Amy Worth Retires from City Council

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(Jeff Heyman, Photographer)
Mayor Amy Worth in front of the Orinda sign at the Community Center.

    Who would have thought fundraising for a children’s play structure could become the catalyst for three decades of public service? But such was the case for long-time City Council Member Amy Worth, who retires from the council this month.
    “I’ve so enjoyed living in Orinda and being engaged in regional dialogue and decision-making. It’s so important for a small community, especially here in the Bay Area, where we have 101 cities and nine counties,” Worth said.
    Amy, her husband Tom and daughter Betsy moved to Orinda in December 1982 when Betsy was only 18 months old. A group of young mothers was busy raising funds for a tot lot at the new Community Center Park, adjacent to the old library. Worth joined the young moms and also started volunteering for the library. When the County Library Commission    was established, she found herself the representative for Orinda.
    “That’s when I really got involved with civic affairs,” said Worth. “I’ve always loved libraries and really enjoyed the county-wide work to provide a pathway for library health and stability.”
    Before she knew it, Worth was recruited by City Council Members Joyce Hawkins and Dick Heggie to run for Sarge Littlehale’s position on the council.
    “I agreed to run and found myself on the council and, since Sarge had been dealing with transportation, I became involved with that as well,” said Worth, who began her City Council service in December 1998.
    Worth worked her way up through the ranks and eventually became chair of the Contra Costa County Transportation Authority and then the Regional Transportation Authority. She worked tirelessly putting Measure J on the ballot, which provided the funding for the Caldecott Tunnel’s Fourth Bore, a boon for Orinda residents.
    “Transportation is really key for our residents. People chose to live here because of our wonderful schools, beautiful open space and access to BART and the freeway. Many residents have both parents working and often commuting to other cities while also raising their families,” she added.
    Worth believes strongly in the public process and reaching out to a broad spectrum of residents and listening to what they have to say.
    “People are concerned about certain issues and want to be heard. Everyone has a unique perspective that is valuable to the decision-making process, and most of the time they are respectful,” she said. “I learned early on not to take people’s comments personally. When I was with another organization, a man was expressing his anger to me about something, but was clear that he wasn’t angry at me personally, but at the institution I represented. It’s an important distinction for City Councilmembers to realize.”
    According to Worth, her supportive family made it possible for her to put in the hours necessary.
    “I remember my three daughters sitting around the coffee table in our living room putting labels on library newsletters or helping pass out leaflets when they were little. My husband Tom has been such a good sport as well,” she added. “We met on a Cal Alumni Volunteer Board, so he kind of knew what he was getting into. And he’s always volunteered himself, including for Cal and the California Bar Association and also as president of the California Map Society.”
    Worth also credits the City Staff and her fellow City Councilmembers with contributing to her success. Citing how Orinda has one of the smallest budgets for a city in Contra Costa County, she notes both the staff and the council “have to do a lot with a little.”
    She also thanks the first City Council in 1985, after Orinda became a city, with setting the tone for careful, thoughtful stewardship.
    “We have such a great staff that truly cares about what they are doing and such incredible councils,” Worth said. “Councilmembers are volunteers and have been such smart, dedicated and committed individuals.”
    As for her most gratifying moments in her long career, Worth points to her work with other Bay Area cities on transportation and on the county libraries.
    “People don’t realize how effective Amy was on their behalf,” said former City Councilmember Laura Abrams. “She really used her influence to protect the community from various things the state wanted to do over the years, and she was instrumental in getting the school bus program going, not to mention serving on the Solid Waste Authority Board and chairing the Mayors’ Conference numerous times. She went to many chicken dinners for the residents of Orinda!”
    Given the magnitude of her job and some of the tough decisions she had to make, Worth admits there were challenging times.
    “In order to be successful, you must put in a lot of emotional and intellectual energy. Sometimes the feeling of being responsible for getting things done can really weigh on you,” she said. “You must recognize you’re going to have huge differences and not be able to please everyone. Before I make a decision, I make sure I’ve done my homework, and I understand the facts. Then I know I’ve made the best decision I could.”
    Worth leaves office at the Dec. 13 City Council meeting after 24 years of public service. She plans on spending more time with her family and grandchildren, but still plans to be engaged with the Orinda community.
    A reception honoring Worth takes place Dec. 4 from 3 – 5 p.m. at the Upper Library Plaza, 26 Orinda Way.

Sally Hogarty can be reached at sally@theorindanews.com.

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