Brown Makes Nice with Local Government

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

Gov. Jerry Brown went out of his way to offer an olive branch to local government in the final flood of vetoes and bill signings over the past week, which is good news to those who believe that Sacramento doesn’t necessarily know best.

As Joel Fox, the honcho of this blog, pointed out Tuesday, Brown followed through on his long-running penchant for providing everyone with something to hate when it comes to making decisions. Or, as Joel put it, being “purposely, predictably, unpredictable.”

But time after time, the governor came out against efforts by legislators and interest groups to trump local decisions with a pronouncement from the mavens inside the walls of the state Capitol.

Take, for example, Brown’s veto of SB833, which would have blocked construction of a new Gregory Canyon Landfill in North San Diego County. Environmentalists don’t like the plan because the landfill is near the San Luis Rey River and members of the Pala Band of Mission Indians argue that it would desecrate land the tribe holds sacred.

But San Diego County voters backed the landfill plan in 1994 and 2004 and the project has recently had its permit approved by San Diego County’s Department of Environmental Health.

In his veto message, Brown noted that the local permitting process already provides, “a fully sufficient process to make a thoughtful and informed environmental decision.”

While the governor expressed sympathy for the Palas’ objections, he argued that “I don’t believe it’s appropriate for the Legislature to now intervene and overturn this hard-fought local land-use decision.”

That’s music to the ears of local political leaders, who grind their teeth at the knowledge that they can spend months or years dealing with a tricky environmental or planning problem only to have 120 legislators, most from somewhere else in the state, tell them, “No, no, this is what you should have done.”

Then there was SB469, a union-backed measure that would have forced developers of megastores with 10 percent of their floor space devoted to groceries – think the non-union Wal-Mart stores – to provide a detailed study of the economic effects it would have on the area.

But projects like that already go through long, laborious planning reviews, with plenty of opportunity for the public – and union supporters – to challenge the proposal. And as with any other planning fight, some the Wal-Mart opponents win and some they lose.

Moving the playing field from city council chambers in places like Rohnert Park, Antioch, Auburn and elsewhere to the halls of the state Capitol, where union-backed Democrats hold sway, though, would make life ever so much easier for the Wal-Mart opposition.

But Brown sided with local officials, who argued that they should be the ones with the final say on what business is or isn’t right for their communities.

“Plenty of laws are already on the books that enable and in some cases require cities and counties to carefully assess whether these projects are in a community’s best interests,” the governor said in his veto message.

Brown fell off a lot of local government Christmas card lists when he proposed to eliminate redevelopment districts and earmark some of that money for the state. And there are plenty of county officials convinced that the governor’s plan to move more prisoners from state prisons into local jails is more about saving money for the state than any grand plan to improve the corrections system.

Still, though, Brown was consistent even on lower profile bills, such as SB29, which would have set rules for local government to follow when putting up red light cameras.

“This is something that can and should be overseen by local elected officials,” the governor said in vetoing the bill.

Of course, it’s impossible to know whether Brown’s shout outs to local government come from his political principles or his vaunted cheapness.

Brown, for example, vetoed SB702, which would have required animal shelters and animal control agencies to put ID microchips in any dog or cat before sending them on their way.

Under current law, local agencies can and should install the microchips, Brown said.

“There is no need for state law to mandate the procedure, which would then require the state to pay for it,” the governor sniffed.

John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.

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