Merced County, Calif., officials are parading their wish list this week through a divided Congress accustomed to entreaties.
Following a well-trod path, the 18-member Merced County delegation on Tuesday began the annual two-day lobbying march dubbed “One Voice.” The perennial hope is that county unity will boost lawmakers’ support for concrete projects like the Campus Parkway and downtown Gustine revitalization.
“It does have an effect, when you look them in the eye,” Livingston City Councilman Gurpal Samra said Tuesday, adding that “it’s going to be in the back of their mind, that Merced County was here.”
Samra was speaking in a third-floor corridor of the Hart Senate Office Building, near the office of Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. There wasn’t room for all the Merced County visitors to squeeze in for the roughly half-hour meeting, so some stayed outside.
A few minutes before, Samra and the rest of the Merced County delegation had been huddled with staffers for Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer. By the time the delegation returns to California on Thursday, they will have met with roughly half-a-dozen lawmakers or their staffers, as well as Obama administration officials.
“A big part of this is to have a warm body here, to put a face behind the name,” explained Merced City Councilman Mike Murphy.
In its official agenda, the Merced County delegation is pressing for help with water, transportation and economic development.
Specific requests range from a proposed $10 million grant for work on the Campus Parkway serving the University of California, Merced campus to $1.7 million needed to install fiber-optic cable at the Merced Airport Industrial Park. In some cases, like the Campus Parkway grant proposal that will be resubmitted in early June, the request has been previously made and rejected.
“We’re continuing to fight for support,” said Merced Mayor Pro Tempore Joshua Pedrozo.
For Gustine, the delegation seeks $7.4 million to spruce up the aged downtown with new landscaping, sidewalks, lighting and other improvements. For the former Castle Air Force Base, the delegation wants $1 million to help with utility and other infrastructure upgrades.
But most of all, Merced County Supervisor John Pedrozo said, officials this year have been focusing on water.
“Everywhere we’ve gone, people have been aware of the severity of the drought in the San Joaquin Valley,” Supervisor Pedrozo said.
The “One Voice” theme has been adopted by other California counties equally eager for federal attention. Last month, the Fresno Council of Governments, Tulare County Association of Governments and San Joaquin Council of Governments, among others, ran their own versions.
The San Joaquin Council of Governments even went to the trouble in 2005 of registering “One Voice” as a trademark for lobbying efforts on behalf of the county, although that hasn’t stopped other officials from using the term.
Like other San Joaquin Valley counties, as well, Merced also employs outside lobbyists to help open some D.C. doors. Last year, public records show, the Merced County Association of Governments paid the firm Townsend Public Affairs $23,500.
Townsend is somewhat of a specialist in California municipal issues, as the firm is also registered to lobby for the cities of Fowler, Turlock, Tulare and Dinuba, among others.