Santa Cruz Good Times

Wednesday
May 27th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

A Natural Step

news1jlGT chats with John Laird about his new post as Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency
From his 23 years experience as an elected official, beginning with the Santa Cruz City Council in 1981, John Laird has earned a statewide reputation as a progressive yet pragmatic politician, with a mastery of both process and details of legislative compromise.

Before arriving in Sacramento, Laird was a UC Santa Cruz graduate (1972) and former Santa Cruz City Council member (1981-90) with two stints as the city’s mayor.  He went on to serve the maximum three terms as State Assembly Member (D-27th District, 2002-2008), during which time he was appointed chair of the Assembly’s Budget Committee (2006).

Over the summer of 2010, in a hotly contested, off-cycle special election, Laird lost the race for the 15th District State Senate seat, vacated by Abel Maldonado’s appointment as lieutenant governor, by a slim margin to Republican Sam Blakeslee. But, as the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens: On Jan. 5, Gov. Jerry Brown announced Laird’s appointment as Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency.

California’s Natural Resources Agency is responsible for the state’s natural resource conservation and protection policies, programs and regulatory activities. The agency has almost 18,000 employees and oversees 25 departments, commissions, boards and conservancies, including the Department of Fish and Game, Department of Water Resources, Department of Forestry, Cal Fire and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Good Times sat down with the locally grown representative to discuss the challenges and opportunities that leading such a massive and controversial agency may have in store for him.

GOOD TIMES: With this appointment, you are taking a big step from serving as state legislator to the administrator of a huge, sprawling state agency. How will your legislative background help you in this shift from policymaker to policy administrator, especially in a time of drastic budget cuts?

Laird: As a legislator, I sponsored bills and supervised budgets in almost every area of the Natural Resources Agency jurisdiction, including coastal protection, [the] Williamson Act, water resources, and state parks, so my legislative service gave me great background on the issues and relationships I will need to run this agency. But it is a real shift, from being a legislator to the administrator of an agency with almost 18,000 employees. …. It’s also very different because I now speak for the administration, led by the governor, rather than speaking as a legislator from a Central Coast district. That has taken some time getting used to.

What do you see as the near-term priorities for the California Natural Resources Agency?

Number one, of course, is dealing with the state budget, and there are a number of places where the budget is at issue in the agency such as [with] Cal Fire proposals, state park proposals, and lack of funding for the Williamson Act [also known as The California Land Conservation Act of 1965], to name just a few budget headlines.

Number two is water in the Delta, which continues to be a big, statewide problem with several major issues pending as I walked in the door. I was trying to figure out how I could give direction to some Delta-related lawsuits before I was officially made Secretary; I thought the issues were that urgent.

Marine life protection is [also] a big issue, and the designation process for a marine life preservation area along the coasts of Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties is pending.

Another huge issue is the planned removal of four dams from the Klamath River, and restoration of the watershed after the dams are removed. There are two or three other burning issues, but that gives you an example of “near-term” problems on my plate. But that’s why I expect I’m going to like this job—I can really get things done. I think the challenge of this job will also be its reward.

How do you think your legislative record on environmental protection issues will work as you try to craft consensus on rule making and administration of natural resource policy statewide?

I’m also known as a legislator who was able to bridge gaps, who was pragmatic and was able to get things done. After my appointment, a few representatives of big agricultural interests, even though we’ve had real disagreements in the past, said they were happy with my appointment because I included them, I heard them, and if there were ways to build their interests into a solution, I did it. As Secretary of the Resources Agency, I have to be able to do that—to balance interests.

I have to say serving as an elected official from the City of Santa Cruz was great experience for this job … Those skills that make you successful in Santa Cruz politics are transferable to the secretary’s job; you have to know at least a little about just about everything, you have to deliver, your word has to be your bond, and you have to be able get to the end of the issue and get things done. The City of Santa Cruz was great experience for honing those skills.

A draft of a four-year, $140 million technical study, the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan, was released In November. That draft report seems to conclude that a large peripheral canal or tunnel is the only viable option to ensure adequate water supply south of the Delta. What’s your position on this plan?

This is the first time in modern history we have a chance to make real progress on California Delta and water export issues. There is finally progress being made on how, scientifically, it will be best to restore the Delta and provide water reliably down south. The problem has always been getting various stakeholders to buy into the scientific basis of the decision making, the scientific basis for the flows that are needed into the Delta that are necessary to restore fish habitats, and what amount of water can be reliability exported south. And these flows change year to year. Our challenge is making sure the scientific basis for the policy-making includes many different views, because everyone has to have some faith in this science. If we can do that, and I think the Bay-Delta Plan will help us do that, then we can make some real progress. For example, determining what minimum flows into the Delta are necessary for restoration, that is, with scientific analysis, a major step forward, which has historically been a secondary consideration to water exports south.

Given the defeat of the state park funding initiative, Prop. 21, last November, how do you plan to keep state parks open and functioning with such drastic budget cuts looming?

Well, in fact, there will be state parks closed as part of the governor’s [proposed] budget, and I’m working with the parks director to release a list of the parks to be closed in the next few weeks. I don’t relish that part of this job at all. It’s hard, and it’s not going to be pretty when it happens.

Right now, we’re all working on the budget, all the time. The single focus is on the cuts outlined in the governor’s budget, and extending those tax revenues due to expire in June. As the governor said, we need to extend these taxes or face even more drastic cuts in services. This is the message I will be carrying in the months ahead, that when we’re closing parks, and dealing with the lack of funding for the Williamson Act, I’m going to be talking directly to Californians about what this means and about what the future is. We have to take some severe cuts, and we also have to continue the revenues.

For the first time, we now have a governor that actually wants to get to the end, to actually balance the state budget, rather than keep rolling the deficit over and over, year after year. … That’s why I’m supporting some things that I’ve never supported in the past because the governor is offering us the hope of getting the entire budget uprighted, once and for all.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Off Her Meds

Kristin Wiig runs wild—and transcends her sketch comedy roots—as a truly strange character ‘Welcome to Me’

 

Gate Openers

Up-and-coming artists like Ryan Bingham are a great reason to show up early to the Santa Cruz American Music Festival

 

Gemini Sun, Pentecost, Shavuot—Enlightenment and Gladness

As the sun enters Gemini on Sunday, sign of speaking, communication, thinking, inter-relations, writing and understanding languages, the feast days of Pentecost & Shavuot (Catholic and Jewish festivals) occur. During Pentecost’s 50 days after Easter, tongues of fire appear above the heads of the disciples, providing them with the ability to understand all languages and all feelings hidden in the minds and hearts of humanity. It’s recorded that Pentecost began with a loud noise, which happened in an upper room (signifying the mind). The Christ (World Teacher) told his disciples (after his ascension) when encountering a man at a well carrying a water pot (signs for Age of Aquarius) to follow him to an upper room. There, the Holy Spirit (Ray 3 of Divine Intelligence) would overshadow them, expand their minds, give them courage and enable them to teach throughout the world, speaking all languages and thus able to minister to the true needs of a “seeking” humanity. Pentecost (50 days, pentagram, Ray 5, Venus, concrete and scientific knowledge, the Ray of Aquarius) sounds dramatic, impressive and scary: The loud noise, a thunderous rush of wind and then “tongues of fire” above the heads of each disciple (men and women). Fire has purpose. It purifies, disintegrates, purges, transforms and liberates (frees) us from the past. This was the Holy Spirit (Ray 3, love and wisdom) being received by the disciples, so they would teach in the world and inform humanity of the Messiah (Christ), who initiated the new age (Pisces) and gave humanity the new law (adding to the 10 Commandments of the Aries Age) to Love (Ray 2) one another. Note: Gemini is also Ray 2. Shavuot is the Jewish Festival of Gladness, the First Fruits Festival celebrating the giving of the 10 Commandments to Moses as the Aries Age was initiated. Thus, we have two developmental stages here, Jewish festival of the Old Testament. Pentecost of the New Testament. We have gladness, integrating both.
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

What’s your take on Santa Cruz locals?

Santa Cruz locals are really friendly once you know them. I think a lot of them have a hard time leaving, and I would too. Ryan Carle, Santa Cruz, Biologist

 

Soquel Vineyards

If Soquel Vineyards partners Peter and Paul Bargetto and Jon Morgan were walking down the street wearing their winning wine competition medals, you’d hear them coming from a mile away. This year was particularly rewarding for the Bargettos and Morgan—they won two Double Gold Medals and five Gold Medals at January’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

 

Flats Bistro

Pizza with an artisan twist comes to Aptos Beach

 

Should Pacific Avenue be a one-way street, two-way street, or pedestrian only?

I would definitely support closing off Pacific Mall to cars. I think that would be wonderful. Jim Grey, Santa Cruz, Builder