This puts your commute to shame

Times Staff Writers

Like many of the Californians he represents, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger now spends more than three hours commuting because he lives so far from the office.

But his ride is a private jet.

After flirting briefly with buying a Sacramento abode for his family, then living alone for a while in a 2,000-square-foot hotel penthouse across from the Capitol, the governor has decided to stay nearly every night at his Brentwood mansion.

The commute costs hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, which aides say the governor pays for himself. Some environmentalists say the trips expand his carbon footprint enough to undermine his image as a crusader against global warming, despite the pollution credits he buys to offset the damage.

Abandoning more glamorous parts to settle in Sacramento has long been a trade-off governors made for the privilege of running the state. But Casa de los Gobernadores, the 12,000-square-foot suburban ranch home that Ronald Reagan and his family had built when they ruled the town, did not lure Schwarzenegger and kin, despite five visits to the home by California first lady Maria Shriver and a Realtor.

"I just don't have a home in Sacramento," Schwarzenegger said in a recent interview at a Starbucks in Washington, D.C., where he had flown -- by private jet -- to attend the winter meeting of the National Governors Assn.

"The question is how can I be with my family, because that is extremely important, to be with my kids. They are all growing up. They are in their teens. They need their father around," the governor said as he sipped a decaf espresso drink and ate an oatmeal cookie. "I felt it took a toll on my family not being at home every day. So what I am trying to do is find that balance between the family and running the state."

It is unclear whether the commute affects the governor's ability to do his job; legislators and advisors were reluctant to risk alienating Schwarzenegger by publicly criticizing him for it. But there have long been complaints in Sacramento that his attention is too often focused elsewhere.

Schwarzenegger has used his vast financial resources to create a kind of roving governorship, with almost constant travel in and out of California. He spent more than $591,000 in campaign funds, donated mostly by special interests, for travel in 2007 -- a year in which he was not running a major campaign.

Administration officials said none of that money was used for commuting, which they said costs the governor at least the same amount from his own pocket. But they refused to provide details of what trips were paid for with campaign contributions.

The governor's Gulfstream jet does nearly as much damage to the environment in one hour as a small car does in a year, according to figures compiled by the Helium Report, an online publication for buyers of luxury items.

Administration officials say Schwarzenegger is well aware of this and makes amends by purchasing pollution credits for the carbon dioxide his jet releases. The credits fund efforts worldwide to reduce greenhouse gases, such as projects that harness energy from wind, landfill gas and farm waste, although they don't eliminate the pollution from Schwarzenegger's plane.

Flying the Gulfstream and other jets the governor uses costs as much as $10,000 an hour. Some conservationists say Schwarzenegger is essentially attempting to buy a clean conscience with the carbon offsets, which cost about $43 an hour.

"He has been very bold on all these [environmental] initiatives, so it is sad to see him undercut that," said Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation, a philanthropy that funds conservation efforts in Western states. "If you are going to be talking about an issue, you should be living the reality you are trying to embrace." Capitol denizens can't recall another commuting governor.

"I can't think of anybody in modern times that hasn't stayed up there most of the time," said former Gov. George Deukmejian, a Republican from Long Beach.

Deukmejian had wanted to live in the ranch home the Reagans had built. But just before Deukmejian took office, lawmakers and then-Gov. Jerry Brown decided the estate was too far from the Capitol, sold it and put the money into a governor's residence fund.

"In order to see and be with my family, I wanted to have them with us in Sacramento, and so that was important to me," Deukmejian said.

Deukmejian and an advisor formed a foundation that purchased a home where he and successors Pete Wilson and Gray Davis lived. (Brown slept on a mattress on the floor of a $250-a-month apartment when he was governor.)

Deukmejian entertained legislators and others at the Sacramento house, as did Wilson and Davis. It was sold after Davis moved out, and the proceeds went to charity.

"I was hoping that the Schwarzeneggers would buy a nice, huge, suitable governor's residence and then donate it to the state," Deukmejian said. "I figured the only way that California is ever going to get a governor's residence is if some wealthy person donates it."

The governor rarely sleeps now in the $62,000-a-year hotel penthouse paid for by a tax-exempt charitable foundation. But in the early years of his administration, Schwarzenegger spent most weeknights there, working late, receiving visitors and playing chess, former aides said.

"When I worked for him, he was there almost every night," said Donna Lucas, a public relations consultant who was a senior advisor to the governor and first lady during Schwarzenegger's first term. "We were working so hard, I can't even tell you. I know it was important for him to have an opportunity to be up here in Sacramento."

When he went out, his security detail would knock loudly on the door of the hotel garage where his caravan of SUVs was parked, wave to the workers and bring the governor down from his suite, as garage and hotel employees took pictures. Now he is rarely sighted.

"I didn't see him in a very long time," a cashier said from inside a booth at the garage, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear of losing the job.

Schwarzenegger says his commute is no big deal.

"I do my work on the airplane instead of in a hotel room," he said. "It is all doable."

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evan.halper@latimes.com

michael.rothfeld@latimes.com

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