The lobbying trip was part of the annual One Voice effort, organized every year since 2000 by the San Joaquin County of Governments, an agency that promotes regional projects and cooperation.
From April 16 to 18, 33 public and private officials, including Tracy Mayor Brent Ives, spent several sessions on Capitol Hill getting “face time” with elected officials and appointed bureaucrats.
“I’m sure I had 20 meetings when I was back there,” Ives said.
SJCOG Director Andrew Chesley said getting to Washington and meeting with “as many people as possible” makes it more likely that local projects, especially those are transportation oriented, get federal funding.
“That’s generally what we do go back there for, to make those kinds of pitches,” Chesley said. “You’re looking to lay a groundwork of success, so whether it’s a congressional earmark or an (executive) administration allocation of dollars, you want them to know they’re investing in success.”
This year, the delegation focused on Pell Grant funding for college students; improving the Altamont corridor for the Altamont Commuter Express; and preserving local discretion when it comes to land-use decisions within the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
But the One Voice trip isn’t free. The agencies sending the elected and appointed officials foot the bill.
Tracy City Manager Leon Churchill approved $2,282.40 for Ives to attend the 2012 trip, according to public records.
Ives’ trip in 2011 cost the city $2,819.63, and his 2010 journey cost $3,188.30. Churchill also attended the 2010 event, costing $1,789.36.
In addition, from the beginning of April 2011 to the end of April 2012, city records show that Tracy paid $52,546.20 to Jordan and Associates, a lobbying firm inside the D.C. Beltway.
According to Churchill, it’s a relatively small price to pay for access to some of the more powerful people in the country, access that local officials from a smaller California city otherwise would be hard-pressed to get.
Lobbyists know who to talk to when it comes to promoting the interests of cities and regions, he said, and they’re in the right place to do the talking.
“I think the annual cost is modest compared to the returns,” he said.
As an example, he pointed to a recent vote in the House of Representatives that should pave the way for a solar energy farm west of Tracy.
On Monday, May 7, the House voted to allow Tracy to buy 200 acres off Schulte Road so the land could be turned into a solar field in conjunction with GWF Energy, the outfit that runs the power plant west of town.
Two congressmen sponsored the bill, which now needs only the signature of President Barack Obama.
Rep. Jerry McNerney, a Democrat who has represented Tracy since 2006, has been a long-standing proponent of the project an introduced it in the House.
Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican who is running to represent Tracy south of Interstate 205 in the 10th Congressional District, cosponsored and voted in favor of the motion.
Stalled for years because of federal restrictions on the land that required a congressional vote to change, Churchill said the project is closer to becoming reality. He praised the efforts of both lawmakers and said the lobbying firm and trips to D.C. helped.
“That’s going to be significant for years to come for Tracy,” Ives added. “Plus, it’s the right thing to do for that property, and it’s the right thing to do for the environment. … It’s a good thing all the way around.”
SJCOG records also show that One Voice efforts have netted just shy of $9 million for projects that directly benefit Tracy.
SJCOG and city officials added that the shifting sands of the D.C. political landscape also make lobbyists and the One Voice trip a good idea.
For example, Ives said, Congress has banned the practice of earmarking money for specific projects, so now money is doled out via the executive branch bureaucracy.
“Say what you want about earmarks — some of them were over the years pretty bad, but quite frankly, a lot of the way things got done in regions was through earmarks,” he said.
Chesley and Churchill said Tracy still seeks federal funding for a new Interstate 205 interchange at Lammers Road that would encourage economic development in the Gateway and Cordes Ranch business areas, as well as money for a better overpass and intersection near where 11th Street meets MacArthur Drive.