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Cities may endorse state lobbying plan

By Helen Gao
Staff Writer

Los Angeles Daily News

June 25, 2001

GLENDALE -- Frustrated by repeated state raids on their members' coffers and continued erosion of local control, the League of California Cities has come up with a battle plan to boost the political clout of its 476 member municipalities.

The league wants to build a grass-roots network, consisting of 10 field offices staffed by 17 coordinators, who would help city administrators and elected officials lobby the state Legislature.

"If you look at the ways other organizations structure their groups, one of the key people they try to mobilize is local officials -- get those folks to weigh in with legislative issues. Shame on us if we are not doing an effective job coordinating those voices," said Megan Taylor, the league's communications director.

Because cities pay their league membership dues with taxpayer money, the organization is prohibited from making contributions to lawmakers' political campaigns, a key method used for catching their attention. The network would help coordinate cities' letter-writing and phone campaigns in the hope of swaying legislators' votes.

"We are highly sensitive to the fact that we cannot make campaign contributions, unlike other groups we compete with on funding and various types of policies," she said.

One of the league's main concerns is the state's 9-year-old practice of siphoning off property tax revenue from local governments to balance its own budget. To make up for the loss, officials said, local governments have had to trim staff, limit library hours and cut other services and programs.

League members have until July 6 to vote on the plan, which must be approved by a two-thirds majority in order to be implemented. Cities would have to pay 50 percent more in dues, which vary based on population, to generate the $1.6 million needed to fund the operation.

According to Taylor, more than 100 cities have responded so far, with a majority favoring the proposal.

Pasadena and Simi Valley are among the cities that have voted yes. Glendale and Los Angeles are leaning toward supporting the proposal but have not yet cast their votes. Burbank staffers have recommended against it.

"I think it is a good effort," said Jim Starbird, the city manager of Glendale, which is scheduled to vote on the plan July 3. "Cities have faced a lot of issues over the years in Sacramento, where there seems to be a lack of sensitivity in the Legislature.

"As a result, we have lost revenues and we have a more difficult time getting the state to pay attention to our issues."

Glendale's annual dues would increase by close to $9,000, to $25,900, if the plan is approved.

Cynthia Kurtz, Pasadena's city manager, believes the network is worth the additional $7,858 her city would pay, on the top of $14,392 in annual dues.

"The concept of establishing local field offices is used very successfully by political campaigns, as well as by teachers, labor and other statewide membership organizations," Kurtz noted in a report to the Pasadena City Council.

Burbank's administrative analyst, Justin Hess, however, is not persuaded that the network would be effective.

"With the energy crisis and all, we feel that it is going to dominate the legislative stage, really kind of take the spotlight out of everything," he said.

"The proposal appears to be too much too fast and at the wrong time," he added.

The Burbank City Council is scheduled to consider the proposal Tuesday, and Hess has recommended against adopting it. The proposal would bump Burbank's annual membership dues from $13,075 to $20,737.

Cities that vote against it will still be required to pay the increased dues if the league forges ahead with the plan.

Los Angeles' dues are projected to increase by close to $30,000 to about $82,000. David Gershwin, spokesman for Los Angeles City Councilman Alex Padilla, who is a league board member, said Padilla and city officials generally support the plan.

Glendale Councilman Bob Yousefian hopes the grass-roots operation will help bring the Legislature in touch with local needs.

"One thing Sacramento needs to understand is what they are doing is operating in a vacuum that is really hurting us," he said. "We cannot go out to provide the police, fire and parks that are necessary if they keep taking money away from us."

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