Looking to wield greater influence in state politics, the city of Mountain View has hired a lobbyist who will monitor and weigh in on key legislation in Sacramento. Now it's up to the city to craft a political platform that will largely guide those lobbying efforts.
On Tuesday, the City Council took its first crack at creating its list of legislative priorities, agreeing on a sprawling list of close to 100 "policy statements" that show where Mountain View stands. The priorities range from support of housing and transportation funding to gun control legislation and police reform.
Mountain View had teetered for years on whether to hire a lobbyist as numerous Bay Area cities and counties began paying for political advocates focused on state and federal politics. The most vocal advocate, Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga, floated the idea in 2019 and argued the city cannot sit on the sidelines as key decisions are made on housing, transportation and local control issues.
The City Council voted last year to finally hire a political consulting firm, and months later approved a $100,000 budget for its legislative advocacy efforts.
The broad themes of the city's platform include addressing housing needs and advocating for better resources to support future development. The city is also pushing for "innovative and solutions-based approaches" to addressing climate change and greenhouse gas emission reductions, and will make a push for more transportation funding.
The list of specific policy decisions is massive, reflecting some of the hot topics facing Sacramento in recent years. Mountain View's legislative priorities include monitoring proposed changes to Proposition 13, which could have a serious impact on the city's budget, and supporting efforts to manage unfunded pension and health care liability.
The priorities also include a bevy of police reform items, including support for legislation that will increase accountability and transparency for law enforcement agencies and personnel. Though less of a focus among police reform activists, the city is also taking a support stance on any legislation that promotes better access to mental health services for sworn officers and first responders.
Perhaps one of the most narrowly focused legislative goals is the city's support of amending the Pedestrian Mall Law Act, a 1960 piece of legislation that dictates how the city can close a street and convert it into a pedestrian mall. The City Council agreed in October to consider making the closure of Castro Street permanent, but will have to contend with the cumbersome law in order to achieve its goal.
Resident Cliff Chambers told council members at the Jan. 25 meeting that the city should push to amend the law and make it easier to close Castro Street to traffic.
"That (law) really needs to be updated in a streamlined process that can be used for Castro street, which has very strong community support," Chambers said. "The process really does need to be expedited."
Council members largely agreed with the list, but still made more than a dozen changes and tweaks to the language. Councilwoman Pat Showalter proposed that the city take a stance in support of funding and regional planning for sea level rise protection, which won swift support and was added to the list. Abe-Koga suggested that the city support funding for transportation that is not tied to additional requirements, and push back on the trend by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to base transportation money on housing policies, which was also added to the priorities.
"Our region is not getting its fair share of adequate funding, and I would shy away from anything that ties our hands even more," Abe-Koga said.
Councilwoman Lisa Matichak said she was concerned that the city was taking a "support" position in favor of policies that should really just be monitored and potentially supported on a case-by-case basis. She said she worries that some of these legislative topics could end up eroding local control or creating an unfunded mandate, and that the city ought to tread more carefully.
Councilwoman Sally Lieber pushed back, arguing that the city should have affirmative support positions ready to go when lawmakers are in session. A former state Assemblywoman, Lieber said the legislative process moves quickly and relies on prompt feedback from cities and other stakeholders, and that waiting two weeks for the council to approve a political position could mean missing out on the comment period.
"Bills can fail in committee, they can fail in appropriations, they can fail on the floor, and a letter coming in the week after does not help to make that a not-dead bill. It's dead," Lieber said.
The council ultimately decided to leave it up to city staff to interpret the sentiment in the legislative platform and whether to pitch a support or opposition vote on the list of items.
The heavily edited list of priorities will return to the council for final approval next month.