Cal Cities makes significant progress on city priorities; city voices are critical in final two days of legislative session

Sep 8, 2021

The current legislative session ends on September 10. Here are the key items cities should take action on.

In the final few days of the legislative session, the League of California Cities has made progress on multiple priority issues for cities, such as funding for several climate-related issues and for implementing SB 1383 (Lara, 2016) organic waste regulations. There are several bills impacting cities that Cal Cities is still actively working on, including Brown Act requirements, housing, broadband, and public safety. 

The legislative session ends Friday, Sept. 10., and Gov. Gavin Newsom has until Oct. 10 to sign or veto any bills that reach his desk. City officials should attend the Cal Cities Legislative Call to Action webinar on Sept. 15 to learn more about bills pending on the Governor’s desk and actions needed by cities.  

Brown Act Relief

Last March, the Governor issued Executive Order N-29-20 as part of a series of emergency measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The order, which expires on Sept. 30, allows cities to conduct remote meetings under modified Brown Act requirements. AB 361 (Robert, Rivas) would allow cities to continue holding remote, transparent, and publicly accessible meetings during a declared state of emergency. Cities need AB 361 to pass so that they can continue to provide essential services while prioritizing the health and safety of their residents, especially as COVID-19 infection rates continue to increase.

AB 361 was recently amended into an urgency clause, which means it would take effect immediately upon the Governor’s signature. City officials are strongly encouraged to request their legislators vote “aye” on AB 361.

Cal Cities continues to oppose AB 339 (Lee), which would require city councils and boards of supervisors in jurisdictions with populations over 250,000 to provide both in-person and teleconference options for the public to participate in meetings. While this measure has been amended significantly, it still contains flaws that potentially hinder cities’ ability to hold practical, transparent, and accessible meetings. Moreover, it undercuts the safety-oriented provisions of AB 361 and unnecessarily endangers the lives of local agency workers.

Organic waste recycling, climate resiliency, and disaster preparedness funding

Cal Cities helped secure funding for several environmental issues in the recently released SB 170 (Skinner) and SB 155 (Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review) budget-related bills. If these bills pass out of the Legislature and are signed by the Governor, cities will receive $60 million in grant funding to implement SB 1383 and $70 million for organics infrastructure. SB 170 also contains a combined $170 million for other waste reduction projects, including $40 million in various grants to further the creation of a circular economy by funding recycling and organic waste infrastructure projects.

SB 170 also provides funding for climate resiliency and disaster preparedness, including:

  • $50 million for urban greening and urban forestry projects
  • $10 million for regional climate assistance and $115 million for the Transformative Climate Communities program through the Strategic Growth Council
  • $25 million to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research through the Integrated Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Program for climate resiliency planning and implementation grants
  • $100 million to CalFire, including for priority urban forestry projects
  • $25 million in fiscal year 2022-23 and $75 million in fiscal year 2023-24 to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research for projects that mitigate the impacts of extreme heat or the urban heat island effect

Similarly, SB 155 makes much-needed appropriations that will help improve cities’ climate resiliency and disaster preparedness, including:

  • $200 million continuously appropriated to CalFire for healthy forest and fire prevention programs, prescribed burns, and other fuel reduction projects
  • $350 million to the State Coastal Conservancy for mitigating the impacts and effects of sea level rise, including low-interest loans to local jurisdictions to purchase properties vulnerable to sea level rise
  • $25 million to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research through the Integrated Climate Adaptation Program to establish a grant program to mitigate the impacts of extreme heat or the heat island effect
  • $25 million to the Strategic Growth Council for the establishment of a community resilience centers grant program

Broadband funding

Although AB 14 (Aguiar-Curry) and SB 4 (Gonzalez) received notable tweaks during the past week, Cal Cities continues to strongly supports both measures. The two bills would prioritize the deployment of broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities through the ongoing collection of the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) surcharge. They would also expand the definition of "unserved” to include areas with speeds slightly faster than dial-up, which is obsolete in an internet-driven economy.

AB 14 is now in contingent enactment with SB 4, meaning that each bill addresses a different part of the CASF surcharge. AB 14 now includes an extension of the CASF surcharge for ten years; SB 4 raises the cap of the CASF surcharge to $150 million. Both bills must be passed to ensure that SB 156, the Broadband Stabilization Act, is most impactful. SB 156 includes meaningful reforms to the CASF program but does not include an extension of the surcharge or CASF funding, making AB 14 and SB 4 essential to creating a longer-term broadband funding source for local governments.

Relatedly, Cal Cities remains opposed to SB 556 (Dodd), which is on the way to the Governor for action. Despite securing amendments that narrow aspects of the bill to conform with federal law, the measure still undermines local authority and makes no meaningful progress towards closing the digital divide.

SB 9 (Atkins) Coalition Letter

Cal Cities continues to advocate against several harmful housing bills, including SB 9 (Atkins) and AB 989 (Gabriel). Notably, Cal Cities is finalizing a letter signed by over 200 cities to the Governor urging him to veto SB 9.

The ‘by right’ approval scheme created by SB 9 circumvents the important local government review process that includes extensive public engagement. Moreover, because there are no provisions in SB 9 that require new housing to be affordable, the new units will remain out of reach for many working-class families.

Rather than passing flawed legislation like SB 9, state lawmakers should work with local governments to provide the tools and resources to streamline local housing approvals and fund affordable housing. Officials should urge the Governor to veto SB 9, as well as any other harmful housing bills that reach his desk.

Cities that wish to sign on to the coalition letter should contact their regional public affairs manager immediately.

Peace officers: release of records

Cal Cities removed its opposition to SB 16 (Skinner) earlier this week after some amendments were made. As previously drafted, the bill would have made every incident involving unreasonable or excessive force and any sustained finding that an officer failed to intervene against another officer using unreasonable or excessive force subject to disclosure. The provision was not practical from an administrative standpoint and would have likely undermined trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. The bill now only mandates the disclosure of substantiated claims.