Skip to main content

Jerry Brown, Eucalyptus Trees, Esalen, and More

Randy Shaw: Unlike today, there were politically strong progressive movements during the Brown era that operated outside the Democratic Party establishment. Brown had strong backing among environmentalists, tenants, those focused on “appropriate” technology, and the United Farm Workers (UFW).

While cities like Berkeley, Santa Cruz and San Francisco have their own histories and mythologies, it’s not often that residents of these and nearby cities identify themselves as part of the larger region of Northern California. That land mass seems too broad, including many rural, suburban and exurban communities that many lifelong Bay Area residents never visit and whose specific location they may not know.

jerry borwn

Yet it is worth thinking about the links in a region where Jerry Brown got his start, which spawned Esalen and the broader human potential movement, and where real estate hucksters promoted the destructive eucalyptus tree. And a good place to join this consideration of our regional connections is in the new California Northern magazine, whose inaugural issue features some of the most insightful writing (as well as great photographs) about the area that I have read in years.

A clue on the scope of a magazine devoted to “a new regionalism” can be gleaned from the life history of its publisher and Executive Editor, Casey Mills. Mills’ parents were part of the 1960’s “back to the land” movement and raised their family outside Redding. Mills then attended UC Santa Cruz, got a Masters at San Francisco State, covered San Francisco for Beyond Chron, and now lives in Sacramento. So Mills, along with his brother and fellow editor Richard (an Oakland resident), are clearly well positioned to decipher the often hidden connections amidst the region of Northern California.

And after you read the thought provoking essays, the Northern California connections among Jerry Brown, Esalen, and Eucalyptus trees become clear. I don’t want to ruin readers fun in discovering these links on their own, but here are a few of the many thought-provoking pieces guaranteed to create great dinner or book group conversations.

Who Was Jerry Brown?
Robert Cruickshank, who writes for Calitics and is Public Policy Director of the Courage Campaign, has a stellar piece on Jerry Brown’s prior stint as Governor.

I cast my first vote during the November 1974 election, backing Brown for Governor, and closely followed his two terms in office. If you were too young to follow politics or not yet born during those years, Brown’s tenure may be a mystery.

Or you may have read some of the often completely off-base mainstream media accounts of Brown’s tenure, which typically describe him as a “Governor Moonbeam” who travelled to Africa with pop star Linda Ronstadt and kept running for President.

Cruickshank ignores the fluff and gets to the facts. In doing so he produces a rare account that, with one key exception reflecting modern changes in political alignments, gets Brown’s early political career and performance as Governor almost exactly right.

Brown’s 1970’s Progressive Base
Cruickshank sees Brown as practicing the “canoe theory” of politics, whereby politicians remain popular “by paddling a little on the left and a little on the right.”

He notes that as Governor, “Brown’s pragmatism did not endear him to liberals.”

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

But, unlike today, there were politically strong progressive movements during the Brown era that operated outside the Democratic Party establishment. Brown had strong backing among environmentalists, tenants, those focused on “appropriate” technology, and the United Farm Workers (UFW).

These groups were distinguishable from “liberal” interest groups like labor unions, who came to despise Brown over his refusal to build freeways, his claim that teachers did not need raises because they got paid in “psychic dollars,” and his unwillingness to support the pro-development policies of his father, former Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown.

The Brown years coincided with the highpoint of Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda’s Campaign for Economic Democracy, which gave Brown a grassroots statewide progressive base. Hard as it may be for more recent observers of Brown’s career to believe, but Governor Brown used to openly join with former radical Hayden, who would go on to have his own long career in the state legislature.

Brown began losing his progressive base in 1980, but retained enough grassroots support to lose his 1982 Senate race to Pete Wilson by less than 28,000 votes out of over seven million cast. I know that in San Francisco left-wing activists did GOTV for Brown, and this was likely the case statewide.

Considering that November 1982 saw an unexpected large turnout of anti-gun control voters, and occurred before Reaganomics crashed and while Republicans were ascendant (and Pete Wilson was a left-winger compared to current Republicans), Brown’s achievement in retrospect is quite impressive. The fact that this is the only election he has ever lost explains why Meg Whitman will be lucky to come within ten points of Brown this fall.

Jack London and Eucalyptus Trees
Publisher Mills has a great piece on the rise of Eucalyptus trees in the region, though it will prove very disheartening to fans of writer Jack London. Not to give the punch line away, I’ll just say this: I long knew the Socialist London was a racist, but I did not know until this article about his other, equally troubling political inconsistencies.

Cities like Berkeley are spending money each year cutting down these fire-producing, environmentally unhelpful trees, and Mills explains why these trees are here and how they were falsely marketed.

randy shaw

Randy Shaw

To order the first issue at the bargain price of $5.95 — and it includes many pieces I have not discussed — go to or send check to P.O. Box 2268, Sacramento, CA 95812.

Randy Shaw

Republished with permission fromBeyond Chron