Jan. 16, 2012 | On most nights, plenty of seat are available for those curious enough to witness the gears of government at Hayward's plush City Council chambers. Aside from a few instances of pomp and circumstance over the last few years, rarely have the residents of Hayward been rallied to speak up.
Apathy is rampant at the worse possible time as the city searches for ways to duck rising gentrification, a palpable sense of unsafe streets and the ignominy of having one of the worst performing school districts in the entire state.
It's not like those issuing persistent gripes are cornering the market on making their view known, it that nobody seems to be registering any comments at all, according to some council members. The dearth of community activism is so low it led two officials to bluntly call out residents willing to speak up during this Tuesday's meeting on sorting out the council's priorities for this year.
"Everybody has an opinion about the city--good, bad and, or, otherwise," said Councilman Mark Salinas last week, "and my response is what City Council meeting have you come to speak up? Tell us what we're doing right, what we're doing wrong, what needs to be improved."
"This is the time for everybody to step up and come to City Council meetings and tell us what you think the priorities are," added Salinas, who has been successful in engaging younger Hayward residents through consistent updates on Facebook and Twitter.
Councilman Francisco Zermeno is another who has taken to Facebook for raising community issues, while urging followers to shop locally. Most updates are punctuated by his familiar catchphrase, "Hayward on!" In the past, others like former councilman Kevin Dowling and current member Bill Quirk have pointed the finger at Hayward's notably dry news desert for the lack of public enthusiasm. More often than not, the Hayward Daily Review fails to send a reporter to cover government meetings.
The sharp tenor of the challenge to the community had a root in the state's controversial dissolution of redevelopment agencies. No city raised the bar of rhetoric against the governor's plan higher than leaders in Hayward. Often loaded words like "blackmail" were thrown around in describing Sacramento's meddling in local affairs.
Even though the loss of redevelopment could potential blow a hole in the city's push in remaking its downtown and South Hayward neighborhoods, elected officials have struggled to raise the ire of the locals.
“This is torturous," said Mayor Michael Sweeney, who urged residents watching on television to call their lawmakers to the carpet during a city council meeting last year. "And those of you watching this torture at home, thank Sen. Ellen Corbett and Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi and their colleagues in the state Legislature for imposing this on us all.”
The call to arms seemed to fall on deaf ears. Councilwoman Barbara Halliday lamented over the absence of single public speaker during the agenda item last week considering the city become the successor to its shuttered redevelopment agency.
"I don't think the residents of Hayward quite realize what has happened here," said a grim-faced Halliday."I hope the citizens wake up, pay attention and contact their state legislators about this impending calamity that is about to hit cities."
So far, the phones in the capitol are not lighting up with calls from the 510 area code.