By Jayme Ackemann
Last month, I asked you to consider whether a Community Council (or forum) would help San Lorenzo Valley navigate tough conversations and policy decisions.
This month I will tell you how to establish one and what a Community Council might do.
A forum would function something like a city council — something we lack in the San Lorenzo Valley because Felton, Ben Lomond, Brookdale, and Boulder Creek are unincorporated parts of Santa Cruz County.
There are a few steps to establishing one.
Choose the approach. This matters because if SLV voters want an elected Community Council we would need to take that question to the voters as a ballot measure.
There are pros and cons to creating an elected body. Naysayers will suggest that more local elections create more opportunities for division. But aren’t we frustrated already by questions around pump tracks, housing and rebuilding challenges, needle exchange programs and the county’s response to homelessness? Supporters of a council would say the divisions already exist but investing locally elected, trusted members of our community with the responsibility to hear from SLV residents and weigh in on these policy decisions is one way to resolve those differences.
Ask our 5th District supervisorial candidates to make a pledge to SLV voters to establish a community-led council. While it is possible to establish a council without direct support from the Board of Supervisors, their leadership would help to encourage a conversation about how to best meet our local needs. Candidates could help SLV shape the format of the council.
– How many representatives should it have?
– Is representation proportional to population?
– Would representatives be by ‘district’ or community, or would they be elected ‘at large?’
– How long are the terms and what does the election cycle look like?
– Where would the council meet and how often?
Get interested groups to host community meetings to help draft the language for a ballot initiative. The questions above will need to be answered in the ballot language voters are asked to approve. Community meetings will allow SLV residents to work towards a consensus.
A ballot initiative would formalize the council and set its term limits and boundaries. To put one on the ballot, SLV would need to collect signatures equal to 10% of the total number of county voters in the last election for Governor (I don’t make the rules, I just read ‘em on the County’s website at santacruzcountyca.gov/ele/prop.htm).
Hit the campaign trail! We would need a simple majority of the vote to enact the Community Council.
SLV is NOT Alone — Other Unincorporated California Communities Are With Us!
There is a grassroots movement forming among rural and exurban unincorporated communities throughout California and their most important message is: This IS possible. Other communities have formed community-led, elected, advisory councils (see below) — and we can too. There is always a small but vocal group of people opposed to change — ignore them.
California Unincorporated is creating a space for advocacy around the development of Municipal Advisory Councils (MACs) for communities just like ours.
From their website:
All too often the local issues that matter to unincorporated communities get lost in the fog of business attended to by County Supervisors. Or those local issues are drowned out by the noise machines of dominant incorporated cities and interest groups within the County. Whatever the case, unincorporated communities are easily overlooked by the powers that be within a county.
Learn more about their work at caunincorporated.com.
Fifth District Candidates Should Support a Community Council
Both announced 5th District Supervisorial Candidates (Monica Martinez, Encompass CEO and Christopher Bradford, Real Estate Photographer) say they are running because they want to give SLV residents a greater voice in setting priorities for our communities.
One way to do that would be to encourage the formation of a council or forum where our Supervisor and his or her staff can solicit policy feedback from affected community members.
Teresa Ann Bond has now filed to run for the office, but at this point we know very little about her campaign.
It’s exciting to have three locals vying for the 5th District seat. But the creation of a community council would be a legacy that any of the candidates could leave to SLV that would ensure its voters have a voice in local policy issues regardless of which side of Mount Hermon the 5th District Supervisor happens to call home.
Many of our neighboring communities facing similar unincorporated challenges have formed these councils to give their residents greater visibility. It’s a shame Santa Cruz County, with more than half of its population living in unmanaged unincorporated communities, hasn’t done this already. The Board of Supervisors can help to fix this for SLV and all of the other Santa Cruz County residents living outside of Scotts Valley, Santa Cruz, Capitola, and Watsonville by supporting advisory councils in the unincorporated communities they serve.
Want to learn more about Community Councils?
Big Sur Multi-Agency Advisory Council co.monterey.ca.us then use the search box — serving the Big Sur area
Carmel Valley Association carmelvalleyassociation.org — serving unincorporated Carmel Valley
MidCoast Community Council midcoastcommunitycouncil.org — serves unincorporated San Mateo Counties and mid-coast communities
North Fair Oaks Community Council smcgov.org and search North Fair Oaks Community Council — serving the unincorporated North Fair Oaks neighborhood near Redwood City
Follow the San Lorenzo Valley Community Forum page at facebook.com/SLVCommunityCouncil.
Jayme Ackemann is a public affairs consultant and freelance writer. She has worked on major capital investments and water infrastructure construction projects in the Bay Area. Jayme is a resident of Ben Lomond.
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