Community leaders in the unincorporated area of Castro Valley, California, have been following Assemblymember Das Williams’ Assembly Bill 3 in the interest of pursuing a model for self-governance similar to Isla Vista’s.
Assembly Bill 3 proposes the formation of a Community Services District (CSD) in I.V. While unincorporated areas such as I.V. and Castro Valley receive municipal services from their county, a CSD is governed by a board of local representatives that decide what services to provide to residents using local tax revenue.
Traditionally CSD’s are formed through Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCO), but both unincorporated areas have found that LAFCO’s model for a CSD does not fit each area’s respective needs. AB 3 bypasses LAFCO by establishing a CSD though state-level legislation. Castro Valley Matters, a group advocating for self-governance in the northern California community, have been closely following the bill, which Governor Jerry Brown signed into law last week.
According to Castro Valley Matters President Michael Kusiak, the group has followed AB 3 since Williams first introduced the bill to the Assembly in December 2014.
“We’re kind of crazy people up in northern California who have been following what’s been happening down in Santa Barbara and Isla Vista,” Kusiak said.
An I.V. CSD as outlined in AB 3 would be funded by a Utility Users Tax (UUT), which taxes residents a portion of their utility bills. Kusiak said a UUT is an “innovative means” of funding self-governance in unincorporated areas, because LAFCO often rejects CSD proposals on the basis that they are not financially feasible.
“Our contention is that any unincorporated community that tries to go to LAFCO at this point will be told, ‘Actually, no, you’re not fiscally viable,’” Kusiak said. “Isla Vista is really special. It’s really interesting. That’s why we at Castro Valley Matters are following it.”
Castro Valley Matters Vice President Michael Baldwin said the group is interested in a “virtual town” model, which combines a CSD, a Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) and an Area Planning Commission (APC). According to Baldwin, no area has attempted this model, but I.V. is “as close as it comes.”
“I was advocating to have a ‘virtual town’ model, which is basically what you guys did — to have a CSD that covers the whole town,” Baldwin said. “Nobody has ever done all three together — no ‘virtual town’ model.”
Baldwin said the self-governance process in Castro Valley has been “a lot slower” than in I.V., and their few group meetings have led to participants “talking in circles.”
“It’s the opposite of what’s going on down there,” Baldwin said. “You guys got together and figured something out and pushed it through.”
Kusiak said AB 3 can serve as an example of local governance for unincorporated areas that are unable to attain cityhood.
“I think it sets a precedent not just for Castro Valley but for all unincorporated communities,” Kusiak said. “I know it only applies to Isla Vista, but it tells our state legislature that unincorporated communities can be given alternatives.”
Baldwin said when he called William’s office after AB 3 was introduced, staffers told him not to market the bill as a model for other unincorporated areas seeking self-governance for fear it would invite opposition.
“They kind of said, ‘Oh no. Don’t publish that actually. We don’t want people to think its precedent even though it kind of is,’” Baldwin said. “They were worried that if the legislature saw it as a precedent they might not pass it.”
Williams said some are “scared to death” AB 3 will pave the way for other areas to circumvent LAFCO when working toward self-governance.
“I will tell you that, with the opposition to AB 3, much of it was based on that it could be precedent setting,” Williams said.
Williams said the bill was specially made for I.V. and he does not intend to replace the LAFCO process throughout California.
“At no time in this effort have we taken on or criticized the LAFCO process for the entire state,” Williams said.
Santa Barbara City College Trustee and UCSB alumnus Jonathan Abboud said Castro Valley Matters’ support demonstrates I.V.’s role as a progressive and innovative unincorporated area.
“As far as governance for an unincorporated community, it shows that our community is a very forward-thinking one,” Abboud said.
Abboud said I.V. should support other unincorporated areas such as Castro Valley.
“I think it would be important for Isla Vista to share its experience now to other communities who need that help,” Abboud said
According to Williams, AB 3 only seeks approval of I.V. residents, not in the recognition of those outside the area.
“The real legitimacy of the government doesn’t rest with people outside the community,” Williams said. “It rests with the people in the community making the decisions themselves.”