Michael Sweeney is the undersecretary of the California Resources Agency, the umbrella entity for seven state departments that address natural resources. Prior to his appointment in 1999, Sweeney was an Democratic assemblyman from Alameda County for two terms. He also served as mayor of Hayward from 1990 to 1994, and as a Hayward city councilman from 1982 to 1990. A teacher before entering politics full-time, Sweeney has bachelors and masters degrees in political science from California State University, Hayward. CP&DR The last round of California Environmental Quality Act Guidelines changes under the Wilson Administration was fairly controversial. Is the Resources Agency going to undertake CEQA Guidelines revisions? Sweeney All I can say is we are at the discussion stage. It's a very sensitive topic. We're discussing revisions. Whether anything moves is still uncertain. … You have so much tugging and pulling on both sides, it's hard to get anything done. CP&DR What sort of relationship does the Resources Agency have — or want — with local government? Sweeney One initiative that we have undertaken is to foster the formation of a lot of watershed working groups — strong, well-grounded watershed groups that are representative of the various stakeholders, including local government. Watersheds have a tremendous impact on water, water quality, impacts on fish. There are a lot of issues in forestry that impact a watershed. The agency tries to work with local governments and generally has a good relationship with local governments. We have the parks bond issue. One of the first things I was assigned to after being appointed by the governor was a short-term and long-term needs assessment. That paid off when voters approved a $2.1 billion parks bond last November. $900 million will go back to local agencies on a per capita basis. … I think this secretary and this governor have put more resources into urban parks than any other administration, and that has been a very positive thing for local governments. CP&DR The CCRISP (California Continuing Resources Investment Strategy Program) is a major new effort of the agency. Why is it important? Sweeney There basically are two key elements here to help people answer four key questions. Those are: What are the state's important lands and natural resources? What are the highest priorities for protection? What is the most appropriate way to protect these high-priority lands and resources? How effectively are the State of California and its partners in conservation implementing the strategic approach to conservation? This first year what we are going to do is focus on two key areas, find out where the gaps in the data are and come up with some criteria. Hopefully, as time goes on we will be able to develop much more comprehensive tools so we can answer these questions. … We've involved a lot of the stakeholders from throughout the state. By making this much more stakeholder-driven, we're hoping to avoid some of the questions and litigation that could follow. I think one of the things we are hopeful CCRISP will do is provide better information for local officials to use to make better decisions. CP&DR During a recent speech, you indicated that you believe increased spending on public education affects land-use, especially in poor neighborhoods. Why is that? Sweeney My own sense is that if the K-12 schools are not doing well, it's hard to keep a neighborhood healthy. It's hard to find a place where the K-12 schools are doing well and the neighborhood isn't coming back or doing well. I'm thinking long-term. You see neighborhoods throughout the state that are prosperous for a hundred years, and there's such a correlation to the schools. .… It has gotten lost in the shuffle. I think there's a recognition now." CP&DR You've talked about the state providing incentives for people to live and work in the same community, such as giving a portion of income tax to the city. Could you explain? Sweeney I would guess only 10% to 20% of people actually live and work in the same community. That's only a guess. What if you doubled that number over 10 or 15 years? What would that do the dynamics? You help local decision-makers if you provide good incentives. Local decision-makers sometimes aren't as gutsy as they could be. CP&DR You've been a mayor. Why don't cities and counties agree on a new fiscal structure? Sweeney I think sometimes organizations like the League [of California Cities] and CSAC [California State Association of Counties] are lowest common denominator-driven. And it's a risk, it's a change. The locals say we want the money, but we don't want to change the way we do business. I think the governor and the Legislature would be more open if there were not such resistance to change. … And you have a lot of issues between cities and counties. CP&DR In the past there was discussion of a state growth plan, and Resources Secretary Mary Nichols even worked on such a plan in the Jerry Brown administration. Any move afoot for a statewide growth plan these days? Sweeney I haven't heard of anything come up. The watershed approach is something we're helping to facilitate, and it will be strongest where it's driven by locals. Michael Sweeney was interviewed in Ventura by CP&DR Managing Editor Paul Shigley