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Home > News > News Articles > 2020 > October > League of California Cities Annual Conference & Expo – making virtual feel up close and personal
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League of California Cities Annual Conference & Expo – making virtual feel up close and personal

October 14, 2020
Last week, the League convened 1,600 city officials from throughout California for its first-ever virtual Annual Conference & Expo. 
It was an incredible three days of learning, inspiring, sharing, and celebrating the achievements of cities throughout the state.

The event featured 127 speakers, including powerhouse keynote addresses from award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien, best-selling author and award-winning podcaster Neil Pasricha, and the National League of Cities’(NLC) Leon Andrews with a panel of city leaders on advancing equity in their communities.

Outgoing League President John Dunbar welcomed attendees with help from the Long Beach Color Guard and Poway Mayor Steve Vaus singing the national anthem over a moving display of American flags waving over city halls around California. Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered an inspiring message to conference attendees saying, “Thank you for your faith and devotion to localism. Because at the end of the day, a state vision, whatever it may be, will be realized – or not – at the local level. Localism is determinative.”

League Executive Director Carolyn Coleman delivered an encouraging State of the League address, recapping the many twists and turns of 2020 and how the League pivoted to serve members. “While much about this legislative session has been different,” said Coleman, “it has served as a reminder of how powerful our advocacy can be, regardless of the obstacles, when we respond with a united voice.”

Coleman previewed the League’s achievements this year in League by the Numbers and highlighted the incredible leadership demonstrated by city officials. “This year we faced unparalleled adversity and challenges. But I’d like to reframe how we think about 2020. It also shined a spotlight on the strength and resiliency of our cities and our dedicated local officials, all of you.”

One local official was celebrated for his dedication and commitment over decades. Former City Manager, City Attorney, Council Member, and League Board Member John Russo received the 2020 Past Presidents Lifetime Achievement Award.

Acknowledging the unprecedented year faced by city officials, Director of The Institute for Global Happiness Neil Pasricha delivered a motivational keynote speech offering actionable advice and science-backed tips on how to be happy and still get things done when suffering from decision fatigue. He explained how a simple morning routine, taking up a hobby, and reading fiction before bed “… is proven to open the neurons for empathy, passion and understanding and will help refill your depleted vessel.”

On day two of the conference, attendees heard from NLC President, Los Angeles Council Member, and League Board Member Joe Buscaino about advocacy on behalf of cities in the nation’s capital and NLC Race, Equity, and Leadership Director Leon Andrews led a powerful panel discussion with city leaders about how to advance racial equity within cities.

Throughout the three days, city officials participated in a range of interactive educational sessions on important topics such as weathering the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing housing supply and homelessness, strengthening disaster preparedness and climate resiliency, preparing for rising pension costs, and incorporating digital communications into emergency plans. There were 39 sessions in all.

In addition to the breakout sessions, there were 19 business meetings, seven regional division meetings, and attendees connected with their peers at six networking sessions and explored the virtual, interactive exposition hall, featuring 78 exhibitors. The CitiPAC Trivia Night was a big hit Wednesday with more than 100 participants.

During the conference, the League’s General Assembly considered one resolution. The motion to approve the resolution passed, however, the General Assembly did not have a quorum and as such the approved resolution does not become League policy, but is forwarded as advisory to the League board.   

Even though we were apart, on the final day of the conference, we still managed to carry out the passing of the honorary gavel and pinning of the new president in a virtual installation of the 2020-21 League Officers and Board of Directors. Our new board officers include League President El Centro Council Member Cheryl Viegas Walker; First Vice President Walnut Creek Council Member Cindy Silva; Second Vice President Artesia Mayor Ali Sajjad Taj; and Immediate Past President Yountville Mayor John Dunbar.

“I am honored, privileged, and incredibly motivated to serve as your president this year alongside this amazing crop of superheroes, as we move forward in our work to create a better future for all Californians,” said President Viegas Walker.

Attendees thanked outgoing President Dunbar, mayor of Yountville, who in turn thanked League members in a passionate and heartfelt tribute to the League, “What this wild 2020 ride taught me is that even during an unconventional and grueling year, hard things were no match for the dedication and resilience of our League family. I want to extend my deepest gratitude to you, the city and town officials of California.”

The conference wrapped up with a captivating keynote address from Soledad O’Brien, host of the show “Matter of Fact”, who shared what it was like filming her new documentary in Seattle just as the coronavirus began its devastating run through the community. She talked about the importance of telling stories about people and places and shared her experiences communicating during crises, something with which local officials have a great deal of experience, especially after this year.

"There is a certain amount of opting in you have to do to make things better and I think that’s why you do what you do as local leaders,” said O’Brien. “Good governance is alive and well and I see it alive all over the country, in local leaders. When you are transparent, honest, collaborative, and you connect your values with your actions and do what you believe, you build trust, and you bring people along."

Throughout an action-packed three days, conference attendees saw how #LocalWorks and were inspired by the leadership, ingenuity, and creativity of California cities. Thank you to all that participated for making the League of California Cities Annual Conference & Expo a fantastic event filled with inspiration, learning, and connection.

If there are sessions you missed or want to see again, registered participants can access nearly all of the conference sessions until April 6, 2021. If you’d like to see the sessions but weren’t able to register for the conference, a special post-conference registration option is now available.

© League of California Cities