The administration of new Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger started coming together in November, but Schwarzenegger’s appointments were as difficult to peg as the new governor himself.
Schwarzenegger has sprinkled his administration with moderates and Democrats, and he counterbalanced those appointments with business-oriented veterans of the Wilson administration. At the same time, not everyone has said yes to the new governor. He has had difficulty filling two key planning and development slots, Resources Agency secretary and Caltrans director.
As CP&DR went to press, most of Schwarzenegger’s key planning and development appointments were in places, including the following:
• Environment Now President Terry Tamminen as secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency – a controversial move but one that Schwarzenegger boxed in with two business-oriented subcabinet appointees.
• Democrat Sunne Wright McPeak, head of the business-oriented Bay Area Council and a former Contra Costa County supervisor, as Business, Transportation, and Housing secretary.
• Michael Chrisman, a Central Valley farmer, Southern California Edison official, and former Wilson political appointee, as Resources Agency secretary. Chrisman was reportedly Schwarzenegger’s third choice at least.
As CP&DR was headed to press, Schwarzenegger still had not named anyone to lead Caltrans and the Department of Housing and Community Development – both departments that will operate under McPeak’s leadership as BTH secretary — nor the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. At least one potential Caltrans director has reportedly turned down that job, at least partially because the $120,000 annual salary would have been a substantial pay cut. Many regional transportation agencies pay far more than state department head jobs.
The appointment of McPeak in particular matches what appears to be something of a "smart growth" approach within the new administration. A platform paper issued shortly before Schwarzenegger took office spoke of restoring urban environments. The paper stated, "Working with local officials, my administration will develop an infill incentives package to help local governments deal with the jobs/housing imbalance throughout the state and to spur smarter development by providing a mechanism for planners to identify and evaluate redevelopment of blighted and underutilized sites, allowing cities to accommodate mixed use, compact development and urban infill while curtailing urban sprawl."
Epitomizing the mixed bag of appointments is Cal EPA. Schwarzenegger named veteran Santa Monica environmental activist Tamminen to the EPA secretary’s slot, apparently on the advice of his wife’s cousin, New York environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Kennedy and Tamminen have worked together on the river, bay, and coast "keeper" watchdog efforts. Yet the governor appointed Wilson veterans James Branham as undersecretary and Maureen Gorsen as deputy secretary.
As undersecretary for the Resources Agency during the Wilson years, Branham helped negotiate the state’s most expensive land purchase ever — acquisition of the Headwaters Forest in Humboldt County from Pacific Lumber for $480 million. After leaving state government, Branham became director of external relations for Pacific Lumber.
Complaining of a revolving door in Sacramento, environmentalists called the appointment "outrageous." But logging industry representatives praised the move.
Since leaving her post as general counsel for the Resources Agency in the Wilson administration, Gorsen has worked for the downtown Los Angeles firm of Weston, Benshoof, Rochefort, Rubalcava & MacCuish, where she did work for real estate and development interests.
How — and whether — this team of three will mesh at Cal EPA has many people talking. "This does raise some eyebrows and prompt some concern," Sierra Club lobbyist Bill Allayaud told the Los Angeles Times. "Terry is in charge, but to have Branham right below him is a concern."
McPeak’s appointment might be the most intriguing so far. A Bay Area Democrat, McPeak has been active in civic affairs since the 1970s. She served four terms on the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors before leaving in 1993. More recently, she was executive director of the Bay Area Council, which has a reputation as one of the more progressive business advocacy groups in the country.
"As someone who has worked on transportation, business and housing policy for most of my adult life, this was an opportunity too good to pass up," McPeak said in a written statement.
Under McPeak’s leadership, the Bay Area Council helped establish the Bay Area Alliance for Sustainable Communities, which produced a "Compact for a Sustainable Bay Area" earlier this year. To implement the compact, the Bay Area Alliance launched the "regional livability footprint project" for the nine-county region. All of this work is based on what are known as the "three Es" of sustainable development — a prosperous economy, a healthy environment and social equity.
Gary Binger, director of the Urban Land Institute’s California Smart Growth Initiative said he was surprised and "very pleased" by McPeak’s appointment. "She is a very strong advocate for housing and really understands how that issue works and what the challenges are," he said.
Binger recalled that McPeak supported as a county supervisor a transit-oriented development proposed near the Pleasant Hill BART station at a time when such projects were not widely understood.
In an editorial railing against an "elitist smart growth agenda," the Orange County Register said, "On balance it’s not completely clear what the incoming governor — or at least his eclectic group of aides — means when he talks about ‘smart growth.’"
How far McPeak can carry any agenda is in question partly because of state budget constraints. Shortly before Thanksgiving, Schwarzenegger proposed that about half of $1.9 billion worth of mid-year spending reductions come from Business, Transportation and Housing Agency programs, including suspension of a number of in-progress transportation projects.
The new administration has also had to work past some rejections. Schwarzenegger named Chrisman to head the Resources Agency after at least two other people turned down the job. Former state lawmaker and Secretary of State Bill Jones said no to the Resources Agency post after Republican Congressman David Dreier announced that he would not run for U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s seat, clearing the way for a Jones campaign. And Jones was reportedly the second person to say no to the job.
Chrisman’s appointment did not bring out strong opinions one way or the other. Environmentalists made clear their displeasure with the possibility naming of Jones as Resources secretary, but they were subdued in response to Chrisman’s appointment — even though Chrisman, on the surface, looks very much like Jones. Both are Republicans who own and help run family farms in the Central Valley, and Chrisman was Jones’s chief of staff when Jones was an Assemblyman.
In carrying out numerous purchases and land and easements, the Davis administration’s Resources Agency made preservation of environmentally and politically sensitive open space a priority. Whether that approach will continue under Schwarzenegger is unclear. The new governor’s first budget proposal would halt new deals under the state’s Natural Heritage Preservation Tax Credit program administered by the Wildlife Conservation Board. The program grants tax credits to landowners for the donation of land and easements (see CP&DR Environment Watch, March 2002).