Gov. Jerry Brown Announces Major New Goals in Historic State of the State

Brown on Monday unveiled two major long-term initiatives for California: mapping out the fight against climate change and tackling the enormous $59 billion problem of deferred highway and bridge maintenance.

by Melody Gutierrez, San Francisco Chronicle / January 6, 2015
California Gov. Jerry Brown Flickr/Ohad Ben-Yoseph
California Gov. Jerry BrownFlickr/Ohad Ben-Yoseph

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday unveiled two major long-term initiatives for California that he intends to open during his historic fourth term in the governor's office: mapping out the fight against climate change beyond 2030 and tackling the enormous $59 billion problem of deferred highway and bridge maintenance.

The ambitious goals join a list of other significant projects Brown is guiding, including building the nation's first high-speed rail system, constructing two enormous tunnels to carry water south around the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, reforming the state's criminal justice system, revamping public education to spread resources toward the neediest school districts and expanding California's health insurance via the Affordable Care Act.

Brown, 76, took the oath of office for his fourth term at the state Capitol on Monday, using the occasion to deliver the annual State of the State speech, during which he announced his latest pledges on the environment and transportation.

The phase after AB32

AB32, the state's landmark 2006 law that forced steady reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, is on track to be a success, Brown said. Now, he added, it's time to establish the goal for the next phase. California, he said, must show leadership in the battle against climate change. Specifically, he said California must do three things to help lead the way:

--Increase from 33 percent to 50 percent the amount of electricity derived from renewable sources.

--Reduce reliance on petroleum products by 50 percent -- largely by increasing use of electric and low-carbon vehicles.

--Raise building energy efficiency, partially by increasing use of rooftop solar panels.

Brown sketched out a vision of a California increasingly powered by rooftop solar panels and large-scale batteries, with millions of electric cars on the roads. He spoke of making the state's aging power grid smarter and more resilient, and adding "micro-grids" that can keep electricity flowing to individual towns or facilities when blackouts strike the larger network. California already is pursuing each of those ideas, but Brown suggested more needs to be done.

Solar industry approves

"I think these are good, solid goals," said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar Energy Industries Association in Sacramento. "By investing in clean energy, we are bringing jobs to California that can't be outsourced. If you put solar on your roof, that job has to be done in California. Shifting to clean energy as ambitiously as the governor laid out today helps us achieve our clean-air goals and grow our local economy."

Brown acknowledged the particularly difficult task of cutting the state's petroleum use in half over the next 15 years. Petroleum accounts for almost half of the state's greenhouse gas emissions and 80 percent of smog-forming pollution.

Policies already in place have California on pace to reduce petroleum use in cars and trucks by more than 20 percent in 2030. Brown's goals will raise the bar.

'Let's keep stretching'

"He stepped up there in a significant way," said Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. "This 33 percent seemed absolutely unachievable. People said the sky was going to fall in, and all the folks impacted by it or who thought they would be impacted by it said industry would come screeching to a halt. Well, they've been proven wrong. The governor's point is let's keep stretching."

Solar, electric vehicle and other green energy companies applauded Brown's speech, saying the governor is moving California in the right direction.

But Republican Senate Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar (Los Angeles County) said he has concerns that the cost of Brown's goals will be passed down to consumers.

"Experience has shown these 'big dream' proposals overlook the real-world impacts they may have on our struggling middle class," Huff said. "Given our high housing costs, energy costs and taxes, I don't think the working people of California can take on a bunch of costly new government mandates. We already have electricity rates that are 50 percent higher than our neighboring states."

Maintenance backlog

Brown said the deferred maintenance of the state's roads, highways and bridges is something that can no longer be put off.

"It is estimated that our state has accumulated $59 billion in needed upkeep and maintenance," Brown said. "Each year, we fall further and further behind, and we must do something about it."

Much of the state's highway system was built between the 1950s and early 1970s. Significant population increases in recent decades along with more trucks on the roadways due to increased international trade moving goods from the state's ports has placed additional pressure on the aging highways.

As fuel-efficient cars become more popular, the taxes collected at the pump have not kept pace with the state's increasing need for patching and repairing highways and bridges.

Caltrans' current annual budget for maintenance is $412 million, while the state estimates the annual need is $928 million.

"All of this is a very tall order," Brown said. "It means that we continue to transform our electrical grid, our transportation system and even our communities."

Highlights from State of the State speech

Gov. Jerry Brown combined his inauguration and State of the State speeches, which typically would have come weeks apart, to save time and money.

Criminal justice: Brown said the state must reform the criminal justice system by seeking less expensive and more compassionate punishment.

Health care: Brown said the state will enroll 12.2 million more people this new budget year in the state's Medi-Cal program under the Affordable Care Act, a more than 50 percent increase. While the federal government is footing much of the bill now, the cost to the state in future years will run into the billions, he said.

Higher education: Some of the loudest applause came after Brown said California students should not be the "default financiers of our colleges and universities." Brown has tussled in recent months with University of California President Janet Napolitano over the system's plan to raise tuition by up to 28 percent over the next five years.

State budget: Brown spoke of how far the state has come since he took office four years ago when there was a $26 billion deficit. "In 2011, we were handed a mess and through solid, steady work, we turned it around," Brown said. "While we have not reached the Promised Land, we have much to be proud of."

Ballot measures: Brown thanked voters for approving the Proposition 30 temporary taxes in 2012 and approving Propositions 1 (water bonds) and 2 (rainy-day fund) last fall.

Brown's father: At one point in his speech, Brown recalled sitting in the audience as his father, Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, was inaugurated as governor on Jan. 5, 1959. He was a seminarian at the time and had taken an oath of poverty, chastity and obedience, so the event -- in all its pomp and glory -- was jarring to him. "I've learned to like it," Brown said to laughter.

Deja vu: Brown said many of the problems the state faces today with money, transportation and public resources are similar to those grappled with 56 years ago by his father.

Chronicle staff writer David Baker contributed to this report.

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