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Like all municipalities, Santa Maria is affected by decisions made in Washington, D.C.

Across the country, many city and town leaders are content with not engaging decision-makers there regarding issues that impact them. Santa Maria's officials take a different approach.

Each year, representatives of the city travel to the nation’s capital to sit face to face with officials making decisions that will be felt more than 2,700 miles west of their offices.

On May 11 and 12, Mayor Alice M. Patino, City Manager Rick Haydon and Deputy City Manager Jason Stilwell traveled to D.C for a host of meetings from one end of the district to the other.

“We try to meet with our representatives from the Senate and House of Representatives. We also try to meet with reviewers of grants we are looking at going after to try and get the inside story,” Haydon said.

“I have never been a proponent of lobbying,” Patino said. “But sitting down with people and getting things done before you walk out the door is valuable.”

City leaders began their undertaking at the Pentagon. There they met with principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy.

“We have over 6,500 civilian jobs at Vandenberg Air Force Base. It is very instrumental to our regional economic development,” Haydon said.

The city also wants to build relationships with the Air Force in order to borrow equipment and have access to other resources.

“We wanted to let them know that we are here and are interested in cooperative relationships with them and opportunities,” he said.

“We have a lot of interaction with airmen. We try to do everything we can to welcome them in to our community,” Patino added.

After meeting with military leaders, Santa Maria officials met with the staff of Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

Patino and Haydon said they raised the issue of homelessness and transportation funding with the congresswomen.

“We talked about homelessness everywhere we went,” Patino said.

Haydon described the issue of homelessness to D.C. officials as an epidemic.

“There are more homeless people now than before the recession. We have a lot of people a paycheck away from being homeless,” Haydon said.

While working to raise awareness of the homeless in the city with the members of Congress, Santa Maria officials also sought support for grant funds to create a better interchange at Betteravia Road and Highway 101. The project is currently scheduled to be funded with Measure A sales tax money, but the nearly $7 million needed for the project isn’t expected to be available until 2031.

Santa Maria leaders next sat down with Department of Justice officials to talk about funding needed for additional police officers.

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“Financially, we are not in a position to hire the dozen police officers people want us to hire,” Haydon said.

While in D.C., he learned that the city could qualify for the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant. The program provides money for police officer salaries for three to four years.

Patinio and Haydon also met with Federal Emergency Management Agency agents to discuss funding for new firefighting equipment.

The D.C. trip changed how local officials will look at economic development in the future. They learned at a meeting with the Economic Development Administration that the EDA won’t support local-only programs; they have to be regional in structure.

“We haven’t made a regional approach. We have been focusing more locally,” Patino said.

Since returning from the East Coast, city leaders have begun crafting a new regional economic development approach.

“It’s not like a phone call. You are face to face with people. You can see their expressions,” Patino said.

“Our hope is the more we mention the issues we are facing, it will get on their radar. Hopefully, other communities are doing the same,” Haydon said.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.

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City Government Reporter