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What's so special about Jerry Brown's ranch?

What's so special about Jerry Brown's ranch?
California Gov. Jerry Brown addresses a conference in Sacramento, Calif. Brown directed state oil and gas regulators to investigate the oil and gas potential of his family’s ranch land in Northern California, state records obtained by the Associated Press show. (Rich Pedroncelli / Assoicated Press)

Who knew that any Californian could go to the state agency in charge of oil and gas and receive copies of historical documents on their land's mineral deposits — at least, to the extent that such documents actually exist?

Gov. Jerry Brown evidently did. Less than two weeks after installing Steve Bohlen as chief of California's embattled Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources in 2014, Brown called to direct him and his staff to provide a report on the mineral history and potential of the Brown family ranch in Colusa County, the Associated Press reported. As it turned out, there's little in the way of oil or other valuable resources on the land. And to be clear, it's not as though the agency went out to the property and conducted a geological survey. Its report was mainly cobbled together from historical documents in its files, largely memos dating back decades.

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According to documents provided by the governor's office, the oil and gas agency did the same sort of report this year for one other private landowner, who owned mineral rights to a plot of land and wondered whether any drilling was likely in his area (the answer was no), as well as for an environmental group asking about a particular watershed and a Los Angeles building and safety official.

Was Brown getting thousands of dollars of free expert help at the expense of taxpayers? The evidence indicates otherwise. Yet he is not without fault. It's inappropriate for the governor to call the head of an agency for help with personal business, especially someone he had just installed in the job nine days before. It also was wrong for his aides to follow up with the agency to ensure that there would be a map and other specific information. State employees are paid to do state business, not take care of the governor's personal matters. Brown received his report within a couple of days after he asked for it — an uncommon alacrity in state government — and also received a satellite map drawn up especially for him.

All members of the public should be treated equally in these regards. That's something for the governor to keep in mind the next time he's tempted to ask an appointee to help out on a family matter.

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