Last night was my first exposure to the Eden Area Livability Initiative (EALI) process, and it was eye-opening.
I had attended the Town Hall at Canyon Middle School the previous week and was impressed. As a newcomer, I felt that the presenters took care to explain the situation. Both sides spoke respectfully, and I could begin to understand why someone like Hera Alikian might favor the continuation of an appointed Municipal Advisory Council (MAC).
Honestly, that standing-room-only, 200-person Town Hall filled me with a sense of civic pride.
I grew up in an unincorporated area, and never experienced that sense of engagement and public discourse. Back in the 1980s and ‘90s, folks in the Kenwood area of Sycamore Township, Ohio just went along with the cards they were dealt, acknowledging that the sheriff was often slow to arrive, and roads were slow to see repair. But here, the people of Castro Valley felt inspired, and interested in their options for self-determination and self-governance. By show of hands, at the end of the event, the room appeared to be 4-to-1 in favor of the move to an elected MAC.
That night, I learned that Supervisor Nate Miley had taken Castro Valley’s request to vote on CV MAC to the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, and that the other four supervisors had voted to table the request for now. In their decision, the supes requested that CV residents meet to discuss and debate the idea (hence the Town Hall), and that the issue should be handled through the EALI process.
I had never heard of EALI, and was curious to see what this EALI process looked like.
Apparently, EALI – which includes the unincorporated areas of Castro Valley, Fairview, Ashland, Cherryland, and San Lorenzo – has met monthly for the past two years. About thirty people constituted EALI on this March night, and the big square table included voters from each area, Alameda County Planning Director Albert Lopez, Supervisor Miley, and Eva Poon, who focuses on the Eden Area for Miley’s office.
While the Castro Valley Town Hall had felt welcoming and transparent, the EALI meeting seemed contentious and more opaque. I had difficulty understanding why the county’s principal administrative analyst, Dennis Bozanich, spent most of his time discussing the org charts of other California counties. Were we considering re-organizing Alameda County’s administration? How could we? Why would we?
At times the conversation sounded like an absurdist Beckett play:
“The supes told us to address it in the EALI process.”
“What is the EALI process?”
“THIS. What we’re doing right now.”
“Well… what are we doing right now? What is the process for moving forward?”
Thankfully, San Lorenzo resident Keith Barros suggested a “Prioritized Progression” for enhanced governance for the communities. The three-step process was met with resounding support from everyone in the room. An immediate vote yielded no thumbs down, two sideways thumbs, and otherwise all thumbs up to the “Prioritized Progression” idea.
Supervisor Miley suggested that a resolution from EALI would help persuade the other County Supervisors to push the MAC decision forward.
In a separate vote, the room voted 22-5, with one abstention, in favor of having Castro Valley decide between an appointed MAC and an elected MAC on the November ballot.
Claudia Albano did a splendid job facilitating the meeting, and by 10 p.m., we had a vote, and a solid proposal.
Next month, the “Prioritized Progression” needs one main point clarified: in the dissolution of the West County Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA,) do the three MACs become MACs with BZA powers, or BZAs with MAC powers? (The BZA is the county board who makes the actual binding land use decisions that the MAC advises on.) How these entities are created affects whether or not residents can vote for them. EALI will discuss this decision, and hear Bozanich’s budget presentation, when it meets again on Wednesday, April 20.
The elected Castro Valley MAC proposal now goes to a future Unincorporated Services Committee meeting and the Board of Supervisors’ Transportation/Planning meeting before heading back to the full Board of Supervisors for consideration. In order for Castro Valley to vote on whether it wants it MAC elected on the November ballot, the Board of Supervisors must decide by August 12.