Local government representatives from throughout Southern California agreed unanimously Monday that state government should be held accountable to measurable outcomes, one of five “smart government” proposals being advanced by California Forward. The group, meeting in El Monte as part of a series of Stakeholder Roundtables, also resoundingly supported the proposal to foster regional collaboration by providing incentives for local governments to work together.
Participants were unsure, however, how to achieve those goals. Some even questioned whether they were achievable at all, considering pressures from constituents at the local level and the powerful influence of special interests in Sacramento.
In his opening remarks, El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero suggested local consolidation should be imposed by the state from the top down, since existing agencies may resist being disbanded or streamlined for the sake of efficiency. “At the local level, if you leave us to our own devices, we’re going to protect what we have,” the host mayor said. “Something outside of us almost has to force us into that collaboration.”
The participants in Monday’s roundtable represented more than a dozen local agencies and special districts – including parks, schools, municipalities and mosquito abatement agencies. Their responses to survey questions about the reform proposals were instantly displayed on video screens via remote control devices that tabulated answers in real time. The instant survey system also created a profile of participants, who predominantly identified themselves as politically moderate to very conservative.
During the two-hour-plus meeting, the group split up into small discussion groups. All groups reported broad skepticism about the possibility of making the reforms a reality.
One group leader cautioned about the “political dynamics” in Sacramento where “all these special interests would change how this policy framework would come out in the end.” Even reforms passed through voter-approved initiatives could be “chiseled away by special interests.” Another group leader expressed concern about the focus on outcomes and accountability, since local agencies are already accountable to their boards and constituents. “Everyone here, we’re all doing what we’re charged to do, and we’re very visible to the community,’’ the group leader said. “We felt we were already working together.”
Richard Raya, California’ Forward’s policy director, assured the group that proposed reforms were not meant as a criticism of local governments, some of which served as models for a “culture of collaboration.” As for special interests, Raya said reforms would dilute their power by concentrating more authority at the local level.
Still, the group’s doubts were reflected in one other survey question. Asked about the likelihood that local agencies within a county would share resources if reforms were adopted, 60 percent said it would be somewhat unlikely. Only 30 percent saw a chance local agencies would share to achieve common goals.
“So, we’re an optimistic crowd,” deadpanned Raya.
“Just based on 40 years of experience, is all,” one skeptic responded.