Orinda’s Sales Tax Committee Discusses Measure R Expenditures

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    In April, 2021, the voter-approved Measure R add-on sales tax began being collected in Orinda. According to the City’s records, year-to-date revenue from the tax is currently over $2 million, with $73,515 spent on wildfire hazard reduction chipper services.
    Just over $60,000 was allocated to parks and recreation for the purpose of firebreaks.
    During a June 8 meeting of Orinda’s Supplemental Sales Tax Oversight Committee (SSTOC), the ad-hoc subcommittee presented updates related to Measure R funds and expenditures.
    Wildfire prevention was the focus of these updates.
    “We’re doing pretty well against the original anticipated revenue,” Administrative Services Director Douglas Alessio said during a slideshow displaying the Measure R financial update.
    There are no major Measure R projects projected for 2023, said Alessio.
    “We’re expecting to collect $3.4 million,” Alessio said regarding Measure R over the upcoming fiscal year.
    But how much of the funds generated by this sales tax are being directed toward a wildfire prevention plan for the City of Orinda?
    In the itemized list of third quarter operating expenditures for the fiscal year 2021-22, Measure R funds are shown to have been utilized for various City operations, such as city manager and public works costs.
    To date, $55,650 has been spent on publicity and promotion, which included the printing of “a direct mail piece to all the residents,” said City Manager David Biggs.
    This mailing went to every resident with information on the fire department requirements, said Biggs, in a June 9 email. It also included information on the availability of the Measure R-funded chipper.
    The free-of-charge chipping services for Orinda residents can be scheduled online using the Moraga-Orinda Fire Department (MOFD) Chipper Reservation System, located by visiting http://www.mofd.org and searching the term “chipper.”
    Priority is given to requests when three or more neighbors request service jointly, according to the City’s informational mailing.
    “We have also done a direct mail piece to the residents who live on El Toyonal in regards to the Red Flag parking restrictions,” Biggs said via email.
    “[The publicity and promotion costs are] a combination of contractual services and … limited advertising and then also production and mailing costs of things that we mail and whatnot,” Biggs said during the SSTOC meeting.
    The professional services and grants expenditure listed in the Measure R quarterly report is “primarily California Consulting,” said Biggs.
    California Consulting, Inc. is a state grant writing firm, using about $60,000 of the funds.
    “We are doing the AB 747 analysis,” Biggs said, “which is a more detailed evacuation planning analysis… So that’s probably in there, too.”
    The recent meeting was also an opportunity for the SSTOC to discuss the possibility of adopting a wildfire prevention plan proposal from UC Berkeley’s Prof. John Radke.
    Radke, a professor of City & Regional Planning, Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning and Urban Design, is a faculty member in the College of Environmental Design at the university, as well as a founding member of the Center for Catastrophic Risk 
Management.
    In a late April, meeting between the City and MOFD’s two-by-two committee, Mayor Dennis Fay said, “My goal for this committee is to identify the true partnerships that we can actually create in order to reduce or even eliminate the wildfire danger in the City of Orinda, using the resources available to both Orinda through Measure R and whatever resources MOFD can bring… on this.”
    Fay added that a partnership between the City and the fire district is his goal for this particular committee.
    MOFD President Michael Donner commented, “We can do the best job on the planet with fire prevention and mitigation, [however] we will never eliminate the threat of fire.”
    During the meeting, Fay also noted there is a “much bigger opportunity up front” to spend more Measure R funds on wildfire prevention and mitigation as opposed to the future, when the revenue will be directed towards Orinda’s infrastructural needs.
    Mayor Fay is part of a two-by-two committee with MOFD, alongside Councilmember Darlene Gee.
    Gee echoed Fay’s sentiments via email on June 6, “Our goal is to try to partner together to implement recommendations from our SSTOC with MOFD in the most effective way possible, particularly when it comes to expending Measure R dollars.”

Andrea Madison can be reached at drea.madison.05@gmail.com.

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