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
Ben Hulse is director of the San Joaquin County Community Development Department. Long a major agricultural center, San Joaquin County has seen subdivisions rapidly replace farms. The population has grown 63% in 20 years to about 583,000. Earlier this year, the county Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted all 13 of Hulse's recommendations regarding implementation of the eight-year-old general plan.
Hulse recommended basing general plan implementation on four values: preserving farmland an...
Ontario City Manager Greg Devereaux speaks with CP&DR about local government fiscal challenges and the prospects for development in the near term. He also discusses the Regional Targets Advisory Committee, a panel to which he was recently appointed that is charged with an early phase of SB 375 implementation. >>read more
Dave Brown of Calabasas is this year's recipient of the American Planning Association's leadership award for a planning advocate. A member of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy advisory committee since 1985 and a Calabasas planning commissioner since 1992, Brown has been involved in land use and natural resources issues in the area since the 1970s. He received the award in part for his "overlooked but instrumental" role in creating the 153,000-acre Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. For 45 years he has been a history professor at Los Angeles Valley College, where he still teaches two classes. Brown spoke with CP&DR Editor Paul Shigley in April.
Elisa Barbour, of the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) in San Francisco, recently published a comprehensive study on regional planning, "Metropolitan Growth Planning in California, 1900-2000."
In her study, Barbour says that California has tried to create stronger metropolitan planning institutions for 100 years. She calls the most recent surge of regionalism the "third wave," after the establishment of home rule, and the rise of single-purpose agencies.
Cliff Graves is special advisor to the chancellor at University of California, Merced. Graves has overseen many aspects of planning the Merced campus, which is the University of California's first new campus since the mid-1960s. He spoke with CP&DR Managing Editor Paul Shigley in mid-December.
Stuart Meck is a senior research fellow for the American Planning Association (APA). For seven years, he spearheaded the APA’s "Growing Smart" project. That effort concluded earlier this year with the release of a 1,400-page legislative guidebook and user manual, which are intended to help states replace model planning acts. >>read more
Dawn Serpa is president of The Surland Companies, a private, 13-year-old residential and commercial developer that builds 100 to 200 houses per year. It is currently building Redbridge in Tracy, a 450-home project that mixes an array of housing sizes and styles in one subdivision, and plans to build Tracy's first mixed-use urban village.
Unlike some developers, Serpa does not fear the "smart growth" movement. She even complains that many local regulations prevent traditional neighborhood developments. CP&
Charles Buki is the director of the Neighborhood Reinvestment Training Institute in Washington, D.C. The institute was created by Congress in 1978 to revitalize older, distressed communities through a network of local nonprofits. Buki is a former Loeb Fellow in advanced environmental studies at Harvard University. He has written and lectured widely on neighborhood revitalization and neighborhood dynamics, their interrelationship with the environment and implications for social equity.
Judy Corbett is executive director of the Local Government Commission, a nonprofit organization whose members include elected officials, and city and county staff members. The commission provides forums and technical assistance to assist local agencies in a variety of subject areas. In 1991, the commission, working with architects and planners, produced the Ahwahnee Principles for community and regional planning. The Ahwahnee Principles provide an alternative to what the authors see as decades of
After serving six years in the state Assembly, Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) was elected last November to the State Senate seat previously held by Tom Haden. Earlier this year, she was named Chairwoman of the Senate Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee. Although much of her work in the Assembly centered on social issues, Kuehl did serve on committees concerned with land use and was a director of the California Coastal Conservancy. Before coming to the Legislature, Kuehl was a law prof
Steven Nissen became acting director of the Governor's Office of Planning and Research in April 2000 and the appointment has since become permanent. Besides advising the governor and carrying out his interests, OPR provides assistance to local government on land use planning issues. The office is responsible for preparing CEQA Guidelines and General Plan Guidelines, and it operates the state clearinghouse for environmental impact reports.
Besides his role at OPR, Nissen serves as a governor's s...