– California communities are rising up in an urgent plea to members of the California congressional delegation to stand up for their constituents and pressure their House and Senate colleagues and the White House to get back to the negotiating table and support direct and flexible funding for cities in what could be the last federal coronavirus relief package.
“There can be no economic recovery without a clear commitment from the federal government to address the staggering revenue shortfalls and skyrocketing costs that local governments have been forced to incur due to the shutdown of our economies and communities brought about by COVID-19,” said League of California Cities Executive Director Carolyn Coleman. “This is not the time to walk away from the table. This is a time to focus on what needs to be done to support America’s hometowns.
With negotiations in Washington, D.C. on a coronavirus relief bill stalled, a broad coalition of local government, businesses, labor groups, and individuals joined together to implore their congressional representatives to resume negotiations and support financial assistance to cities.
“During this pandemic, cities have stepped up by enacting emergency orders, establishing COVID-19 testing sites, protecting public health workers and residents, and supporting local economic activity to operate safely," said League of California Cities President and Town of Yountville Mayor John F. Dunbar. "These actions have saved lives and small businesses, and it's time for leaders in Washington to recognize that and step up to ensure we can afford to continue serving and protecting our communities.”
Already dealing with significant increases in expenses to fight the pandemic, California cities are facing a $7 billion revenue shortfall over the next two years, and as public health orders remain in effect, the shortfall grows by billions. Cities are left with no choice but to reduce or eliminate staff and essential public services that residents rely on.
“It is heartbreaking to have to cut services and lay off staff that are so integral to making Grass Valley a wonderful, vibrant place to live,” said Grass Valley Council Member Jan Arbuckle. “We have had to freeze seven unfilled positions, including one police officer and three firefighters, and layoff four others, and this could be avoided if we had strong federal support.”
In a recent survey of California cities, given the budget shortfalls, 90 percent of cities say they will have to cut staff or decrease city services to residents, and nearly 75 percent report they may have to do both.
In a series of four regional news conferences around the state, the “Support Local Recovery Coalition” called on California House members Kevin McCarthy, Ken Calvert, Paul Cook, and Doug LaMalfa to urge their colleagues and the White House to restart negotiations and throw their full support behind $500 billion in direct, flexible funding to local governments in the latest coronavirus relief package so that local governments can maintain core services and jumpstart recovery in local communities across the country.
None of the federal coronavirus relief packages passed to date have included direct and flexible funding for cities of all sizes or allowed funding to be used to offset revenue shortfalls.
“Millions of families are recently unemployed and at risk of being homeless,” said California Building Industry Association President and CEO Dan Dunmoyer. “If cities are cutting back permitting staff and economic development programs because they have no money, this will discourage new home construction at the time when people need it most. Denying federal assistance to cities will most definitely make the current housing crisis even worse.”
Direct federal assistance to cities is critical to economic recovery from this pandemic on which thousands of jobs and the livelihoods of families depend.
“Small cities depend on local businesses and vice-versa,” said Hotel Management Solutions CEO Aman Dhillon. I know for certain that my city’s revenue is significantly less than prior years because our hotel revenues are 70% less than a typical year. This is directly impacting the City of Yreka’s revenue stream, which has caused city-run services like our employees’ childcare to be cut and a hiring freeze at the police department is a huge concern. Our city needs federal funding so it can continue to provide services to its citizens and businesses so they can continue to generate revenue in a safe environment.”
With indoor activities severely curtailed during this pandemic, access to safe outdoor activities has become even more important to families but is now among the hardest hit due to budget shortfalls.
“Families, especially those on low incomes, depend heavily on childcare and recreation activities operated by city parks and recreation departments,” said California Park and Recreation Society President Tara Gee, Superintendent for the City of Roseville Park Planning and Development Services. “Parks & Recreation programs are disappearing because of depleted city budgets. Federal funding for cities would not only keep city workers off the unemployment line, but also many members of our community who are suddenly forced to choose between their job and their children.”
Fewer firefighters and first responders to answer emergency calls, reduced frequency of garbage pickups, delayed repairs to streets and sidewalks, delayed inspections and permitting, and limited hours and services for parks and senior centers are just a few of the core services under threat.
“SoCalGas partners with more 230 cities across our service territory to provide affordable and reliable natural gas service to our customers,” said SoCalGas Public Affairs Manager Deborah McGarrey. “During these difficult times, we’re proud to stand alongside our firefighters, public works departments, and other essentials city services to support the League of California Cities’ Support Local Recovery Coalition.”
Throughout this pandemic, cities have stepped up helping residents stay safe and in their homes, delivering emergency services, and supporting their local businesses and community organizations. It’s time for the federal government to step up to support cities to ensure they can continue to respond to, and recover from, this global health crisis.
Recovery from this crisis will only be realized at the local level with strong support from the federal government now. Cities have been told for months that our time will come – well, our communities are out of time.
Quotes from Other California Mayors in Today’s News Conferences:
- Yreka Mayor Joan Smith Freeman: “We are a small town of 7,800 people and so far we have been forced to lay off all of our part-time employees and may have to furlough more employees because of the revenue losses we have experienced due to the pandemic. Those layoffs are felt by every businesses in our community because those employees are no longer providing services to the community and without jobs those people are no longer spending in the community. People live at the local level, and that’s where economic recovery happens. Cities need support from the federal government today to lead in that recovery.”
- Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden: “We have avoided cuts to staff and services so far, but our revenues are drying up and our businesses and residents need our support. Nobody budgeted for coronavirus, but we redirected money as necessary to fight the pandemic and protect the public. Now, we need the federal government to stand up for cities and provide assistance, just as we did for our communities.”
- Tehachapi Mayor Susan Wiggins: “We have dramatically less revenue coming in this year because of the pandemic, yet we used what we had to deliver services, protect the public, and help keep our struggling businesses afloat. We even installed picnic table umbrellas to encourage people to order takeout by providing comfortable spaces for people to eat. But without federal assistance, I don’t know how much longer we will be able to afford innovative solutions to assist our communities. We need help now.”
- Apple Valley Mayor Scott Nassif: “Cities rely on the economy and commerce to provide revenue for essential services including public safety and family services. With revenue shortfalls due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, federal funding for all cities large and small is critical to maintain the integrity of the communities we serve.”
Established in 1898, the League of California Cities is a nonprofit statewide association that advocates for cities with the state and federal governments and provides education and training services to elected and appointed city officials.