Sales-Tax Survey Results Expected at Mid-March Council Meeting

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    The results of a survey of 400 Orindans asking if a half-cent sales tax should be extended and raised another half-cent to one cent are expected to be revealed at the City Council’s March 17 meeting, if not sooner.
    The survey though, doesn’t just ask Orindans if they think the tax, in place since 2012, should be extended and increased. It also brings up what might be done with the extra cash, namely the long standing, hot button issue of whether the city should be responsible for maintaining 30 miles of private roads and storm drains which run off into public roadways.
    After several rounds of public input, the survey was designed to “ask about issues as objectively as possible,” said Orinda Mayor Darlene Gee. Two hundred residents were interviewed by phone and an equal number online.
    But some say the survey is flawed. Among them is Steve Cohn, a member of a group that has been advocating turning the maintenance of all publicly accessible roads, whether they are designated private or public, over to the city.
    Cohn disputes the survey’s assertion that it would cost up to $25 million for Orinda to take on the job. According to Cohn, that hefty price tag means all the private roads would have to be rebuilt. He said that figure is “a scare tactic.”
    “We know that of the 30 miles of private streets, five are brand new and two or more are well-maintained by well-funded HOAs (Home Owner Associations). I have surveyed nine of the remaining 23 miles and believe that 85 percent are in good repair, requiring nothing more than routine maintenance. The remaining 15 percent would cost no more than $5 million to bring up to standards,” he said.
    Cohn adds the survey doesn’t mention the city has just spent more than $50 million to repair 64 miles of streets – a cost that all residents pay whether they live on a public or private road. “So even paying $25 million for the last 30 miles would not be unfair. None of this is divulged” in the survey, he said.
    What increasing the sales tax would cost Orindans is also not brought up, according to Cohn. The only mention of the cost “is the statement that a 1 percent tax will generate $2.4 million. For 99 percent of the respondents that is as relevant as telling them what the U.S. military budget is. But when you divide it by 7,000 households and come up with $350 per household per year, they can grasp that. And they will know that number when it comes time to vote so why not throw it out now when asking them how they would vote?”
    Debate over the survey and roads generated a lot of chatter on Nextdoor.
    Resident Yoni Mayer pointed out on Nextdoor that “private roads are not at all private. They are used the same as every other road in town. Anyone can access them, and you would have no idea you were on a so-called private road in almost all 30 miles of these roads. We all have used them to access other roads, get around Orinda, visit friends, turn around at dead ends, etc. The city does not maintain those roads, the owners must do so, as well as contribute to the cost of maintaining the public roads.”
    In response Gary Gallaher wrote: “What you say may be true for some private roads, but definitely not all. They should be made public only if they are brought up to the standard of public roads. Most of us do not use the ‘private roads’ anywhere near as much as ‘private road’ owners use the public roads we all pay for.”
    Mary Gilles, who lives in the Oak Springs neighborhood, wrote she would like clarity on where all the city’s private roads actually are. “Is there an easily accessible map of private roads? That would allow me to actually check some of them out and get a sense of how private they generally are,” she wrote.
    JK Kim of the Heather/Valley Glorietta area noted some of the private roads in the city are nothing more than long driveways to a home.
    No matter how the survey results shake out, residents will make the final decision on a sales tax extension/increase at the ballot box.
    Gee said the survey results are vital in crafting the ballot measure. “The funds generated from this local sales tax have been a key component in our road repair efforts. The continuation of this revenue for the city will be an important element of maintaining our infrastructure going forward.”

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