A group of mostly white men, and a few women, standing together for a photo in 1911.
Article Executive Director's Message By League of California Cities Executive Director and CEO Carolyn Coleman

Cal Cities at 125: The issues change, our mission has not

On Dec. 14, 1898, city leaders from all over California came together to create a unified voice that would represent the common interests of local governments in the state Legislature. While the issues our members struggle with have changed over the past 125 years, Cal Cities’ mission has remained the same: Protect and expand local control through advocacy and education on behalf of the millions who call our cities home.   

This strong core mission is essential, especially as election cycles regularly bring changes to those charged with governing and making decisions on issues of importance to cities. This year, we’ll hear from the thousands of good people who have thrown their hat into the arena to campaign as a mayor, council member, state senator, state representative, or U.S. senator or representative, as well as the highest elected office in our land, president of the United States. 

Those who run and are elected in California in 2024 will face daunting — yet surmountable — challenges from day one. These challenges regularly top voter polls and our member surveys. They include a growing fentanyl crisis, the need for ongoing funding to prevent and reduce homelessness, organized retail theft, a severe shortage of affordable housing, and the need to bolster investments in our communities. This year, the state must also address a $68 billion budget deficit. And as they do so, we’ll insist that they don’t do it at the expense of our communities.   

A diverse group of city officials holding signs that say "real progress starts local" looks at a speaker.

Every now and then, I think about those city officials who banded together back in 1898 to fight for greater state investment in our cities. They ran for office and came together as the League of California Cities because they wanted to make a difference for their cities and our state. They wanted communities that were strong and resilient — places their children and future generations could call home. They sound much like the city officials I’m privileged to serve alongside today, 125 years later. 

Despite the challenges we face, our cities are fortunate to have so many good people who step up and are willing to run for elected office. As I write those words, I’m reminded of the words from a speech on citizenship that President Theodore Roosevelt delivered in Paris, France, in 1910: 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Happy Birthday, Cal Cities, and thank you city leaders for getting into the arena of public service. The success of our democracy and our communities depends on people like you. It’s not the critics that count, but all of you!