Earlier this month, he Corona City Council debated whether its membership in the League of California Cities was worth the more than $37,000 price tag for 2023.

Earlier this month, the Corona City Council discussed whether it would continue the city’s membership in the League of California Cities (Cal Cities) — an association that seeks to “expand and protect local control for cities through education and advocacy to enhance the quality of life for all Californians,” according to the organization’s website.

“It’s a great time to have this conversation,” Denzel Maxwell, assistant to the city manager, said. “It’s time to pay our dues for the year.”

For the city of Corona, with an estimated population of just under 160,000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2023 cost for membership is $37,608. Last year, the city paid $36,507 for membership, according to a presentation that can be found here.

Cal Cities says it provides monitoring, tracking and engagement on bills and policy issue areas; communication on advocacy efforts, legislative developments and new or innovative strategies being implemented by other member cities; action alerts and sample letters/language on important bills; monitoring of court cases and submission of amicus curiae briefs and filing lawsuits to protect local control; and professional development for staff and public officials.

Out of all of the cities in California, Maxwell said only four have opted out of membership: Laguna Woods, Guadalupe, Jurupa Valley and Torrance.

“Recently there have been concerns with Cal Cities and, what we have noted, most of this is geared around how cities feel Cal Cities represents them in local representation,” Maxwell said. “We’re seeing that concerns are also around Cal Cities’ efforts to reinforce local control, mostly around land use and zoning and also keeping revenues local, and that Cal Cities has a one size fits all approach.”

Maxwell provided the council with four options for moving forward: continue membership; continue membership and send a letter with dues payment conveying the city’s concerns; continue membership, send a letter with dues payment conveying the city’s concerns and request an in-person annual update from a Cal Cities representative; or discontinue membership.

“I just don’t feel the California League of Cities is functional, and I don’t think they’re deserving of our $37,000 if they can’t fight for us,” Vice Mayor Tom Richens, who requested the item be placed on the agenda for discussion, said. “I’m all for Option 4. I don’t think I have the political will of these four up here, and that’s OK, but I want to use this microphone and this voice to let the California League of Cities [know]—and I hope someone over there is listening, I think they just stay quiet—is it’s time to stop.

“It’s time for the California League of Cities to either put up or shut up,” he continued. “Protect the cities or go away, and that’s where I’m at.”

Councilmember Wes Speakes, who also serves as a member of the Cal Cities Housing, Community and Economic Development Policy Committee, felt that being part of Cal Cities allows Corona to have a voice when it comes to state legislation—especially legislation that involves residential development.

“I would be not happy to give up that stuff and give up that influence at this time,” he said. “However, I would be 100% in favor of Option 3—for us to pay this, devise our own version of this letter to kind of give what we think [is] important to us and ask for an in person update from the regional person at Cal Cities.”

Councilmember Jacque Casillas, who serves as the chair of the Community Services Policy Committee and the second vice president of the Riverside County Division of the League of California Cities, also spoke in favor of Option 3.

“If we’re trying to be strategic for our residents and deliver for the city of Corona, then I don’t think it’s strategic to say, ‘Hey, let’s not participate in this thing.’” Casillas said. “And I just, I would argue that the more strategic thing would be to leverage our dues even more so. Let’s have more than two members participate in these meetings.” 

Councilmember Jim Steiner said his initial thought was to go with Option 3 as well, since it provides the city a way to give a warning that “if we don’t feel better, and see better results in Corona over 2023, then there’s a strong possibility that we won’t be members in 2024.”

For Steiner, the biggest concern of Cal Cities membership was the “one size fits all” approach taken by the League.

“We are not San Francisco, we’re not LA, we’re Corona,” he said. “We don’t want a ton of more houses. Some communities do, that’s the truth. But we don’t need you advocating for us if you don’t support our goals here in Corona. So yeah, so that’s a problem.”

Ultimately, the council directed staff to move forward with Option 3, which involves paying the dues for 2023, writing a letter laying out the city’s expectations of the organization and requesting an in-person annual update from a Cal Cities representative.

“We need to make sure that they understand, you know, what our expectations are, and then it’s up to us to inspect those expectations,” Mayor Tony Daddario said. “Mr. Maxwell, I would ask that you strongly recommend, or strongly suggest to them, that it would be in their best interest to come down and report to us in person, however you want to tactfully say that.”

You can watch a full recording of the meeting here.

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