League of California Cities Keynote Speech

Anaheim, CA

We come together in a common purpose, to do our jobs better, to improve the services we offer to our citizens by working together with cities across the state. Unfortunately, our practical concerns about our communities cannot be insulated from the political realities of the election year.

This is a political season unlike any I have ever witnessed. The mood of the voter has gone beyond frustration, beyond cynicism, to total disillusionment. The people of California are angry and sickened at their state politicians, and with good reason. Government in Sacramento no longer works, and we in the cities pay the cost of this failure every day.

As city officials, you and I are better judges of the political mood of the populace. We have our fingers on the pulse of that misnomer, “the Average Californian.” Not with pollsters, or focus-group studies as part of an expensive reelection campaign, but by living in the very communities in which we serve: at high-school football games, or at the supermarket, or in the line at the movies. To me, that is the key difference between Sacramento legislators and local city officials: we have to live with the results of our decisions. We have to walk our own streets, send our children to our schools, live in the neighborhoods which elected us. In short, we are closer to our communities, and that proximity and that bond gives us an added responsibility to face the hard decisions of government squarely.

That distinction also gives us the right to speak out today, in fact it obligates us to denounce the state legislature for its incompetent and dangerous neglect of our cities, and of their responsibilities.

Many of them are good people; many are of high ethics. Collectively, they have shown a cavalier and blind attitude toward the avalanche of apathy and anger enveloping them!

Supervisor Kennedy spoke about partnership between the cities and the counties, and the challenges that lie in that relationship. That partnership is of paramount importance today for one basic reason: the state is trying to balance its budget on the backs of the cities. The state decision to engage in the shell game it calls “burden-shifting” is really nothing more than a transparent exercise in buck-passing. In a display of cynical political calculation, the state legislature has decided that its own partnership with the cities is subordinate to the reelection desires of its individual members. Unable to make the kinds of difficult decisions you and I make every day, unwilling to balance its own budget through responsible measures, the legislature took a leaf from Jerry Ford’s playbook, when as President he told New York City in the middle of its fiscal emergency to “drop dead.” In 1990, they are bleeding us white.

What we see now from Sacramento is no partnership at all. The attitude in the state legislature towards

the cities could be characterized with a phrase made infamous in the late 1960s: the policy of “benign neglect.” Those words by Daniel Patrick Moynihan prescribed a course for the federal government, one of procrastination, of disregard for the problems of the inner cities. This benign neglect led only to violence and further hardship. Today’s neglect by Sacramento towards the problems we face in our communities is not so benign.
It is not surprising that there is little understanding of local realities by Sacramento legislators. They don’t know what they don’t know. Most incumbent Assembly members and Senators have never served in local government positions. Fully a quarter of them have no other governmental experience beyond time served as a legislative aide.

Within that environment of a hermetically sealed jar, the very real problems faced by our communities are ignored and trivialized. They dither, while we work. They delay, while we decide where cuts must come. They run for reflection, while we run city services on shoestring budgets.
The legislators’ attempt to shift their own problems from the state, to the county, to the cities — the Tinker to Evers to Chance of politics — does not address the underlying problem of too few resources for ongoing programs.

And that failure has real consequences for us. With Senate Bill 2557, passed to cover the state’s own shortcomings, financial and moral, the legislators are putting immense stain on city and county relationships with each other. At the local level, friction will increase, and some cities will search for new ways to charge counties for services to recoup their losses. Across the board, principles of sound governing are thrown into question by the legislature’s gambit.

Let me speak of San Jose. We are the third largest city in the state, eleventh largest in the country. We’ve worked hard to build a sound tax base and hire cops and librarians. We have, like most of you, balanced our budget — no mean feat. Yet we now discover the reality of the new county charges, and suddenly we face upwards of $4.4 million per year in additional costs. We have long prepared to deal with onetime shocks to the system by building prudent reserves, but how are we to respond to this ongoing assault on our General Fund?

How will the legislators explain themselves to the people of our cities when basic services are cut, and not increased as they should be? In San Jose, our long-term response may have to consist of hiring freezes, or worse. $4.4 million in terms of people is 100 librarians, 74 firefighters, or 60 police officers. The reality of this is staggering.

But the buck stops here, or the bill rather, and we must pay it. And from our cities will come new ideas, ambitious new approaches to deal creatively with the crisis. Why do we rarely hear of new ideas, imaginative and enterprising programs from Sacramento? The truth is, the legislature itself is a hidebound institution, with careerist incumbents more concerned with careers than with projects and programs. There is no rotation in office, none of the healthy turnover we see at the local level, and no opportunity to shake up the stagnation of people and policy in the halls of the state capitol. A young JFK or Teddy Roosevelt would be powerless in a campaign against an entrenched incumbent today. As the people of California despair more profoundly than ever before about the predicament of our body politic, many elected officials at the local level are turning with them to support Proposition 131, the Term Limits Initiative.

The message the voters are sending this fall, and the message which we need to send to Sacramento today, is very simple. You can’t run a railroad this way, you certainly can’t run a city this way, and you can’t run state government this way — for long.

What should we be proposing as our positive alternative? Most obviously, the legislature must immediately reverse its course on SB 2557, to ensure a steady source of funding. Our cities must be able to plan for and provide essential municipal services without fear that the money won’t be there. Our statewide campaign in the League for “Operation Budget Freedom” is aimed at precisely that goal: safeguarding a long-term revenue base for cities and counties.

Furthermore, beyond the issue of money, each of our cities will have to take further steps toward better cooperation among ourselves. With cooperative development agreements, common approaches to problems of growth, and with shared wisdom on municipal programs, small agreements and standardized systems can workinto long-term solutions.

But there is the crunch of the city-state relationship. The cities cannot pull all the weight. We do need continued cooperation with the state if we are to survive the coming recession and emerge from it with the potential for prosperity. In these times of economic retrenchment, we need to remember Lincoln’s maxim that a house divided cannot stand.

That relationship cannot be, as in the past, one of false partnership. Where cities have tried to work with the state, too often Sacramento has faltered. Let me cite one example from my eight years as Mayor in Silicon Valley, an example that could have brought yet another booming high-tech endeavor to California. That project was Sematech, the joint venture of the nation’s leading semiconductor manufacturers to regain the world’s lead in chip technology. Through the combined efforts of San Jose and Santa Clara County, we set aside $9 million in local assistance and incentives — the largest amount of assistance offered by any local government in the country.

To our astonishment, the project did not get the same level of attention in Sacramento. There were mistakes by both Republicans and Democrats. The Governor refused to become personally involved in the project, despite requests by local industrialists and me. After six years in office — not even a phone call. In an increasingly common performance, the Legislature delayed its action until the eleventh hour, and Deukmejian lectured industrialists on California’s arrival as the world’s sixth-largest economy. That’s an embarrassment.

Now Sematech is in Texas, not California. It has joined the Supercollider Superconductor Project, the Earthquake Research Center, and the Micro-Electronics Computer Center as projects that should be here but aren’t. We are losing the future to other states, and Sacramento is to blame. Focus groups won’t suffice, nor will legislative bombast.

On visionary projects like these, as well as the more mundane issues of municipal policy and services, the cities have to take back the baton of responsibility. It stands to us now to assert the leading role in the partnership with the state. Leadership on the most crucial issues facing California in the 1990s will have to come from us. Funding for our schools, our highways, our efforts to retain unique economic enterprises haven’t been the theme in Sacramento lately, and we need to make them so. Leadership in these areas must come from within, from the population
centers which give us our vitality and our energy. Our leading role in the partnership with the state is not only required by the times, though. It is a natural extension of our place on the front line in the struggle with the issues of today the pernicious scourge of drugs, the challenge of educating our youth, the goal of sustaining growth in an era of decline.

It is only natural that leadership come not from the detached colony of Sacramento legislators, that oligarchy of incumbents, but from each of us. We are fighting the daily battles, and if Sacramento will give us the tools, we will finish the job. Let me paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt when he said that it is not the critic who counts. The credit belongs to the man and woman who are actually in the arena; whose faces are marred by dust and seat and blood; who strive valiantly and spend themselves in a worthy cause.

We are not spent; we have not begun to fight. We have much more to do, but the cause is so worthwhile.

I congratulate each of you for your success in the arena. Keep up the good fight.

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