A debate over whether Santa Clarita should rejoin a 125-year-old statewide advocacy group renewed the discussion over the City Council’s growing frustration with legislation coming from Sacramento and what one legislator referred to as a “war on the suburbs.”
The city decided to pause its membership in the group for at least a year, with several council members expressing frustration in the direction the state is moving with respect to local control and public safety laws.
“Where I’m coming from is, we understand that we’re part of an association, and as an association, there are going to be sometimes when you lose and sometimes when you win when it comes to taking a policy position,” said Mayor Pro Tem Cameron Smyth, in explaining why he wanted to agendize the Cal Cities discussion. “But the concern that I’ve seen is that for the last two legislative sessions now, Santa Clarita has really been on the losing end of a lot of votes.
“When the league as a whole is taking positions that are contrary to our legislative platform, we have to reevaluate whether that’s something we want to continue, particularly when that’s a paid membership,” he added, referring to the dispute the city found itself in over its dues.
Earlier this month, the city was notified it owed $45,000 by Sept. 19 for an annual membership fee to be in the organization.
According to the organization’s website, there are 482 cities in California, and 476 cities are members, but the city found itself more and more disagreeing with official stances that its membership was supporting.
“It’s just a matter of a point of view, and it may not be with staff, but with other member cities, we have a different point of view it seems, particularly around the land use issues,” Smyth added.
During a staff presentation, Masis Hagobian, Santa Clarita’s intergovernmental relations officer, said the league’s stated positions on legislation lined up with the city’s views 58% of the time.
Three of the bills in particular were cited as part of the city’s most recent concerns, Senate Bill 4, Assembly Bill 1490 and AB 1630, all worked toward streamlining the approval process for developments by removing a local review component, as well as some state regulations. They are meant to speed up home construction to address a statewide shortage.
Santa Clarita officials met with members of Cal Cities staff, shared their concerns and asked the organization for an extension on the fees deadline to consider its continued membership, which the organization denied.
Instead, the group sent two members to Tuesday’s Santa Clarita council meeting, Bea Dieringer, Rolling Hills City Council member and president of the L.A. County division, and Ali Taj, president of the statewide group, to make a pitch to the council.
Dieringer, who represents a city with a median annual income of a quarter-million dollars, said she understood and shared the city’s concerns about legislation. She mentioned a couple of smaller gains the city was able to advocate for through Cal Cities membership, including a spot on a new steering committee for the L.A. County Affordable Housing Solutions Agency and a limit on that agency’s land-use authority.
“Like you, I have been extremely concerned by the continual loss of local control and the increase in crime and homelessness in our communities,” Dieringer said. “One of my goals as division president this year is to do more to help our city officials countywide be actively engaged and unified on issues.”
She also mentioned a plan to address concerns with the timing of Cal Cities’ involvement in the legislative process and intended to get the organization involved earlier in the process, which was a concern brought up more than once.
Santa Clarita has been a member of the League of California Cities since its inception, according to Taj, an Artesia city councilman, who asked for the city to renew its membership in a call to the dais for more unity and engagement.
Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Laurene Weste, who earlier expressed frustration in the fact that laws are not being enforced by the county’s district attorney, called the legislation being passed in the state capitol “idiotic” and questioned why cities were losing local control over developments.
“I don’t recognize the state I grew up in,” Weste said. “It’s full of crime. It’s being disintegrated with idiotic legislation that is completely demoralizing people. It’s taking apart our neighborhoods. It’s destroying the investments people are making in their homes and it’s being done in the name of making room for other people.”
Then, acknowledging a reaction from the audience, she responded.
“It’s not funny, it’s tragic. The state is disintegrating the way it is,” she said.
Both Smyth and Weste said going forward if Santa Clarita wanted to advocate on an issue, perhaps the city could hire an issue-specific lobbyist as it has in the past.
For his part in the process, state Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, said he pays much closer attention to letters he receives from his constituents in the district than he would a letter from a statewide advocacy agency.
He said his colleagues in Sacramento are continually trying to wrest away local control, calling the situation “a war on the suburbs,” adding that he got the impression sometimes that bedroom communities like Santa Clarita are being targeted by such legislation.
He also said that in the 21st District, Santa Clarita and Hesperia have always been particularly vocal in their advocacy.
“I’m more interested in my local letters and my calls and letters from the local elected official as opposed to any state organization,” Wilk said Wednesday in a phone interview, adding that he’s also noticed that statewide organizations have been increasingly taking opposite positions from local agencies.
Wilk added: “I think it’s a situation really crying out for reform there.”