Brown Dishes Jokes, Truth, to Locals

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AP/Rich Pedroncelli

Governor Jerry Brown knew what he was in for as he took the stage in front of a crowd of officials from California cities, angry over his plan to abolish redevelopment agencies.

"Has everybody eaten already?" asked Brown. "Because you look a little hungry to me."

The governor mixed humor and honesty for about 25 minutes in an effort to -- if not win over the crowd -- get them to acknowledge that the budget choices the state faces are all bad.

"Remember," he said, "as this mess built up, the evasions, the tricks and the gimmicks, I was down there in Oakland, or I was over in Calcutta with Mother Teresa. Or maybe over, years before, with Linda Ronstadt in Africa."

You probably don't have to guess which of those references is the only one worth pointing out.

Brown's eight years as mayor of Oakland are noteworthy for a number of things, including his push to revitalize the city's inner core... often the use of redevelopment funds.

Now, as governor, Brown is proposing the abolishment of all redevelopment agencies in California, some 400 in all, taking their future shares of property taxes ($1.7 billion next year) and funneling it to other government expenses while honoring the debts currently on the books for construction projects large and small.

Brown was often quoted while mayor as an energetic supporter of Oakland's many redevelopment projects, including the restoration of the city's historic Fox Theater (which, incidentally, he used for his election night celebration last November).

And the governor acknowledged his zeal for the Fox Theater, in particular, in this afternoon's speech.

"Tens of millions of dollars," he said. "I don't know that I would've gotten it any other way. So, I'm sure glad I got it built before this damn budget came out!"

The crowd laughed, and then Brown added another, perhaps unintended joke: "That's why you've gotta move fast in this business."

Heeding that advice, as many as a dozen cities and counties across California have taken action in the last few days to commit to spending redevelopment funds ASAP, thus ensuring those projects would be grandfathered in to obligations that would be honored. In some cases, city redevelopment agencies met over the weekend or even on the Monday holiday.

Brown told reporters he would consider calls by some at the state Capitol for a temporary freeze on such quickie redevelopment actions.

The governor was right to consider his budget proposal a tough sell in the audience.

"City officials are convinced this is the only program in the state that is producing new jobs today," said Chris McKenzie, executive director of the League of California Cities. "Abolishing the most important jobs program in the state of California? We're going to fight that, and we're going to fight that with everything we have."

And Governor Brown acknowledged that opposition in his remarks, urging local officials to propose their own deficit reduction alternatives if they don't like his.

"Those of you who'd like to argue a little longer, or advocate, well, maybe come on over," said Brown motioning to the Capitol across the street. "I'll give you a cup of coffee."

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • Monty

    He’s look better in a wig (as Arnold does in his).

  • Kate Pluta

    podcast today? 1/21/11