A Different View of Capitol Hill from AIA California’s President

February 24, 2023

New professional positions always bring an opportunity to set new goals. Here is one of mine as 2023 AIA California President: To visit every Chapter and every college with an architecture program this year. Why would I subject myself to such an audacious idea? Simple—to hear what is going on in your Chapter, to encourage member participation, and to be a part of your challenges and successes.

We have all attended way too many virtual meetings over the last few years. I do not know about you, but I am Zoomed out. It is time to re-engage in person!

Engaging is what all of us do in this profession. Whether it is with a client, public agency, contractor, vendor, consultant, or your own colleagues. There is a constant exchange of ideas. In essence, you advocate. Whether it is for better design, the right material or system, or perhaps for bigger issues like more affordable housing, re-imaging community spaces to be more vibrant and welcoming, or for architecture and spaces that support diversity, equity, and inclusiveness.

In January and February, we celebrated holidays that honor those that have advocated. Dr. Martin Luther King advocated for equality. Our first Presidents advocated for the creation of a democracy. Bold initiatives, to say the least.

“Visiting Capitol Hill is different than seeing it through a filter of opinions. It will surprise you.”

Then, on Wednesday, February 15, delegations from AIA California, Chapters across the state, and across the country met in Washington, D.C. under National’s aegis to exercise the responsibilities of democracy: to advocate on behalf of members directly to elected representatives.

Visiting Capitol Hill is different than seeing it second-hand, through a filter of opinions. It will surprise you.

One of the takeaways that I had was, despite the media sensation about the polarity that is happening, in reality, things are getting done. It’s not what you see courtesy of talking heads on television.

The AIA California delegation found very dedicated people: people working to solve the big problems that face our country and the world. And, being dedicated, they’re also highly informed.

So, we walked into offices and met with people that were eager to hear from us and responded very positively to the message that we brought forward.

AIA Ca leadership joining me on the trip to Capitol Hill were board members: AIA CA 1st VP Winston L. Thorne, AIA; AIA Strategic Councilor Mary Follinweider, FAIA; Associate Director, North Ginger Thompson, AIA; State Associate Representative ­Ali Rafieetari, Assoc. AIA; as well as AIA CA Members and Staff: Kevin M. Holland, FAIA; Evelyn Lee, FAIA; Britt Lindberg, FAIA; Ursula Currie, AIA; E.D. AIA East Bay Mike Wilson; E.D. AIA Redwood Empire Carissa Green; AIA CA Government Relations Scott Terrell; and Director of Programs Hillary Cole, Hon. AIA. CA.

Together, we met with the staffs of Senator Diane Feinstein and Senator Alex Padilla to discuss issues such as:

  • The Resilient AMERICA Act (when reintroduced) that would increase the amount of pre-disaster mitigation funding available through FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program.
  • The Democracy in Design Act that would prevent the federal government from mandating design styles.

So interacting with Senate staff was tremendously encouraging. Talking about the Resilient AMERICA Act was terrific.

We generated impact by presenting the information about the potential of that act: explaining that spending dollars on the front end to properly plan and do preventative work versus what it costs to fix things after a major disaster. We presented a clear opportunity to do things the right way. In some cases: $1 spent upfront saves $35 after the fact; that should resonate not only with our members but with anybody—and that’s how it was received by the Senate staff.

There was another factor: walking into a senate office and hearing senate staff say, “I’m all about resilience”—and they’re a senior staff member, that demonstrates that this is not a one-off issue, that climate action and resilience are on the front-end of the conversations.

We’ve seen this in recent Acts funded by Congress. But what is truly impressive is how deep [senate staffs are] versed in the subject matter. That was reassuring, it wasn’t lip service. These are very real issues that staff is very honed in on.

So, that was Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.

“These are very real issues that senate staff is very honed in on.”

It represents one of a number of ways we—as Members—advocate. In California, look at the efforts that our Committee on the Environment (COTE) makes to bring sustainability to the forefront of our work or our recent success in updating copyright law. Our members do this—big ideas and challenges to be sure.

There are equally ambitious issues at the Chapter level being advanced.

They could be encouraging your local City Council to adopt goals regarding renewable energy use. Or, they could be assisting a local non-profit to develop affordable housing opportunities. I am sure you can list several more.

When we do visit, I want to hear about those challenges. What resources do you need to be successful? Do you need help with communications? Do you have other community groups joining your effort? Do you need access to subject matter experts or material supporting your Chapter’s position? In short—How can AIA California help?

I’ll be at the AIA San Fernando Valley Awards Gala on March 2; The Future of Design and Tech in the AEC at City Club/LA on March 16; and Cal Poly SLO April 13-15.

See you on the road,


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