s long-term climate goals,” Evans wrote, “and number two, can help link the implementation and funding of projects to the state’s overall climate goals.”

It may sound like bureaucratic jargon but, in fact, Brown is putting into place a well-funded device that will have an impact on managing California’s growth – and air quality – over the next several decades, long after he has left office.

Climate goals for California at this point have a 2020 deadline, and he has publicly suggested he wants to put more stringent rules in place to reach new goals by 2030.

In his final term, many expect Brown to roll out his own ambitious goals for post-2020 – possibly a 2050 marker made by a 2005 Schwarzenegger executive order, which mandates California reach 80 percent below its 1990 GHG emission levels.

“A lot of local governments and elsewhere have used that as a long-term target,” Fulton said. “But it’s not a state law, it’s just an executive order. I wouldn’t be surprised if Brown pushes for that in his next term to make it state law.”

Brown has suggested that it is one of many ideas he’s come up with.

“Oh, I think it would be hard to find an idea that I haven’t circulated at one time or another. There’s enough of them to choose from, but you never know. Things come up, and there will always be surprises,” he said during a stop in Oakland.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: