Article President's Message by Cheryl Viegas Walker

Cal Cities strategic priorities set a course for 2021

City leaders displayed remarkable resilience in their commitment to serving their communities in 2020, taking action to protect their residents from a global pandemic, leading in the recovery of their local economies, responding to calls for equity and justice, navigating rolling blackouts, and combating one of the worst wildfire seasons in history. While the pandemic may have disrupted the advancement of a number of priority issues in the state Legislature and Congress in 2020, it also shined a floodlight on why in 2021, cities need strong state and federal partners to address the most pressing needs of their residents. 

In December 2020, city leaders who serve in leadership positions for the League of California Cities divisions, departments, policy committees, and diversity caucuses convened virtually for the annual League Leaders program, to chart the organization’s priorities for 2021. Developing member-driven and -informed strategic advocacy priorities is key to the effectiveness of Cal Cities’ advocacy efforts on behalf of cities.

During the process, city leaders had the opportunity to review Cal Cities’ legislative achievements for 2020, discuss challenges cities are facing, and inform the organization’s advocacy goals in 2021. 

City leaders discussed the devastating impacts the COVID-19 pandemic is having on city budgets, residents, and small businesses. As city leaders have stepped up to protect and advocate for their communities and promote local economic recovery, cities are in serious need of state and federal financial support and resources in order to deliver essential services to our residents.

Participants also conducted a robust conversation around the housing affordability issues and production shortages in their communities, as well as the lack of services for those experiencing homelessness. City officials agreed that as local governments, stakeholders, and state and federal governments work to find solutions to address these challenges, it remains critically important that cities receive the funding and tools necessary to increase the supply and affordability of housing at all income levels, and retain flexibility based on the land use needs of their community. Strong partnerships and collaboration to provide mental health and wraparound services for unhoused individuals were also discussed. 

City leaders agreed to continue improving state-local coordination and planning to strengthen community disaster preparedness, resiliency, and recovery. They also recognized the importance of protecting and modernizing critical infrastructure. 

As a result of the collective input and feedback from League Leaders and the entire Cal Cities membership, city officials developed the following state and federal strategic advocacy priorities, committing to addressing the top challenges California cities face. While California cities are confronting many issues, the 2021 Strategic Advocacy Priorities are intended to be laser focused on those issues most critical for our cities and the residents we serve. 

1. Secure state and federal funding for local COVID-19 public health response and economic recovery for all. Secure direct and flexible funding and resources for cities of all sizes so they can continue to protect residents from the pandemic, deliver essential services, support small businesses, and lead the recovery in our communities. Improve communication and coordination with regional, state, and federal governments on public health orders and programs to stimulate equitable economic recovery. 

2. Secure funding to increase the supply and affordability of housing and resources to assist individuals at risk of – or already experiencing – homelessness while preserving local decision making. Secure additional resources to increase construction of housing, particularly affordable housing, workforce housing, and permanent supportive housing, and ensure cities retain flexibility based on the land use needs of each community. Increase flexibility and resources to provide navigation assistance and emergency shelters, and strengthen partnerships and collaboration with stakeholders to ensure mental health, substance abuse treatment, and wraparound services are available for adults and youth at risk of – or already experiencing – homelessness in our communities. 

3. Improve state-local coordination and planning to strengthen community disaster preparedness, resiliency, and recovery. Pursue additional resources and support to mitigate the effects of climate change, sea level rise, catastrophic wildfires, and flooding in our communities. Promote community disaster preparedness, resiliency, and recovery in collaboration with the state and federal governments. Increase availability and access to the National Flood Insurance Program to include other natural disasters. 

4. Protect and modernize critical infrastructure. Seek increased state and federal resources for critical and sustainable local infrastructure projects including roads, public transit, active transportation, water availability, and broadband deployment that enhance workforce and economic development and improve quality of life. 

With its agenda now set, Cal Cities will begin working immediately to advance these objectives in the state and U.S. Capitols. I am thankful for all of our city leaders who participated in our priority-setting process. We stand ready to accomplish these strategic priorities in 2021. Stay tuned for opportunities in 2021 for you to help us achieve these priorities. To learn more, visit Cal Cities Policy and Advocacy webpage.