Four months ago the voters of Alamo spoke out.

By a vote of 2,099 yes and 4,074 no, the residents of the well-to-do community in central Contra Costa County rejected a proposed incorporation to create a city of Alamo.

Now the local county supervisor, Mary Piepho, is leading an effort to set up a Municipal Advisory Council.

“The MAC would provide a focused advisory group,” said Piepho, who would appoint the seven members (as the proposal now stands) of the Alamo MAC.

At a community meeting June 11, some 40 residents talked over the concept.

Among their concerns:
• that the issue of an advisory council was coming up so soon after the incorporation vote with its implied rejection of a similar forum of a city council.
• whether MAC subcommittees would include other residents who were not serving on the MAC.
• whether the MAC would cause inefficiency by adding a layer of bureaucracy.

At the meeting, Tomi van de Brooke, the chief of staff for the county supervisor, said, “Supervisor Piepho did not put the issue of a MAC out (earlier) because there was a sincere effort at incorporation. There was sensitivity that it would affect the issue of the vote. It wasn’t until incorporation didn’t go through that she said, ‘I still want a focused voice (for Alamo input).’”

There will be at least another community meeting before Piepho finalizes a resolution to go for a vote of the full Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, perhaps as early as the end of summer, van de Brooke said.

MACs are a county tool authorized by the state in 1971. They can function like “mini city councils,” in the words of Bill Chiat, executive director of the California Association of Local Agency Formation Commissions.

They proliferate in counties that have unincorporated areas with distinct community identities, he added. Other counties, where the map is sprawling with cities and towns without much infill from incorporated areas, don’t use MACs at all.

“Alamo is a vibrant, identified community,” said Chiat. “The chances are that a MAC set up there would have some identity.” Alamo has, for instance, an active chamber of commerce.

Unlike Community Services Districts that have elected boards and special assessment areas, MACs have no independent revenue source. In Alamo, van de Brooke said, a MAC would be assisted by Piepho’s staff, including setting up speakers from other county departments to give presentations to the council when there’s an agenda item on, for instance, public works.

Contra Costa County has many unincorporated pockets with self-identified communities. The currently empowered MACs, all approved by the county board, range in population from Knightsen with 861 to Bay Point with 21,534. Bay Point is big enough to have a BART subway station. An Alamo MAC would have almost as many people as Bay Point, van de Brooke said.

Piepho was active on an ad hoc committee that standardized the county’s procedures on MACs last winter.

Placer is another county where a dozen communities have little MAC engines of local democracy. Its geography lends itself to MACs, ranging from Central Valley flatlands to Sierra foothills and peaks, with unincorporated communities tucked in valleys, said Mike Boyle, Placer’s assistant county executive officer.

For more than 20 years, he said, “They have acted as a great sounding board for the issues that affect them.”
Orange County, by contrast, does not have MACs.

Last year, an incorporation vote failed that would have created Rossmoor and been the 35th city in Orange County. Before that vote and now, a year later, the county gets input from a Community Services District with an elected board, said Rick Francis, deputy chief of staff for Supervisor John Moorlach.

The current plans are that an Alamo MAC would advise on planning, parks, transportation, water and lighting issues.

A county supervisor’s office will not satisfy constituents all the time, said van de Brooke. “But it’s important that we listen, and understand the concerns, before acting.” A MAC is intended to be a convenient forum for Supervisor Piepho to understand those concerns.