By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County government officials on Tuesday introduced a lobbying platform for 2013 that focuses on funding for infrastructure projects, health care initiatives and various energy, environmental and criminal justice efforts.
The annual report is intended to guide lobbying at the state and federal level by county staff and outside consultants. It is also a measure of the county’s most pressing issues and priorities for the year.
Before signing off on the strategy Tuesday, county supervisors made several changes, elevating advocacy for mental health programs and directing work on a key aspect of the county’s bid to launch a public power agency.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane argued greater attention should be given to supporting and expanding mental health programs, especially in the aftermath of the mass shootings last year in the United States.
“It’s very timely in terms of what’s happening with affordable health care and some of these tragedies that are happening across the country,” she said.
County lobbying efforts come in two main forms. One is the arm-twisting by county staff, including elected officials and department heads, who travel and regularly meet with state and federal representatives to press their case. The annual cost for such staff trips was not compiled for the lobbying report, and an estimate was not available Tuesday because such activity is often coordinated with other county business, a county spokesman said.
The Press Democrat has requested records documenting travel costs and other expenses reported by county officials.
The other form of lobbying is work by hired firms in Washington, Sacramento and elsewhere. The county and two affiliated agencies — the county Water Agency and county Open Space District — spent a combined $580,000 in 2012 on contracts with six lobbying firms. The Water Agency’s tab was the largest, at $355,000; the county spent $165,000 and the Open Space District spent $60,000.
County officials defended the expenditures, saying they helped secure a far greater amount of state and federal money for local services and projects.
Brad Sherwood, a Water Agency spokesman, said the agency’s lobbying efforts in 2012 have so far resulted in $9 million in federal and state grant funds for water supply and habitat restoration projects, as well as $3 million to help with operations and maintenance at the region’s two main reservoirs, Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino. Such financial support, along with the policy expertise of hired lobbyists, pays off in better infrastructure and lower service charges for local taxpayers, Sherwood said.
“It requires expertise in these areas to effectively advocate for the community,” Sherwood said.
County supervisors gave much the same defense.
“We have to continue to be involved in order to bring back the resources that are necessary,” Supervisor Efren Carrillo said.
Supervisors said the lobbying keeps county projects on the front burner for funding, helps coordinate with other governments and informs them of legislative work on a wide range of issues.
“As much as we jump up and down” advancing county priorities, said Board of Supervisors Chairman David Rabbitt, “it’s not going to happen unless we collaborate with other efforts.”
Priorities in 2013 include some mainstays from past years: funding for new road, water and sewer projects; tracking and promoting state changes to facilitate pension-system overhaul; lobbying to modify the state gas tax allocation to boost funding for roads in rural counties.
Supervisor Mike McGuire earned board endorsement for work to promote local control of the $7 million collected from local PG&E customers annually to support energy efficiency and rebate programs. The county wants a say over how that money is used if it launches its own power agency, a move that could come later this year.
Other lobbying priorities include funding requests for jail and justice-assistance programs; support for a statewide tax on sweetened drinks and sodas to fund anti-obesity efforts; and a push to continue with several high-profile redevelopment projects thrown into limbo last year with the state-ordered shutdown of redevelopment agencies.
You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.