What if unincorporated communities could get more local control without having to incorporate?
Assembly Bill 3 (AB 3), working its way through the California Assembly, would give Isla Vista, an unincorporated community next to the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) campus, an enhanced version of a community service district (CSD), “a form of independent local government used to provide services in unincorporated areas of a county.”
As I’ve pointed out before, if this enhanced CSD becomes law, it could point the way for Castro Valley to achieve greater control over its local affairs. The Assembly Committee on Local Government held a hearing on the bill Wednesday afternoon. You can listen to the entire hearing here. (Audio starts at the 4:13 mark)
This new CSD would be a revolutionary new way for an unincorporated area to govern itself without incorporating. As presented today, the new Isla Vista Community Service District would have the following specific elements:
- Finance and operation of a municipal advisory council (MAC) to advise the board of supervisors
- Power to create a tenant mediation program
- Finance and operation of an area planning commission (APC) with binding land use powers over the district
- Power to create and operate a parking district
- Power to contract with the Santa Barbara County or the University of California, or both, for additional police protection services above the level of police protection services already provided by either within the area of the District
- Powers to acquire, construct, improve, maintain, and operate community facilities, including, but not limited to, community centers, libraries, theaters, museums, cultural facilities, and child care facilities
- Powers to acquire, construct, improve, and maintain sidewalks, lighting, gutters, and trees.
- Power to abate graffiti
The bill requires Santa Barbara County to place the question of whether the CSD shall be established on the next countywide election ballot. The ballot will also elect the initital five elected members of the new CSD. The district would be funded largely buy a Utility Users Tax (UUT) which would also be placed on the next countywide ballot. UUT’s require approval by two-thirds voter approval. If the UUT is not passed by voters before 2027, the new District would be dissolved.
Under existing state law, a CSD must have five elected members. This new CSD would deviate by having five locally elected members, accompanied by one member appointed by the County Board of Supervisors, and one appointed by the UCSB Chancellor. The full Assembly analysis of the bill, as presented today, can be found here.
Assemblyman Das Williams, AB 3’s author and resident of Isla Vista, had this to say on the needs to create such a unique district:
“Since [Isla Vista] is represented by only one Supervisor on a five-member board, it must always compete with the rest of the county for even the most basic of services. Self-governance would create a mechanism through which local funding could be generated from [Isla Vista] to provide an increase in services directly to [Isla Vista]. Complicating the issue locally, the Cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta are openly opposed to annexing Isla Vista. Further, it isn’t likely the County of Santa Barbara will create the necessary structure for self-governance for Isla Vista. Further, it is highly unlikely that the County alone will be able to adequately fund local services, even if it set up a MAC or some other structure.”
At Wednesday’s hearing, many local residents, including representatives of the UC Santa Barbara student government, spoke in favor of the bill, generally suggesting that the CSD would provide better local governance and public safety. Critics (including the Santa Barbara County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), California Association of Local Agency Formation Commissions, and the California Special Districts Association ) cited concern with bypassing the LAFCo process in the sake of expediency. In California, new government districts (like cities or a CSD) can be created when a county’s LAFCo determines that a new entity is “fiscally viable” and voters approve of it. Or a new government district can be created if the Legislature authorizes it.
Proponents of AB 3 argue that the Santa Barbara County LAFCo has been directed to look at the CSD issue in Isla Vista since 2001 with no progress. A number of “taxpayer groups” expressed concern about the precedent of the UUT as a funding source for a CSD.
Assembly Member Williams also stated that CSD supporters were almost ready to generate a financial feasibility study, independent of LAFCo, through private donors and that he hoped the study would be completed soon.
Committee Chair Assembly Member Brian Maienschein, a UCSB alumnus, commented that as a general rule he would be against this measure due to the precedent setting nature of the measure; however, he recognized the unique situation of Isla Vista and changed his opinion today from a “definite no” to an “almost yes.” The measure passed the committee by a vote of 6-1 and, with a comment of “go Gauchos” from the chair, was sent on to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
What about Castro Valley?
Imagine if AB 3 were written for Castro Valley? Castro Valley would have a CSD with an elected Board of five that would serve as an advisory MAC while also holding the powers of a Board of Zoning Adjustments and Planning Commission. It would consolidate land use decision-making to the residents of Castro Valley.
The Castro Valley CSD would be able to control road and sidewalk improvements, public facilities and all land use issues. Castro Valley could contract directly the Alameda County Sheriff, or even the City of Hayward for additional police services. The District would be funded by a small UUT, a small tax applied to utility bills.
A community with over 63,000 residents deserves an efficient and effective way of self governance short of incorporation. If the State of California is unable to reform how new cities are funded, AB 3 points to a path for greater self-governance for Castro Valley without the need to incorporate.
Michael Kusiak also contributed to this post.