Davis Administration May Deal with Growth Issues; Appointments, Budgets Suggest Direction
Despite the heavy emphasis on education issues, newly elected governor Gray Davis has sent some early signals that planning and development will also be important to his administration.
The strongest signal yet has been his appointment of strong environmentalists to his Cabinet, as well as comments in his State of the State speech and the budget request he submitted to the Legislature during his first week in office.
In his speech, the governor said: "After education and public safety, the most vocal complaint is traffic. It's a symptom really of inadequate planning and overburdened systems."
But the governor offered no simple answers. "As you know, there are no quick, easy, inexpensive solutions."
The governor did announce plans for a State Housing Task Force to be headed by Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante and including Treasurer Phil Angelides, a former developer. The task force he said, would look at a number of options, including growth management incentives, affordable housing, and tax distribution and it "will consider whether state government should oversee the use of surplus redevelopment funds." The governor was apparently referring to redevelopment agencies' failure to use hundreds of millions of dollars of "setaside" money earmarked by state law for low- and moderate-income housing.
The budget document addressed the question of how pursuit of sales-tax revenue drives land-use decisions in the state, and promised discussions on the issue.
"In initiating a dialogue concerning land use," the budget said, "the Administration endorses the principle that any solution to this problem should be revenue neutral and suggests that a gradual sharing of growth in revenues may provide the best mechanism by which to correct this problem."
In his budget, Davis said he planned to create a Commission on Building for the 21st Century, which is supposed to report back by May 1 with a multi-year bond package to be placed on the ballot in 2000. The budget document said that the bond package would be "the first step...to meet the public building needs of California." That commission will also be led by Bustamante.
Davis appointed two environmentalists to key positions: Mary Nichols was named Resources Secretary, and Winston Hickox as head of the California Environmental Protection Agency.Each seems better suited for the job that the other was appointed to. Nichols has extensive governmental experience in air pollution issues, while Hickox was formerly head of the League of Conservation Voters, which focuses more on land conservation.
Nichols was secretary of environmental affairs and chair of the state Air Resources Board under Gov. Jerry Brown, and, in the Clinton Administration, was an assistant administrator at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in charge of national air pollution policies. An attorney, Nichols also founded the Los Angeles office of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Nichols indicated in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that she will increase enforcement of the state's Endangered Species Act. She also indicated support for a state bond to rebuild urban parks and acquire open space.
Davis' State of the State speech also called for protection of open spaces and the California Coastline. He added $1 million to his budget for the state's Coastal Commission that had been previously vetoed by former Gov. Pete Wilson. The money will assist local governments to complete their local coastal plans and to strengthen enforcement of the Coastal Act.
Another $10 million has been earmarked in the budget in challenge grants to fund coastal access and wetlands restoration projects.
In addition $2 million in funding was set aside for the Agricultural Land Stewardship Program, which provides grants to local non-profits to purchase land threatened by development. But that figure is less than it was under Wilson, according to Carol Whiteside, president of the Great Valley Center in Modesto and a former assistant resources secretary in the Wilson Administration.
At the same time, Whiteside said Davis' comments about farmland conservation in the State of the State speech were "encouraging," and she said she expects to see policy initiatives for farmland conservation.
Davis said he intends to keep the CalFed effort moving forward. CalFed is a state and federal effort to restore the Sacramento River-San Joaquin River Delta while preserving water supplies and protecting endangered species. In his speech, Davis said an agreement on CalFed will require compromise from all parties.
Davis announced his intention during the campaign to restore local government funding that the state had taken during the early 1990s budget crisis. Known as ERAF funding, the money is property-tax revenue had formerly gone to counties, cities and other local government agencies, but instead went to the Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund for schools.
"The administration supports mitigation of the ERAF Shift," the budget said. "Given other demands on the Budget, it will likely take a period of years to further complete this transaction."
"ERAF will be one great step," said Sande George, lobbyist for California chapter of the American Planning Association.
Otherwise, "he hasn't done an awful lot yet," George said in mid-January. "He doesn't have an OPR (Office of Planning and Research) director or an HCD (Housing and Community Development) director." Darryl Young, a former aide to Senator Tom Hayden, who chairs the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, has been appointed as acting director of OPR.
George doubted whether many changes would be made to either the California Environmental Quality Act or the California Endangered Species Act, since "a lot has been done" during the Wilson administration. The Sierra Club would like to make changes to both of them, she said.
Davis appointed Jose Medina, a San Francisco Supervisor, to head Caltrans. Medina has worked on local mass transit issues in San Francisco, but doesn't have a great deal of transportation experience. Medina has pledged that the agency will listen to local governments. He told the San Francisco Chronicle that while he's not "anti-car," he support alternative means of transportation, including mass transit.
Even though the federal transportation law, ISTEA, and its successor, TEA-21, have given a great deal of power to regional transportation organizations such as the Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Caltrans is still important, according to Steve Hemminger, deputy director of the MTC.
"It's a large organization and our primary transportation partner," he said.
Hemminger said a major challenge is to maintain existing roads, a point that Davis mentioned in his budget outline.
In announcing the State Housing Task Force, Davis said one of the most difficult problems facing local governments is "the conflict between the need to build more affordable housing and land use policies that seek to maximize local revenues by discouraging housing in favor of commercial and industrial development."
Finance Director Tim Gage said such considerations should be tied to negotiations with local governments over ERAF issues. That concern was also spelled out in the budget.
"Agreement on the method of returning an equivalent amount of revenue to local government must include other aspects of local finance," the budget said. "The impact of local sales tax allocation on land use decisions, the adoption of marginal redevelopment projects that adversely affect the General Fund, concerns over housing, and the large balance of unused redevelopment agencies' housing funds for low-and moderate-income households must be resolved."
Rex Hime, president of the California Business Properties Association, said he was pleased to see that the new governor had asked for $50 million in funding for the state's Infrastructure Bank, which is designed to provide financing to local governments for sewers, roads and some environmental projects. The program had been established several years ago, but was funded for the first time last year.
Hime also praised Davis' statements on the state's economy.
"It's very clear that as governor, he recognizes a healthy economy allows us to maintain a healthy environment," Hime said.
Steve Hemminger, Deputy Director, Metropolitan Transportation Commission (510) 464-7700.
Carol Whiteside, president, Great Valley Center, (209) 522-5103.
Sande George, American Planning Association, (916) 443-5301.
Rex Hime, president, California Business Properties Association, (916) 443-4676.