Planning Department Survey Finds Discontent with Downtown

(Courtesy of City of Orinda)
Part of city staff's presentation on the Downtown Precise Plan, this image show words which represent survey responses to what people like and dislike about downtown.

    On a scale of one to 100, how satisfied are you with downtown Orinda? What do you like and dislike about downtown? What are your favorite places in the Theatre and Village districts? What is your personal vision for downtown?
    These are a sampling of questions included in a recent survey conducted by the Planning Department.
    Drummond Buckley, director of the Planning Department, presented an overview of the survey results to the Downtown Precise Planning (DPP) sub-committee, which includes council members Nick Kosla and Inga Miller, during a virtual meeting June 10.
    The survey was conducted April 30 to June 1 with 728 people responding, which is less than five percent of residents older than 18. The raw data of ideas, opinions, likes and dislikes about the future of the village and theatre sides of Orinda fill 200 pages.
    “The presentation is exhaustive,” said Miller.
    Ninety-seven percent of respondents live in Orinda with 38 percent frequently visiting downtown. When asked “on a scale of one to 100, how satisfied are you with downtown Orinda?” the average answer was 52. If graded, it would be an F.
    This “appears to indicate, on average, deep dissatisfaction with downtown Orinda by the people who completed the survey,” said Buckley.
    Many residents live closer to downtown Moraga or Lafayette than downtown Orinda, but “no one in Lafayette or Moraga lives closer to Orinda’s downtown than their own,” said Buckley.
    Overall, respondents like the small-town feel, community spaces, easy and free parking, movie theater, proximity to BART, trees, friendliness of merchants and the predominance of “mom and pop,” non-chain restaurants and stores.
    To the contrary, comments included, “We need to attract more mainstream retail like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods” and “chain restaurants such as Taco Bell, Subway and McDonald’s should be permitted.” One survey participant described downtown as, “Homey, a bit frayed about the edges – like me.”
    Poor aesthetics, lack of parking and grocery options were frequent complaints. Two comments were, “A little too sleepy,” and “Lacking stores to keep me shopping in Orinda.”
    To the contrary, comments included, “Do not attempt to attract-out-of-town customers. I am here for the small town feel and will move if this changes,” and “Orinda has everything we need and we never need to leave Orinda.”
    Favorite places in the Theatre District centered around food and beverages. Public facilities/spaces and restaurants topped the list on the Village side of downtown.
    Utilizing private property downtown, respondents wanted more retail/restaurants (630), arts/events (376) and parking (320). Housing was fourth with 211 votes.
    Buckley interpreted the results, saying “The high ranking of arts and events shows that this use needs to be embraced in the DPP… Housing will never be at the top of people’s list because almost 100 percent of the respondents already have a home in Orinda.
    Planning for the future of downtown Orinda, the needs of families and children as well as seniors were overwhelming priorities by respondents.
    Asked to suggest “Buildings elsewhere that would fit in Downtown Orinda,” 554 respondents suggested the neighborhoods of downtown Lafayette and Danville along with Rockridge and parts of Walnut Creek. Market Place in Rockridge was by far the most-frequently mentioned building in the survey. Others included Mill Valley Lumber Yard, Oakridge Health Club in Lafayette, Lesher Center in Walnut Creek, Larkspur Landing, The Shed, Oakville Grocery and H2 Hotel in Healdsburg, Hacienda and Canyon Club Brewery in Moraga, the Berkeley Rep, Oxbow Market in Napa, and Marketplace in Alameda.
    Streetscapes included Danville, Los Altos, Calistoga, Walnut Creek, Ojai, Carmel, Burlingame and the Napa Riverfront. On a larger scale, a seven-story building proposed in Berkeley, Bishop Ranch (City Center) and the Claremont Hotel were suggested.
    A workshop between Planning Commission and Downtown Precise Plan subcommittee members Kosla and Miller was Tuesday, June 23, after this issue went to press. The next subcommittee meeting is July 8 and is open to the public.
    Complete survey results can be viewed at

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