SHENZHEN, CHINA -- Gov. Jerry Brown offered pessimism Tuesday about changes to California's key environmental law and vowed to take his prison fight with federal judges to the court of public opinion.
Brown talked about both issues, plus shared views on gun violence and his economic trade mission, in a wide ranging exclusive interview with California reporters traveling with him in China.
His eight day trade mission ended Tuesday. The governor and First Lady Anne Gust Brown are expected to return home Wednesday morning.
Brown said he believes changes to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) will not be made by the Legislature in 2013, even as legislative leaders continue to insist they're hopeful.
"The appetite for CEQA reform is much greater outside the state Capitol than it is inside," said Brown while chatting in a lounge with reporters at the Shenzhen headquarters of electric vehicle company BYD.
"I've always said about CEQA, it's like a vampire," said the governor, a longtime critic of how the law is used by some groups to block development projects.
"Unless you strike to put a silver stake through it," he said, "there's always a law somewhere that's brought into the process, and the exemptions are more illusory."
Even then, Brown said he might consider a little political horse trading to try and revive his call for CEQA reform. He said that he might say to Democratic legislators, "Okay, you want that? (A particular policy item or bill) I'm going to add a little reform over here."
And he said that while it's a setback, he's not giving up. "I believe before I depart this stage, we will see reform in CEQA."
Meantime, the governor reaffirmed his intent on devising some sort of plan to address his looming showdown with federal judges on the population size in California prisons. And he said he may just show the judges the severity of any decision that forces actual prisoners to be let out.
"No matter how many billions we spend, no matter how much we cede control to the offices of the court" he said, "the judges evidently can't be satisfied."
Asked if we was talking about a proposal to let out the worst of the worst, the governor said no, but then added this:
"We'll have a list of nine or ten thousand of our finer inmates that will be ready for neighborhood visitations throughout California."
And on the national debate about gun violence, and the raft of bills making their way through the Legislature, Brown sought to find yet another of his carefully balanced locations on the political spectrum.
"I look for a sensible middle path," he said, "recognizing that hard cases can make bad law. So I'm going to look very carefully at what's presented."