Arnold Schwarzenegger may or may not know anything about being governor of California, but one thing is for sure: He likes to keep people guessing.

The guessing game was evident during the recall campaign, and it’s even more prevalent now that the movie star is taking over as governor. On planning and development issues – as on most other issues – it’s almost impossible to figure out who Arnold is.
Is he the political Terminator, as he claimed so often during the campaign?

Is he simply Pete Wilson in an Incredible Hulk suit, as many of his political moves would suggest?

Or is he a Democrat in a Pete Wilson suit, as his in-laws like to claim?

With a vast budget deficit, Schwarzenegger will almost certainly have to pose as the Teminator in Sacramento, at least at first. During the campaign he promised to balance the budget, protect education, and cut the car tax. It’s not clear whether it’s even possible to do all these things at once. But if he’s serious about it, there’s really only one approach: Trim education a little and eliminate everything else.

Local governments would almost certainly take a huge hit, similar to the smack that Wilson administered to escape a budget mess a decade ago. All state programs, including programs that shape planning and development in California, such as housing finance programs and Fish and Game regulation, would have to shrink or disappear. Even Caltrans would not escape the knife.

Presumably, programs funded by bond issues – ranging from open space to housing – would be spared, but the Terminator would almost certainly have to continue Davis’s practice of using bond funds to backfill regular programs no longer paid for by the general fund. Perhaps even more significantly, a huge array of regulatory programs and state mandates would probably be suspended. That is potentially good news for local governments that do not like to follow state laws and regulations. Housing elements could be suspended; so might strict application of the California Endangered Species Act.

But the Terminator scenario is hard to imagine for any governor – much less an inexperienced one – given the thicket of powerful political interests in Sacramento. And most indications are that Schwarzenegger won’t be that bold. At the same time that he has been talking like the Terminator, he’s been acting like Pete Wilson.

Even during the campaign, Schwarzenegger surrounded himself with both political and policy advisors from Wilson’s regime. Former Wilson Chief of Staff Bob White appeared to be running Schwarzenegger’s campaign and his day-to-day transition operation. White’s ex-assistant Patricia Clarey is the new governor’s selection for chief of staff.

This is only logical because these folks represent the moderate Republican establishment in the state. But it is instructive as well, because, recall aside, Wilson took office under somewhat similar circumstances. He was a moderate Republican with many Democratic friends, and he was quickly faced with a huge budget deficit. What Wilson did more than a decade ago might be a good indication of what Schwarzenegger will do. Indeed, on conservation issues, the only person on Schwarzenegger’s 65-member transition committee with background in that field is former U.S. Environmental Protection Administration chief William Reilly – an old Wilson crony.

Essentially, Wilson responded to the crisis by becoming a much more conservative Republican. In order to balance the budget, he needed to raise taxes. And as a Republican, he could not raise taxes without the support of the hard-right Republicans in the Legislature. To court them, he became a “caveman” himself. He stopped appointing Democrats; he cut spending severely; and he became a social, as well as fiscal, conservative – taking a hard line on immigration, for example.

Schwarzenegger’s star power might give him more leverage over the Legislature than Wilson had. And he does keep threatening to “take it to the voters” if the Legislature does not give him what he needs. But if he is surrounded by Wilson veterans, he may take the pragmatic Wilson line. Instead of being the Terminator, he might be cautious and extremely sensitive to the political winds.

But there is no guarantee that Arnold Schwarzenegger is just warmed-over Pete Wilson because Schwarzenegger also comes with the Hollywood-Kennedy connection. Especially on environmental issues, these connections might put him farther to the left than anybody thinks. And that could make the Schwarzenegger years pretty interesting for planning and development.

Schwarzenegger did not discuss substantive policy issues much during the campaign. But he did issue a series of short position papers that look pretty green. Most notably, he wants to promote hydrogen fuel as an alternative to gasoline. He also promised that state agencies would comply with the Sierra Nevada Framework – a comprehensive management plan from which the Bush Administration has backed off (see CP&DR Environment Watch, March 2001; In Brief, February 2002). And Schwarzenegger came out strongly in favor of cleaning up brownfields to promote infill development.

This isn’t surprising when you take a look at who his environmental advisors are. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – his wife’s cousin and a noted environmental attorney in New York – has repeatedly come to the new governor’s defense. And Schwarzenegger appears to be listening carefully to the staff of Environment Now, a Santa Monica-based environmental advocacy group with a left-leaning agenda and connections to Hollywood.

Environment Now was created from the estate of former Disney executive Frank Wells – and, ironically, the organization used to be headed by Mary Nichols, who has been Gray Davis’s resources secretary. When the Los Angeles Times recently sought a comment from the Schwarzenegger transition team about the possible development of Tejon Ranch, the phone call was returned by Environment Now’s Dave Myerson. (Full disclosure: Solimar Research Group, CP&DR’s parent company, is under contract to Myerson and Environment Now on a study of infill development in Los Angeles. However, I have not spoken with anyone at Environment Now about the Schwarzenegger transition.)

So far, even Environment Now has been noncommittal about precisely what Schwarzenegger’s agenda on planning and development is likely to be. One thing is for sure: The new governor will have to contend with a wide variety of land use issues, thanks partly to the fact that the Davis administration has been pumping out policy initiatives at a rapid pace since the beginning of the recall campaign (see accompanying story). So whichever suit Arnold decides to don, he is likely to have a major impact on the growth of the state.