Our Focus on Healthy and Safe Cities
by Chris McKenzie
What happens when you take 80 elected and appointed city officials, put them in a room together for a couple of days, and ask them to agree on a focus for your organization’s work program for the next year? Mayhem? Confusion? Amazing consensus? In the case of the League’s November 2005 strategic planning session, it was none of the above. But it was certainly closer to consensus than the other possibilities.
For six years now the League board has met each November to chart the organization’s strategic direction for the next year. This is the chance for the new president and other officers to consider the big picture with other board members and to provide themselves, staff and League members with a focus for their work in the coming year. After all, the governance of the League is delegated to the board of directors, and it has the ultimate responsibility of managing the League’s resources effectively.
The League’s strategic plan each year is based initially on the simple principles contained in the League’s vision statement, which was adopted by the membership in 2000:
“To be recognized and respected as the leading advocate for the common interests of California’s cities.”
This statement reflects a clear understanding that the League can only influence policies that affect cities if it focuses its resources on the issues that affect a large number of cities. Our experience in 2004 with Proposition 1A underscored this basic assumption. We learned we could be incredibly effective if we work together on those measures that impact a large number of cities. When we pick issues that unify us, we are unbeatable.
In the past three years, the League board of directors has invited the leaders of the League’s policy committees, divisions, departments and caucuses to join in the priority-setting process. Last year, a large number of them joined us to brainstorm, debate and advise board members in establishing the organization’s annual strategic goals. Their involvement was essential to developing these goals.
Prior to the goal-setting session, board members and other League leaders reviewed the outstanding progress that was made during the past year in addressing our 2005 strategic goals. Among other post-Prop.1A successes, these included:
No additional state takeaways of local revenues;
Early repayment of the full amount of the Vehicle License Fee (VLF) gap loan of 2003;
Reimbursement from the state for man-date programs for the first time in years; and
Full funding of Prop. 42 for transportation projects for the first time since voters passed this measure in 2002.
Board Adopts Strategic Focus, Articulates Goals
At the session, participants agreed it was important that our strategic goals statement address the types of cities we are engaged in creating together with our state and federal colleagues. That focus for 2006 is: “To support policies that directly promote the development and redevelopment of healthy and safe cities.” This is a focus that most, if not all, city officials have in carrying out their official municipal duties. A healthy and safe city is one that can maintain its infrastructure, meet its growing housing needs and help its families thrive.
After agreeing on this strategic focus and discussing options in small groups, the board of directors adopted three strategic goals for its divisions, departments, caucuses and policy committees to advocate during 2006:
1. Expanded funding for state and local investment in the physical infrastructure of California, including but not limited to its roadways, bridges, levees, parks, libraries and systems for delivering and treating water, wastewater and stormwater.
The board was aware that infrastructure reinvestment would be a major issue in this legislative session, and it’s clear at this juncture that the governor’s Strategic Growth Plan proposal and similar plans by Senator Perata and Assembly Speaker Nunez have appropriately become the focus of this legislative session. The League has formed an Infrastructure Task Force, chaired by First Vice President Maria Alegria, to recommend policy positions to the League board and policy committees in this area. All parties, including the League, believe this is a historic opportunity to expand our investment in infrastructure, reduce congestion and flood risks, improve air quality and expand our economy.
The League will be a voice at the decision-making tables for well planned infrastructure investments that provide tangible local as well as state benefits.
Of critical importance to us is the passage of an amendment to the state Constitution, as proposed by the governor, that will close the current loophole in Prop. 42 (the motor fuel sales tax) that has allowed these revenues to be used for nontransportation purposes. We’re working with a coalition of stakeholders to advance this agenda and a possible statewide initiative to close the loophole if the Legislature fails to act. It will also be critical for the Legislature to agree, as proposed by the governor, to repay past Prop. 42 “loans” made to the general fund; this repayment will enable cities and counties to meet local street and road maintenance needs.
2. Expanded housing supply and affordability for all Californians consistent with the planning and environmental quality objectives of the League’s Principles for Smart Growth and the League’s mission to restore and protect local control.
During the previous 12 months, the League engaged in a task force with representatives of the homebuilding industry in an attempt to formulate a joint legislative proposal to remove unnecessary regulatory barriers to housing construction. We also participated in some state administration stakeholder meetings to discuss this issue, which have not yet led to any specific housing or California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) reform proposals. Both of these efforts led the League to develop a number of legislative proposals that have been approved by the League board to reward cities that make certain commitments to land supplies for market rate and affordable housing. The League has not endorsed any new one-size-fits-all mandates in this area, but we believe our package would significantly advance this goal.
We continue to work with homebuilders, environmental groups, counties and the
local councils of government to refine housing proposals that will increase affordability and supply across the state. This year’s infrastructure discussion presents a real opportunity to advance this goal, because housing is integrally connected to our infrastructure investments.
3. Protection of redevelopment funding and authority, the critical tools necessary for local investment in future affordable housing, and the infrastructure so necessary for the continued expansion of the California economy.
Anyone who doubts whether redevelopment is key to meeting the state’s infrastructure and affordable housing needs simply lacks adequate information. After the federal government, local redevelopment funds provide more support for affordable housing than any other public program.
Probably no local program is more susceptible to misunderstanding and exaggeration than those involving the issue of eminent domain. While the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on eminent domain had no relevance to California eminent domain laws, it has been widely misrepresented and distorted. As a result, there are serious threats to the eminent domain and other powers of redevelopment agencies (and city governments) that we must take seriously. Where there have been abuses of redevelopment powers, we are ready to work with our allies at the California Redevelopment Association and the Legislature to address them. We are equally ready to work vigorously to defeat legislative “fixes” to exaggerated charges.
Be Part of the Policy Process
In addition to these three goals, the League will be involved in many other issues this year, particularly telecommunications law reform that could have a substantial effect on cities and our residents. We will engage in that and other debates with our mission statement (“to restore and protect local control”) and vision statement firmly in mind. We invite all city officials to help shape our positions on legislation and other policies through our policy committees, task forces and general assembly at the annual business meeting.