Jerry Brown Real Estate

By Thomas Peele and Josh Richman, Staff writers
Posted: 10/19/2014 06:37:18 AM PDT
Updated: 10/19/2014 08:00:08 AM PDT

Throughout his political career, Jerry Brown has cultivated an almost monastic image, famously sleeping on a mattress on the floor during his first go-round as governor and flying for peanuts on Southwest during his current term.

But in recent years Brown has quietly built a small fortune in real estate and stock holdings, in part by going into business with prominent Oakland developers whom he once regulated as that city’s mayor, a Bay Area News Group analysis of Brown’s personal investments shows.

While Gov. Brown was busy over the last four years frugally balancing California’s budget, the state’s chief executive was actively building up his multimillion-dollar real estate portfolio. Just two years ago, he invested in an $11 million office building near Oakland International Airport in an area that is being considered for a massive “Coliseum City” redevelopment project that could include new baseball and football stadiums.

And earlier this year Brown and partners broke ground on a 100-unit apartment building on prime real estate they bought in 2007 on the Oakland-Emeryville border.

This newspaper found Brown has stakes in millions of dollars of East Bay real estate with developers Phil Tagami — who did a lot of business with Oakland when Brown was mayor — and John Protopappas, who was Brown’s landlord.

He also drew up to $100,000 in income last year from a Beverly Hills investment firm, is part-owner of his family’s sprawling Colusa County ranch and owns up to $1 million worth of stock in a medical office software firm, while his wife owns more than $1 million in Jack in the Box stock.

Yet the actual size of Brown’s fortune, the identities of most of his partners and the nature of their business dealings remain a mystery. That’s because California hasn’t significantly updated its financial disclosure laws for elected officials in decades, and the forms that officials must fill out require only the vaguest information.

So details of Brown’s investments remain sketchy and his penny-pinching persona remains intact as he seeks an unprecedented fourth term and refuses to release any financial information about himself beyond what is legally required.

That doesn’t sit well with Californians fighting for transparency in financial disclosure laws.

“It’s one thing to follow the letter of the law, but the public does have a right to know who a governor’s partners are,” said Sarah Swanbeck of California Common Cause, a public interest group.

And not just any governor — but one who won his first term in 1974 while also championing the Political Reform Act, which sets the state’s disclosure rules.

Brown “should be setting an example about disclosure for the rest of the state,” said Peter Scheer, executive director of the San Rafael-based First Amendment Coalition.

In all, Brown and his wife, former Gap executive Anne Gust Brown, last year disclosed real estate, business and stock holdings worth from $2.53 million and $6.2 million. That range is so wide because the form requires that an investment’s or property’s value be reported only in broad categories — such as $10,001 to $100,000, $100,001 to $1 million, or more than $1 million. And that latter figure has not changed in at least 20 years, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

Elected officials also need not disclose exactly what their businesses do or who their partners are. For example, the business of Beverly Hills-based Round Two Investment Partners, from which Brown received from $10,001 to $100,000 in income in 2013, is described only as “investment in a variety of interests.”

Brown’s campaign spokesman, Dan Newman, said the governor won’t provide any details beyond what’s on the forms. And political experts say discussing the details of his wealth isn’t in Brown’s interest.

“Jerry Brown has obviously attended the Warren Buffett school of public relations,” said Dan Schnur, a former GOP strategist who now directs the University of Southern California’s Unruh Institute of Politics. “He’s certainly not anywhere near as wealthy as Buffett, but they both understand the benefits of talking about their personal frugality as a way of connecting with people who don’t share their financial means.”

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