I didn’t have a mayor when I was growing up, however, I do have certain memories of someone who I thought was a mayor. He was a mustachioed man by the name of Tom Clements. It turns out that Tom Clements was a realtor in the area who would send little knick knacks with his face on it, which I interpreted as shameless propaganda.
It may not seem like a big deal, and sure, there are probably plenty of other kids who grew up without mayors, but I can’t help but wonder what life might have been like in a town where there was a mayor. Places like New York City or San Antonio, Texas. Hell, even Oakland has Libby Schaaf. I remember being told, “San Lorenzo is a village, not a city! It’s too small to have a mayor!” Little did I know places like Weeki Wachee, Florida existed. Weeki Wachee, or The WACH, as I imagine locals refer to it as, has a population of twelve. Twelve whole people, and even they have a Mayor, who also happens to be a part-time mermaid.
As I transitioned into adulthood, I put the fact that I grew up mayor-less behind me. It wasn’t until I attended a meeting hosted by my local county supervisor that I discovered the real reason why I didn’t have a mayor growing up. Not only does it explain why there was no mayor, but no city government whatsoever. I lived in UNINCORPORATED Alameda County.
Living in an unincorporated area means that you live in an area that is not governed by its own local municipality, but instead administered regionally. In this case, and in most cases, it would be the county. If you try to explain this to people it becomes unnecessarily complicated pretty fast. For example, your address may state that you live in Hayward, CA and by all accounts you do, but for governance purposes you may actually be living in an unincorporated area. This is the case for the neighborhood affectionately referred to by some as “The Pit,” or the more appropriately named Hayward Acres, which is actually an unincorporated area and therefore not managed by the City of Hayward, although it may fall within Hayward on google maps. Like I said, unnecessarily complicated.
If you’re even aware of the fact that the county may be in charge, then you may think, “hey, the county does a fairly decent job of administering the unincorporated areas.” After all, we do benefit from basic services such as fire and police. The concern here isn’t the administrative role the county plays but the lack of local representation. Unincorporated areas run the high risk of being neglected and underserved due to the lack of an accountable local representative government.
How do residents bring forth community grievances in these areas? How are local residents included in the local decision making process? These aren’t fringe communities, either. Ashland and Cherryland for example, are densely populated with 11k people per square mile. In comparison, Oakland sits at 7k people per square mile and San Francisco at 18k people per square mile. The unincorporated areas of Alameda County are a set of diverse communities with diverse needs. The residents of the Eden Area (Ashland, Cherryland, San Lorenzo, Hayward Acres) have recognized this need and are coming together to amplify the voice of these communities.
Incorporation (creating a new city) and annexation (joining an already existing city) are unlikely to mobilize the community, but residents are exploring the idea of creating a Municipal Advisory Council (MAC). The role of a MAC would be to provide the board of supervisors with recommendations from the community. Ideally, the MAC would be a reflection of the needs and desires of the unincorporated communities while creating a more responsive and effective county government. Within the next few months, County Supervisor Chan’s office plans to send out a survey to her constituents in unincorporated areas to gauge whether or not there is support for the formation of a MAC. Meanwhile, residents of the unincorporated areas have been meeting monthly through the Eden Area Livability Initiative to move forward with this proposal.
I may have grown up without a mayor or a city council, but my hope is that residents of unincorporated Alameda County can come together through the formation of a Municipal Advisory Council and bring a much needed level of representation and inclusion to all of its residents, including the youngins who spend their time day-dreaming of what it may be like to finally have a mayor.