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California Focus: What a Gov. Newsom might be like

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As the fall election season begins officially this week, it’s high time to look closely at what a Gov. Gavin Newsom might be like.

That’s partly because Newsom held leads of anywhere from 25 to 30 percentage points over Republican businessman John Cox in polls taken during the summer, drawing about 55 percent support – well over the 50 percent polling threshold that’s often viewed as decisive when campaigns enter their homestretch.

By now, many Californians should already have acquired some sense of the potential new governor. He’s traveled to almost every corner of the state since declaring for the office about two years ago, long before any of the Democratic primary election rivals he easily bested last June.

To get to know the state even better, the former San Francisco mayor lived long periods in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles, working from the home of his in-laws. Newsom said he needed to develop more knowledge of and support in Southern California. This paid off in the primary, when he beat former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa by 10 percent in Villaraigosa’s home county.

But most Californians likely still don’t know what to expect from a Gov. Newsom. So it pays to examine where he stands on some of the state’s major issues, items he explained in several interviews over the last year or so.

For one thing, don’t expect Newsom to abandon the widely-criticized bullet train project, even though he well knows its trains will never reach the average speeds promised in Proposition 1A exactly 10 years ago. That’s in part because he sees high speed rail as a possible solution to problems major corporations have with recruiting because of sky-high real estate prices in Silicon Valley and the rest of the San Francisco Peninsula.

He puts a special priority on links the bullet train could create between the Peninsula and the Central Valley.

“If you get valley-to-valley transportation at very high speeds, you can get huge economic growth on that corridor,” Newsom said. “I think this should lead to some renewed optimism about what high speed rail can do for the state.”

So instead of being “Brown’s train” or “Arnold’s train” before that, the bullet train may soon become Newsom’s property, for better or worse. For sure, it could make the housing markets of Central Valley cities like Tracy, Merced, Madera, Modesto, Manteca and Turlock into bedroom communities for Silicon Valley. But only after engineers solve the problems of traversing steep mountainsides near Highway 152 in Pacheco Pass.

Newsom also proposes to tie funding for local transportation projects to local governments’ willingness to build new housing and help resolve California’s burgeoning problem of homelessness.

“Transit dollars have to be contingent on housing production,” he said. “You cannot de-link the two issues.”

But he opposed a springtime legislative proposal to rezone all areas within a half-mile radius of rapid transit stops and heavily-used bus stops for tall new buildings with thousands of apartments, most of them quite small.

“There has to be a lot of regional discretion here,” said the onetime mayor, who relished independent local authority while in that office, using it to begin the national movement toward legalizing same-sex marriages, among other items.

If he becomes governor at the same time as voters repeal the state’s year-old 12-cent per gallon gasoline tax increase, expect him to try to find other new money for transportation projects.

“We have a transportation backlog that everyone experiences every day,” Newsom said, referencing his own sojourns in Los Angeles traffic jams.

But Newsom remains noncommittal on the so-called California WaterFix, which would see local water districts assess taxpayers billions of dollars to fund two tunnels carrying Sacramento River water around or under the Delta formed by that river and the San Joaquin, east of San Francisco Bay.

If there’s one thing to expect from Newsom, it’s probably the unexpected. For sure, no one voting for him as San Francisco mayor foresaw him legalizing same-sex marriage or spurring a universal health care system for the city.

So no one can be certain of what he might tackle if and when he takes over California’s top office. Which might even include a run for president, in spite of his adamant current denials of interest.

Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com.