Secretary of the California Transportation Agency: Who Is Brian P. Kelly?

Thursday, July 04, 2013
Brian P. Kelly

Governor Jerry Brown tapped Brian P. Kelly, a key player on transportation issues as a staffer in the Legislature for 17-years, to run the newly-created California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA). Kelly’s last post was acting secretary of the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency (BTH), where he helped direct its reorganization.

A broad reconfiguration of state government’s executive branch kicked into high gear on Monday, although some of the new and newly-configured departments and agencies have yet to launch their websites. 

Kelly, 44, received a degree in Government and Journalism from California State University, Sacramento, before going to work as a field representative for the California Democratic Caucus from 1994-1995.

He then moved to the California Legislature where he worked for four successive Senate president pro tempores, often on transportation issues. Kelly was an assistant consultant for Bill Lockyer from 1995-1998, a principal consultant for John Burton, 1998-2004, executive principal consultant for Don Perata, 2004-2008, and executive staff director for Darrell Steinberg, 2008-2012.

Kelly made Capitol Weekly’s 2010 Top 100 List of major players in California politics, checking in at No. 62. The mini-profile that year said, “Brian Kelly is at or near the top of everybody’s list. The detail-driven Kelly used to handle transportation issues specifically, but he has since branched out to become the Senate leader’s top policy person.” The “super staffer” moved up to No. 44 the next year. Capitol Weekly, noting that Kelly had been one of Steinberg’s first hires when he took control of the Senate, said “he always seems to be in the room when the door is closed and the critical moment is reached.”

Kelly disappeared from the list in 2012, the year he left the legislative branch and moved to the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency (BTH) as undersecretary, before quickly becoming acting secretary. As agency chief, he oversaw 12 departments, 45,000 employees and a budget of $18 billion, which was larger than most states.

He helped oversee the transition from the sprawling BTH to the more focused Transportation Agency, reclaiming the name it had before adding Business departments to its portfolio in 1969 and Housing in 1980. The new agency will have 12 departments, instead of seven, although the employee count will only drop from 42,000 to around 40,000. Housing and financial departments are moving to other agencies.

Kelly’s newest job is a Cabinet-level position and subject to confirmation by the Senate.

Kelly is married with three children.   

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Acting Secretary (Business, Transportation and Housing Agency) (pdf)

Keynote Address (California Maritime Leadership Symposium)

The Capitol Weekly Top 100 List (Capitol Weekly)

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