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Two-County Alliance Helps With Regional Business

Regional Legislative Alliance brings business community's clout to bear on regional, Sacramento issues.

A little more than five years ago, a few progressive chambers of commerce executives met to finally bring to life an idea they had been talking about for years.

Lisa Rivas
Those chamber executives and nearly all of their colleagues in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, not to mention several counterparts from other counties around California, look at the end result as a major success. The Regional Legislative Alliance of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, or RLA, is one of the few active and successful alliances in the state, and it is a model for other business organizations looking to expand their influence and bring about changes in their communities.

The RLA fills a great need for local chambers of commerce and other business organizations that don’t have the expertise or the budget to hire a staff member to focus on regional- and state-level legislation and regulatory issues. Legislation can have a massive impact on chambers of commerce, yet some organizations don’t have the tools to make sure those impacts are heard at the right time by the politicians who represent them.

The concept can work both ways, too.

In May, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger first proposed leasing the California Lottery, early on his office contacted the RLA to discuss the issue and ask for a statement. Schwarzenegger’s key staff members know that with one phone call they can get the perspective of a respected business organization representing more than a dozen chambers of commerce and 300,000 jobs. Legislators also reach out to RLA when bills are under consideration in committee or on the floor of the state Senate or Assembly. It is not unusual for me to receive a phone call asking what RLA’s position is on a bill prior to a vote being cast.

RLA’s six major areas of interest are employment, housing, state governance, taxes and fees on business, workers compensation and infrastructure. The policy objectives are slightly modified from year to year to include other issues that encourage a vibrant business climate in the region.

In 2005, the RLA hosted a transportation forum at which, for the first time in the history of the region, the leadership of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties came together with businesses to discuss plans for solving each county’s transportation challenges and those linked to the other county. The forum was a primer for last year’s statewide ballot that included initiatives on funding for local projects like the Highway 101 widening. When the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments and the Ventura County Transportation Commission were presenting their joint proposal for upgrades to the 101, the RLA was there to testify in support of the project and to encourage local oversight boards to back the plan so it could be sent to the California Transportation Commission for funding. RLA then worked with Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, and CTC commissioners to ensure the funding was granted.

To be effective business organizations, chambers of commerce must become business advocates. Business owners today are demanding more from their associations, and those who are members of the RLA-member chambers are getting more bang for a very small buck. The 12 RLA members and four associates are strong in their own right and have tremendous leadership and influence. Those same individual chambers that are RLA members are part of a regional voice of 300,000 employees. This is why 12 local chambers of commerce and business organizations have joined the RLA. Their voices are being heard.

Lisa Rivas is the executive director of the Regional Legislative Alliance of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. Now in its sixth year, the RLA represents 300,000 jobs in the region. There are 12 members including the chambers of commerce from Camarillo, Carpinteria Valley, Fillmore, Gold Coast, Goleta Valley, Moorpark, Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Santa Paula, Simi Valley, Ventura and the Ventura County Economic Development Association. For more information, visit www.legislativealliance.org or e-mail Rivas at [email protected].

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