Six lessons learned while serving California’s cities
It’s hard to believe that I will be concluding my tenure as the League of California Cities President in just a few short weeks. It seems like the year has flown by.
Over the past year, I’ve traveled nearly 20,000 miles, including two trips to Washington, D.C., for National League of Cities events and 3,500 miles by car to attend Cal Cities board and committee meetings, division events, and visitations with state and federal officials.
This year was an opportunity to experience the beauty and majesty of our great state, and to meet with so many city officials.
Given the challenges we’ve faced in recent years — a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, spikes in homelessness, rising housing costs, disastrous wildfires, a never-ending drought, and political unrest — I started this year with just one goal: To help all of us, as city leaders, re-energize and put new vigor into our collective work. I wanted to highlight the value of working together to improve the quality of life of all Californians.
Little did I know, the year would turn out to be so much more. As I traveled the state and met with countless city leaders, I learned valuable lessons that will serve me well beyond this year as president.
Out of adversity comes opportunity
My grandmother often said, “Remember to look for the silver lining.” Case in point: During 2020 and 2021, Cal Cities was forced to pivot its education programs to a virtual environment. In-person conferences, policy committee meetings, division events, and board meetings were held virtually. So, what was the “silver lining?” As things began to improve in 2022, we didn’t simply “go back to the old ways.” Cal Cities took advantage of the virtual technology and expanded its educational opportunities to do more for members. Cal Cities is now optimizing the virtual platform for short, deliberate events, like the Cal Cities Speakers Series and topical roundtable discussions.
Embrace — don’t fear — change
Change should be embraced, not feared. As an organization, Cal Cities has spent the past five years implementing a comprehensive strategic growth plan. Cal Cities has launched a new website, released a new brand identity with a new logo and colors, and changed its moniker from “The League” to “Cal Cities.” The most significant change in 2022 was Cal Cities “opening its leadership doors” to welcome five new members to the Cal Cities Board of Directors — one from each of the five diversity caucuses. This expanded diversity of voices at the leadership table has been incredibly beneficial for the organization.
Our shared goals make us powerful
California is a state rich with diversity. Our communities and regions are very unique. The arid lands of Imperial County look nothing like the redwood-lined highways of the North Coast. Despite California’s diversity of terrain, weather, and economies, it is also a state where we, as leaders, have many shared goals and experiences. We care about the well-being of our residents. We care about housing costs and rising homelessness, jobs and economic security, safe neighborhoods, efficient transportation systems, parks and libraries, and the availability of clean water. This is important to remember because it is the commonality of our interests that brings us together and makes us so powerful as an organization.
Good ideas don’t sell themselves
As city leaders, we understand our communities and know we have good ideas about issues like housing, homelessness, infrastructure, and drought. But having good ideas and advocating effectively for these ideas are two very different things. Advocacy — whether in Sacramento or Washington, D.C., at the county or councils of governments level — requires that we offer well-formulated ideas, supporting facts, illustrative examples, and answers to common questions and objections. And it requires that we deliver our messages in a way that is civil and shows respect for the interests and perspectives of others.
The road to success can be bumpy
If at first you don’t succeed — or you only succeed a little — keep on trying. This saying was true, repeatedly, this past year. An example: The new organic waste recycling regulations. Eighteen months ago — in the middle of the pandemic — our cities had no idea how to effectively implement these important but incredibly broad-reaching regulations in the required timeframes. Last year, Cal Cities both successfully lobbied for a way that our cities could “ease in” to compliance and secured $60 million in grants for implementation assistance. This year, knowing that our cities needed more help, Cal Cities went back to the Legislature and Governor and successfully secured another $180 million in grant funds for local governments.
It takes a village
None of us works in a vacuum. From our neighborhoods to city hall, from our cities to our regions, from our regions to throughout the state, we do nothing in isolation. We are stronger when we work together.
My work as Cal Cities President would not have been successful if it weren’t for the work our city leaders do in their communities and through their divisions, departments, caucuses, and policy committees.
Thank you for all of your support and collective efforts to improve the quality of life for all of California. It has been an honor to serve this year as Cal Cities President.