Governor switches appointment in favor of friend, political ally 

Arnold Schwarzenegger attended Santa Monica Community College after emigrating from Austria, and as governor of California was a champion of community colleges in the capital’s perennial money fights.

Schwarzenegger also adopted the San Joaquin Valley and lavished money and attention on the economically depressed region.

Schwarzenegger’s two interests merged late last year, just before he left office, when he appointed Isabel Barreras, a trustee of Fresno’s State Center Community College District, to the state community college Board of Governors.

Barreras took her place on the state board and as of Tuesday was still listed on its website as a member. Just last week, she received a letter from the Senate Rules Committee, seeking information for her confirmation hearing.

However, Friday, Barreras received a phone call from Gov. Jerry Brown’s office, telling her that her appointment was being canceled.

“I was surprised when I received the call rescinding my appointment to the Board of Governors because I had just received a letter from the Rules Committee notifying me of my upcoming Senate confirmation hearing,” Barreras said in an email. “I’m not sure what transpired in those few days, but I was told the governor wanted to go ‘in a different direction.’ Of course I am disappointed but I know Governor Brown is committed to community colleges and that’s what really matters.”

What transpired is that Brown had decided to replace Barreras with Natalie Berg, the wife of one of his oldest friends, San Francisco lobbyist and political activist Peter Finnegan.

A large development company controlled by Berg’s family,  Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises, contributed $10,000 to Brown’s campaign for governor last year through a subsidiary.

As mayor of Oakland, Brown supported a Forest City request for $41 million in subsidies for a housing project.

Berg, a longtime San Francisco City College faculty member and administrator, now serves on the college board and is vice president of Forest City Development, another subsidiary.

“[Barreras] is an 11th-hour appointment by Schwarzenegger and the governor decided to make his own,” Brown’s spokesman Gil Duran said.

Nevertheless, the governor’s abrupt switcheroo, from a Latina viewed by many as a future regional political leader to the wealthy wife of a close friend and political ally, appears to be a gratuitous insult not only to Barreras but to a region that sorely needs more, not less, official attention.

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

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Dan Walters

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