By Steven Tavares.

The ability of residents in unincorporated Castro Valley to empower their community through an elected municipal advisory committee was dealt a setback Tuesday.

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors tabled a possible referendum this year allowing Castro Valley voters to decide whether to elect its own advisory committee members or maintain the current arrangement that includes appointments to the seven-member committee made at the sole discretion of its representative Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley.

Since Castro Valley is unincorporated, it is essentially governed by Miley and the advisory board known as the Castro Valley Municipal Advisory Committee (CVMAC) somewhat serves as the area’s de facto city council.

In the past year, a growing number of activists in Castro Valley have pushed Miley for greater self-governance, primarily through the framework of an elected CVMAC. Castro Valley, with a population of more than 63,000, is one of the largest unincorporated areas in the state, but in the current economic atmosphere, local groups have repeatedly said incorporation is unfeasible, leaving an elected board as an alternative.

Miley said Tuesday he is not talking a position on the matter of an elected CVMAC. “There are pluses and minuses,” he said. “Let’s let the voters decide.” However, the Alameda County Registrar of Voters Tim Dupuis said placing the issue on the ballot this year would cost the county more than $160,000. Last month, during a committee hearing, Miley recommended placing the issue on the November ballot. “I’ve been consistent in saying that if we approve an elected MAC it always needs to be subject to a confirmation vote by the folks in Castro Valley,” Miley said Tuesday.

But, the timing may not be right for greater self-determination in Castro Valley. Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan, who also represents a portion of the county’s unincorporated areas, said electing officers for what will continue to be a purely advisory position poses a slippery slope for residents. “It’s going to create conflicts because you’re going to think you have more jurisdiction, or more power than you do… You’re still advisory. At the end of the day, the vote is here,” Chan said of the county’s ultimate authority over unincorporated Alameda County.

Meanwhile, there is also a push by other unincorporated areas like San Lorenzo, Fairview to form their own advisory committees similar to the much larger Castro Valley. Steven Kirk, president of the San Lorenzo Homeowners Association said the lack of advisory boards outside of Castro Valley is unfair. “What’s good for one community should be good for all the communities,” said Kirk. Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty then remarked, “Sounds like you just unleashed a snowball.”

Much of the argument for an elected MAC involves a desire for greater representation. Michael Kusiak, president of Castro Valley Matters, a grassroots group leading the elected MAC movement said, “This is about democracy.” On display Tuesday, and at other public hearings, has been a touch of rebellion in the words of some proponents against Miley. “People are waking up. They want to have their say,” said Castro Valley resident Joanne Lauer at the Jan. 21 Board of Supervisor committee meeting. The perception that Miley and the entire Board of Supervisors is not doing enough for Castro Valley residents clearly rankled Haggerty.

He chided the Castro Valley group for their comments and said the Board of Supervisors has done plenty for the area, including a new Castro Valley Boulevard streetscape, in addition, to building a new library. “I’m really feeling unloved by you people today. That’s not the word… maybe unappreciated,” said Haggerty. “I’m talking about the way I’m containing myself right now, because I want to blow up. I don’t know what’s going on in Castro Valley. To come down and say, ‘better represented,’ you’re some of the most unappreciative people I’ve seen in my entire life.”

Three members of the current CVMAC testified Tuesday against an elected MAC, including Janet Everson, who was recently appointed by Miley. “I’m not convinced the need for an elected MAC is something that is supported by the community as a whole.” The sentiment was also echoed by others, including the CVMAC’s outspoken president Marc Crawford, who framed the elected MAC proposal as retribution for his opposition to an idea that would have transformed a vacant building in Castro Valley into a community space. “Since then they’ve been gunning for us,” Crawford told the board before urging them to keep the status quo. “There has been no demonstration that the current system is flawed,” he said.

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Originally posted at East Bay Citizen.