Cities gain as Brown signs, vetoes hundreds of new billsIt's been quite a week in Sacramento as Gov. Jerry Brown completed his final decisions on hundreds of bills the state Legislature left for him to consider as those lawmakers left town. Pleasanton's Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-15th) told a Chamber of Commerce group Wednesday that her goal was to have no more than five measures to be sent to the governor's desk by the end of September, but obviously many of her colleagues decided differently.
The League of California Cities, which tracks hundreds of bills each legislative session, focuses on those with potential impacts to cities and then lobbies its views on a much smaller number which would have the greatest potential impact. In reviewing the final actions by the governor, it found that despite Brown's statements earlier that he would be very aggressive in vetoing unnecessary legislation, his decisions mirrored his averages from his prior terms.
According to the governor's office, he signed 745 bills and vetoed another 125, making his veto percentage at 14.36% for 2011 legislation. That's only slightly above the average of 13.82% since 1967. By comparison, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed over three times as many bills in his seven years (1,970), and Gov. Gray Davis vetoed twice as many bills (1,098) in five years, as Brown did in his first eight years (528).
Although Brown has also spoken about the value of local control, based upon his actions this year, it is difficult -- aside from a focus on realignment -- to identify an overall philosophical framework for his actions. Of the 25 bills on the League of California Cities' priority list, the Governor's actions were consistent with the League's request 56% of the time. While the vetoes of two land use bills -- SB 469 (Vargas), economic analysis for big box stores selling groceries, and AB 1220 (Alejo), statute of limitations for housing element lawsuits -- were appreciated, there were also significant areas of disappointment. Brown signed some of the most controversial League-opposed bills, such as SB 244 (Wolk), planning and annexation mandates, AB 438 (Williams), limiting contracting for library staffing, and AB 646 (Atkins), compulsory fact-finding.
This year was dominated by yet another state budget crisis and was especially difficult for city issues. Cities across the state, at the League's urging, submitted position letters over the last year to their local representatives, which helped the League's advocacy efforts to defend local control against legislative measures that would threaten it. Pleasanton Councilman Jerry Thorne has been vociferous in urging constituents to call and write their legislators to stop state interference on issues that should be left to local governments, most specifically land use and housing issues. Those letters, along with phone calls, legislative visits and other lobbying activities, helped to advance legislation beneficial to cities, halt legislation undermining local authority and secure needed changes to many bills prior to reaching the governor's desk.
Here's a brief list of Brown's final actions on several of the top bills affecting Pleasanton and other municipalities:
* SBx1 4 (Budget Committee) Supplemental Law Enforcement Services Account. This measure amends and removes a provision that would have created a new maintenance of effort (MOE) requirement on all frontline municipal police services for cities to receive COPS (Citizens' Option for Public Safety) funding. Absent this cleanup, many cities would have been unable to access their COPS grants.
* AB 155 (Calderon) Use Tax Collection. This bill expands the definition of a "retailer engaged in business in this state" to improve collection of California's owed but uncollected millions in state and local use tax, including from amazon.com.
* AB 529 (Gatto) Vehicles: Speed Limits. This bill allows cities to round down speed limits to within 5 miles per hour of the 85th percentile speed of free-flowing traffic in cases that the speed limit would otherwise be rounded up.
* AB 1298 (Blumenfield) Vehicles. This bill revises the definition of mobile billboard advertising displays and allows cities to regulate advertising signs on vehicles parked on a public street.
Gov. Brown vetoed these measures:
* AB 1220 (Alejo) Housing Elements. This bill would have expanded the statute of limitations to three years to sue a city or county on the adequacy of a housing element. This provision would have created additional uncertainty and is completely out of context with the 90-day statutes of limitations that apply to other elements of a General Plan.
* SB 469 (Vargas) Land Use. This bill would have discriminated against certain local land use decisions by requiring an exhaustive economic impact report to be prepared for only a narrow set of "superstores" selling non-taxable food products, but not to other large retailers with similar impacts.
Brown signed many Democratic and labor-backed bills, but he also vetoed four of five bills the California Chamber of Commerce considered "job killers." He rejected a measure requiring helmets for young skiers and snowboarders, citing concerns about the "continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state," but then frustrated family rights advocates by signing legislation to let children 12 and older seek medical care to prevent sexually transmitted infections without parental consent.
Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College, summed up Brown's week of bill-signing by telling the Sacramento Bee: "This is back to the future. This is the unpredictable Jerry Brown of the 1970s, sometimes showing a liberal side, sometimes showing, if not a conservative side, at least a side that's not predictably liberal."