In January 2004, new governor Arnold Schwarzenegger gave a state-of-the-state speech promising to blow up the boxes of government rather than just moving them around. The California Performance Review is his dynamite—all 2,700 pages.
The plan increases the governor’s power and hands many state responsibilities over to private industry. “State government in California is broken, there’s no question about it,” says UCLA professor Stephanie Pincetl, author of Transforming California. “But is privatizing it the solution? ”
Interim director of the Department of Motor Vehicles Chon Gutierrez picked 275 state employees to put together over 1,200 recommendations, including eliminating 117 boards and commissions ranging from the Commission on the Status of Women to the air and water quality boards. The report boasts that its recommendations will save the state $34 billion yet make government more “customer-friendly.” The Legislative Analyst’s Office later moved the estimate down to between $10 and $15 billion.
While the report is undeniably mammoth, the voices of environmental advocates are nearly absent. “I haven’t heard people say the paper is imbalanced,” says Chris Reynolds, who oversaw its drafting. “I take issue with the characterization of the paper as imbalanced.”
When asked about the lack of consultation with environmentalists, Reynolds says that the CPR team met with about seven or eight environmentalists. “We called Bill Magavern from the Sierra Club and said ‘Can you help us? We want to reach out to the environmental community.’ Bill set up a meeting,” Reynolds reports.
“That is accurate only in the sense that their entire outreach to the environmental community was one phone call to me,” says Magavern, the Sierra Club’s legislative advocate.
Magavern says he received a call from Don Johnson of the CPR staff. “But Don never said ‘We’d like to meet with all the environmental community.’ He said, ‘I’d like to meet with you.’ I took it on my own initiative to invite colleagues. We never claimed to be speaking for the whole range of environmentalists. And the report itself was written in almost utter secrecy, and it is clear that industry lobbyists were consulted much more extensively than we were.”
J.J. Jelincic, a commission member charged with taking public comment, calls the report’s focus on savings misguided. “We asked the wrong question,” he says. “We asked, ‘How do we do things cheaper?’ when we should have asked, ‘What kind of world do we want to leave our kids?’ That’s the debate we should be having.”
The CPR review commission held seven public hearings across the state between mid-August and late-September. The hearings included presentations by CPR staff and several hours of comments by invited speakers. Public comment often was put off until the last hour. Some individuals who had waited for hours to make comments were turned away.
“As commissioners I think our function has been to create the illusion of openness,” says Jelincic. “In many ways our function was to identify those things that would have such high political costs as to be undoable.”
And they did just that. Although the decisions of regional air and water quality boards aren’t to everyone’s liking, most environmentalists believe the boards are the only bodies with local knowledge that conduct meetings in public. “If we lose those regional boards we’d lose the one way the public can impact regulatory decision-making,” says Juliet Lamont, vice-chair of the Sierra Club’s Bay Area Chapter. “We’d be trying to get the attention of a single individual in Sacramento, and that’s the kind of thing that leads to bad environmental decisions.”
The CPR’s proposal to ax California’s regional air and water quality control boards generated such vehement opposition that the commissioners agreed that the governor should back off. Schwarzenegger seems to have heeded their advice: he did not include the two in the list of nearly a hundred “unnecessary boards and commissions” slated for elimination.
The CPR report will still keep water policy wonks up at night. It suggests dissolving the Department of Water Resources and folding its activities into a newly created Department of Infrastructure. The California State Water Project, or SWP as it is known in water-speak, would be contracted out to a quasi-public agency—The State Water Project Contractors Authority—whose most powerful members, the Kern County Water Agency and the Metropolitan Water District, serve Central Valley agribusiness interests.
The contractors who want to manage the SWP make it seem as if they would simply be stepping in to aid the clumsy state bureaucracy in carrying out day-to-day operations. But the language of the CPR report and the State Water Project Contractors Authority grant them authority to make decisions such as “acquiring water and water rights.”
“It’s an ideology of government as management,” says Pincetl. “It’s post-Prop 13 privatization, privatizing assets. Government is not only cast as managerial, it erodes public participation. It really is the privatization of democracy.”
At his State of the State address on January 5, 2005, Schwarzenegger gave a blanket endorsement of the CPR. “A year ago, I told you that I wanted to blow up the boxes. Well, we have lit the fuse.”