The Disenfranchised Rebels of Castro Valley 

Taxation without representation is alive and well in this unincorporated community. Some residents are hoping to change that, but the odds are stacked against them.

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Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley represents areas as disparate as East Oakland and Pleasanton, but he has essentially served as the viceroy of Castro Valley for nearly two decades. As Castro Valley's elected representative on the board of supervisors, Miley essentially serves as its mayor and city council all rolled up into one. It's quite common for area residents, whether they realize they are doing so or not, to reference civic discussion in terms of "what Nate wants."

A de-facto government known as the Castro Valley Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) has existed since 1981. But the seven-member body, which also offers opinions on land-use issues, is fully appointed by Miley. And as the name suggests, it is merely advisory.

Council Chairman Marc Crawford said last month that Miley rarely overrides the council's decisions. But activists question whether this is due to the soundness of those decisions or merely out of a desire to placate the wishes of the person who appointed them to the body.

"As a city, you look inward; how can we make this place better?" said Michael Seaman, a resident of unincorporated Arden Arcade near Sacramento and member of California [un]incorporated, a grassroots organization seeking to make it easier for such communities to create their own governments. "The appearance of a MAC is merely window-dressing for greater representation of unincorporated residents. If they're into real change, what's the point of a MAC, if only to answer to the person who appoints them and who will be mindful of the supervisor?"

Although the buck does not stop with Miley in Castro Valley, but requires support from a majority of the five-person Alameda County Board of Supervisors, its is common practice for the board to defer to Miley's wishes on matters related to his district. In fact, during a 2016 board of supervisors meeting at which Castro Valley residents advocated for better representation through greater control of the Municipal Advisory Council's composition, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty equated criticism of Miley's leadership as an affront to the entire county. Saying he was about to "blow up," Haggerty defended Miley and blasted the group. "I don't know what's going on in Castro Valley," Haggerty fumed. "To come down and say 'better represented,' you're some of the most unappreciative people I've seen in my entire life."

Three years later, a mere mention of that comment to members of CV Matters still elicits either a furrowed brow, steely eyes, balled up fists, or all of the above. "Oh, it still resonates," Kusiak said of Haggerty's comments. "He is my government, whether he likes it or not. But it just crystallizes how undemocratic this all is when you have a supervisor demonstrating that you don't step on another elected official's territory." The incident just served to convince some Castro Valley residents just how dismissive county leaders are of their concerns. Or as Kusiak puts it: "We should be grateful for what we get."

During Miley's 2016 re-election campaign, he challenged voters at a candidate forum to simply vote him out of office if they were unhappy with his work. But in practice, his or any supervisor's level of accountability to Castro Valley voters is quite low. Even if every Castro Valley resident were to vote against Miley, it would be unlikely to make a mark on him in a supervisorial district dominated by Oakland and more than five times as populous as Castro Valley. In fact, that 2016 campaign offered clues that Castro Valley residents are more dissatisfied than other district voters with Miley's leadership. The supervisor registered a 25-percent district-wide victory over the well-financed campaign of Bryan Parker, but Miley's margin of victory in Castro Valley was significantly narrower.

Miley's opponents often grumble that the composition of the Municipal Advisory Council does not reflect the diversity, background, and work experience of Castro Valley. In an interview, Miley said he disagrees with the criticism. "I'm constantly grappling with this issue," he said. "I think we've done a good job of choosing members of the MAC. But there have been some duds and some I wish I could take back." But as a whole, Miley said the council has been successful in registering and moving forward the wishes of Castro Valley residents.

Over the years, the vast majority of council members have shared one thing in common. They are contributors to Miley's political campaigns, including Crawford, a local developer in Castro Valley who has given tens of thousands through various entities to Miley's re-election campaigns. Furthermore, Crawford is one of the most divisive figures on the council's board and, perhaps all of Castro Valley. In many ways, he was the catalyst for CV Matters' push to take away Miley's power to appoint council members and place it in the hands of voters.

This "Elected MAC" movement coalesced smatterings of disenchantment toward Miley in Castro Valley and gained steam after some residents found Crawford's style domineering. Over the years, Crawford has publicly and erroneously accused Kusiak and other rebellious Castro Valley residents of vandalism and hate crimes, raised the specter of various conspiracies against him, and threatened one of his council colleagues with expulsion even though he had no mechanism or specific reason for doing so. Earlier this spring, following a council meeting, Crawford described a recently appointed female member who vaguely spoke out against him as new, saying, "She doesn't know anything yet."


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