It has been almost 50 years since a California governor has resided in the old Governor’s Mansion. Now, thanks to a much-needed renovation, Gov. Jerry Brown has announced that he and his wife soon will be living there when they’re in town.
Good for the governor. California is too big and too internationally important not to have an official residence for its chief executive; virtually every other state in the nation has one.
And while, given this state’s stature, some might envision a more impressive setting, the stately white Victorian at 1526 H St. is historic and homey. Brown’s father, Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, lived there during his tenure, as did a dozen other governors before the building fell into disrepair. We hope future governors find it to their liking as well.
The mansion makes California’s past accessible for citizens whose landmarks are often better known for being plowed under. Municipally, its occupation can only speed the rebound of its midtown neighborhood.
But perhaps the best news about Brown’s decision to create an official residence is that it will eliminate a longstanding source of ethical discomfort.
Since 1967, when the old mansion and its neighborhood became so run-down that then-Gov. Ronald Reagan refused to live there, private donors have directly or indirectly underwritten governors’ housing expenses. Reagan’s supporters built a mansion for him in Carmichael; it ended up being leased out because a succession of chief executives, starting with Brown in his first term, refused to live there.
Govs. George Deukmejian, Pete Wilson and Gray Davis all lived in a ranch home in the Lake Wilhaggin neighborhood, east of the Capitol, and Arnold Schwarzenegger stayed in a suite at the downtown Hyatt Regency. But donors paid for them, too, through the Carmichael lease proceeds and an official “state residence foundation” developed to pay the expenses.
The arrangement has been fraught with potential conflicts. Indeed, when Brown in his second term chose a $3,000-a-month loft near the Capitol as his Sacramento address, he donated money from his inaugural fund to the foundation for the rent, having capped the inaugural donations at $5,000, in part to defuse the issue.
Some may criticize the $4 million renovation of the old mansion, funded with proceeds from the sale of the Carmichael property. There have been grumblings that Brown got legislative approval for the redo without making it clear that he intended to live there. News reports have noted outlays for high-end kitchen appliances and cabinetry.
But $4 million is budget dust in this massive state, and official state residences require catering kitchens. Brown, hardly a spendthrift, will term out of office at the end of 2018. If any kind of personal perk is being granted, it’s in the form of what Brown would call psychic income: The governor who is the son of a governor will get to live with the legacy of his distinguished family.
That’s a privilege, but it’s also an example. Like its chief executive, the state has come a long way since 1967. Fifty years ago, California may have been ambivalent about its size and stature. But in so many ways, it’s time to feel bigger, for all Californians to embrace their importance and this state’s history.