Chiseling Into Rock

By Melody Gutierrez and Carla Marinucci
Sunday, November 9, 2014

SACRAMENTO — Fresh off winning a historic fourth term as governor, Jerry Brown plans to push ahead with a pair of projects that could transform the California landscape: high-speed rail and delta water tunnels.

The ventures have strong critics. But having soared into office with 59 percent of the vote and no concern about winning another term, Brown is in a unique position to solidify the legacy he’s seeking: as a fiscal steward who built historic projects for the state.

“I do come from a long line of people who have achieved something, and I feel I have a lot to live up to. And I’m going to make sure during these next four years I maximize that opportunity,” Brown said Wednesday. His father, Edmund “Pat” Brown, was governor in the 1960s and built his legacy around the projects he ushered in — including the state’s water delivery system and its Master Plan for Higher Education.

Criminal justice

Brown said he also wants to reform criminal justice policies and address problems that arose after he shifted low-level offenders from overcrowded prisons to unprepared jails in 2011. He said he wants to continue to invest in schools, which received budget flexibility under a law he signed last year. And he plans to push policies that reduce carbon pollution and enlist other states and countries to help address climate change.

Jessica Levinson, a law professor who teaches political ethics at Loyola University in Los Angeles, said Tuesday’s passage of Brown’s signature ballot measures, Props. 1 and 2 — a $7.5 billion water bond and a rainy-day fund — give Brown added credibility as he seeks to cement his legacy on infrastructure and budget issues.

“Both of those are forward-looking, long-term changes to the California Constitution meant to put us on a strong footing going forward,” Levinson said.

Those big-picture priorities are as important as his desire to leave the state in strong fiscal shape, Brown said, adding that his next term will be defined by his efforts to strike the right balance between saving and investing.

“Going forward, it’s a challenge to be fiscally responsible and, on the other hand, to keep faith with the aspirations and hopes of the Democratic Party and those who are looking for more and more government spending in investment,” he said. “If you abandon that, you become really incoherent as a Democratic leader. If you totally give into it, you fall prey to budget deficits and chaos and public dissatisfaction.”

Brown has faced mounting criticism over the $68 billion high-speed rail project, which was a popular idea when voters approved $8.6 billion in bonds to launch the endeavor in 2008. Since then, the project has been stalled by lawsuits, and some public opinion polls show voters no longer support it.

Bond win

Last year, before construction could begin on the first 130 miles, a Sacramento County judge blocked the sale of the bond, saying the project didn’t have environmental clearance and didn’t properly identify sources of funding for the rest of the rail line.

The state’s Third District Court of Appeal reversed that ruling in July, allowing the bond sale to proceed. Opponents — including Kings and Kern counties, Union Pacific Railroad and some Central Valley landowners — turned to the state Supreme Court, which refused to hear the appeal last month. That was a major boost for supporters like Brown and environmental groups, who say the rail will reduce car pollution and create jobs across the state.

Another project that has faced immense criticism, particularly from environmental groups, is the state’s $25 billion plan to dig two 40-foot-wide tunnels to carry water from one end of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River to the other. State officials say the tunnels are needed to restore the delta ecosystem and stabilize the water supply for 25 million Californians and 3 million acres of farmland from San Jose to San Diego.

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