Threatened with legal action, the California League of Cities has decided to stop appointing city council members to the regional air district board, leaving two board seats in limbo.
The empty seats are on the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, which copes with air quality problems from San Joaquin to Kern counties. The policy could affect the five board seats that the league normally fills.
The league has been picking city council members for the board since the air district was formed in 1992, but last year it was caught in a political battle as activists successfully fought to get their candidates on the board. This year, activists threatened to sue the league, claiming they couldn't get access to meetings on filling the two seats.
Although the League of Cities' membership is made up of California city officials, it is not a government agency and no longer is the appropriate group to make the appointments, league officials said.
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League Executive Director Chris McKenzie in Sacramento said his organization does not make such choices for other air districts in the state.
"We're a nonprofit corporation," he said. "We don't have the same authority as government agencies. This process may have matured to the point that an established government agency should be handling it."
The city-seat appointment process became contentious last year. Two activist candidates, Arvin City Councilwoman Raji Brar, from Kern County, and Fresno City Councilman Henry T. Perea were elected by league members after an intense campaign.
This year, the league was supposed to name two additional city members, which a state law last year added to the board to represent large cities. The law added two other seats -- medical and science experts -- that have not been filled by the governor.
The air board has 15 seats: a supervisor from each of the valley's eight counties, five city representatives and the two experts.
County boards of supervisors name their board members, but the state law that created the district did not name a group to fill city seats. Sixteen years ago, the cities in the district decided to have the league make the choices.
To back out of the arrangement, the league has asked for advice from the air district board, which under state law cannot make the city appointments.
The board Thursday suggested that the league turn the appointments over to so-called city selection committees in each county. Such committees exist in every county in the state and fill seats on recreation boards, land-use commissions and other agencies.
State Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, is proposing a law that would help put the change into effect. He said other air districts in California pick city representatives this way.
No one knows when the issue will be resolved, but if it continues next year, it would affect the appointment for the seat being vacated by Perea.
City selection committees usually have representatives from each city in each county.
But the air board appointments would present considerable challenges, district officials said. The city seats would have to be rotated among the valley's north, central and south regions, and no county could have more than one city representative at a time.
"Each time you make a decision on one city seat, it disqualifies other cities in the county from having a board member at the same time," district Executive Director Seyed Sadredin said. "This requires a coordinated approach, and we have made several suggestions."
Air board member Steve Worthley, a Tulare County supervisor, said the cities should consider going beyond the selection committees and have each city council vote on nominees for the board.