Three local governments in Silicon Valley spent more than $1.9 million lobbying for local causes this year.
Santa Clara County spent about $630,807 lobbying the state Legislature and agencies as of June, according to a CalMatters report. The county trailed behind the city of Santa Clara but was ahead of San Jose. All three landed on a top 10 list of California local governments for lobby spending. The city of Santa Clara placed sixth with $704,533, while Santa Clara County placed seventh and San Jose placed eighth with $579,217. Vernon, a city five miles south of downtown Los Angeles, ranked first, spending $1,107,30.
Santa Clara County Executive James Williams said it’s important for the agency to engage and have conversations on policies with state legislators since it is ultimately the county’s job to implement state policies. He said the county has focused much of this year’s efforts on mental health policies including SB 43, which wants to modify conservatorship language in the Lanterman–Petris–Short (LPS) Act, for individuals with serious mental illnesses and reforms to the Mental Health Services Act.
SB 43 would add the inability to manage medical care and personal safety, and include individuals with substance use to the current definition of gravely disabled criteria. Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to carve out 30% from the Mental Health Services Act to fund housing for the chronically homeless coping with mental illness and substance use.
“Having a strong presence where we can offer subject matter expertise, where we can help work collaboratively with legislators on proposals is absolutely pivotal,” Williams told San José Spotlight. “The reality is that state legislation has such a huge impact and effect on our ability to serve the community because this is where the services are actually delivered.”
Santa Clara County continues to struggle with its ongoing mental health and substance use crisis. Local officials declared a mental health emergency at the start of last year, citing a record increase in suicides and drug overdoses, an inadequate number of beds in treatments facilities and the overuse of prisons for those in need of care.
Williams said the way the county lobbies the state Legislature is different than in the context of private sector lobbying—since their focus is primarily on providing input to inform legislators instead of opposing or supporting a piece of legislation that would affect the county.
“Counties have so much interrelationship with the state that our presence there is just absolutely vital,” he said.
Research has shown that cities across the nation that lobby their state governments get about 7% to 9% more per person in state dollars, according to a study analyzed by CalMatters.
The city of Santa Clara did not respond to requests for comment.
Silicon Valley lobbying efforts
San Jose has focused its lobbying on policies related to homelessness, affordable housing, infrastructure, climate and public safety.
City officials have supported three pieces of legislation in 2023. SB 400 is a police transparency bill that lets law enforcement agencies disclose the firing of a police officer for cause, and allows them to choose whether or not to disclose the specific details. AB 645 would allow cities to implement automated speed enforcement cameras. SB 8 pertains to enacting statewide firearms liability insurance. San Jose has a citywide ordinance on firearms liability insurance.
The city also has an annual legislative program that details its advocacy plans. The program is voted on by the San Jose City Council each year, where the public also has a chance to comment. The Office of Intergovernmental Relations also reports to the city council three times a year, where the public can also comment.
“Our lobbying priorities reflect the priorities of the city, as approved by the city council,” a representative from the San Jose Office of Intergovernmental Relations told San José Spotlight. “Voters have a direct say in those priorities through their elected representatives. State legislation impacts local funding and our ability to enact or enforce many local ordinances.”
San Jose also pays its state lobbyist, Steve Cruz, about $300,000 annually. The other costs go toward other organizations lobbying on behalf of the city.
Governments are required to file with the Secretary of State’s office once a quarter to report which lobbying firms they use. Cities are required to note the pay of in-house lobbyists who spend one-third of their work time on lobbying for a regulation or piece of legislation. The required documents do not include if a city supported or opposed a certain bill.
Larry Gerston, San Jose State University professor emeritus of political science, said lobbying allows each local government to make their case for state money that could help improve their chances for additional funding.
“There’s never enough to go around,” Gerston told San José Spotlight. “The more presence a city and county has, and the more they’re able to make their case, the better the chances that they will receive a share of the money available.”
Contact Julia Forrest at [email protected] or follow @juliaforrest35 on Twitter.