Mike Davitt, Rep. Adam Schiff

From right to left, La Cañada Mayor Pro Tem Mike Davitt with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Davitt's wife, left, earlier this month at the National League of Cities Conference in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Mike Davitt / March 20, 2014)

Last week, as City Hall went about its business, two elected officials took that business to the nation’s capital, representing La Cañada in the National League of Cities (NLC) Conference in Washington, D.C.

The annual event allows some 1,500 local representatives to network and speak to members of Congress and heads of federal agencies about issues relevant to their communities.

This year, City Council member Dave Spence and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Davitt headed to the Hill to seek ideas and relationships that could be of local benefit. The city annually budgets $2,400 for one official to attend, but this year decided to send two.

“Talking face to face with people who could make a difference for the city is quite important,” said Spence, who said he’s attended the conference eight times in his 22-year tenure.

La Cañada relies heavily on relationships it builds with state and federal politicians who represent the Foothills area, as well as its associations with larger political advocacy groups.

That’s why council members hold seats on the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments and League of California Cities, convene with L.A. County’s regional mayors and serve on the California Contract Cities Assn. (CCCA), an advocacy group for cities that receive municipal services from larger entities, among other commitments.

“That’s an excellent way for a city such as ours to access information and be able to interface with other cities who face the same situations we do,” said Davitt, who serves on CCCA’s executive board. “If you’re a part of that larger group, you’re in on that representation.”

To further ensure La Cañada’s voice gets heard among higher levels of government, the city contracts with lobbying firms that monitor and review legislative changes.

State lobbyists can bend politicians’ ears, testify on the city’s behalf and locate funding sources for area projects, like the construction of sound walls along the Foothill (210) Freeway and, more recently, restoration of the Flint Trail and Flint Wash. They work alongside agencies to respond to the city’s concerns and secure disaster relief funding.

La Cañada pays a $2,500 monthly retainer to the Sacramento firm Ellison Wilson Advocates, whose attorney lobbyists track and support or oppose state legislation relevant to the city, said Ann Wilson, a senior management analyst with the city.

“While city staff cannot review the thousands of bills proposed each year and analyze which will have an impact on the city, our lobbyist can and does,” Wilson said.

Managing partner Brooks Ellison said California legislators introduce about 5,000 bills in a legislative session. It’s hard for smaller cities to keep an accurate pulse on all that’s happening.

“Sometimes you’re impacted accidentally, and sometimes it’s intentional,” Ellison said. “It’s a detail business — you can’t just skim through.”

Using a team approach, with three advocates actively engaged in La Cañada-specific issues, Ellison Wilson meets with legislators and keeps regular contact with city officials.

It’s all part of making sure a small city, whose population accounts for a mere .0005% of the state’s 38 million population, gets a seat at the table, Davitt acknowledges.

“We obviously love our independence,” Davitt said. “But the reality is, we’re doing the best service we can for the citizens of our community if we can reach out and be a part of these larger organizations and efforts.”

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Follow Sara Cardine on Twitter: @SaraCardine.

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