The Castro Valley Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) is the first and only MAC in Alameda County. Created in 1981, our MAC is the fourth oldest MAC in California, where an estimated 1.4 million residents in unincorporated Californian communities are served by a MAC or a “MAC Equivalent.”
Before creating a MAC for Castro Valley, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors (BOS) wanted to consider the pros and cons of doing so. Keep in mind, municipal advisory councils were still a fairly new experiment in California local governance.
At the January 27, 1981 BOS meeting, County Administrator Mel Hing presented a six-page report on the “Creation of a Municipal Advisory Council.” Castro Valley Matters has unearthed Hing’s long forgotten report that was instrumental in establishing a greater local voice to the residents of Castro Valley’s municipal affairs through the creation of our MAC.
The report reviewed the analysis done by the State Office of Planning and Research and originally published in 1977. It also detailed interviews done with County Staff in Contra Costa and San Diego Counties, as well as the former director of the East Palo Alto MAC, the very first MAC in California.
Overall, the report showed more benefits to be found than disadvantages.
The advantages cited for MACs are more effective and efficient government for the area served by the MAC, developing a forum for community participation, serving as the political voice of the community, and providing the supervisors with both a closer contact with the community as well as a buffer between the community and the Board.
The disadvantages are the extra expense of the MAC – a separate staff and office in Castro Valley is estimated between $60,000 to $100,000 per year, and the fact that it creates an extra layer of government.
Key report recommendations
The report made three notable recommendations about the potential new MAC:
The Board, if it chooses to create a MAC, should not submit the establishment of the MAC to the voters in order to retain the greatest flexibility in either making changes to the MAC’s duties or disbanding the MAC.
This suggestion is clearly meant to keep all control of the duties and composition of the MAC firmly within the grasp of the BOS. According to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, if a body is created by the BOS, but confirmed by the voters, any subsequent changes to or disbanding of the body would also be subject to a vote.
By keeping this power within the BOS it is very easy for the Supervisors to dissolve the MAC if they were to become critical of the Board or its policies -which could prove to be a source of discomfort to the County. Tellingly, this suggestion was incorporated into the new MAC.
The next suggestion was a bit more straightforward: the MAC would be purely advisory
The word “advisory” appear in the title of the MAC in the resolution when citing the duties of the MAC.
The final suggestion was this:
The Board consider carefully the range of areas where advice is to be given as well as the degree to which the MAC will be able to represent the area to other entities.
California Government Code section 31010 permits MACs, unless the board of supervisors specifically provides to the contrary, to “represent the community to any state, county, city, special district or school district, agency or commission, or any other organization on any matter concerning the community.” The county administrator clearly appreciated this point. While representing its community, a MAC could easily find itself talking to the State or Federal government advocating for things not necessarily in the best interests of the BOS but definitely in the best interests of the community.
It has been demonstrated in the past that Alameda County receives more in tax revenue from Castro Valley than it puts back into it on an annual basis (This was the basis for the “alimony payment” that a newly incorporated Castro Valley would have had to pay for its first ten years of existence, if it had incorporated).
What if the Castro Valley MAC could speak to the legislature about amending State laws to allow for proportional distribution of tax revenues to Unincorporated ares, as has been done in Nevada for decades? This could put Alameda County in an uncomfortable position (and it would be an unprecedented scenario California local government) as an unincorporated area would be actively looking to pull money from the county general fund. As our county resolution now stands, our MAC could do that.
This suggestion may have been noted at the time, but the final MAC resolution contained no limitations whatsoever to which governmental agencies the MAC can speak to on behalf of Castro Valley. The subsequent revisions to the MAC resolution modified ways in which the MAC advises the County (like adding review of land use issues) but never modified that simple fact.
Our MAC is a powerful tool that can be used right now to get more of a spotlight shined on the inherent problems with unincorporated governance and demand that the State come up with a solution that would benefit Castro Valley, and every other Unincorporated Area in the State of California. The current MAC and Board do not share this view.
MACs are often cited as a stepping stone to incorporation, but in areas where incorporation is infeasible or unpalatable, they have the power to be a force to do much more and help craft a better way of life for us all.