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Confused Council Tables Lobbying Law
 

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By Jorge Casuso

March 9, 2022 -- The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to table a proposed lobbying law amid worries it was too confusing and would stifle participation on boards and commissions.

The ordinance -- which has been in the works for eight months -- would define "lobbying activity," prevent registered lobbyists from serving on volunteer boards and prevent their members from acting as a lobbyist or legislative advocate.

It also would cover "expenditure lobbyists," defined as those who spend $5,000 or more per year to solicit or urge others to influence legislative decisions or actions.

Several council members floated a number of hypothetical cases they were unsure would be covered by the proposed ordinance, which is based on a similar measure in Beverly Hills.

Does the law cover a PTA member reimbursed more than $5,000 for a trip to Sacramento to advocate for education policies? Or a bookkeeper at a firm that lobbies the City? Or an architect who seeks a planning variance for a client from City staff?

"I really feel like we went so far that (in) every situation the City Attorney's office is going to have to weigh in," said Councilmember Kristin McCowan. "I'm trying to understand how we almost didn't go too far."

"We've gotten so convoluted," said Councilmember Phil Brock, who with Councilmember Christine Parra suggested the law last July. "We've gone down certain rabbit holes."

The ordinance, Brock said, should be "simple, clear (and) easy to understand."

Councilmember Lana Negrete agreed. "If we didn't understand it, the law has to be a lot clearer."

Mayor Sue Himmelrich said the law is "intended to capture people who are paid to get us to change our minds."

"That includes anyone who is getting paid to advocate," Himmelrich said. "We want people who are trying to change the law and what we decide, who we give money to."

But several Councilmembers worried the proposed ordinance was so broad it would exclude qualified candidates from serving on boards and commissions and other volunteer government bodies.

Councilmember Gleam Davis noted that there were no applicants Tuesday night to fill an unscheduled vacancy on the Disabilities Commission and that seven residents applied for seven open seats on the Urban Forest Task Force.

"My concern is that people who are not (registered) lobbyists, can't serve on boards and commissions," Davis said.

"We are now running the risk of losing valuable board members and commissioners," Davis said. "I don't believe this is a solution."

But Brock said that in a city of 93,000 there should be plenty of candidates who are not compromised.

"In order to have transparency we have to have rules so our government is clean," he said.

Staff will return with a final ordinance for the Council to consider at an upcoming meeting


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