MONTEREY, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — For decades, the city of Monterey has led by example in its collaboration with local military operations. Now, a bill recently introduced in the California State Assembly is set to fortify that effort.

Dubbed the Stronger Defense Communities Act, the bipartisan bill was introduced by Assemblymember Dawn Addis (D-Morro Bay) earlier this month. State Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R-Yucaipa) is the principal coauthor of the bill. It intends to create a funding structure for communities housing military bases across California that makes use of both state and federal resources.

Four of the state’s more than 30 federal military installations that stand to benefit from the proposed legislation are located in Monterey County — with two tied directly to the city of Monterey.

“What a good opportunity for the state to play a role in community-military installation partnerships,” Monterey Mayor Tyller Williamson said. “We appreciate our veterans and our service members that make up a beautiful part of Monterey’s identity. If we’re able to get more support from the state to strengthen those relationships, that’s a really good thing for our community.”

In a prepared statement, Addis recognized that “California is home to thousands of military families who not only sacrifice for the betterment of our country, but also provide significant contributions to our state.”

“This bill helps California’s defense communities,” her statement went on, “by supporting local efforts to access federal funds for water, road and other improvements that benefit military families and the communities they live in.”

Currently, financial aid for localities housing a military installation in California is doled out at the federal level, through an initiative known as the Defense Community Infrastructure Pilot (DCIP) program. Defense communities statewide can apply for federal infrastructure grants through the program. But, according to Addis, communities are often not able to meet matching requirements needed to secure the federal government’s portion of awarded funding.

Addis’ proposed bill would provide state assistance to fill that space. To do so, the act would establish a parallel initiative to the DCIP, the California Defense Community Infrastructure Program. As laid out in draft legislation, the parallel program would kick in state funds to help local agencies meet matching requirements of DCIP-allotted grants.

“By creating an avenue for military communities to access these funds, California will ensure that critical infrastructure needs are met for both the military bases and their surrounding communities,” a press release from Addis’ office announcing the Stronger Defense Communities Act read.

Monterey City Manager Hans Uslar welcomes the expanded support. In fact, he thinks it’s long overdue.

“Every state – except California – has an accompanying bill that basically matches (DCIP) with state funding to make improvements that benefit (their) military installation communities. … This bill that is being proposed by Addis will provide, so to speak, a partner (program) to DCIP that closes that gap (for us),” Uslar said.

This isn’t the first time California legislators have tried to bridge imbalances with accessing DCIP funds. Last year, Republican State Senators introduced Senate Bill 1395, which also sought to establish the California Defense Community Infrastructure Program in tandem with DCIP. The bill died in committee.

Uslar is hoping the newly proposed Stronger Defense Communities Act makes it to the governor’s desk this time around. As of this week, the act was still pending committee referral in the State Assembly.

Asked how the program, if implemented, would directly benefit the city of Monterey and surrounding areas, Uslar said “we’ll have to see how the bill is drafted.”

Uslar did note that local stakeholders are eying an improvement project at Jolon Road in South Monterey County, which would boost access to Fort Hunter Liggett. But for now, it’s a waiting game to see how the Stronger Defense Communities Act fairs in legislative steps to come.

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(Joseph Kumzak/U.S. Army)

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