Article Executive Director's Message By League of California Cities Executive Director and CEO Carolyn Coleman

If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu

Last month, more than 400 city officials from throughout the state traveled to Sacramento for three days of advocacy and learning at the third annual Cal Cities City Leaders Summit.

While still a relatively new event, it is quickly becoming one of my favorites. It brings together the best of who we are: An organization committed to advancing and protecting local control through advocacy and education for the benefit of the residents who call our cities home. 

With the legislative process in full swing in the Capitol — policy committee hearings on bills are overflowing and legislator offices are standing room only with advocates — the City Leaders Summit was a timely opportunity for local officials to meet with their lawmakers and share their local stories.

In my nearly two decades-long experience as an advocate for cities at the state and federal levels, I’m more convinced than ever that the legislative process produces better outcomes for cities when lawmakers are informed and educated by the united voices of city officials. And that means showing up, like our city officials did last month.

California’s two-year legislative process requires persistence. Bad ideas that are stalled or sidelined have a way of coming back to life in the Legislature, and good ideas fail if they are not protected and nurtured at every phase of the legislative process.

Thousands of bills are considered throughout each legislative session before going to the floor for a vote. And with a supermajority in both chambers of the California legislature, bills are more likely than not to get out of the Legislature and land on the Governor’s desk for signature. According to a recent analysis by CalMatters, Democrats in both houses vote “no” on average less than 1% of the time. The Governor’s veto rate hovers just below 15%. Once the bill reaches his desk, he will most likely sign the bill into law.

This means when we want a bill to become law, we must use the power of our collective voices and knowledge of the legislative process to ensure its successful passage in the Assembly and Senate. This also means if we are opposing a bill, the earlier in the process we disrupt its path, the better.

The legislative dynamics that Cal Cities navigates to advocate on behalf of cities reminds me of my favorite adage: When it comes to advocacy, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. If we don’t show up — early and often­ — bills we oppose that hurt cities could become law, and bills we support could die. 

This is why actively engaged city officials are a critical part of the effectiveness of Cal Cities’ advocacy. When lawmakers hear the powerful, united voice of cities, we can prevent bad bills — like those that preempt local decision-making — from becoming law. Through our strong, grassroots advocacy, we can ensure that local voices and local priorities are well represented in the Capitol.

Every legislative session — and even more so this year with the state facing a significant budget deficit — presents opportunities and challenges for cities. And every legislative session, cities must unite to send a strong message to Sacramento about the need for a strong partnership with cities. After all, a strong state starts with strong cities.