future activities. There are several different aspects of services and facilities that can be documented. First, there are absolute shortcomings and deficiencies in the provision of infrastructure and services, as noted above, when measured against standards of basic performance. Then, there are also disparities, which refer the relative differences between the unincorporated areas and other parts of the region. These can be disparities of inputs, such as how much is being spent per capita on infrastructure and services, and disparities in outcomes, as measured by public health and economic statistics or other measures. The measures of public finance conditions, which we have only started, can include a wide range of information about revenue capacity, tax rates, local expenditures, shares of county budgets, and resources from state programs.
The absence of good data about conditions and about the performance of local government can itself become a potent political issue. The fragmented, under-resourced way in which unincorporated communities are governed has limited the collection of useful data about their conditions compared to those of neighborhoods in California cities. Information about conditions and resources in these communities is uneven, scattered, inconsistent, not transparent and generally insufficient for assessment and planning. Some of the public entities are so small or so rarely queried that they have not created the systems for providing data to the public that are seen in larger units of government.
3. Documenting the system of governance. Being unincorporated – not being part of a city – has a particular legal and administrative meaning in California and this has serious consequences on the ability of residents to take part in the decision-making process about how services, utilities, and infrastructure are provided, and how public funds are raised and allocated. The San Joaquin Valley unincorporated island, fringe and hinterland communities are caught up in a perplexing, complicated, fragmented, and dysfunctional array of local service providers: special districts, community service districts, joint powers authorities, and municipal advisory councils, as well as numerous county agencies. Furthermore, Local Area Formation Commissions (LAFCOs), Metropolitan Planning Organizations, and other entities overseeing the growth of cities and counties and, more generally, regional development determine the fates of many unincorporated communities. All of these bodies exist within a complex system of state government financing and regulation of taxation, land subdivision, public health, and other components of local government.
Any solution to the problems of unincorporated communities will require a high degree of knowledge about this thicket of structures, rules and interests, for it must be untangled and revised, if not rebuilt, in order to better serve low-income residents. This set of complex public entities will need to become much more responsive to residents through their direct and active involvement in decision-making. In this first phase of our research we are creating an inventory and guide to the