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An advocacy group for California cities supported Prop. 1. Now some members are leaving

Newport Beach City Hall.
Newport Beach City Hall. The city is among several Orange County municipalities to pull out of the League of California Cities. (Kevin Chang / Daily Pilot)

Three Orange County cities voted this month to withdraw from the California League of Cities, with some leaders saying the advocacy organization isn't representing their interests and has handed too much power over to the state.

The California League of Cities is a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Sacramento that communicates with cities about laws being discussed in the state legislature, conducts training for city officials and gives local governments an opportunity to influence statewide policies. Out of 482 cities in California, the league counts more than 470 as members.

But elected officials in Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Orange have opted to withdraw their cities' membership over various issues, including the organization's support of Proposition 1.

California voters this month narrowly passed the $6.4-billion bond measure that aims to reform California's mental health system. The bond will support 10,000 treatment and housing beds and overhaul a 20-year-old tax for mental health services to also fund treatment for drug addiction.

A majority of Orange County voters — roughly 58% — cast a ballot against it with many voicing concerns that it could mean more sober living homes in neighborhoods, an issue that cities have attempted to regulate for decades.

Read more: Voters approve Proposition 1, Newsom’s overhaul of the California mental health system

"I want to send a message that they shouldn't have been on board with Prop. 1 in the first place," Huntington Beach Councilman Tony Strickland said during a council meeting this month. "Their job is to represent us at the local government, not to represent Gavin Newsom."

Orange County for years has been somewhat of a thorn in the side of Gov. Gavin Newsom and other progressive politicians in Sacramento. In the last few years, O.C. cities, including Huntington Beach, pushed back on housing mandates handed down by the state. At the height of COVID-19, some cities fought Newsom's decision to temporarily close beaches, and opposed other regulations adopted elsewhere in the state.

Cities outside of Orange County have also stepped away from Cal Cities in recent years, including Torrance and Redondo Beach.

League of California Cities Executive Director and chief executive Carolyn Coleman said in a statement that she respects the city's decisions to leave and the organization will continue to advocate for the interests of all cities regardless of membership.

“While not everyone will agree on every position Cal Cities takes, Cal Cities’ advocacy positions are the result of a member-driven process that reflect a fundamental belief that cities in California are stronger when we stand united and advocate for the common interests of all cities," she said.

Coleman added that the organization has taken seriously concerns they've heard about the impacts of an over-concentration of sober living homes and licensed recovery facilities in Orange County and elsewhere in California. Cal Cities has sponsored legislation that would create more oversight and regulation of the facilities.

On Tuesday, the city of Orange became the third municipality in the county this month to leave Cal Cities. Councilmember Kathy Tavoularis blamed the city's financial outlook as one reason for recouping membership costs and a lack of power over policy decisions.

Membership fees are based on population, with a city the size of Orange paying slightly more than $34,000 a year.

"I don't think we've had any influence," she said. "We certainly didn't with Prop. 1."

Read more: How bashing California became a requirement for conservative politicians

Newport Beach was the first O.C. city to back away from the group on March 12. The city had been a member since the organization began keeping records.

Mayor Will O'Neil took issue with the league's support of Prop. 1 and the group's opposition to the Taxpayer Protection and Government Accountability Act, a measure that would expand the definition of a tax and raise the voter threshold to approve local taxes, among other things. The measure is scheduled to appear on the November ballot, but is facing a legal challenge.

Cal Cities has called the measure "deceptive" and argues it would impair crucial public services.

"It's just unfathomable to me that when Cal Cities knew this was going to be harmful to a city like ours, they still stood up and said we're gonna support it," O'Neil said of Proposition 1. "It's so hard to want to be a part of an organization that's supposed to be advocating for us and did the exact opposite in such a high-profile way."

Newport Beach Councilman Erik Weigand, who also does not support Prop. 1, voted in favor of staying in the organization arguing that there's a benefit to having a voice in the organization even when things don't go their way.

"We're in the state of California so we can take our ball and go home, but that means we don't get a seat at the table and we don't get an ability to shape any of those policy discussions," he said.

Read more: 'We're throwing the book at criminals': O.C. aims anti-crime campaign at surrounding areas

A week after Newport Beach decided not to renew its membership, the Huntington Beach City Council voted to leave. The vote fell along party lines with Democratic councilmembers Natalie Moser, Dan Kalmick and Rhonda Bolton voting against the move.

The council asked city staff to try to get their membership dues reimbursed so they could exit this year.

Councilman Casey McKeon, who brought forth the idea, said the organization has "repeatedly failed in its mission to advocate for cities, and instead advocates for more and higher taxes and Sacramento’s agenda over our own."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.