Several unincorporated Alameda County communities may become better places to live if the residents decide to form a city, an economic development consultant told a county commission last week.

Consultant Richard Berkson provided an initial feasibility analysis to the Alameda County Local Agency Formation Commission earlier this month for residents to consider.

Some combination of the unincorporated communities of Castro Valley, Ashland, Cherryland, San Lorenzo, Fairview and Hayward Acres could become a new East Bay city.

Berkson analyzed three combinations.

The effort to incorporate may be challenging though. No new city has been created in California since 2000 without the benefit of property tax revenue from the state in lieu of revenue from vehicle license fees, according to the feasibility analysis.

Moreover, new cities are no longer entitled to this in-lieu revenue from the state, said Berkson, principal at Berkson Associates. In addition, some residents may oppose the change.

Losing identity

Michelle Clowser, a San Lorenzo resident, said her community would cease to be San Lorenzo, disappointing her and others.

“The incorporation of San Lorenzo would mean a literal end to ‘San Lorenzo’,” Clowser said through Facebook. “You would no longer be from San Lorenzo but rather live in a different named location.”

Kelly Russell responded to Clowser on Facebook, saying, “I know that you are only one person but I hope that your words reach everyone and yall come together and push these pests of people away. LEAVE SAN LORENZO ALONE!!!”

One of three proposals contained in a feasibility study for incorporating parts of Alameda County into a new city would join Castro Valley with the smaller communities of San Lorenzo, Ashland, Cherryland, Hayward Acres and Fairview. (Alameda County LAFCO)

Berkson laid out the possible revenue and expenditures for three potential city formations in his analysis and projected deficits for all three.

Berkson analyzed an incorporated Castro Valley; a city encompassing Castro Valley, Fairview and Eden; and a city of only Fairview and Eden.

Read the preliminary report on the feasibility of joining six unincorporated Alameda County communities into a new city. (Berkson Associates via Alameda County LAFCO)

The formation of incorporated Castro Valley, Fairview and Eden faces the largest deficit at about $14.7 million followed by incorporated Fairview and Eden at $12.3 million and incorporated Castro Valley at $7.2 million.

But Berkson said if the state enacted legislation to provide new cities with state money, new cities would be more feasible. He suggested that alternatively the county could provide money. New sales taxes are also an option for revenue.

As recently as 2019, state legislation was introduced to provide new cities with state moneys, but none of the legislation has passed.

Berkson said history has shown — in his experience — that incorporated areas are better places to live because cities have more revenue and more control of revenue and services and that gives them a better chance to improve their community.

But San Lorenzo resident Lita Clapper said, “As a lifelong resident of San Lorenzo (almost 70 years), I am totally against incorporation. Is San Lorenzo perfect? By no means, but this community has survived all these years and improvements can be made if we come together.”

Weighing the costs and benefits

The purpose of Berkson’s report, according to the commission, is to provide residents, affected agencies and the commission with information to help weigh incorporation as well as the financial service implications.

New cities would mean less revenue for the county but also less draw for services. Berkson said the formation of a new city would need to be revenue neutral for the county or a financial agreement would need to be reached between the two jurisdictions.

Comments on the report can be made through Aug. 11. Those submitted by that date will be considered in the creation of a final report, which the commission may adopt in September or November. The commission may take other actions then, too.

Neither commissioners nor the executive director of the commission were available to comment before publication.

Keith Burbank is currently a fulltime reporter covering Alameda County and Oakland news for Bay City News. He has also worked on the Data Points project for Local News Matters, finding trends and stories about the region through data. In 2019, he was a California Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, producing a series about homeless deaths in Santa Clara County. He worked as a swing shift editor for the newswire for several years as well. Outside of journalism, Keith enjoys computer programming, math, economics and music.