Jerry Brown is running for attorney general for the same reason he ran for mayor of Oakland in 1998: “I don’t know what to do with myself when I am not running for office.” Soon after he became mayor, he looked for the next office to run for without an incumbent. He had his eye on Barbara Boxer’s Senate seat until she decided not to step down. So then he focused on the attorney general’s office.
He loves running for office but he is rather like the dog that loves chasing cars and finally when he catches one doesn’t know what to do with it.
Some people voted for him initially believing he would put a monkey wrench in the machine that has had a choke hold on Oakland for so long. But no, he bonded with the machine and became a protégé of Don Perata. From him he learned that to succeed in politics, The People to court were The People with Money.
Even with his pushing for anything any developer (or at least any developer who added to his coffers) proposed, Oakland’s Main Street, Broadway, is as dreary as when he first became mayor. The dot-com boom brought a lot of construction, but most of the “downtown” housing is too scattered and too far from Broadway to stimulate retail. Construction on the largest site near Broadway has just broken ground because, instead of parceling it out to local developers years ago, he insisted it be given to one big Cleveland developer at a subsidy of almost $100,000 per unit.
Every city needs development but a city only benefits if it is the right development in the right place. Due to his indiscriminate support for developers,
• He is for urban casinos: Kept pushing for casinos in Oakland in spite of strong citizen and city council opposition.
• Had no objection to a Wal-Mart.
• Has no respect for public lands: Tried to hand over a park parcel to the Catholic Church and another to a housing developer. In both cases the public reaction was so strong that the public prevailed. Presently pushing a development on the estuary that would place dense housing on public land designated as open space in the General Plan. (Recently he told an audience in Los Angeles that the Tidelands Trust has outlived its usefulness.)
• Wants to eliminate or, at least, weaken CEQA.
• Thinks of historic preservation as just an impediment to development.
His legal positions and understanding of the law make him a scary candidate for attorney general. For instance:
• In favor of draconian, lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key law enforcement. Energetically campaigned to preserve the current 3-strikes law.
• Does not understand the concept of protecting health, safety and welfare of citizens. He once said to me that he didn’t think architects needed to be licensed.
• Lost one good project in Oakland because the architect followed his erroneous legal advice—that his project on a historic site did not need review by the Landmarks Board.
• Has little respect for sexual harassment laws. He gave his long-time right- hand man, Jacques Barzaghi, a city job, and young women soon learned it was not safe to get on an elevator alone with him. But even after a woman finally filed a complaint, he supported him and kept him on as his aid until July 2004.
Lockyer recently filed two lawsuits against the construction of a toll road through San Onofre State Beach in Orange County favored by developers. From Jerry’s record in Oakland, it is hard to believe that he would have filed any such lawsuit.
With his views, he belongs on the Libertarian ticket. But you never can tell. Before running for mayor, he had an afternoon talk show titled “We the People” on KPFA whose main theme was that all corporations and developers were evil. (He has had those programs sealed!) After he became mayor, corporations and developers could do no wrong. I asked him about this change and he said the radio show was “his pre-mayoral persona.”
So, who knows what “his post-mayoral persona” will be. We in Oakland found that Jerry had no there there.
Joyce Roy is a semi-retired architect and an Oakland activist.