Two days after my re-election to serve the 13th District for a second term, I headed to Washington, D.C. for the annual lobbying conference of the National League of Cities. Los Angeles was one of the founding cities of the National League, formed last century to give municipal governments a united and powerful voice in Washington, D.C. Now, at a time when local government seems neglected or overlooked by both state and federal governments, the NLC is needed more than ever. Each March, about 3000 local officials from around the country gather to advocate for you as urban residents and for the issues that affect us, from road repairs to housing.
Fighting against cuts to anti-poverty programs with Congressmember Diane Watson.
The top theme of the NLC conference was saving the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), which along with 17 other programs, was proposed for elimination in the President's 2005 budget. This would be a reversal of years of Republican and Democratic presidential and congressional support for CDBG funding. As chair of the Housing, Community and Economic Development committee of the City Council, I care deeply about this issue, and I recently wrote about the attack on CDBG on the opinion page of the Los Angeles Times (PDF).
CDBG funds provide about $100 million a year to the lowest-income areas of our city. In the 13th District, they have helped us expand our gang-intervention youth programs, build badly-needed housing, bring after-school programs like LA's BEST and LA Bridges to our local primary and middle schools, fund repairs of the Echo Park boathouse, build new parks from East Hollywood to Historic Filipinotown, and repair sidewalks and roads.
No city in the United States is more partisan than Washington D.C., but in a single morning this past week, NLC members from either party went arm-in-arm to almost every member of Congress with a unified message: Don't cut CDBG! Our call reverberated through the halls of Congress, leaving me optimistic that support for CDBG and the other HUD programs can be retained. Still, don't hesitate to let members of Congress know where you stand on the issue. (Our local members are very supportive of reinstating the program.)
In Washington, I also met with each of the members of Congress that represent parts of the 13th District: Xavier Becerra, Diane Watson, Lucille Roybal-Allard, and Henry Waxman. Each is working hard to coordinate with our office to obtain federal funding for projects like revitalization of the Los Angeles River and streetscape improvements in Hollywood, Atwater Village and Echo Park. I also joined California delegations to meet with Senators Boxer and Feinstein and with Governor Schwarzenegger's Washington office.
Heading toward the airport to catch my return flight to L.A., I passed the new World War II monument. My own grandfather, a Mexican-born Angeleno, fought in that war in the Philippines; he was rewarded for his courage with U.S. citizenship. At Lake Street Park, we are working now to install a memorial to the Filipino war veterans, many of whom live in the 13th District.
Compared to how those men and women sacrificed and suffered for our freedoms, the struggles of local government ask far less of us. But the heroes we honor fought to preserve freedom and opportunity for the generations that would follow them. To abandon those who are now in greatest need—seniors fighting poverty, youth struggling to overcome violence, families on the brink of homelessness—would dishonor their memories.