OAKLAND -- Gov. Jerry Brown praised himself for helping create the city's vibrant Uptown neighborhood during a housing summit Tuesday where he also called for changes to the state's strict environmental laws to foster development.
Using the 10K initiative he proposed and championed as Oakland's mayor as an example of a successful housing policy, Brown said state and local governments need to foster high-density development near transportation centers.
But, Brown said, a surprisingly strong opposition frequently stands in the way as he called for "some reasonable changes" to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and for local governments to develop the will.
The governor's opinions on housing came during a summit sponsored by UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business that sought to assess the state's current housing climate and ideas on how to better plan for the future.
Creating high-density developments near public transportation centers is a key for future developments, Brown said, as he praised his former Oakland planning director and his own vision for transforming a city neighborhood that had long been neglected.
"We basically approved every project we could as quickly as we could," Brown said of his 10K initiative which called for bringing 10,000 new residents downtown. "(We had) some people with common sense in the planning department and on the planning commission."
Yet, Brown said, he was surprised by the amount of opposition he received in trying to revamp downtown and chided one unnamed City Council member for trying to micromanage development.
"One thing I didn't notice because I was in state government and never in local government. One thing I didn't notice was this not in my backyard," Brown said. "It's amazing. People show up at City Hall, and they protest every single project and they want to re-engineer and redesign it and they actually get excited; they bring in hundreds of people."
Brown said he was "marveled" by the mob mentality that permeated City Hall during some development approval votes.
"Because the City Hall only holds a certain number of people, they fill it up and inside the City Hall I marveled at these meetings what I call the micro-universe of unreality," Brown said. "At the moment, the claims of the opponents were completely plausible but when you walked outside and took a deep breath, you realize they were completely absurd."
Brown said he remembered one such meeting when a City Council member asked for several condominiums to be taken off a top floor of a proposed project even though those condominiums were the units that made the project profitable.
Calling the state's CEQA law a "land mine that often blocks," Brown said change is needed so developers are encouraged to create smart growth.
"Any time you have a law, it spawns rules, it spawns a culture, it spawns a whole constituency," Brown said. "Changing it in any dramatic way is difficult; you need the same power equation to undo what it took to do."
Without saying what parts of CEQA need reform, Brown said he will work to develop "some reasonable change because we need changes."