Speaking to a group of crime survivors in Sacramento the other day, Gov. Jerry Brown confessed that a tough sentencing law he signed in the 1970s was a big mistake.
“The problems I create, I can clean up,” Brown declared, pitching his latest plan to reduce sentences and ease paroles for many crimes.
Even as he spoke, two new charges of lying and misuse of funds confronted Brown’s administration. So it’s legitimate to wonder whether he would generalize his statement to the many questionable acts his appointees have perpetrated in state government.
While there are not yet indictments or convictions, collusion between some members of the state Public Utilities Commission and companies it regulates is well documented. So was cronyism and conflict of interest at the state Energy Commission, whose chairman Brown nevertheless reappointed. There were also admitted falsehoods from prison authorities over a long-standing claim that no seriously violent criminals have been sent to low-security fire camps.
To this list, add two new charges. One sees the federal Interior Department’s inspector general investigating a whistleblower claim that as much as half of a $60 million grant for improving fish habitats in and near the Delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers may have been misappropriated by the state Department of Water Resources. The question: Did Brown appointees spend that money preparing the environmental impact statement for Brown’s stalled Delta Tunnels project, which would send Northern California river water south via hyper-expensive tunnels?
A second claim, by consumer advocates, alleges numerous lies in an April state report insisting there could be rolling blackouts this summer unless the leak-plagued Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field in northern Los Angeles reopens soon.
This report was a joint project of the reputation-stained PUC and Energy Commission, along with the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power and the state’s electricity-allocating Independent Systems Operator. The paper was reportedly at least in part written by the Southern California Gas Co., eager to get its storage field back online, with money and gas once again flowing from it.
The report claimed that without the stored gas, Southern California might not be able to fuel power plants at peak electric-use times this summer, thus provoking blackouts.
Consumer advocate Bill Powers, a San Diego engineering consultant who helped kill several early-2000s plans to make California dependent on ultra-expensive imported liquefied natural gas, notes that peak gas use comes in winter, not summer. He said the highest gas use of the last 10 years came in winter 2008, when demand in Southern California reached 4.9 billion cubic feet per day. Even that quantity is well below the 5.7 bcfd available at all times from incoming pipelines and other storage fields in the region. But peak use in the summer has not gone above 3.7 bcfd in the last 10 years, meaning pipelines alone, with no storage fields, provide more than enough gas to satisfy all customers, including power plants.
There is, then, no real threat of a blackout, leading Jamie Court, president of the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group, to call the state report “blackout blackmail.”
The parallel is unmistakable with the Arnold Schwarzenegger-era push for LNG and its completely false threats of outages.
All these ethical lapses have been or are being perpetrated by Brown’s administration. Yet, the governor says nothing about any of them, behaving as if he’s unaware of any problem (he’s not; firsthand accounts says he reads news reports on alleged wrongdoing in his administration) or hopes all these things will quietly go away and leave him a totally clean legacy.
Repeated attempts to get Brown to address the allegations against his appointees or their documented transgressions have been rebuffed.
Example: “We won’t be commenting on that,” was all his office would say on revelations of the $1.04 million gifted to Brown chief of staff Nancy McFadden and a “non-disparagement” agreement she signed to get the money when she left a top job at PG&E to become the governor’s closest aide.
If Brown wants to clean up the multiple messes made by his appointees, he can. But he shows no signs of that, leaving open the question of whether Brown consciously backs those questionable acts or merely puts up with them.
Thomas D. Elias writes the syndicated California Focus column.