Speaking to a group of crime survivors in Sacramento recently, Gov. Jerry Brown confessed 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 longstanding claim that no seriously violent criminals have been sent to low-security fire camps.
To this list, add two new charges. One has 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 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 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 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, notes that peak gas use comes in winter, not summer. He said the highest gas use of the past 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 billion available at all times from incoming pipelines and other storage fields in the region. Peak use in the summer has not gone above 3.7 billion in the past 10 years, meaning pipelines alone — with no storage fields — provide more than enough gas to satisfy all customers, including power plants.
With no real threat of a blackout, Jamie Court, president of the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group, called the state report "blackout blackmail."
All these ethical lapses have been perpetrated by Brown's administration. Yet the governor says nothing about any of them, behaving as if he's unaware of any problem 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 he consciously backs those questionable activities or merely puts up with them.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected]