Time and again, we have been told that having an elected Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) would be an expensive and pointless endeavor. Last year, I wrote an article deflating the arguments floated at the time of an election for MAC costing up to $500,000 every two years. Although completely without merit, this $500,000 number is still being used as an argument against elections, even by the MAC itself. The written interview questions for the final, still vacant MAC position — written in part by the current MAC chair Marc Crawford and Vice-Chair Cheryl Miraglia — included two questions referencing this irresponsible estimate.
Spending $500,000 every two years for a MAC election would be a ludicrously poor use of taxpayer funds. I do however think $60,064 would be well spent to fund an election every two years.
This $500,000 number stems from an estimate provided by the registrar of voters estimating that a standalone election, with nothing else on the ballot, would (at the high end) reach a $15 per registered voter cost. At his estimated number of 34,904 registered voters that could add up to $523,560. Obviously, if the Board of Supervisors (BOS) recommended a standalone MAC ballot every two years at that price they would all be recalled, and with good reason. As I showed in my previous post on the topic, the Registrar of Voters own website states that the $15 per voter price would only apply if a standalone MAC election were held, every two years.
Realistically and economically, a MAC election would not be a standalone election and would most likely be added to the regular November ballot every two years, electing three members and then four in alternating biennial ballots. This is the system used by elected MAC’s around the state. For local precedent, the Registrar of Voters in Stanislaus and San Mateo counties have both informed me that the MAC election portion of their ballots represents less than one dollar in cost per registered voter.
These MAC elections would be functionally similar to our local CVSan elections. In the most recent November 2014 election, five candidates were running for two open Director spots. According to Director Roland Williams, the cost of that election to the county (which was passed on to CVSan for payment) was $48,875.94. Since CVSan encompasses 30,032 registered voters, that comes out to $1.62 per voter. Applying that cost estimator, a CV MAC election would be $56,544.
I reached out to Alameda County Registrar of Voters Tim Dupuis on the subject. He agreed with my analysis that $1.62 would have been about right if a MAC election had been on the 2014 ballot. 2016 costs are projected to be a bit higher, since printing costs have risen and the County will be translating all ballot materials into two additional languages. Dupuis and his staff estimate a $2 per registered voter price in 2016, resulting in a total of $60,064.
Considering that the Castro Valley MAC is supposed to be a true liason between the BOS and our community, I feel that the county would agree that $60,064 is a small price to pay to ensure that all of Castro Valley has buy-in to the legitimacy of MAC advice, and faith in the decisions of the Board of Supervisors as a whole. After all, in June the BOS approved a $54,000 contract to maintain the landscaping on Norbridge Avenue for the next three years. If the county feels that that is an appropriate cost for the well-being of a few plants, a little bit more can be spent to maintain the governmental trust of over 60,000 citizens and ensure the legitimacy of the MAC’s advice. The BOS could easily convert the MAC to an elected body by passing a resolution at any regular meeting. They have not shown any inclination to do that anytime soon.
What is the other option? Can we do it ourselves?
So, how do we get a proposal for an elected MAC on the 2016 ballot? There are two ways to go about it. First, is by using our county initiative process. An initiative would have to be placed on the ballot modifying the existing MAC resolution to specify that members are elected, rather than appointed. The sticking point here is that since it would be modifying a resolution passed by the entire BOS, it would have to be voted upon by the entire County. To put a countywide initiative on the ballot, petitions must be signed by a specific percentage of the registered voters in the county. Here, this is 10% of all of the votes cast for all candidates for Governor in the last Gubernatorial election (how they came up with THAT particular arcane standard is a topic for another day…)
In the 2014 election, there were a total of 356,674 votes cast for the two gubernatorial candidates, so our petition would require 35,667 signatures of registered Alameda County voters. Being that there are only 30,032 registered voters within all of Castro Valley, that would be quite an undertaking, but not entirely impossible.
The second option is to have the initiative placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors themselves. The BOS can do that, foregoing the petition process. Doing that would give the people of Castro Valley the first chance to officially and definitively tell the County if they want an elected MAC or not.