As recently as seven months ago, Kish Rajan's political horizons reached only to the Walnut Creek city limits. The 42-year-old city councilman, a homegrown product of Northgate High School and UC Berkeley, seemed likely to run for re-election.
Today, he commutes to Sacramento, where he oversees a staff of 25 and reports to Gov. Jerry Brown as the director of the new Office of Business and Economic Development (code name: "GO-Biz"). The transition has been like being called up from Single-A baseball to play in the major leagues.
"At the local level," he said, "we're able to make decisions a lot faster. We're often much more pragmatic, more linear in our thought process because we're on the ground.
"In Sacramento, there are so many long-standing political considerations in how decisions get made, and the bureaucracy is so much bigger that it's harder to see a problem and just move toward a solution."
His particular challenge is a sizable one. It's to attract businesses to California, which is better known in corporate circles for its layers of permits and regulations than its warm embrace of commerce.
"In California," he said, "we famously advocate for core values like protecting the environment, natural resources, consumers and public health. Governor Brown believes those values need to endure, but the regulations in pursuit of those goals have become so overgrown and burdensome that they're a hindrance to business growth
That's a mouthful, to be sure. Loquaciousness is a Rajan trademark. The bottom line: California needs to be more business-friendly.
His department, not yet six months old, has already had some success. Rajan points to recent decisions by Samsung, Amazon, Caterpillar and Sutter Health to increase their presence in the state.
Among the tools he hopes will generate more of the same is a law that's been on the books since 1977. The Permit Streamlining Act -- enacted during Jerry Brown's first go-round as governor -- sets a time limit by which state agencies must process business permit applications, but it's never been enforced.
Another tool that's been available but virtually ignored for 20 years is the Consolidated Permitting Process, whereby applicants can save paperwork and time by requesting that all environmental permits be issued by one agency. Rajan is excited about both.
"I learned as a city council member there are very few original ideas," Rajan said. "Ideas are brought up and plans made, but they sit on a shelf. It's not as important to come up with new ideas as to understand when a good idea's time has come."
He said he understands frustration with the glacial pace of problem-solving in Sacramento. But now that he works in its midst, it's less of a mystery.
"It's not because people in Sacramento care less about accomplishment," he said. "It's just a natural reality that the more factors there are in any decision and the more interests there are to balance, the harder it is to get a result. That's the nature of bureaucracy because there are so many moving parts."
He has a lot of time to think about what's working and what's not during his morning drive from Walnut Creek. The traffic isn't bad because it's a reverse commute. He's going against the flow.
Of course, when your job is attracting businesses to California, that's an everyday reality.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.