Back in 2012, I thought all I wanted was an elected Municipal Advisory Council (MAC), Castro Valley’s version of a city council, for 63,000 people whose community remains unincorporated. State law says that MACs can be elected. Why couldn’t mine be elected?
My naive question, first to Supervisor Nate Miley, then to our appointed MAC, and then to participants of the Eden Area Livability Initiative (EALI), was the catalyst for a much deeper engagement in local politics than I expected, and it sparked the creation of Castro Valley Matters.
I have spoken to local community residents and leaders, met with state representatives, and reached out to residents and leaders of other unincorporated communities throughout California. In the past three years, my knowledge about local California governance has grown and my view of what I believe Castro Valley needs for better governance has evolved.
As I’ve stuck around this process for the long-haul, people have asked me why I keep on participating. Here’s why:
Castro Valley needs greater and accountable local self-governance.
Municipal incorporation would be the clearest path to accountable local self-governance, but State of California budget priorities have taken away the ability to incorporate from California’s unincorporated communities, like Castro Valley. In the meantime, the EALI Governance Working Group is our venue to implement improved local governance for Castro Valley. While we might not be able to incorporate Castro Valley just yet (as we’ve seen in CVM’s extensive blogging about unincorporated communities throughout California), there are solutions that could be adopted that could greatly enhance the power of Castro Valley residents over their own affairs.
(Quick refresh: these options include Elected MACs, as in Stanislaus County; Community Advisory Councils, as in San Luis Obispo County; Town Councils, as in Los Angeles County; and the Virtual City proposed for Isla Vista in Santa Barbara County. Beyond California, Nevada has unincorporated towns, and countless other states have rural townships with elected councils.)
At the November 2013 community charrette, over 400 participants from the Eden Area voted for the priority goal to “enhance local self-governance.” We’ve now moved into the implementation phase of EALI. Last June, the Governance Working Group took a straw poll on some specific approaches for enhanced local self-governance. The top two choices were divided on community lines, with nine votes for an elected Castro Valley MAC and ten votes for one MAC for the entire Eden Area.
At first, these ideas seemed incompatible. But they are reconcilable when you think about the underlying ideas that these “solutions” are about. One solution seeks to empower decision-making in your own community, while the other solution seeks larger collective action among multiple communities. Here’s how I think these conflicting ideas can work together to build a better local governance that no one could have imagined when we started the EALI process.
The longer I’ve participated in the EALI process, and the more I’ve learned about community organizing, it has also become clear to me that each Eden Area community should be empowered to determine its path to greater local control. It’s an administrative convenience for Alameda County to bundle Castro Valley, San Lorenzo, Ashland, Cherryland, and Fairview as one Eden Area. We are bound by a common governance problem, a lack of local control in decision-making that affects the course and viability of our communities, but we are distinct communities. Power and influence over what happens in our communities should be derived from residents in our community. This enhances the legitimacy of our governance.
However, we should consider solutions that tackle common issues that affect unincorporated communities as one Eden Area, like a reinvigorated Unincorporated Services Committee (an entity that I suspect most folks in Castro Valley have never heard of) to aggregate the common problems we see in our communities and advocate for a more responsive Alameda County in fulfilling its role as our municipal government.
After engaging the question of how my community should be governed for over three years now, I offer these questions to guide what solutions should be implemented to achieve the EALI goal of enhancing local self-governance.
- What governing body/bodies should make decisions in my community?
- What are the types of power this governing body/these bodies should have?
- How does our community get more tools to develop and implement a vision for Castro Valley’s future?
- Who participates? How do you get on that governing body?
- How do we build transparency and accountability measures into our unincorporated governance?
I want enhanced local self-governance for my community. I’d like to see it for my neighbors in Ashland, Cherryland, Fairview, San Lorenzo and every California community that is directly governed by a county. And this is why I haven’t walked away from the EALI process.
I invite you to be a part of this important conversation at tonight’s EALI Governance Working Group meeting at 6:30. Don’t be afraid to share your vision.