Article President’s Message by Jan Arbuckle

Strategic Growth Planning and Dynamic Transformation

The League presented its new 2018–21 Strategic Growth Plan at the 2018 Annual Conference & Expo last month in Long Beach. I was privileged to serve on the Strategic Planning Task Force with 21 of my colleagues and city officials from throughout California, who tackled this project over the past year with energy, determination and tenacity. And now I am honored to serve as president this year as we move from planning to action.

Developing the plan provided a time to pause and listen to our members, staff, League Partners and other stakeholders. The League’s strength lies in its numbers and our unified voice on issues that affect cities statewide, and the Strategic Planning Task Force examined many areas in which the organization excels and identified opportunities to boost our resources and the benefits of membership.

Key Findings of the Member Survey

As part of this effort, the task force gathered extensive information from our members. We designed the process to facilitate engagement throughout the League, and we were intent on creating a plan that will challenge us to evolve and innovate.

By asking ourselves tough questions and taking a fresh look at where the League is today, we identified areas where we are succeeding. We also identified challenges that must be addressed to ensure that we continue increasing our capacity to meet the changing needs of the cities we serve and position ourselves to maximize our impact.

Results of this organization wide review provide reinforcement that the League is on the right path in many areas. For example, when we asked what are the top challenges facing cities today, the list corresponded closely with the League’s strategic priorities of the past several years (see “Top Challenges Facing California Cities Today”). This underscores our ability to closely track cities’ needs and most urgent issues.

As a member of the League’s Executive Committee, I was especially pleased to see that a majority of our members describe the League as professional, knowledgeable, helpful and valuable. Our membership is strong and stable, and the organization is financially healthy. In addition, our staff is experienced and dedicated.

We also heard that the League’s services are highly valued. A majority of League members view the organization as their primary advocate with state policymakers and their primary source of information on current legislation and policies that impact their city. Communications with members are generally seen as timely and satisfactory, especially the California Cities Advocate e-newsletter and Western City. And elected officials consider the League’s educational offerings their primary source of training to become more effective city leaders and hone essential leadership skills.

Survey results also highlighted areas where there is room for improvement. There is a sense that our already successful grassroots network — and how we use that network — could be stronger. We were asked to look at ways to share the good work cities are doing by raising visibility through social media. And we learned there are a surprising and inspiring number of members who are interested in walking the path to leadership in the organization but aren’t sure exactly where to begin.

One result of the survey struck especially close to home for me. We were asked to expand online education offerings and locally delivered training and broaden training for elected officials. In particular, newly elected and appointed officials could use additional support from the League. As a council member of a small and rural city, I know personally that we cannot send all our staff or elected officials to every worthwhile conference or event. The League has a great opportunity to expand the number of people we support through regional and online training.

Putting It All Together

The work of the task force culminated in developing and drafting the three-year Strategic Growth Plan, which is designed to help the League fulfill its vision and mission:

  • Vision — To be recognized and respected as the leading advocate for common interests of California’s cities; and
  • Mission — To expand and protect local control for cities through education and advocacy to enhance the quality of life for all Californians.

The plan, approved by the board of directors in June 2018, sets six key goals.

Our plan serves as a roadmap to guide the League’s future work and focus. The League’s staff and volunteer leaders will share responsibility for advancing the goals and making them real. An annual review will be conducted to revisit and update the plan as needed. That effort began last month during the 2018 Annual Conference & Expo when we heard about the areas identified as priorities for the first year. I look forward to updating you on those priorities over the next 12 months.

Implementing Big, Bold Ideas

Achieving the plan’s goals is not about checking off activities on a list. Rather, it’s about transforming our organization and adding value to the member experience. Moving forward will involve implementing some big, bold ideas on multiple fronts — in our advocacy work, governance, education and training, member engagement, communication and organizational effectiveness.

In his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t, author Jim Collins observes, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline.” The 2018–21 Strategic Growth Plan represents the League’s conscious choice to build on its strengths and exercise the discipline necessary to achieve the plan’s goals. I’m confident that we have the capacity to do this because you — our members — are energized and the League is focused on meeting and exceeding your expectations. In the weeks and months ahead, I look forward to talking with many of you and working together as we take action to transform our organization from good
to great.

Top Challenges Facing California Cities Today

Some of the findings confirmed our current understanding of the issues of greatest importance to our members; for example, the research identified these as the top challenges facing California cities today:

  1.  Housing Affordability;
  2.  Pensions/Other Post-Employment Benefits;
  3.  Homelessness;
  4.  Transportation Policy/Infrastructure;
  5.  New Economic Tools;
  6.  Public Safety/Criminal Justice Reform;
  7.  Water Policy/Infrastructure;
  8.  Jobs;
  9.  Climate Change/Adaptation; and
  10.  Technology/Cybersecurity.