07/26/2012 10:22 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Sunrise in California?

In his inimitable fashion, Governor Jerry Brown declared during Wednesday's roll-out of his peripheral canal, er, tunnels plan to ship water from the Sacramento River to agriculture and thirsty populations to the south while protecting the Sacramento Delta, that he wants to "get shit done" as governor. By which he means pushing forward the water, renewable energy, high-speed rail priorities he has identified and shares with some of his predecessors, as well as stabilizing the state's present budget, for which he has enacted major cuts and seeks new revenue.

"Analysis paralysis is not why I came back 30 years later to handle some of the same issues," Brown declared in a Sacramento appearance with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, part of working with the Obama Administration on these issues.

He continued Thursday with an event to start up the Sunrise Powerlink transmission line, a 117-mile long project which now links solar and wind farms in the Imperial Valley with the grid in the San Diego metropolitan area, carrying more than 1,000 megawatts. This is especially key with the San Onofre nuclear power plant, which has been offline for months due to problems with corroded pipes, continuing to be offline during peak energy usage in the summer and may be offline into next year.

Then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger presided over the groundbreaking of the 117-mile Sunrise Powerlink transmission line in December 2010. As of now, Sunrise is carrying renewable power from solar and wind farms in the Imperial Valley to the grid in the San Diego metropolitan area, critical with the San Onofre nuclear plant off-line for months if not longer.

Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger joined Brown at this event. Schwarzenegger started the Sunrise project in the middle of his time as governor, and fought a hard slog to get it over numerous hurdles.

Schwarzenegger presided over the groundbreaking in December 2010 and was on hand to join Brown and a few others in flipping the large industrial switches for the transmission line.

The night before, Schwarzenegger told me that it had been a long struggle getting the Sunrise project through, but very much worth it. Backed by business and labor organizations, it was opposed by a variety of mostly local groups, as frequently happens with development projects, but not the major environmental organizations.

"We worked through 11,000 pages of environmental impact report," said Schwarzenegger, "and answered many concerns to move it through the desert. The important thing always was to move forward to bring clean energy power of wind and solar from a place where it is abundant to places which need it."

Brown says that his job as governor is "to build for the long-term future." Which means new infrastructure for a sustainable California, in energy, transportation, and water, infrastructure that takes advantage of new technology to avoid traps of the past.

Brown was the original champion of renewable energy and energy efficiency as governor in the 1970s and 1980s, derided by some of his same media critics today for supposedly "flaky" policies which most thinking people now view as correct. But it is Schwarzenegger who amped up those efforts during his governorship, after backing and then expanding the renewable portfolio standard enacted by Brown's former chief of staff, then Governor Gray Davis.

Mindful of the start of the Olympics, the sportsman Schwarzenegger told me that in building for the future, it is "like a relay race, with one governor taking the torch from the other and handing it off to the next, always seeing the vision of the finish line ahead."

Like the renewable energy and conservation issues he continues to push as an advocate working with the United Nations, water and high-speed rail are two more "building for the future" issues that he shares with Brown.

Brown pushed a comprehensive water development and environmental protection program through the state legislature in 1982, only to see it shot down at the polls in a strange bedfellows referendum campaign conducted by conservative Central Valley farmers and Northern California environmentalists. The new plan is different. Some environmental critics worry that the North will be sucked draw through these "straws." Brown promises that won't happen, and says also that much will be done to protect the Sacramento Delta, which I've boated through in my Navy days and beyond. This time, water users will pay for the conveyance system.

Schwarzenegger got the first big water bonds measure in nearly 30 years through the legislature in 2009. But electoral conditions had it postponed from 2010 to 2012, then to 2014, with some trimming likely. Critics say it has some pork that needs to be eliminated. While one person's pork is another's deal maker, that has to be done to gain passage at the ballot box.

Meanwhile, Brown has the new proposal to move water from one of the West's great rivers to thirsty and growing environs to the south.

And there is high-speed rail, controversial, with major elements of the right wing, the old energy economy, and the media out to kill it as has happened everywhere else in Tea Party-ized America, but failing to do so despite very concerted efforts.

Schwarzenegger, as I wrote two weeks ago here on the Huffington Post, championed the project till the very end of his governorship and champions it now.

"We have to keep moving forward," he says. "We have to stay focused on the big picture and find ways to make government more efficient and rein in an out-of-control pension system and figure out how to finance the next phases of high-speed rail."

Schwarzenegger's predecessor as governor, Gray Davis, who played a key part in most of this as well -- first renewable energy standard, first greenhouse gas tailpipe emissions law, crafted the $10 billion high-speed rail bonds measure and got it through the legislature -- says there is a big spur that will ultimately trump those who oppose the Think Big agenda.


"When I worry about all the opposition to doing these important things," he told me, "I think of China. Soon it will pass the United States as the biggest economy in the world." (Incidentally, California is the world's ninth largest economy.)

"In China," Davis said, "they are building for the future, doing all these things. Renewable energy, bullet trains, water projects, they are doing it all. If we don't keep up with our own needs, we will be overwhelmed."

Davis praised Schwarzenegger, who defeated him in the dramatic 2003 recall election but with whom he since became friendly, for thinking big on infrastructure, noting that he had planned a big infrastructure package for his second term but that the $42 billion-plus bond measure Schwarzenegger won enactment of in the November 2006 election was much bigger than he had dared.

Governor Jerry Brown, decrying "declinists," signed legislation authorizing the start of construction of California's high-speed rail program, the only one in America. Most of the rest of the advanced industrial world has high-speed rail.

The first phase of the high-speed rail program that Davis pushed into being as governor and Schwarzenegger championed is moving forward, with opponents dropping their ballyhooed campaign to block it with an initiative in 2014.

On July 18th, Brown joined state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, Assembly Speaker John Perez, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and other state and local officials as he signed the high-speed rail funding and construction authorization bill at Union Station in Los Angeles, and later at the future Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco.

This is the $8 billion program for the first phase of the the bullet train project, fueled with federal grants and state bond dollars, encompassing some $2 billion for improvements and high-speed prep for the existing systems in the Metro LA and San Francisco Bay Area regions and the rest for construction of the spine of the system in the Central Valley.

Like the Sunrise transmission line, as Schwarzenegger notes, it will give a boost to a job market that has been very anemic since the great global recession hit very hard four years ago. But there were already signs of better days ahead.

With California's economy, and the job market in particular, perking up notably in the last two months, could it be time to retire the sack cloth and ashes of the past few years?

Brown had decidedly mixed news on July 20th. On the one hand, a very promising report on the state economy. On the other, a bizarre controversy around the state parks department.

First, he had to get rid of the top two officials at the California Parks & Recreation Department after two things emerged when he put new financial managers in place: A scheme for a secret vacation buy-out program, which cost a few hundred thousand dollars, and a secret surplus of some $54 million even as parks were closing.

So state parks director Ruth Coleman, who has served since 2003 after becoming chief deputy director in 2002, has resigned, and the department's number two official, Michael Harris, was fired.

California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird said that the department had under-reported its funds for the past dozen years. Oddly, while the state finance department did not have records of the funds, the state controller's office did. Why the logical communication did not take place is very unclear.

The unexpected $54 million is in two special funds generated by user fees of the state Parks and Recreation Department. Neither is part of the state's general fund. It's interesting to note that less than half of that money could be readily used to prevent the closure of parks, since most of it is in an account for off-roading having nothing to do with parks.

So the funds wouldn't have gone all that far in keeping parks open over the past few years.

And the larger issue of the parks, which have a billion dollar-plus of unfunded needed improvements, is not addressed at all by the hidden funds.

In the bigger news, California economy expert Steve Levy reported in missives to journalists and others that the state added over 38,000 jobs in June and about 46,000 jobs in May, for half the national job growth in the past two months.

"The state's unemployment rate is down to a still very high 10.7%, third highest in the nation," reports Levy. "And the number of unemployed Californians fell below 2 million for the second month in a row.

"This two month surge takes place in a national and world economy under tremendous strain from the European recessions, slowing consumer spending and the upcoming fiscal tightening (fiscal cliff) still scheduled for January 1 next year.

"On the other hand the idea that California is a lagging economy being passed by in comparison to other states can now, hopefully, be put to rest. Tech, trade, tourism, a strong agricultural sector and the stirrings of a construction recovery give hope for the near and long term future. This week's successful IPOs provide another hopeful sign on what will still be a long recovery to regain pre-recession job and unemployment levels."

Bad news indeed for the doom and gloom about California crew.

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