ReCOGnize Opportunity

A guest article from Bill Higgins, Executive Director, California Association of Councils of Governments

April 19, 2012

Regional government may be just the forum you need to solve that vexing problem. Given recent policy changes, most local officials probably think of regional governance in terms of SB 375 and its Sustainable Communities Strategy. But COGs are much more than that.


Rather than give you all 400 words of the history of COGs (e.g., “it all started with the implementation of the Magna Carta . . . . “), I prefer to cut to the chase.  Here are 8 take-aways about Councils of Governments.

Your Wholly-Owned Subsidiaries. Most regional entities are joint powers authorities set up to serve its members as governed by locally elected officials.  As I heard one executive director say to his board: COGs are “wholly-owned subsidiaries of our local government members.”

Flexible & Versatile.  COGs engage in planning and program implementation on a wide variety of issues, including transportation, housing, economic development, energy, and the environment. They are uniquely positioned to build consensus across political boundaries.

COG Paradoxes.  COGs must function in a political environment, but often in a non-partisan way. And they are sometimes less bold in structure and authority than a region’s needs might warrant, yet more advanced than area politics comfortably accept.

Economies of Scale.  It sometimes makes more sense to do something once rather than have every agency develop a separate plan or program.  In these instances, when consensus is high, COGs provide important economies of scale.

Sky is the Limit.  Where there is a large overlap in need and consensus, COGs can take on almost any issue.  Recently, the Western Riverside COG initiated a region wide residential energy financing program (AB 811) that attracted $325 million in private financing.  Talk about innovative. Check out their website 

And Back to SB 375.  As pointed out in a recent Western City Magazine (League of California Cities Article), SB 375 preserved regional flexibility.  The resulting plans that are emerging reflect regional values and realities – this kind of bottoms-up regionalism is much preferred to a one-size-fits-all state mandate.  

Learn More About Your COG.  I know that there are not enough hours in the day, but it’s probably worth your time to engage more with your COG.  Invite the executive director to lunch.  Talk with your representative on the COG board.  Spend 30 minutes on their website.  Read an agenda. 

And Finally, Reach out to your fellow officials and executives at other cities and counties and ask a simple question: is there something that we should we collaborating on to serve our communities better?  And you just may find another opportunity to collaborate across local boundaries.


© League of California Cities