Brown under fire for property dealings

Attorney General Jerry Brown speaks news conference disclose new developments in his prope of excessive salaries in the City of Bell, in Los Angeles Monday, July 19, 2010. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)Long scandal-free, Gov. Jerry Brown has been suddenly embroiled in news of shady dealings on his pricey family ranch.

Investigations revealed that the property, Rancho Venada, sits at the center of a complex web of political and financial relationships — some of which have been publicly denied by a party to one of the deals. Two of the ranch’s six parcels, records showed, were recently transferred to the address of Agriscape, Inc., a firm specializing in organic soil, landscape supply and green waste recycling, according to the Shasta Lantern.

In an effort to learn from the company “what they purchased from Governor Brown’s ranch for $10,156,000.00,” the Lantern noted, a representative “denied any knowledge of the land purchase. It has been reconfirmed with the Colusa County Assessor that the transference address of the new owner is 37760 Borel Rd., Murrieta, CA 92653. Agriscape confirmed this was the company’s address and had been in 2005, but again denied all knowledge of the filed and registered land sale.”

Republished with permission by Cal

“It is believed,” the Lantern added, that “these sales were for top soil from the Brown owned agricultural reserve.”

Such a transaction would not only taint Brown’s eco-friendly reputation. State officials cannot use public resources for private gain, and Brown’s property transfers have emerged amid allegations that he fast-tracked an extraordinary state assessment of the likely profitability of his land as a mining or drilling site.

“Assessing a private property’s oil and gas and mineral potential is not something that state regulators typically do,” an oil executive told the Associated Press. “Petroleum-industry professionals contacted by the AP said they never heard of regulators carrying out and compiling that kind of research, analysis and mapping for private individuals. The AP told the oil-industry professionals only that state regulators did the work for a state official.”

Unusual work

Coming to the governor’s defense, state officials have challenged the notion that Brown availed himself of special services that ordinary Californians couldn’t enjoy. But, in a separate report, the AP noted it “found no records that show anyone else received the same level of service on private land — and one state lawmaker was even told that state officials couldn’t help him map oil wells that were potentially endangering drinking water supplies in his Southern California district.”

Five former officials from California’s state oil regulatory agency, “whose tenures at the division stretched from the 1980s to last year, told the AP that state oil regulators at times would print out up to 10 pages of records to answer a public request for information, even though the oil agency’s mandate is simply to regulate oilfields.”

“What made the work done for Brown unique, the regulators said, was the custom map with not only drilling information but colour-coded geological records and legends, and the conclusion by state regulators that Brown’s family land was unlikely to feature any gushers or mines in the future.”

Cashing in

Even if Brown were ultimately found not to have violated any laws, his standing would likely remain diminished — especially in the eyes of some of his strongest supporters, who have viewed his seemingly minimalist lifestyle as an exemplary way of putting his spiritually-tinged environmentalism into practice. As the San Jose Mercury News reported, however, “Brown has quietly built a small fortune in real estate and stock holdings, in part by going into business with prominent Oakland developers whom he once regulated as that city’s mayor, a Bay Area News Group analysis of Brown’s personal investments shows.”

“While Gov. Brown was busy over the last four years frugally balancing California’s budget, the state’s chief executive was actively building up his multimillion-dollar real estate portfolio. Just two years ago, he invested in an $11 million office building near Oakland International Airport in an area that is being considered for a massive “Coliseum City” redevelopment project that could include new baseball and football stadiums. And earlier this year Brown and partners broke ground on a 100-unit apartment building on prime real estate they bought in 2007 on the Oakland-Emeryville border.”

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