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CALIFORNIA'S COLLEGE EXPERIENCE

Intellectual Property

June 11, 2005

The state of California owns a staggering array of property, valued at as much as $5 billion. For years, various interests have urged the state Department of General Services to inventory the land and buildings and sell off anything that is "surplus."

Not much has happened, in part because the state doesn't even have a complete inventory. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's performance review of government correctly declared that "the state can't afford to have unused, nonperforming or underused assets on its inventory."

State Treasurer Phil Angelides has come up with an idea to put the land to use instead of selling it. Angelides, a former developer, proposes that state lands "be managed like a high-quality real estate business." He would channel the proceeds through a public trust agency to help more California students go to college. Angelides says the endowment could generate $250 million a year for scholarships, counseling, college preparation and other programs. Despite the lack of an inventory, he sees most of the property as commercially viable for business and housing.

Angelides is aiming to run for governor next year, so his proposed California Hope Endowment is obviously a political poke in the eye at Schwarzenegger. It's still very much worth considering

Angelides cites as examples street-level parking lots surrounding Department of Motor Vehicles buildings throughout Los Angeles and the Bay Area. "For example, if the state were to convert the block occupied by the DMV near Golden Gate Park to a mixed-use housing and retail complex, the project could create $25 million in returns for Californians," says a paper describing the plan.

It's an idea that private-enterprise conservatives should love. A win-win bill like this one could have attracted Republican support and coauthors in pre-term limit days, before 1990, regardless of political strings. But the Angelides plan, incorporated into AB 593 by Assembly Majority Leader Dario Frommer (D-Glendale) has run into a solid wall of Republican opposition in the Legislature.

Because the endowment would require authority to appropriate the money it raises, it needs a two-thirds vote to pass the Legislature. The Assembly's party-line vote (no surprise) fell short. A day later, Frommer gutted the bill by stripping out the appropriations language, allowing majority passage. Angelides apparently hopes for some GOP support in the Senate to restore appropriation authority. There's not much chance of that.

The project may be lost to politics for this legislative session. But no matter what Angelides' own fate next year, it's an imaginative idea that Frommer should keep alive until it has a better chance.

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