Private Road Maintenance Debate Heats Up as City Holds Workshop

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    The politically and emotionally charged issue of private road maintenance heats up again in October as the city holds another facilitator-led workshop on the topic on Oct. 1.
    About 20 percent of Orinda residents reside on streets designated as private that do not have their potholes and other maintenance needs filled by the city. Many of them vented their concerns at a workshop on Aug. 27.
    Councilmember Dennis Fay, a transportation engineer who spent 20 years as the executive director of what is now known as the Alameda County Transportation Commission, says the summary of the workshops will be a major topic for the City Council. “Future actions could include a task force” being set up to address the long simmering issue, but it’s only one option, says Fay.
    Putting aside whether or not it’s fair for private road residents to pay taxes to maintain public roads while their own roads are neglected, Fay says the real “issue of concern to the council has to be the financial health of the city. The cost of bringing private roads up to some reasonable level of repair is not within the city’s budget capability at this time. A new revenue source would be necessary if this route to ‘fairness’ is taken. This would require a vote of the citizens of Orinda.” 
    One idea floated at a workshop was to allow those living on private roads to opt out of or pay a lower tax on new residential roads that are not arterials or collectors – collector roads feed drivers to larger capacity arterial roads that lead to freeways. “This has some appeal, but needs further research to determine whether it is feasible and legal,” says Fay.
    Of perhaps even greater concern than ongoing private road maintenance is the impact of landslides on private roads caused by poor drainage, says Fay. “These can be very costly to repair and in some cases beyond the financial capability of those living on the road. Some people feel this is of more importance for the city.”
    For some Orindans, though, the time to take action on the rights of private road dwellers is long overdue. Narayanaswamy Krishnamurthi, 82, who has lived in Orinda on a private road since December, says the excuse that there isn’t enough money is a “cop out.”
    A Lamorinda area resident since 1976, Krishnamurthi says the council “has to find a way to raise the money.” He says the first step is forming a task force but says the city is not willing to.
    The retired engineer compares the city’s roads dispute with California’s fractured relationship with the Trump administration, saying his “road is not protected even though I am taxed. What if California was not protected by the Defense Department because the President doesn’t like us?”
    Even though he lives on a public road, Dan Slavin agrees with Krishnamurthi that the current system for maintaining roads in Orinda isn’t fair to private road residents.
    “It just doesn’t make sense to even make the distinction between ‘private’ and ‘public’ roads,” says Slavin. He says the designation of private roads was “simply a way to get developers to pay for the building of the roads, which is just fine. But it does not need to include the maintenance of the roads.”
    Slavin said he would like to see the issue put on the ballot. “I really wish we could have this put to a vote so that all Orinda residents could voice their opinions.”
    Referring to the City Council’s five members, he said that a vote by residents “makes more sense than a decision by just five people.”

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