Orinda’s Mini Park, the “Entrance to Orinda,” in Limbo 

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(Maggie Boscoe, Artist)
Proof of concept for the downtown Orinda Mini Park, created by Orinda resident and artist, Maggie Boscoe, a Lamorinda Arts Council board member and chairperson of the Artify Orinda program.

    What has happened to Irene Moylan Ingram Smith’s dream of the Orinda Mini Park which she brought into being in 1974? Located at the corner of Camino Pablo and Brookwood, it was seen as the “Entrance to Orinda” complete with sparkling fountain, colorful flowers, verdant bushes, tall trees, walkways and benches.  Today, the fountain is empty. A few straggling flowers and bushes remain, the trees have been cut down, trash is littered about, but the strong, structural elements remain. Smith recently wrote our Mayor, Darlene Gee, seeking answers. 
    Gee said: “I am a very big proponent of the redevelopment of the Mini Park and have been frustrated that we have had to delay it. The main reason is that the property belongs to PG&E. The long-term lease is coming to an end and needs a new solution.  PG&E is trying to decide if they want another long-term lease, or whether they want to sell or donate the property to Orinda. This doesn’t seem that difficult a decision, but the firm has recently emerged from bankruptcy so that their processes and approvals are slow. They have told us it might take several years to come to a conclusion as our Mini Park doesn’t have a very high priority.  
    “Secondly, the COVID situation has impacted the city staff because of the challenges of a more remote work environment.  So, things have moved a little slowly. Again, the park doesn’t have the highest priority.”  
    Gee said the City Council recently decided it did not want to spend more money on the new design until there is resolution with PG&E. The city will continue maintaining the existing vegetation until the property issues are decided. 
    Smith said the park certainly doesn’t present a very good impression now as Orinda’s entrance. She recalled, “As a young housewife and activist, I had the idea to convert the former ugly parking lot surrounded by chain link fencing to a lovely landscaped park. This first impression of Orinda wasn’t a pretty sight,” Smith said.  “I got permission from the Orinda Chamber of Commerce, which leased the land, to give up the lease so I could negotiate directly with PG&E. Fortunately, they agreed Orinda could lease the land provided maintenance could be supplied. That’s when the county stepped in to offer maintenance. This all happened before Orinda was incorporated. 
    “Over a period of two years everything came together, but not without the whole community’s help with money, labor, donations, professional and moral support. Civic organizations in Orinda which included The Orinda Association, Orinda Rotary, Orinda Lions, Orinda Park and Recreation District, Orinda Garden Club, Orinda Woman’s Club, Montelindo Garden Club, dozens of volunteers and even the Boy Scouts provided help.  It took a village to make it a reality and change the face of Orinda.” 
    It was, however, the dedication of one woman who had a vision of what could be done to bring it to fruition that made it happen. Irene Smith was awarded the first William Penn Mott, Jr. Environmental award in 1974 by The Orinda Association. 
    Former Mayor Bobbie Landers remembers Smith also persuaded PG&E to exchange the huge Eiffel Tower of power lines to the single pole seen now.  At about the same time, a book was published about the worst entries to cities and towns, and Orinda made the Top Ten before the park was established.  “It would be nice to actually have a more welcoming entry to our community that befits the friendly feel of Orinda.  I’m hoping,” Landers said.  
    Yes, there is hope, but also impediments.  Orinda’s Park and Recreation Director, Todd Trimble, explained: “In Oct. 2018, a new plan for the Mini Park, designed by Gates and Associates of Walnut Creek, was approved.  The Orinda Community Foundation agreed to provide $200,000 toward its construction. PG&E, however, couldn’t agree on the terms of a lease.” 
    He continued, “In the meantime, $25,000 is earmarked to do some things and the first priority is to fix the irrigation system. It has leaks, one under a sidewalk and the backflow needs repair.  Then we can proceed to spruce up the area.” 
    Trimble said the fountain was shut down four or five years ago because of the drought and will be replaced with a so-called waterless feature, two or three granite columns which have a slight flow of water trickling down them.  The trees were cut down a few years ago because they interfered with transmission lines.
    “Right now, the plants that remain are watered by hand.  We have a contract with a maintenance company and will try to keep it looking better until the new design can be implemented,” said Trimble. 
    The dedicated members of the Montelindo Garden Club (MGC) provided maintenance and upgrading of the park from 1996 to 2014. Past President and Board Member Katie Creighton said, “This included 2,000 hours of work and $8,000 in plants, mulch, bulbs and outsider labor from the club’s funds. We also provided about 360 hours of professional design time as we developed a landscape plan to reconfigure and revitalize the plantings after the expected removal of redwoods by PG&E.  This plan was presented and approved by the City Council in 2011, but before it could be implemented it was put on hold because of planning issues with PG&E. The club continued to maintain the park until 2014 when it became, logistically and financially, impossible to keep going given the constant need for upgrading plants and mulching and the reduced support from the city.” 
    So, the answers to Irene Smith’s question about Orinda’s Mini Park are complex. For now, with the funds provided, some revitalization of the park should be occurring. When PG&E decides how to handle the property, a beautiful transformation might take place so the park will be a most welcome “Entrance to Orinda.”  

(Sally Hogarty, Photographer)
Known as the “Entrance to Orinda,” plans for sprucing up the Crossroads Mini Park are underway, however much rides on PG&E for direction.

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