By Kathe Tanner
Cambria’s services district needs the services of a federal advocate or lobbyist if the town is to receive the money it has been promised by Congress, according to the man the district has hired in Washington, D.C., for the past two years.
The five directors of the Cambria Community Services District and the district’s new General Manager Jerry Gruber met lobbyist Greg Burns face to face for the first time July 28. The public also heard from him in the early afternoon, during Burns’ presentation at the board’s monthly meeting.
Burns works for Van Scoyoc Associates, which the district is paying $40,000 for six month’s representation, similar to the amounts paid to the firm since June 2009. In prior years, the district had hired other lobbyists.
He said his job is to “watch your back” in Washington, be the district’s eyes and ears there and work on issues that could affect the district’s plan to provide the town a desalination plant or other alternate source of water.
For instance, he said, a Congressional proposal last year “would have ultimately cost you millions of dollars” in the amount of money the district would have had to pay to match the $10.3 in federal funds allocated to the desalination plan. Burns also helped push to get the district local-match credit for $3 million already spent.
The proposal would have raised the required-match percentage.
“We worked to help defeat that proposal,” Burns said of an under-the-radar concept the district might not have learned about in a timely manner if he hadn’t been on the job.
He’s the district’s “facilitator-educator,” he said after the meeting, “bringing the right issues to the right people at the right time.”
Burns estimates that “down the road, you’ll eventually need more of a federal allocation” to complete the desalination plant currently estimated to cost more than $20 million.
The district has “significant challenges ahead” if it is to build a desalination plant or provide another similarly costly alternative water source, Burns said. “State Parks is the biggest challenge” for now, he added.
While state government isn’t really Burns’ realm, “I can try to facilitate Congressional pressure to encourage State Parks to be more reasonable, to work to find solutions” rather than continuing to add more blocks in the path to desalination, he said.
Burns said he also can provide a bridge to the Army Corps hierarchy, where policy and funding decisions are made. With dramatic changes in how the federal budgeting process works and the elimination of “earmarks,” Congress no longer controls which projects the Corps will prioritize.
He encouraged the district’s directors and general manager to each develop their own relationships with the Corps’ Los Angeles District decision makers and to take a trip to Washington in the fall to take their case in person to legislators and their staffers.