Legislative Advocacy Program

(Davis, California)- California ReLeaf monitors state and federal legislation in order to inform the urban forestry community of opportunities to influence public policy on behalf of urban trees.


Category: Advocacy, State Level
OVERVIEW
In 2006 California ReLeaf hired a professional lobbyist to assist with its state-level efforts. As a result of its work, $20 million was designated for urban forestry programs under California Proposition 84 passed in 2006.
California Releaf also coordinates California ReLeaf Network, an alliance of urban forestry groups throughout the state. This alliance has been instrumental in raising the profile of urban forestry in the state and a key part of California ReLeaf’s advocacy strategy.
BACKGROUND
California ReLeaf was founded in 1989 as a program of the Trust for Public Land and was incorporated as a separate 501c3 nonprofit in 2004.
California ReLeaf works statewide to promote alliances among community-based groups, individuals and government agencies to protect the environment by planting and caring for trees. It also serves as the state’s volunteer coordinator for urban forestry in partnership with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Programs and services include:
* Coordinating California ReLeaf Network, a statewide alliance of urban forestry groups
* Administering a state grant program
* Publishing a quarterly newsletter, California Trees
* Providing assistance, information and referrals to individuals, organizations and agencies on urban forestry management issues
* Monitoring state and federal legislation and keeping the urban forestry community informed of opportunities to influence public policy on urban forestry
COMPONENTS
Hiring a professional lobbyist
From its inception, California ReLeaf was involved in advocating on behalf of urban forestry. In 2006, California ReLeaf decided that hiring a professional lobbyist would greatly improve effectiveness at influencing state legislation on urban forestry.
Since California is a large state with a wide range of environmental issues, California ReLeaf, with a staff of three, found it difficult to stay on top of all the issues and proposals that affected urban forestry. Although California ReLeaf had many partners who worked with them on urban forestry issues, it needed someone to spearhead its efforts.
With the encouragement of other urban forestry groups, California ReLeaf hired a lobbyist who specialized in conservation issues and was willing to work with them at a reduced rate.
Martha Ozonoff, Executive Director of California ReLeaf, says that this decision has been critical in its advocacy efforts.
“Hiring a lobbyist has definitely increased our ability to be effective. You can lobby on your own. You are not required to have a professional lobbyist. But this has helped us stay on top of fast-paced decisions and has given us inside information about what different legislators are interested in and how to approach them. Our lobbyist has helped us see where we can connect to other environmental issues,” Ms. Ozonoff says.
Ms. Ozonoff says whether or not your organization needs a professional lobbyist may differ from state to state. She recommends talking with larger environmental organizations in your state that have lobbyists on their staff such as the Trust for Public Land, the Nature Conservancy or the Sierra Club. Get recommendations from them on whether or not you need to hire a lobbyist and on potential candidates.
Making your case
Once the lobbyist identifies what legislation to follow and who the key players are, California ReLeaf meets with key players including legislators and their staff, testifies at committee hearings, sends letters and emails, makes phone calls and encourages organizations in the California ReLeaf network and other groups to support legislation and other relevant initiatives, including funding propositions.
Ms. Ozonoff emphasizes that working with a network of urban forestry groups brings enormous value in supporting advocacy initiatives. California ReLeaf Network has approximately 90 member organizations located throughout the state. This allows California ReLeaf not only to harness the support of more constituents throughout the state, but also helps them target voters in specific localities where key legislators reside.
Funding
California ReLeaf funds its advocacy efforts through private foundation monies in its general operating account. Government funds cannot be used for lobbying.
RESULTS
California ReLeaf is particularly proud of its advocacy efforts which helped to ensure that “at least” $20 million funding was designated for urban forestry under Proposition 84 passed in 2006.
In addition, in 2007 California ReLeaf helped spearhead a letter-writing campaign thanking Governor Schwarzenegger for restoring $10 million to the Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program, which provides public funds for urban forestry and other natural resource projects that reduce the impact of transportation projects on local communities. This year, the funds are being presented as part of the Governor’s budget, thereby virtually assuring their passage. California ReLeaf believes that its “thank you” campaign may have played a part in the governor’s decision.
California ReLeaf is currently sponsoring a bill in the state legislature to update the state Urban Forestry Act of 1978. This will be the organization’s first effort at sponsoring legislation.
LESSONS LEARNED
1. Research your state to determine whether or not you need to hire a lobbyist. California ReLeaf says hiring a lobbyist was essential for them.
2. Nonprofits CAN advocate and lobby. Don’t be paralyzed by the fear of violating IRS rules. Read the regulations and get advice but remember that both advocacy and lobbying are allowed within certain limitations. The rules may not be as restrictive as you think.
3. Advocacy and lobbying is easy. Do not be intimidated by the process.
4. You are the expert on your cause and its most passionate supporter. Make use of that.
5. Remember to say thank you to all the people who support your efforts.
6. Stay on top of legislation. Understand the process and realize that changes can happen quickly and often. You need to be vigilant.
7. The benefits of advocacy are enormous. It raises the visibility of your cause and your organization. It helps refine your message and increases your organization’s credibility and reputation.
Contact Information:
Martha Ozonoff, Executive Director
California ReLeaf
P.O. Box 72496
Davis, CA 95617
Phone: (530) 757-7333
Fax: (530) 757-7328