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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Miley is well aware of Crawford's critics. "Before I appointed him, he was a thorn in my side," Miley noted, adding, "he has caused some concerns." Yet while acknowledging that Crawford's behavior can be off-putting, Miley has routinely re-nominated him as chairman of the council. In the future, though, Miley plans have council leadership rotate among its members every year.

But Miley does not favor electing members to the council, although he has remained publicly neutral on the issue. "Philosophically, I am with them," he said of those who want an elected body. "But I think many residents don't see the practicality in it. There's the added costs of elections. In the end, it's still advisory."

When Miley was first elected to the Board Supervisor in 2000, the tenor of the incorporation movement was similar, though farther along. Many Castro Valley residents believed their former representative, Supervisor Mary King, was dismissive of the issue. Miley, while taking no position on the issue, helped get the incorporation vote on the ballot. Yet voters' will was clear. The initiative was soundly defeated by a four-to-one margin. It's a trouncing that has since dissuaded any further attempts, even without the roadblocks that Sacramento has since erected.

Miley said he supports incorporation, and believes that his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors also would. "It would benefit the county and quite frankly, it would take a lot off my plate," he said. "I don't see us as an obstacle. I'm 99 percent positive the Board of Supervisors would not oppose incorporation." He also realizes that new residents may be shifting the prevailing wisdom regarding incorporation. "There's new people moving in," he said. "Opinions change. But I also believe people are happy with the services they receive from the county."

The supervisor has offered his unofficial endorsement for incorporation many times in the past. But it rings hollow with some Castro Valley residents, who doubt that he or any county supervisor would willingly give up control of the unincorporated areas. "It's all about power," said Kusiak. "For us, it's how do you take power? You build power."

The process of incorporation is a time-consuming and complex endeavor. Not only would Castro Valley voters need to finally approve it at the ballot box, but a maddening number of public committees would have to be convened and regulatory hurdles cleared. What would be the city's borders? Should the city continue to contract with the county for police and fire services or create its own departments? And then there is the issue of the "alimony payments" that Castro Valley might have to agree to pay the county to make it whole for any loss of revenue.

Of course, unincorporated Alameda County is larger than just Castro Valley. Similar questions of self-determination exist in adjacent Ashland, Cherryland, Fairview, and San Lorenzo — areas notable for their lack of economic vitality and poverty, an appearance that suggests to them that they are afterthoughts in the minds of county officials.

Ashland resident Barisha Spriggs is also a community activist, although the description of community is used loosely, since many in her area don't even know whether they live in Ashland, Cherryland, Fairview, or even San Leandro or Hayward, she noted. A county survey illustrated this sobering observation three years ago and the findings set off a number of concerns, but for Spriggs, it begs the question: How can we advocate for our community when we don't even know what community that is?

"Those of us who are not civic-minded don't know they live in the unincorporated areas," Spriggs said during a caravan to Sacramento last March to support AB 818. "It makes us invisible." Further confusing residents is the assumptions of many Cherryland and Fairview residents that they live in Hayward because their children go to schools in the Hayward Unified School District, while Ashland kids attend schools in the San Lorenzo Unified School District.

Miley has heard such concerns in the other parts of the unincorporated areas that he represents. His Eden Area Livability Initiative has sought to give incorporated residents a chance to offer a vision for the area. In late 2017, Fairview received its own Municipal Advisory Council. The move triggered demands from other areas for their own councils and underscored inherent rivalries among unincorporated residents, particularly toward Castro Valley, which has always been the largest and most economically stable of all these areas.

Kusiak believes the appearance of sibling rivalries among the incorporated areas suits county leaders fine. "The strategy is to have us fighting with each other in hopes that we're distracted," he said. "Then they don't have to deal with us."

Although they remain undaunted by the losses, for Kusiak and the Castro Valley rebels the frustration is palpable. "When you see the legislative process you really realize we are wrapped up in this complex system that doesn't care for my community's concerns," Kusiak said in the weeks after yet another legislative defeat. "In the times we're in today, I'm surprised more people don't appreciate a group of people who want democracy to work. We have no clear path for resolving issues in our community. There's no seat for us at the table when it comes to the county budget process. Structurally, it's not working for us. It's so ineffective."

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