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Castro Valley's Hollow Reform

New policy results in exactly the same chairman as in recent years. Plus, would-be successor to Rep. Eric Swalwell rethinks his campaign.

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A new policy from Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley to rotate the leadership of the Castro Valley Municipal Advisory Council was intended to appease community concerns over one controversial member yet again controlling the council.

But the gesture was seen as empty because it would not be retroactively applied, meaning the current chair, Marc Crawford, a large contributor to Miley's political campaigns and developer with ties to the local California Apartment Association's leadership, could be eligible to hold the chairperson's seat for a third consecutive year.

And indeed on Monday, without any discussion, the advisory council re-elected both Crawford as chair, and member Ted Riche as vice-chair. Earlier in the meeting, Riche was slammed for writing an editorial in the Castro Valley Forum opposing the flying of LGBT Pride flag at Castro Valley High School.

Michael Kusiak, a community activists and co-founder of Castro Valley Matters, a group advocating for greater citizen input in the unincorporated area's future, said Monday night, that the intent of the new policy was not to perpetuate the same leadership at the council.

The new rule aims to rotate the chair position among council members and prohibits any person holding the title for consecutive years. After Crawford relinquishes the chair position next year, he will have served in the capacity for three years. Crawford has also served intermittently as chair in prior years.

Several council members said they simply did not want to the job of chair and its other duties, even though the position only serves as a parliamentary function for public meetings. But over the years, under Crawford, the position has become a quasi-strong mayor position, sans any fiduciary powers.

"It is important that this council see regular change in leadership," Kusiak said. "It is important that you look to yourselves to see if you want to be on this council, if you're willing to step up to leadership. If you're not willing to do that, I would question why you are on this council." 

Twice last year, Crawford postponed scheduled re-election items on the council agenda because one member was absent. But when one council member failed to attend Monday's meeting and Kusiak challenged Crawford to postpone the vote, it moved forward nonetheless with council member Dolly Adams abstaining.

Wieckowski Abandons Congressional Race

State Sen. Bob Wieckowksi's campaign for Congress is over before it even started. Last week, he announced his exit on Friday from the race for Rep. Eric Swalwell's seat in the 15th Congressional District.

"After much thought and review of the political landscape, I know I can best serve our community closer to home," Wieckowski told The Mercury News.

The timing of the move increases speculation that Swalwell's struggles to gain traction in the over-crowded presidential campaign led Wieckowski to the conclusion that the incumbent congressman will run for re-election to his seat for another term next March.

Wieckowski had previously indicated he would drop out of the race if Swalwell chose to return to the district. The other main candidate in the race, Hayward Councilmember Aisha Wahab, has never publicly articulated how she would proceed if Swalwell ultimately runs for re-election, a scenario that would immediately make him the overwhelming favorite, as it stands today.

Wieckowski's announcement also hints at a dilemma East Bay insiders have alluded to in recent weeks. Swalwell's repeated hedging over his political future has effectively served as a potent block against donors pledging support for any of the early field of candidates hoping to replace him next year.

Just this week, Swalwell followed up a CNN town hall on Sunday with appearances on the Daily Show and The View. He also continued his efforts to secure 65,000 campaign donors to clinch a guaranteed spot in two Democratic presidential debates at the end of this month. The deadline for reaching this threshold is June 12. Swalwell has already reached another requirement by posting at least one percent in three national polls approved by the Democratic Party.

Swalwell also reiterated to The Hill on Tuesday that he would consider running for re-election to Congress if his campaign fizzles. He would have until early December to make the decision in order to file for re-election in the 15th District.

Wieckowski's future in government now appears uncertain. He is termed out of his state Senate seat in 2022. Last January, Wieckowski opened a campaign account for California secretary of state for 2022. The committee, however, likely serves as a placeholder account, a move often used by long-time elected officials to park campaign funds for another election cycle.

How much Wieckowski has transferred or raised for the secretary of state account is unknown. He is not required to file a full finance report until the end of this month, but the account show significant expenditures, including more than $70,000 to various functions within the state Democratic Party.

Illegal Fences Make Bad Neighbors

Victor Aguilar, Jr. was already eyeing a rematch for the San Leandro City Council in 2018 when incumbent councilmember Lee Thomas got caught up in a unsubstantiated scandal that he used his influence as an elected official to receive city approval to build a 10-foot high fence at his corner house. The controversy represented an opportunity for Aguilar to redefine Thomas as an untrustworthy public servant.

When Aguilar attended an appeal of Thomas's fence modification at the city's Board of Zoning and Adjustments in September 2017, he registered comments in opposition to Thomas' fence. The fence was later built by Thomas within the city's building code, but the public uproar over the modification was a main reason why Thomas suffered a surprising defeat by Aguilar in the council race last November. But now there is a plot twist.

Just as Aguilar was speaking out against Thomas's fence modifications and using it as cudgel on social media to paint him as corrupt in the eyes of voters, it turns out Aguilar had just completed a fence on his own corner property just blocks from Thomas, without any city permits.

Last Thursday, following an anonymous complaint, Aguilar petitioned the San Leandro Planning and Board of Zoning Adjustments Commission to allow for a zoning variance that would allow him to keep his over six-foot fence intact despite not procuring the requisite building permits beforehand.

The commission, down to four members after two were absent, and another, Commission Chair Rick Solis, recused himself because he lives near the property in question, repeatedly failed to make a decision on the variance request Thursday night, therefore punting the issue to a presumably full roster of commissioners at its next meeting on Aug. 1.

In Other News ...

Two jail inmates have died in the custody of the Alameda County Sheriff's Department within the last week, the East Bay Times reported. A 39-year-old was found dead last Wednesday; another inmate died on May 29. ... State legislation to encourage new housing around transit hubs may have been sidetracked, but that isn't stopping Oakland. A proposed 23-story tower with 1,000 housing units, office and retail space next to the West Oakland BART station is coming before the Oakland Planning Commission, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. ... A U.S. District Court judge threw out a case against three members of the Rise Above Movement, a group accused of engaging in hand-to-hand combat with protesters at political rallies in Berkeley, Huntington Beach, and San Bernardino, the AP reported. The judged ruled their actions were free speech. ... A witness for the defense in the Ghost Ship trial testified that she heard people boast of setting the deadly warehouse fire. The defense for Derick Almena and Max Harris has asserted the fire that killed 36 people was started by arsonists. ...

A Contra Costa County Grand Jury is seeking to remove Assessor Gus Kramer from office following allegations he created a hostile work environment and made offensive remarks about minorities in the office, KPIX reported. ... After a high risk of fire and gusty winds were forecast for Saturday, PG&E shut off power for up to 20,500 customers to lessen the possibility of a devastating wildfire like those seen over the last two years, the Chronicle reported. Meanwhile, a prolonged heat wave scorched temperature records across the Bay Area. And system-wide delays related to overheated track equipment riddled BART all day Monday. ... However, BART's recent emphasis on thwarting fare evaders appears to be paying dividends, the Chron reported. ... The Hayward City Council took an initial step toward creating a policy for an independent investigation of cases when Hayward Police use deadly force. The request followed the fatal shooting of Agustin Gonsalez by Hayward police officers last November. ... A new poll found that 52 percent of California voters oppose Congress starting impeachment proceedings against President Trump, Capital Public Radio reported. ...

The Warriors overcame a major injury to Kevin Durant to win Game 5 of the NBA Finals Monday night, 106-105. Toronto now leads the series, 3-2. Game 6 returns to Oakland on Thursday for the final Warriors game ever to be played at Oracle Arena. ... A humpback whale dubbed Allie continued to make a rare appearance in the bay waters near Alameda's Seaplane Lagoon; the animal's health was in question. ... Have it your way: The Impossible Burger is now available at all 111 Burger King restaurants in the Bay Area, SF Eater reported. Impossible Foods' meatless burger patty is made in Oakland.

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