By Matt Cate, Executive Director of the California State Association of Counties.

In nearly five years as the Executive Director of CSAC, I’ve met county supervisors from all walks of life. They are as diverse as the 58 counties they represent, but they share at least one thing in common: They love their communities and want to help make them better. And they were elected because they understand and reflect the needs of their constituents. The California Constitution recognizes that decisions about local issues should be made by a level of government that is accessible to the people affected by those decisions.

That is why, as the Legislature heads toward the end of this year’s session, we are so concerned about AB 1250 and SB 649. They would impede every county supervisor in the state from making important local decisions that affect their counties and the people they serve. The two bills are vastly different in terms of the issues they impact, but they are similar in the way they apply a top-down, blanket approach to issues that should clearly be handled at the county level. Local elected officials would not be allowed to act in the best interests of their constituents.

Currently, county supervisors have the flexibility to decide how best to deliver services in their own counties. AB 1250 would impose a de facto ban on county contracting for a plethora of critical health, mental health and public safety services. It would require non-profits, community based organizations and private sector service providers to jump through a series of financial hoops and disclosures so onerous that many of them would simply stop working with counties.

Further, AB 1250 establishes specific criteria for determining cost savings that would skew the outcome and prohibit the discretion of boards to determine whether contracting is in the best interest of the public. Under AB 1250’s unworkable blanket approach, counties would have fewer options to meet the needs of their constituents and services to the most vulnerable residents would suffer. The Legislature should reject AB 1250 and allow county supervisors to do the job they were elected to do. Please read the Department of Finance bill analysis if you need more information.

Similarly, the Legislature should reject SB 649. This bill would let big telecom companies install new cellular phone antennas and associated equipment on almost any street or traffic light and even on many public buildings. The bill negates local input about what they should look like, how many could be installed and the cumulative visual impact on a given area. This could lead to literally thousands of new large, unsightly boxes hanging all over neighborhoods and business districts.

Moreover, the bill puts an arbitrary cap on the amount cities and counties could charge in rent for the use of this public infrastructure. The bill even prevents local governments from requiring in-kind benefits when public property is used to deploy these bulky antennas. For example, a county could not require a fiber-optic connection for a public library, even when the provider is using nearby streetlights or traffic signals as the backbone for their small cell infrastructure. County supervisors are elected to reflect local priorities and values about issues like this. SB 649 negates their ability to do so. Our latest opposition letter has more information.

Implementing state policies is part of the constitutional partnership between counties and the state. Counties take that role seriously, but they should be allowed to fulfill it in a manner that makes sense and reflects local situations and sensibilities. AB 1250 and SB 649 are bad public policies, sponsored by the organizations that would benefit from their enactment—to the extreme detriment of local governments and the people we serve. The Legislature should reject both of these measures.

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