A coalition of California city mayors and members of the League of California Cities are pleading Congress to get back to the conference table and provide $500 billion to be sent directly to hundreds of cities across the nation to help cover the mounting revenues shortfalls created by the coronavirus pandemic.
Representatives of the League and the mayors of Murrieta and Yountville in northern California called the special Zoom news conference Monday, Aug. 10, to make their plea to the public. Valley News was there to participate.
John F. Dunbar, president of the League of California Cities and mayor of Yountville who led the conference, made it clear that the $3 trillion federal coronavirus relief package did not include cities with under 500,000 residents. Very little federal money has made it down to the smaller cities across America, leaving them with mounting revenue losses.
“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,” Carolyn Coleman, executive director of the League of California Cities, said. “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.”
Dunbar said, “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. 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.”
Monday’s news conference was one of 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 jump-start recovery in local communities across the country.
Gene Wunderlich, mayor of Murrieta and a member of the Southwest California Legislative Council, said in the news conference, “I’ll be fairly honest, our cities need help. We need direct financial assistance and we need it now.”
He reminded attendees the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act did not allow money for cities under 500,000 residents. He said what stimulus money they received from the state was not equitable with many cities getting as much as $174 per resident versus the $12.87 most of the smaller cities have received.
“Meanwhile, we need help today. My city of Murrieta and cities across the nation have stepped up by enacting emergency ordinances, like setting up testing, protecting residents and maintaining public safety,” Wunderlich said.
He said Murrieta is a fiscally conservative city and is handling the revenue losses fairly well, explaining some actions the city took to cut expenses.
He said many cities, however, have had to cut essential and emergency services to the residents because of the financial losses.
“Going forward we will have to join that crowd if relief is not forthcoming,” Wunderlich said. “That means more unemployment and less emergency services to our public.”
He said many grants given private businesses would also be cut with the effect “far reaching.” He said they were told that 30% to 40% of the state’s small businesses may close.
“It would be devastating to the state and national economy,” Wunderlich said.
He said to the Congress, “We ask, no, we implore you. Please go back to work. Please do the right thing and make direct flexible funding to our beleaguered cities and make it a priority.”
Patrick Ellis, CEO of the Murrieta Wildomar Chamber of Commerce, agreed with Wunderlich and said that from a chamber perspective, small businesses and the cities are the “backbone of the country’s economy.”
He said, “I implore that they (Congress) get back to the table and start negotiating and getting the deal done that provides direct, flexible funding to cities.”
Frank Lima, 10th California District vice president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said now is not the time to cut back public safety for fire and police, particularly with the wildfire season fast approaching.
“Without getting funding, those cities are going to suffer when you leave it to the state or the county it cannot be as effectively done,” Lima said.
The Valley News posed a question about the original $3 trillion CARES Act funding that President Donald Trump alluded to that had yet to be distributed or spent by the states and counties and the possibility that the president might reallocate some of that money to the cities in crisis.
Wunderlich was first to respond, saying they had heard of the issue in the last few days. He cited the president’s executive orders and said perhaps that might be part of it or in the current negotiations, dropping the $500 billion the cities need to perhaps $150 or $100 million.
“That would help,” he said. “We might be moderately hopeful that assistance could be on the way. But, until we see that money in our account we really can’t count on that.”
Dunbar, speaking about the state’s situation in that possibility, said the original CARES Act included only six of California’s cities with populations over 500,000. What coronavirus relief money was filtered down to the cities from the state and the county did not make up for the additional impacts on cities public health and safety costs from the pandemic.
“We can’t keep waiting for those modifications to those funds because we are continuing to incur costs on a daily basis,” Dunbar said. “So the flexibility of the funding and the direct access to funding to cities is what’s so critical. That’s why we are really urging all the members of Congress to respond this way.”
Coleman said the state and nation are grateful to Congress for passing the CARES Act, but she cautioned that it is not known when the coronavirus pandemic will end and until then the cities will continue to pay the extra costs increasing the threat to public safety.
“Frankly at the end of the day, this pandemic has gone on far longer than anyone could have anticipated, and we don’t know yet when we are safely going to open up our communities and get back – I won’t say to the old days – but get back to a different normal,” Coleman said. “We need more. We need additional resources to account for the limited time this crisis has endured in our cities. And we need to help offset expenses that we have to incur to keep everyone safe, and we’re going to need some resources to backfill the shortfalls because we took the steps we took to close down our economies.”
She said the cities have done what they could with the money to offset the unexpected expenses.
“That is not enough so we urge the White House and Congress to get back to the table and to talk about the new resources needed to stem the pandemic and to get our communities reopened,” Coleman said.
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.
Tony Ault can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.