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Comments on Agenda Item I-3 for the 11/7/2017 Council Mtg

From: domainremoved <HARRY>
Date: Tue, 07 Nov 2017 10:37:05 -0500

Dear Council,

I am sympathetic to the goal of securing tens of millions of dollars to support large-scale infrastructure and transportation projects. There are tremendous infrastructure needs in the City, in particular in the Belle Haven neighborhood, for which there is likely money available from other government agencies to offset General Fund expenditures. However, I am concerned that our existing Housing and Economic Development staff is not able to develop the partnerships necessary to achieve the policy objectives outlined in Staff Report 17-263-CC.

As an initial matter, I note that the RFP for consulting services is focused on advocacy at the federal level, and does not address the objective to monitor legislation at the state level, as outlined in the Background Section of the Staff Report. However, there was no discussion in this Staff Report regarding how state level advocacy and monitoring of legislation would be achieved. A revised Staff Report should address this deficiency by discussing how the existing staff of the City will leverage many of its existing relationships to achieve legislative goals in Sacramento.

Regarding federal legislation and funding for major projects, I agree with many commenters that the likelihood is very low that a small city from California will successfully compete against much larger cities around the nation, to get targeted funding from Washington for less than $100K/year in consulting fees. Notably, though the Staff Report indicates 4 Bay Area cities (out of 101 municipalities) who are spending on lobbyists in Washington, it doesn’t mention any funding that they have obtained because of such spending.

In addition, given the long lead times required to actually get funding out of Washington, pursuing this option will guarantee several years of additional delay on critical needs within the City, even if funding is procured. Given our strong General Fund financial position, the City should make the courageous decision to allocate more funding in the 2017-2018 budget.

Further, there is the unintended consequence of creating confusion in Washington when they see neighboring cities, or and Sacramento, competing with Menlo Park with different proposals for regional infrastructure spending priorities. For example, California is currently proposing to the Dept of Transportation a list of its top infrastructure projects. Dumbarton Rail, for example, is not on that list, even though it would significantly reduce traffic congestion, alleviate the affordable housing crisis, and reduce the carbon footprint of the entire Bay Area simultaneously.

It would seem a better strategy is to build a coalition of the willing to lobby Washington as a collective group. Taking Dumbarton Rail as an example, this would require building both public and private partnerships. On the public side, a multi-phase approach would start with Phase One: bring together Redwood City, Atherton, East Palo Alto, Fremont, and Newark to agree on a common plan and timetable for Dumbarton Rail bike, pedestrian, and light rail service. Phase Two would expand this circle of friends to include all counties with significant ridership on Caltrain, BART, and ACE, as it is likely that riders on all three services could benefit from cross-Bay rail connectivity. Phase Three would garner support from Sacramento to put Dumbarton Rail on the priority list for the state when lobbying Washington.

In parallel, a private side effort would build a partnership among the top Bay Area employers to pool their resources to supplement government funding of the rail line. The collective wealth of the top 25 Bay Area employers exceeds two TRILLION dollars. Certainly, there is enough money from this group of businesses to easily finance by themselves a $1 billion infrastructure project, let alone with government help. However, I feel it is much less likely they will participate if they get a call from a single DC lobbyist, as opposed to a coalition of state, county, and local agencies working together in unity.

Thus, it is my recommendation to the Council that we do not move forward with the staff recommendation to retain Mercury Public Affairs, or any other DC lobbyist group on the staff’s short list. Rather, we should direct staff time in Housing and Economic Development to form the necessary partnerships to make a collective appeal for federal funding. In my view, even local neighborhood projects such as moving power lines underground, should be bundled together with similar projects in other cities for a regional funding request at the federal level. We should postpone any DC lobbying effort until we at least have established the aforementioned regional coordination.

Sincerely,

Harry
Received on Tue Nov 07 2017 - 16:02:13 PST

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