Gov. Brown’s inaugural speech continues his green, fiscal themes

Gov. Jerry Brown, center, is greeted by lawmakers on the floor of the state Assembly before his inauguration at the state Capitol on Monday.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

SACRAMENTO — Marking a historic occasion with a simple, subdued ceremony, Edmund Gerald Brown Jr. called Monday for ambitious new environmental rules as he embarked on an unprecedented fourth term as California’s governor.

Brown delivered an inaugural address that drew on his family’s deep roots in California, pledging to devote himself to problems that have dogged the state for generations.

“We are at a crossroads,” Brown said. “With big and important new programs now launched and the budget carefully balanced, the challenge is to build for the future, not steal from it.”

In addition to detailing a series of environmental goals for 2030, more than a decade after his term ends, he called for further stabilization of state finances, a more dependable water supply and a more compassionate criminal-justice system.

He touted the $68-billion bullet train project, scheduled for a ceremonial groundbreaking in Fresno on Tuesday, planned to ferry residents from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than three hours by 2029.


Despite the momentous occasion, the no-frills event for the famously low-key governor was smaller than his 2011 inauguration. Brown’s wife, Anne Gust Brown, introduced him and held the Bible, a Gust family heirloom, as he was sworn in.

The governor delivered a workmanlike speech — which doubled as his required annual State of the State report — to lawmakers, state Supreme Court justices and other public officials and reminisced about watching his father become governor in the same Assembly chamber in 1959.

Afterward, Brown ate a hot dog at a union-sponsored party outside the Capitol.

The day’s events marked the beginning of potentially the final chapter in the 76-year-old’s political career. He was first elected to public office in 1969, as a community college board member in Los Angeles. Since then, Brown has served as secretary of state, governor, Oakland mayor and attorney general.

If Brown is successful in pressing his environmental agenda, Californians will be living with the results long after he leaves office. Brown said that by 2030, he wants half the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources, an increase from the one-third goal set for 2020 by his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. And the governor called for doubling the energy efficiency of existing buildings and cutting in half the use of gas and diesel fuel in cars and trucks.

“Taking significant amounts of carbon out of our economy without harming its vibrancy is exactly the sort of challenge at which California excels,” Brown said. “This is exciting, it is bold and it is absolutely necessary if we are to have any chance of stopping potentially catastrophic changes to our climate system.”

The governor — who has been both praised and parodied as a starry-eyed visionary — called for more rooftop solar energy, “micro-grids, an energy imbalance market, battery storage, the full integration of information technology and electrical distribution, and millions of electric and low-carbon vehicles.”

Such goals would help solidify Brown’s legacy as a green-minded politician. They are also likely to be the target of heavy lobbying in the Capitol. Oil companies are bitterly fighting regulations already on the books, and some lawmakers have expressed concern about higher costs for consumers and the stifling of economic growth.

“At what point does being on the leading edge of environmental reform impact our ability to create jobs for our middle class?” Senate Republican leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar said after the governor’s speech.

Environmental activists, meanwhile, have powerful allies of their own, including Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer, who was in the Assembly chamber Monday.

Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), a lawmaker Steyer has supported, praised the governor for focusing on climate change and said California should solidify its leadership in renewable energy.

“We do need advancements in technology to reach our goals to eventually have a carbon-free economy,” De León said.

The environment was one of the few areas in which Brown set specific targets. While he touched on almost every major issue facing the state, including prison crowding and teacher accountability, he mostly provided generalities, leaving plenty of wiggle room for negotiations with lawmakers.

Nodding to the controversy over plans to increase University of California tuition, Brown said he “will not make the students of California the default financiers of our colleges and universities.” But he did not say how he would try to avert the tuition hike.

He also called for state employees to help cover the mounting cost of healthcare for retirees, which is pegged at $71.8 billion more than has been set aside. But he did not provide specifics.

More details could come Friday, when Brown is scheduled to unveil his new budget proposal.

That release will kick off another round in the debate over whether California should restore social services that were cut during the recession. Brown has repeatedly called for fiscal restraint; he said Monday that the state budget was balanced, but “more precariously than I would like.”

But the state has the country’s worst poverty rate, with almost 1 in 4 residents struggling, according to a U.S. Census Bureau measurement that takes into account California’s high cost of living.

Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) said she was “deeply disappointed” that Brown largely steered clear of the subject Monday.

“If I was a mother living below the poverty line trying to raise my kids in the great innovative state of California, I would take heed that the leader of my state doesn’t acknowledge my existence and my struggle,” she said. “It’s offensive.”

Brown won reelection easily in November over Republican political novice Neel Kashkari. His approval ratings are high, and he will be working with a Legislature dominated by fellow Democrats.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti described Brown’s inauguration “an amazing nod to history — the history of this state, first and foremost, but also his place in it.”

At the beginning of his speech, Brown acknowledged family members in the balcony and asked them to stand. He had dined with them the night before at the governor’s mansion, where his father lived while leading California from 1959 to 1967.

Brown said the state still wrestles with some of the same problems it had then, and he urged lawmakers to seek solutions that stand the test of time.

“California feeds on change and great undertakings, but the path of wisdom counsels us to ground ourselves and nurture carefully all that we have started,” he said. “We must build on rock, not sand, so that when the storms come, our house stands.”

Times staff writers Melanie Mason, Patrick McGreevy and Paige St. John contributed to this report.

Twitter: @chrismegerian