Southern California city officials lobby in DC

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Nearly 300 California city officials are in Washington this week to learn the finer points of lobbying Congress for their share of the nearly $800 billion stimulus package. But KPCC's Washington Correspondent Kitty Felde says the Californians have competition. A lot of competition.

Kitty Felde: There are definitely more Californians at this year's National League of Cities Convention – and they're definitely not alone. More than 2,000 city officials from around the country are here for the same reason that brought Rosemead City Councilwoman Margaret Clark to town.

Margaret Clark: I think everybody's thinking the stimulus money – how can we get it? How quickly can we get it? And what can we use it for? And we want to be sure we don't miss any deadlines or hurdles that might – because everything's moving very quickly. Which is good.

Felde: Forty percent of the nearly $800 billion federal stimulus package passed by Congress is supposed to go to local government – like the City of Rosemead. Councilwoman Clark wants ramps in her city's curbs so they'll meet the guidelines set down by the Americans With Disabilities Act. But she says she's feeling the competition from other city officials looking for money for their own projects.

Clark: I mean, there's only so much money.
Felde: So what's your best shot? I mean, what's your argument that Rosemead should get this and not Poughkeepsie?
Clark: [pause] I don't know. (laugh)
Felde: Gotta work on that.
Clark: Yeah, I know. I gotta work on that.

[Chimes; "You need the Washington rooms or Lincoln, take those escalators there. Washington, first set of doors to the right, Lincoln, last set of doors to your left."]

Felde: Many of the seminars at this year's National League of Cities convention are aimed at helping city leaders understand what federal money is available – and how to get it. Riverside Mayor Ronald Loveridge is the League's vice president. He says it's critical for cities to be in Washington right now.

Ronald Loveridge: The first thing you have to do is find out what's here, what the rules are, some are driven by formula, some are driven by competitive grants.

For things like energy, they're making up the rules. They haven't made up the rules yet. And so part of your appearance, your arrival, helps them shape some of the ways some of this money will be delivered.

Felde: Mayor Loveridge says the Inland Empire is in the "center ring" of what some call "The Great Recession." Unemployment tops 12 percent – and the percentage of foreclosures is among the highest in the nation.

So Loveridge joined other California mayors and city council members on Capitol Hill, telling Congress that local projects need federal dollars. Now. Loveridge wants to help Riverside residents pay for insulation to cut their energy costs. He made the case to Long Beach Congresswoman Laura Richardson.

Loveridge: She nodded her head and said, "I understand and we'll see what we can do."

Felde: The ways of Washington were a bit overwhelming for South El Monte Mayor Pro-Tem Louis Aguinaga.

Louis Aguinaga: It's just totally different from what we have in California. I guess that's Washington for you.

Well, here, they're just debating on which monies should be allocated for certain projects and certain – I forgot how they said it – earmarks. (laughs)

Felde: Aguinaga wants federal housing money so South El Monte can buy and refurbish foreclosed homes. He wants transportation dollars to finish construction of the Gold Line's east side extension.

He says he met a well-connected fellow on Capitol Hill who's offered to help his city get what it wants. Aguinaga says it sounded exciting – so he's going to talk to South El Monte's neighbors to see if those cities want to chip in for their own Washington lobbyist.

Aguinaga: Well, we're going to talk about it. You know, if they can help us with the extension and some of the monies that are coming down, you know, it might be in our best interest.

Felde: But South El Monte and the other cities are a week behind Los Angeles in its lobbying efforts. L.A. and its Chamber of Commerce sent nearly 300 of its own ambassadors to Capitol Hill to lobby last week.