City, university officials discuss need to lobby state government

A panel of six city and university leaders started off the second day of the fifth annual Town & Gown Conference in Berkeley discussing what needs to be done in the state to fund education and create jobs.

The panelists — Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, Palo Alto Mayor Sid Espinosa,  Rohnert Park Mayor Gina Belforte, Sonoma State University President Ruben Arminana, San Francisco State University President Robert Corrigan and UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau — agreed that although California cities and universities have come far in their partnership efforts, much more should be done on the state level.

The conference is a two-day event for college and city representatives from throughout the state to meet to discuss strategies for dealing with current and potential obstacles.

Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge, who moderated Friday’s panel, started the Town & Gown conference six years ago with Bates, at a time Loveridge referred to as a contentious period between cities and universities.

“It’s important to have mayors, chancellors and presidents talking to one another and working together,” Loveridge said at the panel. “We need to discuss how we can educate together.”

Bates said cities must embrace relationships with universities rather than be concerned by the influx of young people.

The panelists spoke of their proudest examples of mutual effort, their current efforts and hopes regarding connections for economic growth and job creation and their ideas on how to promote joint advocacy. They agreed that not enough has been done to lobby Sacramento for support for education and job growth.

“We lack ability even to threaten punishment to the people who get elected on promises,” Arminana said.

Arminana added that both city and university officials in Rohnert Park — where his university is located — have traveled together to Sacramento and Washington D.C. “to show that there is a symbiotic relationship between the university and the city.”

Bates — who was asked to end the panel with a few words on what can be done to advocate for university and city rights — said change will only come if the state legislature passes a majority vote to raise taxes and fees. He encouraged university leaders to work together to lobby legislators for such a change.

“Community colleges, state universities and UCs need to say enough is enough and politically organize,” he said.

Sarah Mohamed is the lead city government reporter.