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Creating a Livable Community – An Alameda County Experience

Case Story

Community: Eden Area (Alameda County)

Population: 130,000


The Eden Area is a collection of five unincorporated urban communities – Castro Valley, Ashland, Cherryland, Fairview, and San Lorenzo — sandwiched between the cities of Hayward, San Leandro and Oakland in western Alameda County. The Eden Area Livability Initiative (EALI) began as an effort to increase the ability of these communities to compete with neighboring municipalities for businesses and resources. From this, the effort evolved with the central focus of building a relationship of trust and understanding among county staff, community leaders, community members, and community based organizations on a wide range of issues. The resulting initiative developed into a community driven effort that brought stakeholders together to identify and address both the immediate needs of the community and a plan for future projects that draw from the newly found community vision for livability.

Program Highlights:

  • More than 300 residents attended the Initiative’s community charette to select projects to improve area livability.
  • The Initiative has been a catalyst for collaborative future planning and service delivery decisions within the urban unincorporated area of the county, leading to a range of community improvements.
  • The Initiative has improved inter-jurisdictional coordination among a number of community agencies not governed by the Board of Supervisors serving the residents of the unincorporated area.

Lessons Learned:

  • Focus on working with a community, not just in a community - creating a shared sense of trust and commitment by listening and addressing community concerns as they arise.
  • Be prepared to adjust at each step along the way in order to suit the needs of the community.
  • Recognize that the community has a wealth of knowledge and expertise about their conditions and possible solutions. Approach the community by assuming that everyone you talk with has something to offer as opposed to approaching them with the notion that you can solve their problems.

Resources to Learn More:

The Rest of the Story…

Spearheaded by Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, the Eden Area Livability Initiative (EALI) was launched in 2004 to improve quality of life in the unincorporated urban communities of Ashland, Cherryland, Castro Valley, Fairview, and San Lorenzo in western Alameda County. EALI was funded by an environmental justice grant from Caltrans, the office of Supervisor Miley, and in-kind contributions from the office of Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker, and other public agencies.

After several poorly attended community events, the Supervisor and his staff took to the streets and conducted one-on-one interviews to identify 60 resident community leaders. The community leaders were not only essential to the development of a relationship between county departments and residents, they were also instrumental in engaging fellow community members in Initiative activities – generating ideas for catalyst projects, identifying areas of need, and committing to the year- long process it would take to get the Initiative off the ground and running.

The results of the time and effort that went into identifying and collaborating with leaders in the community were seen at the well-attended community forums that were set up for residents to identify, and County departments to respond to, the immediate needs within the community. The culmination of these efforts was a charrette, held in 2008, in which residents were able to cast ballots indicating project areas of primary concern, through a voting process overseen by the League of Women Voters. Of the 24 projects that were selected, the five catalyst projects that rose to the top included: (1) creation of a community center, (2) changing the planning commission representation to reflect the unincorporated communities, (3) development of a violence prevention and injury reduction project, (4) improving government accountability, and (5) offering a teen center. Still others of the 24 projects are being taken on voluntarily by residents and agencies, creating a healthier and more vibrant community, where residents feel safe and engaged, and live in an environment that provides interesting places to walk and gather.

Applicability to Other Communities

The Eden Area Livability Initiative exemplifies a process of community engagement and decision making that was transparent, flexible, and valued the input of the residents. As this community implements the strategies identified to achieve their goals, residents, leaders, and organizations will be more likely to succeed because of the relationships that have been fostered, the momentum within the community that drives residents and leadership to enact change, and the shared success of the previous collaborative efforts in the EALI.

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