OVERHAUL: The governor touts the detailed plan to streamline government.
The Press Enterprise (Riverside, CA)
RIVERSIDE – Gov. Schwarzenegger kicked off the first hearing on restructuring state government Friday with a pledge to listen to the public before recommending how to “blow up boxes” of
“We are listening right here today,” said Schwarzenegger, who brought the crowd of 500 to its feet when he entered the UC Riverside lecture hall. “Government serves you, not the other way around.”
The governor plans seven hearings statewide as part of his campaign promise to overhaul state government. The California Performance Review, which Schwarzenegger created in February, released a 2,500-page report last week outlining more than 1,200 reform recommendations. Legislative leaders have said the plan has little chance of being approved.
Friday’s hearing focused on a proposal to create one department to handle infrastructure issues, including transportation, energy, housing, building, water, telecommunications and management of the state’s assets portfolio. Other hearings will focus on other sections of the report, which touch on everything from customer service at the Department of Motor Vehicles to what age children should start kindergarten.
Critics contend the report’s suggestion to consolidate numerous departments and agenciesÃ‚Â Ã‚Â could harm air and water quality by making oversight vulnerable to political pressure.
Schwarzenegger left the daylong hearing after his brief speech and did not address the panel’s recommendations, other than to say a lot of “tough work” will be needed to fix government.
His speech was interrupted by an unidentified man who stood and shouted: “You’re going to kill people with these budget cuts.” The man told the governor he was acting like Adolf Hitler – an apparent reference to reports that Schwarzenegger once expressed admiration for the dictator – and drew boos from the audience.
Schwarzenegger resumed his speech after the man was escorted out of the auditorium and joked that he was accustomed to people yelling at him.
State Sen. Jim Brulte, who sits on the 21-member California Performance Review commission, questioned why the team did not put state parks and prisons in the super agency but otherwise said he was impressed.
“I think this is one of the best recommendations in this report,” said Brulte, R-Rancho Cucamonga.
Some officials raised concerns Friday. The afternoon panel to discuss the report’s water and energy recommendations did not include anyone representing residential ratepayers or advocates of renewable energy.
“It’s just shameful that this is the structure,” said Doug Heller of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “We’re going to get them an analysis of the energy recommendations, whether they like it or not.”
There were no mass-transit users groups in the morning transportation panel.
“At some point we’re going to want to engage,” said Joshua Shaw, a lobbyist for the California Transit Association, an organization of public transit operators.
The head of an affordable-housing lender questioned the plan to consolidate so manyÃ‚Â Ã‚Â divisions in one department, saying there is a limit to the “span of control” one state secretary can exercise.
“If the focus of the infrastructure department was upon policy, planning, and program evaluation only, this broad reach might be manageable,” said G. Allan Kingston, president and chief executive officer of Century Housing.
A Riverside County tribe used the hearing as an opportunity to criticize a state agency the tribe says has stymied its efforts to restore the Salton Sea.
Raymond Torres, chairman of the Torres-Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, told panelists if they care about government efficiency they’ll recommend that the state Department of Water Resources cooperate with the tribe and other governments.
“The state’s approach to the Salton Sea is a perfect example of exactly the opposite” of efficiency,Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Torres said. “It’s the poster child for dysfunction.”
The tribe contends the department has been slow to work with federal and local governments to address the shrinking lake’s environmental problems.
The state took over restoration of the sea that straddles Riverside and Imperial counties last fall when legislation was passed to solve the state’s water crisis. Because a water transfer key to solving the crisis could leave the desert lake with less farm runoff to sustain it, the legislation mandated that the state solve the sea’s environmental woes.
A second hearing on the California Performance Review is scheduled for Aug. 20 in San Diego. Schwarzenegger is not expected to attend.
Staff writers Jennifer Bowles and Jim Miller contributed to his report.