Being governor of a state that includes Hollywood requires mastering the art of the cameo.

Governor Brown demonstrated his skill at the craft when he arrived, unstaffed, at the Strategic Growth Council (SGC) meeting blocks away from his Capitol office, saying that he just stopped by to see what exactly the Council had in mind regarding strategic growth--and to get a handle on what, exactly, the SGC does. 

The Council members were, at that moment, considering the Health in All Policies (HiAP) priority actions. HiAP includes supporting implementation of "complete streets" policies, using SB 375 to promote active transportation, and promoting sustainable development for smart housing siting.

Council Chair and newly installed OPR Director Ken Alex--a longtime colleague of Brown's--brought the governor up to speed, describing that the goal was to consider how all state policies affect human health. The governor recast it tongue-in-cheek as one policy objective "colonizing" all the other policy areas.

In the end, the governor expressed his general support for the the HiAP concept, but not before he warned of potential resistance from those who might find even more strings attached to California's growth policies--actually citing tea party opposition to overly intrusive government.  

The take-away message (if there was one) for the SGC was a reminder that they have to balance the laudable policy objectives with political realities---and proceed accordingly.  Or maybe it's just that their boss may wander in on them from time to time. 

Governor Brown quickly exited—as a good cameo requires--and the Council returned to approving the HiAP Priorities. The ensuing discussion highlighted some of the delicate balances that the Governor brought up.  Council members approved of the general voluntary nature of the HiaP Priorities, but also discussed how the Council can be a "bully pulpit" to promote HiAP-related policies.  

The discussion then moved to SB 375 and the role that Council might play in its implementation.  For those who are thinking that SB 375 does not assign any role to the SGC, Ken Alex noted that they have an oversight responsibility related to granting MPOs' funding under the Sustainable Planning Grant Program (see CP&DR Jan. 2011). It was clear that the Council intends to scrutinize MPOs to learn how they are spending their grant money.

Indeed, looking forward, it seems clear that the SGC wants to leverage the SB 375 process beyond its climate change goals.  There was a specific discussion about SANDAG's recently released draft Sustainable Communities Strategy (see CP&DR Vol. 26, No. 10), but there was no credit given for the fact that SANDAG is projected to exceed its 2020 target.  Rather, SANDAG's plan was characterized as a moderate reduction in VMT with a question of how can more reductions, and other benefits, can be gained from the process. 

Ultimately, the conversation returned to the larger picture of the SGC's mission and strategic plan. Council members agreed with one statement that articulated three elements to the SGC work program:  first is providing resources (funding, data, etc) when available, the second is facilitating better coordination between agencies in policy implementation, and the third is policy advocacy.

As the SGC continues its strategic process over the summer, it remains to be seen as how these roles will evolve under the new administration.  But stay tuned, you never know when the Governor may make another cameo.

Link to SGC Agenda Materials:

--Bill Higgins
Bill Higgins is the director of the California Association of Councils of Government.