City Council and Staff Eager About Measure R Strategy in Orinda

(Courtesy of the Moraga Orinda Fire District)
This new chipper purchased by MOFD will help remove excess fuel from properties.

    Orinda, poised to exert tremendous energy and good will, will transform itself into a wildfire resistant city. To recap, Orinda’s general sales tax of .5% will expire March 31. The newly passed general sales tax of 1%, however, will take effect on April 1. Measure R passed with a 58.7% yes vote.
    The Orinda city staff and City Council seem eager to set the wheels in motion as soon as possible. At the City Council meeting on Dec. 1, city staff put forth a proposal to take steps immediately. City Manager Steve Salomon spoke passionately and at length about the importance of addressing wildfire safety and disaster preparedness while coordinating these with a master plan.
    He stressed the critical nature of education and community outreach to success while also stressing the need for a dedicated program person to integrate various stakeholders and to execute the city’s master plan.
    Salomon, together with Assistant City Manager and Director of Public Works, Larry Theis, and Administrative Services Director, Paul Rankin, presented a way to get the work needed started.
    The current Citizens Infrastructure Oversight Committee (CIOC) will disband. A new commission of 7-10 citizens will emerge from the current CIOC, the Firewise Council and the former Finance Advisory Committee. This new Commission will create a framework and set of objectives. It will also provide a future spending plan in concert with the next bi-annual budget and provide an annual report to the City Council. Meetings should start this February.
    The city’s proposal suggested an interim, short-term budget of $600,000 for the next six months to the end of this fiscal year, June 30. It would also have the Moraga-Orinda Fire District (MOFD) continue its chipper program to serve Orinda residents while the staff researches the purchase of its own truck and chipper. Clearing the city’s own land should be of the highest priority according to the proposal.
    Discussion ensued about the issue of whether property owners or the city should take responsibility for clearing vegetation that abuts roads. Larry Theis clarified that fronting property owners need to take responsibility for the land under the older public roads in Orinda and that the road right-of-way constitutes an easement, not owned in fee title.
    Generally, in the last few decades, new roads get dedicated to the city as public roads, specifically in fee title ownership such as Wilder Road. Orinda’s municipal code, however, states that the abutting property owner shall maintain trees and vegetation in a neat, healthy and safe condition, regardless of who technically owns the road.
    Council Member Dennis Fay noted we should also look for additional funding from the county’s Measure X. “In addition to social service and other support services, Orinda should expect some return for other important priorities,” said Fay during the meeting. That could include funding for wildfire prevention and mitigation. An example would be funding to maintain the North Orinda Fuel Break created by MOFD.
    The City Council voted unanimously to approve the proposal, eliciting an ebullient and enthusiastic mood in the Zoom meeting.

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