This year seemed like a good time for the city to take a more active role with its own legislative advocate, Abe-Koga told the Voice. In the coming months there will be many funding opportunities for housing and transportation grants, as well as a hotbed of dicey legislation. She singled out the so-called Casa Compact, a package of 10 policy proposals to promote housing growth, as something the city needs to watch because it could impact local control.
"I clearly see that our story here in Mountain View is unique and different from most of the other cities around us," Abe-Koga said. "I just think Mountain View has grown to a size, and with the complexity of the issues, that we could use some help."
Plenty of nearby cities have hired their own paid political advocates. For years, Palo Alto has hired lobbyists at the state and federal level to represent its interests. During the last fiscal year, Palo Alto spent $80,000 for the firm Van Scoyoc Associates to advocate on various federal issues such as airplane noise, net neutrality and flood control. The same year, Palo Alto spent more than $210,000 for state political lobbying on dozens of proposed laws. Among those priorities, the city worked to oppose mandatory housing approvals and higher density requirements.
It's hard to discern whether that money made a difference for Palo Alto's agenda, but the practice follows a growing trend in California. In recent years, hundreds of local government agencies have been hiring lobbyists on the belief that it helps them compete for grant funding or block adverse legislation. Local government agencies make up the second-largest category of lobbyist employers, according to filings with the California secretary of state. From 2017 to 2018, government agencies spent more than $108 million on lobbying activity — which is more than unions, educational groups, and the finance and insurance industries combined.
Abe-Koga said that a full-time lobbyist might not be the right solution for Mountain View if city staff can dedicate more time and resources internally to monitor legislative priorities.
"I just wanted to put up the proposal so we could start thinking about how we want to address the ever-growing attempt by other levels of government to influence and affect city operations," she said.
Curiously, while city officials are looking into hiring their own paid advocate, they are also suspicious about lobbying activity happening at City Hall. At the same goal-setting session last week, Mayor Lisa Matichak recommended that Mountain View create a registration and disclosure process to keep tabs on any paid politicking at city meetings.
Matichak said there was no particular event or policy decision that led her to suspect paid lobbyists could be working to influence local politics. Over the years, residents have approached her and asked whether paid lobbying could be occurring in Mountain View, especially regarding development.
"It's just good practice to let residents know when an organization has hired a lobbyist," Matichak told the Voice. "Other cities have policies regarding lobbying activity, so it seemed like a logical extension for us as we've moved to greater transparency."
The City Council will revisit lobbying and other proposals from the goal-setting session at its April 23 meeting.
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