The city of Lodi will once again participate in the San Joaquin Council of Governments' One Voice lobbying trip to Washington, D.C.
But at least one council member is questioning the value of the trip, based on a lack of financial results. Lodi has only received funding once, for a project in 2004, but wound up not accepting the money.
Councilman Bob Johnson said that out of the millions of dollars the One Voice trip brings to the county every year, he is frustrated that Lodi is never on the list.
"How do we get to be at the bottom end of the totem pole?" Johnson said.
The SJCOG puts together the lobbying trip every spring to push for money for local projects.
The Lodi City Council met at Tuesday morning's study session to select a project for this year's trip. The council picked a grade separation project on Harney Lane at the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.
The city has already secured $16 million for the project, and hopes to receive the $4 million shortfall through the lobbying trip, according to staff.
Councilman Larry Hansen has been on numerous One Voice trips and is the council's representative to SJCOG. The agency includes San Joaquin County and all of the cities in it. It is the regional transportation planning agency, and also a technical and informational resource for cities.
"The bottom line is, a lot of other county COGs do this, so we can just sit back and hope that we can get some help, or you can keep your face, your county and your projects in the forefront," Hansen said.
He said the Harney Lane project could succeed in getting funded because there are currently programs geared toward both fixing railroad safety issues and creating jobs.
The yearly One Voice trip is the only form of lobbying in which the city participates aside from meeting with local state and federal representatives on a regular basis, city spokesman Jeff Hood said.
Since 2001, the only project funded as a result of the trip was the proposed creation of a wetland to filter wastewater before it is discharged to the Delta, in 2004. But the city scrapped the project because it was too expensive to construct, and did not actually wind up taking the money, Hood said.
Every city in the county is allowed to nominate two projects, except Stockton. San Joaquin County and Stockton each select three projects because they are larger agencies, said Dianne Barth, spokeswoman for SJCOG.
Then, the SJCOG board, made up of city and county representatives, pick two regional projects that everyone lobbies for while they are in D.C. They focus on projects that benefit the entire county, Barth said.
This year, COG members plan to push projects for the Altamont rail corridor and for a central transit station in south Stockton for the San Joaquin Regional Transit District, Barth said.
Cities and the county need to take into account what types of projects the federal government is funding when they put in their requests, Barth said. For example, for the past couple of years, transit projects have had the most support.
One of the challenges recently to cities receiving any federal funding for local projects has been the backlash against any earmarks, Barth said.
"The earmarks are gone for right now, but you still take your projects because you might get support down the road," she said.
During recent years, SJCOG has also focused on non-monetary changes that can help the county. Last year, the representatives discussed ways to fix the foreclosure crisis, Barth said.
Leaders have also asked that California and federal environmental requirements be streamlined, she said. Developers throughout the county have to meet both the California Environmental Quality Act and the National Environment Protection Act before building.
"Even though that request does not have a dollar amount on it, it's an improvement for the entire county," Barth said.
Members of the trip meet not only with local politicians in the House of Representatives but also Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.
"Even though we can see our local representatives here, you don't see these very influential leaders very often. We have gone back frequently enough that they know what we want. You are asking them to be accountable," Barth said.
Hansen said the trip attendees also meet with members of committees, like the Department of Transit, to lobby for projects.
SJCOG splits the cost of the trip with Lodi. In 2011, the lobbying trip cost the city $1,350 from the council's travel money in the General Fund.
In the past, Hansen said he has been frustrated with the lack of money for Lodi, but many of the projects that the trip has funded around the county also help Lodi residents.
For example, the Interstate 5 widening projects help Lodi residents who commute south.
"Would I like to get more? Of course. But I don't really feel like we are being ignored," he said.