Jerry Brown's latest comeback

Today, Spence and Cole discuss how it was that Jerry Brown became the flashpoint in Sacramento's budget impasse. Later in the week, they'll debate city-level emissions plans, the appropriate role of the attorney general and more.

Brown: Outrageous and abusiveBy Mike Spence

Jerry Brown became the center of the budget debate for two reasons: Outrageous personality and outrageous abuse of office.

Jerry Brown has always used his current office as a platform for the next election. He has gone from secretary of state to governor, running for president and the U.S. Senate, then mayor and attorney general and possibly governor again. He is always attracting media attention.

Last time as governor, it was trips to Africa with Linda Ronstadt and other eccentric behavior. Brown didn't get the nickname "Gov. Moonbeam" because of his knowledge of astronomy.

The latest incarnation of Jerry Brown has featured using his office to take advantage of the media hype over "climate change." The governor had signed into law AB 32, making mitigation of "greenhouse gases" part of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and was receiving plenty of attention. The issue graced the front pages of newspapers, magazines, cable networks, etc.

How could Jerry Brown get himself some of that attention? Do what the attorney general can do: Sue.

And sue he did. Brown picked a county -- San Bernardino -- dominated by Republicans to start the process.

This angered Republicans, who didn't like the new Jerry Brown any better than the old version. They correctly saw that this type of lawsuit could be used against any infrastructure project or development at any time. Other projects stalled by the threat of such lawsuits include two badly needed refineries.

Especially galling to Republicans was that Brown sued the county to force them to use AB 32 changes to the environmental act, even though the regulations to implement the law hadn't yet been drafted. They argued that the county couldn't comply, nor could any future road or housing project, until the rules were actually written.

Money otherwise set aside for these types of projects would now be used to pay attorneys rather than the projects themselves.

The notion that the taxpayer-funded attorney general's office would sue other taxpayer-funded agencies to stop taxpayer-financed infrastructure was infuriating. Again, especially considering that the rules weren't yet written.

Adding insult was the fact that Jerry Brown, as mayor of Oakland, had pushed legislation that eased other CEQA environmental restrictions in order to encourage development.

If the environmental act hurt development in Oakland, why the extraordinary use of lawsuits now?

Republicans in the state Senate used the two-thirds vote requirement on the budget to try to force changes on Brown. They succeeded partly by gaining temporary exemptions to lawsuits on voter-approved transportation and water-control projects. The governor vetoed $1 million for the attorney general's office budget that was to be used for such lawsuits, citing that this was properly the function of the Air Resources Board.

Was this enough? Hardly. More reform is needed to protect development projects from these abuses. Every jurisdiction is scrambling to avoid the same fate of having to comply with unseen regulations. The attorney general's office should be prohibited from using lawsuits or the threat of lawsuits until the Air Resources Board has written the regulations.

Mike Spence is president of the California Republican Assembly, California's oldest and largest Republican volunteer organization. He is a member of the West Covina School Board and a partner in Citadel Campaigns, LLC.

Brown: Injecting realism into AB 32By Rick Cole

Last year, our Democratic Legislature passed -- and our Republican governor signed into law -- AB 32. It commits California to reduce 2020 greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels and generated international acclaim for environmental leadership.

In 1990, our population was 30 million. By 2020, it will top 42 million. How can we achieve AB 32's ambitious goals?

No one knows. Amid happy talk of hydrogen highways and other techno fixes, the law simply commits the California Air Resources Board to make rules by 2011. By then, those claiming credit for visionary leadership will be safely out of office.

Into the breach stepped Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown. Mike, you cling to the old "Gov. Moonbeam" label. But last year, Californians elected Brown as the state's top lawman by a wider margin than Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's runaway victory. Who's out of step? Brown, who was green before it was cool? Or those who claim man-made pollution and global warming are just coincidental?

Was Jerry Brown grandstanding in suing San Bernardino County? Sure. So were the Republican senators who stalled the budget a record 51 days before folding with minor concessions that The Times called a victory for Brown. Brown did what smart politicians do -- used his office to dramatize that the 2020 goals can't be met without tackling suburban sprawl.

Autos generate a quarter of our carbon dioxide emissions and are among the fastest-growing sources. We not only have more people and more cars -- we're driving further because poorly planned development puts greater distance between where people live, work and shop. A 2007 UC Davis study shows that while population increased in California by 54% from 1980-2004, vehicle miles traveled soared by 120%.

So who's driving more -- and enjoying it less? Suburbanites in places like the Inland Empire. It's not because officials in San Bernardino are mostly Republicans that Brown made them his test case. It's because they were adopting their blueprint for future growth without a shred of analysis of the impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

Does that make sense? Brown did his job by insisting the county abide by the California Environmental Quality Act. The act doesn't require any city or county to take orders from Sacramento. It only requires officials to analyze environmental impacts before taking action. Even then, they can adopt "a statement of overriding consideration" if they judge other factors as more important.

Mike, all of us in local government share your complaints about costly litigation. But this case was amicably settled. Gary Ovitt, the San Bernardino County supervisors' vice chairman, proclaimed, "Only a handful of California counties and cities have formally addressed climate change issues, and San Bernardino County will lead the way in the implementation of strategies and steps to enhance our future and serve as a model for others."

Spoken like a true Republican.

Let's not politicize this. Let's find bipartisan ways to implement AB 32. You're right, more lawsuits aren't the answer. How do we get everyone to follow San Bernardino County's model leadership?

Rick Cole is the city manager of Ventura and a member of the Sustainability Advisory Committee of the International City/County Management Assn. In 2006, he was listed as one of Governing Magazine's "Public Officials of the Year," the only Californian among the nine honorees. His views are his own.

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