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

Our unity and ground-up advocacy make Cal Cities uniquely powerful

I recently traveled to San Bernardino to join more than 120 city officials for the first annual joint meeting of the Inland Empire Division and Riverside County Division. Local leaders traveled from every corner of the region — some drove as much as five hours — to take part in a lively discussion about the top issues impacting the Inland Empire, including economic development, affordable housing, and homelessness.

During the gathering, city officials talked about the power of strong regional collaboration and the importance of speaking with a united voice on the most pressing issues impacting their region. City officials at the convening recognized the power they hold when they band together to advocate for the needs of their residents.

The gathering reinforced for me the value committed public servants and highly engaged regional divisions bring to Cal Cities and cities statewide. In fact, it’s precisely why city leaders came together in 1898 to establish the League of California Cities as the united voice protecting the common interests of cities statewide. And for 125 years, Cal Cities has steadfastly carried out its mission: protecting and expanding local control through advocacy and education on behalf of the millions who call our cities home. The key to our success is twofold. As a member-informed organization, Cal Cities’ work is guided by the voices of city leaders throughout the state. And Cal Cities constantly changes and evolves to meet the needs of our city officials.

One example of our evolution is the creation of our grassroots regional division program, which was formed in 2001 to support and strengthen Cal Cities advocacy and expand cities’ impact on the legislative process and statewide ballot measures. Our regional divisions are at the core of our advocacy efforts. City officials — both elected and appointed — help develop region-specific grassroots strategies that support statewide legislative, regulatory, and ballot measure goals.

The power of our grassroots activities through the regional divisions statewide not only makes Cal Cities unique among advocacy organizations. It is integral to our effectiveness on behalf of cities. Just as Cal Cities is stronger when we speak with one voice, our divisions are incredibly effective at uniting to advance statewide policy issues through regional approaches. 

Another example of the power of collective action is in the San Diego County Division, where 18 mayors have come together to fight for more resources and swift action from the state and federal government to address the ongoing pollution crisis in the Tijuana River. While some may consider this crisis regional in nature, the state and federal responses to this emergency are a concern to cities statewide. When crises of this magnitude occur in our communities — whether they be threats to the local water supply, a wildfire, an earthquake, or catastrophic flooding caused by atmospheric river storms — no single community can manage the emergency response and recovery efforts alone.

Our cities must be able to rely on our state and federal partners to provide resources to match the scale of the crisis. In this case, the news is promising. After a decade of tireless advocacy, a group of state legislators introduced a joint resolution supported by Cal Cities urging Congress to provide $310 million to clean up the river. While we haven’t achieved our goal yet and greater state and federal action are desperately needed, the united voices through the San Diego County Regional Division and now at the statewide level are bringing state and federal lawmakers to the table. 

Cal Cities’ effectiveness is built from the ground up, from thousands of city officials to hundreds of cities to sixteen regional divisions to one Cal Cities. State and federal lawmakers may not hear the voice of a single city or city official. But when cities come together to speak as one, that’s a force that cannot be ignored.