California city leaders advocate for solutions to statewide issues at NLC’s Congressional City Conference

Mar 16, 2022

Cities left a resounding message of strength in the nation’s capital this week when the National League of Cities (NLC) brought together city officials from across the country for the annual Congressional City Conference (CCC).

The annual conference features policy discussions and general session addresses from local government experts, members of Congress, and administration officials. The conference also provides opportunities for Cal Cities officers to meet directly with federal officials to discuss local issues and top city priorities.

League of California Cities President and Walnut Creek Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Silva, First Vice President and Artesia Council Member Ali Sajjad Taj, Second Vice President and Fowler Council Member Daniel Parra, Immediate Past President and El Centro Council Member Cheryl Viegas Walker, and Executive Director and CEO Carolyn Coleman led the California delegation of more than 100 local leaders.

President Biden and other top officials emphasize the importance of local partnerships

President Joe Biden, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, and Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice were just a few of the federal leaders who addressed the conference attendees.

President Biden spoke about the important role cities are playing in helping their communities recover from the pandemic with funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). "We’ve been so successful because ARPA went directly to you … to combat violence, address housing and homelessness, expand high-speed internet, or train people for good-paying jobs,” he said.

Secretary Buttigieg — who is also the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana — highlighted the administration's efforts to streamline the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act application process, particularly for smaller communities. The act was passed earlier this year and contains an estimated $45.5 billion in competitive and noncompetitive funding for California.

"There is no part of this country that will be untouched by the infrastructure law," said Buttigieg. "We need to put those dollars to work and get results and I can’t wait to partner with you all."

Rice, a longtime federal policy advisor, talked about the many challenges facing cities, including rising gun crime, a shortage of mental health care services, and the opioid epidemic. However, she remained optimistic about the future.

“While we continue to face real challenges, we are stronger today than we were a year ago,” said Rice. “We can and we will build a more equitable future for our cities and our nation.”

Housing, homelessness, workforce development, infrastructure, and disaster preparedness dominate advocacy meetings

Cal Cities officers met with congressional members during the trip, including Senator Alex Padilla, Representatives David G. Valadao, Linda Sánchez, and Juan Vargas, as well as with staff from Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office.  

During the meetings, the Cal Cities delegation emphasized the need for funding for housing and homelessness, and increased resources to provide mental health support, substance abuse treatment, and wraparound services. The White House and Sen. Padilla have both proposed billions of dollars in funding to address the nation's homelessness and affordable housing crises. Cal Cities officers voiced support for the proposed packages, as well as additional funding for existing federal programs that support city efforts.

Cal Cities officers also discussed the important role federal funding plays in local infrastructure projects and the urgent need for federally funded workforce development programs. In a meeting with U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs Charles Small, the Cal Cities delegation highlighted how the federal government and cities can work together to maximize the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act’s benefits.

Cal Cities officers spoke about the local impacts of climate change in their meetings, as well. The delegation voiced support for a proposed $105 billion funding framework from the White House and continued reimbursement for local hazard mitigation projects from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Cal Cities officers also advocated for possible changes to the Stafford Act, which was written when FEMA primarily focused on hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods. Sen. Padilla has proposed several updates that would improve FEMA's response to wildfires.

During each meeting, Cal Cities officers highlighted how local-federal partnerships can help solve these issues, and the tangible results such partnerships create. They specifically noted how direct, flexible relief, like the American Rescue Plan Act, empowered city officials to respond to the urgent needs in their communities.

Highlights from the advocacy trip are available on Cal Cities’ Twitter profile and Facebook page.