Local agencies have spent $711,000 on lobbying since the beginning of 2009 as they try to increase their take of federal dollars, stay on top of changes in energy regulations and battle school budget cuts.
Glendale spent $185,000 in 2009-10, according to databases that track state and federal lobbying expenditures. Burbank spent roughly $170,000. And Bob Hope Airport officials, thick into their battle for mandatory noise controls, spent $186,000,
Glendale has focused its lobbying on energy and utilities.
"There's quite a bit going on in the utility industry, and we want to make sure we are in the forefront so we can take advantage of grants and legislation that would help our city," said John Takhtalian, assistant to the Glendale city manager.
Last year the city ended its contract with Townsend Public Affairs. Takhtalian said city staffers can handle efforts to tap general state programs, and pointed out that there is little benefit these days to lobbying in Sacramento for help from the cash-strapped state.
But Glendale Water & Power is drafting a proposal to bring a Sacramento lobbyist on board to help address issues ranging from expansion of alternative energy sources to hammering out the details of regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.
At the federal level, Takhtalian said, the goal is to take maximum advantage of the federal appropriations process. This year the city switched lobbyists and went with the Ferguson Group, a Washington, D.C., firm that specializes in getting earmarks for local governments.
Takhtalian noted the city recently got word of two funding successes: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) announced this week that Glendale's new DNA lab, which also will serve Pasadena and Los Angeles County, received an extra $1 million. Separately, the Verdugo Workforce Investment Board secured $100,000 to train at-risk youth for jobs in the technology sector.
In Burbank, Justin Hess said the city has ramped up its lobbying efforts compared with a decade ago when "we really weren't too active on the federal level from a lobbying standpoint."
As in Glendale, Hess said energy is a top priority.
"Smart-grid type of initiatives and energy policy is affecting utilities and energy and power departments. For us, it is important to have a voice into that," he said.
Burbank and Glendale were among just a handful of cities nationwide that received $20 million in stimulus money in 2009 to install smart meters to better track water and energy usage.
"Certainly, the return on investment has been pretty solid so far. We definitely are pleased with it," Hess said.
Lianne McGinley, legislative analyst for Burbank Water and Power, said the cash rewards for using lobbyists can be "lumpy."
"One year you do really well, and other years not so well," she said.
Burbank Water and Power is trying to land state loans to increase water conservation and recycling efforts and is tracking the rulemaking related to Assembly Bill 32, the controversial measure that requires California to roll back its greenhouse gas emissions.
Glendale Community College, which spent $150,000 on lobbying efforts this past fiscal year, has focused on keeping the state from gutting spending on secondary education and tapping federal dollars for help with projects, such as a parking structure at the Garfield campus.
Tony Tartaglia, president of the college board of trustees, said the school is prohibited from spending state dollars on the parking structure and doesn't want to exhaust Measure G bond funds on the project.
"At the federal level, we are generally going for funding sources," Tartaglia said. "At the state, it is to try to protect our funding. We are a medium-sized district, and we don't want to get lost in the fray."