Bay Area has come to dominate California’s political landscape 

When Jerry Brown was governor of California the first time, three decades ago, he was a resident of Los Angeles.

Although the Brown family’s roots were in San Francisco, his father had resettled in Southern California after his governorship ended in 1967 and the younger Brown launched his own political career by winning a seat on the Los Angeles Community College District board.

For whatever reason, when Jerry Brown’s governorship ended in 1983, he moved to San Francisco and then, a few years later, to Oakland, eventually becoming the city’s mayor.

The Browns’ periodic relocations have paralleled, more or less, the ebb and flow of political and economic power between California’s two megalopolises.

San Francisco was dominant in the early years of the state’s history — once holding a third of the state Senate’s seats — and as California’s banking center, with a strong civic cadre and cultural amenities, retained its prominence even after Los Angeles had become much more populous.

The 1980s saw what appeared to be a permanent reversal, as Southern California’s aerospace industry boomed and it developed its own powerful banking sector and the beginnings of a cultural presence.

It was, however, merely a temporary shift. The aerospace industry collapsed with the end of the Cold War, hundreds of thousands of defense industry workers and their families fled for more prosperous climes, and Los Angeles experienced an immense influx of immigrants, many of whom lacked job skills and education.

Meanwhile, the Bay Area became the global center of high technology and the personal incomes of its residents soared.

The re-emergence of the Bay Area was enhanced this week as Jerry Brown and other politicians from the region, such as Attorney General Kamala Harris and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, assumed office.

Actually the latter is not quite there, having delayed his inauguration and remained lodged in the San Francisco Mayor’s Office to prevent rivals on the city Board of Supervisors from naming a replacement.

Whether the Bay Area’s near-hegemony in California politics is permanent remains uncertain. It suffered a blow when Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives and San Francisco’s Nancy Pelosi lost the speakership. Almost certainly, its very low level of population growth will result in a loss of congressional and legislative seats in this year’s redistricting.

But for the moment, the Bay Area reigns supreme in California politics.

Dan Walters’ Sacramento Bee columns are syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service.

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Dan Walters

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