Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

What California Governor Jerry Brown has learned

The San Francisco Chronicle conducted a long interview with Gov. Brown at the end of his second stint as Governor, which was leavened after his serving two terms as Mayor of Oakland, California and one as State Attorney General.

Some great points:

1. Some problems can't be solved.  But he said focusing on some issues dear to the Democratic left, such as making housing more affordable and narrowing wealth inequality, would have been a waste of his time and political capital.

“Now, you can always find people who talk about the cost of housing, the gap between the rich and the poor, but this is true in Sydney, Australia. It’s true in London, it’s true all over the world,” Brown said. “Those are challenges people ought to address, but I’d say just looking back at the time I was there, either these things were not as salient as the problems I dealt with, or they weren’t as high a priority as the ones I dealt with.”

It’s always a matter of picking and choosing, of deciding both what needs to be done and what can be done with a governor’s limited resources of time, money and clout, Brown said. And those choices are always going to leave someone upset.

“Not only can’t you make them all happy, but you can’t solve all problems — otherwise, you’d be dead,” Brown said. “As long as you’re alive, you’ve got new issues for tomorrow and next week and next year.”

2. Protesting to preserve privileges.  But eight years as mayor of Oakland starting in 1999 tempered many of those early views. They also showed him how politics worked at the ground level, which shaped many of his views as governor.

“In Oakland, I would see people show up at City Council and protest almost any project, even relatively low height limits that they thought affected the character of the neighborhood,” Brown said. “So, great resistance to change, usually argued in terms of grand environmental or quality-of-life issues that I thought were patently misguided, ill-founded and distorted.”

3. Not all problems deserve to be addressed by laws. In 2011, the governor shocked legislators, including many of his fellow Democrats, when he vetoed a bill that would have required helmets for skiers and snowboarders under 18.

The Legislature was usurping the role of parents, he said in his veto message, adding, “Not every human problem deserves a law.”

4. Legislatures don't solve problems, they write and pass legislation.  Attempting to change that legislative culture wasn’t one of his most successful efforts, Brown admitted.

“The Legislature exists, in their minds, to produce more laws,” he said. “They don’t exist to solve problems, they exist to make laws. Now, they’d like to solve some problems along the way, but the essential functioning of a legislature is lawmaking.” ...

Brown didn’t excuse himself from abetting the wave of legislation, admitting that he often signed bills while shaking his head.

“We have more lawmaking than in any time in human history,” the governor said. “Many of the laws are stupid. Many of them are not warranted. But in order to get along with the Legislature, you’ve got to sign bills that aren’t needed. And you even have to sign bills that you’d prefer not even to have.”

As much as I criticize community development organizations, one of the things Gov. Brown did that hurt revitalization was the elimination of local redevelopment corporations. He did this because they were financed through tax increment financing processes, which diverted revenue from the state, not just other local government entities like schools, and this was at the peak of the Great Financial Crisis, when the State government faced massive revenue shortfalls.

-- "Jerry Brown calls redevelopment agencies futile," SF Chronicle
-- "California bill would bring back redevelopment agencies," San Jose Mercury News

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At 9:20 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Brown, like Jobs, proved that Fitzgerald aphorism was very off.

(been reading on Edmund Wilson and some new insight there on Fitzgerald as well).

I'd also say Brown learned the lessons of misdirection (which our current president may or may not be a master of) in that he preaches fiscal conservatism while blowing billions on ag infrastructure.

But his words are wise, nonetheless.

At 3:09 PM, Anonymous Charlie said...

Also this:

At 4:46 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

fwiw, you're definitely better read than I... I am weak in the humanities. Edmund Wilson! Even the reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald...

At 5:55 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

You get older, you appreciate more?

I can understand Wilson better now - and Fitzgerald (though he didn't make it) and Dos Passos and figures who could not adapt to the post ww2 era at all.

Kind of like a bad Ethan Hawke movie.

What I get from Brown's interviews is how much he liked or understood the basic blocking and tackling of politics, which professional politicians may have forgotten.

(Or in Trump's case, never learned )

At 9:45 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

... and I was proud of myself for reading a biography of David Lawrence, former mayor of Pittsburgh and Governor of Pennsylvania, who led the "Renaissance" urban renewal initiative there, which arguably is one of the most successful of the era.

The book wasn't super well written in terms of prose, and because Lawrence didn't write much and was pretty private, it's got gaps, but it definitely was about blocking and tackling of politics and you are right to point out that is a gap in my thinking, While I was reading it, I did marvel and at all the give and take of it, especially because outside of PGH and Philadelphia (still today) the state is still quite rural.

Interesting too for the time was how committed he was to civil rights. Partly this was in his campaign work for FDR, reaching out to the black community and in particular, Robert Vann, publisher-editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the most important black newspapers of the period, one with national distribution.

But Lawrence supported the 1948 Civil Rights platform at the Democratic convention, pushed forward by Hubert Humphrey, etc. His later federal job was to push forward fair housing policy.

Interestingly, he maintained his chairmanship of the PGH Redevelopment Authority even when he became governor, and afterwards, as a federal assistant to the President, until his death.

will read those other interviews. Thanks as always for the great cites.

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