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Is Alameda County being honest?

Castro Valley Matters has a new post up on their blog. It's a very interesting post. We encourage our readers to look at it. The post talks about an apparent head fake thing going on with the Alameda County Supervisors. The Supervisors are contracting out for a "Preliminary Comprehensive Fiscal Analysis" about the county's unincorporated communities of Castro Valley, Cherryland, Ashland, San Lorenzo, and Hayward Acres. The Supervisors say they want to know about the viability of municipal incorporation given various scenarios inolving all those areas incorporating or just some of them. The post indicates the analysis is likely to be insincere because it won't be able to change the roadblocks in state law that have effectively brought municipal incorporations to a standstill in California. You get a feeling that maybe the Alameda Supervisors are just playing a game:

  • Now - "Yeah we love self-determination, that's why we're spending tax money to study financial feasibility for new cities."
  • Later - "Gosh, too bad the revenues aren't adequate. Not our fault, though. So reelect us anyway."
May contain: map, diagram, plot, and atlas
Unincorporated areas in Alameda County where the probably-fake fiscal analysis is being done. {Graphic from Castro Valley Matters' blog post "Supervisors to hear proposal for incorporation fiscal analysis" posted April 27, 2022}

Among the state's policy barriers, as described in the post, is the denial of revenues from vehicle license fees (VLFs). Every city in California gets some kind of reliable municipal revenue stream based on the small portion of VLFs associated with property taxes. But no NEW cities are eligible for that. This head-scratching state of affairs is derived from state budget shenanigans in 2011, when the state dipped into the VLF pot to fund the transfer of prisoners from state prisons to county jails. Doing so put the municipal finances of the state's 4 newest cities (all in Riverside County) in serious jeopardy and truly irritated Riverside County's legislators. That situation festered until 2017, when the state decided to raise gas taxes - something that could not have passed without support from Riverside County's legislators.

Um.....we're not going to say there was a quid pro quo, but it sure smells like the state had to give up something (VLF revenues for 4 cities) to get something (votes to hike the gas tax). The deal in 2017 fixed the problem for the 4 newest cites but failed to enable VLF revenues for new cities. That's clearly unfair. Some attempts at reform were tried but they went nowhere thanks to the fundamental invisibility of unincorporated urbanized areas, coupled with strong resistance to change the status quo. Still, hope springs eternal. Nothing is ever really over at the Capitol until Gabriel blows his horn, is it? If you have thoughts on this, please share them with the eternal optimists among our newsroom elves.

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