Connect with CP&DR

facebook twitter

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

Cautious Davis May Have Little Impact on Planning; But Legislature is Now Strongly Democratic

Gray Davis's election appears to mean a new era in Sacramento. But whether it portends a shift in state policy relating to planning and development remains to be seen. Davis is a Democrat who has always enjoyed environmentalist support, but he is also a cautious politician unlikely to initiate sweeping policy reforms. Caution notwithstanding, Davis must deal with a strengthened Democratic majority in the Legislature that may seek a more aggressive approach on environmental, land use, and local government issues. Democrats control the office of governor and lieutenant governor and both houses of the Legislature for the first time since 1974. Furthermore, the Democratic majority in both houses grew considerably on election day. Democrats now hold 48 of 80 Assembly seats and 25 of 40 seats in the Senate. Among other things, these electoral victories strengthen the position of leading environmentalists in the Senate such as Byron Sher, chair of the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality, and Tom Hayden, chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Wildlife. Also holding a strong hand is Sen. Jim Costa, chair of the Senate Agriculture and Water Resources Committee. Though more conservative than Sher and Hayden, Costa has been one of the most effective legislators in Sacramento in the last few years. In addition, the forced departure of many legislators because of term limits has brought a new flock of lawmakers directly from local government. Close to one-sixth of the legislature now consists of new members who previously served on a city council or a county board of supervisors. And Davis takes office just after the passage of Proposition 1A, the $9 billion school bond package, and Proposition 11, which permits more sales-tax-revenue sharing among neighboring jurisdictions. Prop 1A also imposes major reform on the state's school fee system, limiting local government's ability to demand higher school fees from developers. It received 62% of the vote. Proposition 11, the municipal tax-sharing constitutional amendment, received 53% of the vote. This proposition, championed by Republican Assemblyman George Runner, a former mayor of Lancaster, permits two municipalities to share sales-tax revenue with a super-majority of the two city councils, repealing the requirement for voter approval from both cities. This measure - long advocated by reformers - could be a small but important step in reducing competition for retailers and sales taxes among adjacent municipalities. At press time, however, Davis still had not made any appointments to his new administration, so there was little clue at to what direction he might take on any planning and development issues. The only major moves he made in the weeks after his election had to do with education. He selected Barry Munitz, head of the Getty Trust in Los Angeles and former chancellor of the California State University system, to lead his transition team. (Some environmentalists pointed out that Munitz formerly worked for financier Charles Hurwitz, controversial owner of the Pacific Lumber Co., who has been locked in a lengthy dispute with the state over logging in Northern California.) He also appointed a task force to examine education reforms. Local Government So far, the only relevant policy Davis seems motivated to address is a restoration of property taxes to cities and counties - potentially reversing, at least in part, the decision of Gov. Pete Wilson in 1992 and '93 to shift approximately 25% of the property tax in the state away from local governments to school districts. However, even that proposal could be rife with political problems, given his backing by teachers unions and his decision to make schools a high priority. Under Proposition 13, the state government has the authority to allocate property-tax revenue among various government agencies. However, the state is also required to equalize school funding from its own general fund. During the early '90s, Wilson chose to shift property-tax revenue from cities and counties to school districts in order to lessen the financial burden on the state. Local governments have been clamoring for property-tax restoration ever since they lost the property tax. Despite growing support in the Legislature, however, Wilson never signed a bill altering the property-tax formula. In October, however, both Davis and his Republican opponent, Dan Lungren, appeared at the League of California Cities convention. According to eyewitness reports, Lungren did not address the property tax issue - but Davis committed himself to action on it. "He came to the League annual conference and spoke and met with our board," said League of California Cities lobbyist Dwight Stenbakken. "He said, it's time to return your property tax. I'll sign a bill to return a reasonable amount over a reasonable time." Both the League and the California State Association of Counties are expected to make property-tax restoration a top priority in next year's legislative session. As Davis contemplates his next step, he may be confronted with a more activist legislative body on local government issues. Since term limits began removing longtime legislators, more new lawmakers have come directly out of local government. In the process, these legislators - such as Assembly Members Tom Torlakson, a Republican from Contra Costa County, and Mike Sweeney, a Democrat from Hayward - have made local government issues a higher priority. With close to 20 new legislators arriving straight from local government, this caucus may have more influence than ever. Land Use and Environmental Planning Despite repeated attempts by growth management advocates to interject growth and land use into the gubernatorial debate, Davis said virtually nothing about this issue during the campaign. (This stands in stark contrast to the last campaign for an open gubernatorial seat, when Dianne Feinstein and Pete Wilson - both former mayors - aggressively debated land-use planning as an issue.) As the first Democratic governor in 16 years, however, Davis will be under considerable pressure to reaffirm environmental protections and deal with related land-use planning issues. "We're hoping he will bite the bullet and move to some sort of comprehensive growth management plan for the state," said Samuel Schuchat, executive director of the California League of Conservation Voters. "When we interviewed him he was clearly aware that the fundamental environmental problem facing the state was the huge surge in population, and there's no planning in place for that." Though growth management was not an issue during the campaign, Schuchat is rumored to be one of Davis's transition insiders on environmental issues, along with Darryl Young, a longtime Hayden aide who worked on his campaign. Davis may have considerable opportunity to shape land-use and environmental policy quickly because of upcoming vacancies on state boards and commissions. In addition to his political appointments - such as Resources Secretary and director of the Governor's Office of Planning and Research - Davis will be able to appoint four members to the Coastal Commission. (For the first time in 16 years, all 12 Coastal Commission members will be selected by Democrats; the other eight are chosen by Assembly and Senate leaders.) One unusual opportunity exists at the Integrated Waste Management Board, where one Wilson holdover was never confirmed and a second was elected to the Legislature. Two additional slots on the six-member board will be up a year from now.