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Monday, Dec 4, 2023

Where Is The Advocacy in Business Groups?

CAPITOL OFFENSES Brendan Huffman Among our hobbies in the San Fernando Valley is to complain about the lack of services allocated to our communities and the poor decisions made at City Hall and in the State Capitol affecting our businesses. Hence, in light of our non-competitive business climate, one would expect that all of the Valley’s business groups are advocating on our behalf to hold our officeholders accountable, right? Judging from websites, newsletters and other communications, the answer is generally not. Recently, I was working on a project for a client related to recent developments involving the CA Citizens Redistricting Commission. This commission is in the process of accepting comments from the public about how new legislative boundaries should be redrawn for the next ten years. This process will not only affect how public policy is addressed in the State Capitol, this process could very well end up determining which party controls Congress after the 2012 elections. After reviewing the websites of 25 local business groups, it did not surprise me that not all of them included any positions or communications about this topic. What did surprise me, however, and should alarm members of the Valley’s business community, is that just a single business organization in a region of 1.2 million people had any mention about redistricting on its website – VICA, the Valley Industry & Commerce Association. (So did Valley VOTE but they’re not really a business group). OK, maybe redistricting is a little too inside baseball for most business groups to monitor. Although didn’t the business community at large fight hard to pass the two statewide propositions that set up the redistricting commission? Surely, during this tough economy and swarm of anti-business proposals coming out of the State Capitol and City Hall our business groups are staying on top of it. Or are they? No information If not redistricting, I expected to find some mention of other important public policy issues confronting our economic recovery such as legislation to eliminate all of California’s redevelopment agencies. Nope, aside from VICA, I found nothing. Well, maybe our business groups are tackling legislation to fix California’s impractical meal-rest period laws or new employer mandates on sick-leave and annually indexing the state’s minimum wage? Nope, other than VICA, which makes monthly visits to the State Capitol, nothing on those topics either. Back to redistricting, I did come across the Simi Valley Chamber’s thoughtful letter to the redistricting commission addressing the issue of their city of only 127,000 people being split between two Assembly districts. And the Daily News published a proactive piece from VICA calling for more legislative districts to include more of the Valley as opposed to the current configuration of too many of our districts being shared with other regions. What is curious about VICA’s redistricting effort is that four other groups are part of their coalition but none of them reference that on their websites, Facebook pages, or e-newsletters. Why keep their advocacy a secret? Reviewing the websites around the Valley and neighboring communities, here are some other revealing observations I made about our business groups . Most of the Valley’s business groups have no references to anything resembling the representation of their members before government on their websites. I came across one local chamber of commerce that has a 9 member board of directors, 7 of whom are listed as residents without business affiliations. No positions Other than VICA and the United Chambers of Commerce, I didn’t see any positions taken in the recent L.A. city elections which included ten charter amendments. Other than VICA and United Chambers of Commerce, I didn’t find any positions taken on the statewide Nov. 2 ballot last year, nor did I find any mention of issues related to business tax reform, runaway film production, building permit reforms…you know, those issues that so many local employers have harped on for so long! Isn’t anybody besides VICA concerned about the loss of the Valley’s redevelopment zones or enterprise zones? How about who is going to end up paying to balance the city’s budget and eventual unfunded pension liabilities? Moreover, only one Valley business group endorses candidates (VICA again). I know the United Chambers of Commerce endorsed South L.A. City Councilman Bernard Parks unsuccessful bid for County Supervisor in 2008, but nothing on their website mentions candidate endorsements since then, including the recent city elections in which half of our city councilmembers were up for re-election. To be fair, I did find some reassuring examples of advocacy and leadership among some of our business groups such as the Greater San Fernando Valley Chamber which has a summary of how the Valley’s legislators voted on several bills last year as well as a link to a coalition addressing “card-check” legislation. And our neighbors at the Simi Valley Chamber have a government affairs specialist on its staff which might partially explain why its 2011 Chamber Initiative document is so impressive. Other events While I didn’t find evidence of advocacy on the vast majority of our business groups’ websites, I did see a lot of evidence of nearly identical events – inaugural dinners, mixers, award luncheons, and ribbon cuttings. It’s interesting to me that so many of our chambers are still operating the way they were a generation ago even though the market research clearly indicates that businesses are favoring memberships in chambers and other groups that stress advocacy as a core function. In any event, I raise this question in the spirit of cooperation, not harsh criticism. Perhaps the Valley has the ideal number of business groups representing us, and all we need is better collaboration and improved awareness of the legislative issues impacting our employers. Hopefully, this column has not ruffled any feathers. We should all be in this together so for any Valley business group that is serious about advocacy and representing the business perspective before government, please share! Brendan Huffman, the owner of Huffman Public Affairs, is a Valley-based public policy consultant and the co-host of “Off The Presses,” a public affairs radio show that streams live every Thursday at 11 a.m. via www.LATalkRadio.com.

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