Letters to the Editor

Wildfire Prevention: City, Fire District Need to do More
    While it is great the city is acknowledging the threat of wildfire in Orinda and is gearing up to do something about it (29 years after the Oakland Hills firestorm), I am chagrined that it, and the Moraga-Orinda Fire District (MOFD), still seem to believe the limit of their involvement is directing residents in how to take care of themselves. Chief Dave Winnacker was quoted: “the key to prevention is what homeowners are willing to do.”
    If there was an extreme threat of a cholera epidemic, would the key to prevention be to hound homeowners to get their septic systems working, or would the government create a waste water disposal system including sewage treatment plants?
    We did not incorporate Orinda and form MOFD (and pay it $17 million a year) for it just to tell us how we can do the heavy lifting. They are there to do the hard work.
    The city and MOFD need to work together – and find the funds – to finance an emergency fuel reduction program. 
    MOFD puts a big feather in its cap for agreeing to not waste $1.5 million a year on two superfluous firefighters. What it did not do was:
    1. Suspend the $2 million a year of excess funding of the employee retirement program.
    2. Put into effect, after 23 years of being remiss, the parcel tax that voters in Moraga approved before MOFD was even formed, which would generate $2 million in revenue. This would increase the per-household cost in Moraga to $1,900, which is still three-quarters of the $2,500 Orinda households pay annually for the same service.
    3. Dig into their $17 million in reserves for emergency funding for Orinda wildfire prevention.
    As for Orinda, they are still talking of a new sales tax, which would continue funding road maintenance and might fund some fire prevention. This is when they have been put on notice that 20 percent of Orinda would oppose such a tax until the city pays serious attention to the 30 miles of roads that remain unfunded. 
    Wouldn’t it be smarter to propose a dedicated parcel tax for fire prevention when 85 percent of the recent survey respondents put that as their highest priority?
    It’s great that Orinda and MOFD are going to get together and talk. But they need to put their money where their mouths are and actually start removing vegetation.
    –Steve Cohn

Planning Commission, Council Ignore Financial Warnings
    As a long-term resident, strong supporter of downtown organic development, participant in the three-year Planning Process Review Task Force (PPRTF), and past planning commissioner, I was surprised to see members of the Planning Commission basically ignore substantial public input that suggested now was not the appropriate time to move forward with significant expenditures for a Downtown Precise plan.  (Joint Planning Commission/Downtown Planning subcommittee May 26.) 
    Well hidden from the public in numerous ways, and including substantial misinformation, the downtown development plans in reality are based on the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) recommendations that center on significant multi-story condo/apartment development, which is necessary to meet economic goals of any large central development project. 
    As ULI stated in its presentation, significant housing acts as the “value enhancer.”  The presentation was based on six-, five- or six-story buildings, at 40 units each, for a total of 240 units. Deniers can argue this is not the Precise Plan, but fundamental financial development objectives require something very similar, and eventually these goals will be clear to the public. 
    Whether you agree or disagree with Organic Development (code compliant) vs. centralized multi-story condo/apartment development (noncode compliant, 50’ or 60’ building  heights, or more), now is not the time to divert the city’s limited budget to yet more planning/code changing studies, involving substantial expenditures. 
    It would seem, given the circumstances, that fire prevention, fuel mitigation, fire breaks, debris cleanup and the like would be a far higher priority and a more appropriate use of our funds (already projected at a $1 million-plus shortfall), as many residents recommended.  
    There is a history of asking for public input and then ignoring or discounting that input, or even being told we are wrong. It would be an interesting change to see if our local government leaders listen to and act on what the majority of residents want.  
    – Chris Kniel

Downtown Housing Would Help Business, Families, Teachers
    The state is pushing all communities to help address the housing shortage and all communities, including Orinda, should tailor their responses to that pressure to create the most advantageous outcome for current as well as future residents.
    We should build on the community that we have, hopefully enticing others who love what Orinda is, and want to add to it. There are many reasons why Orinda should be excited to welcome more people to live in our downtown.
    Firstly, housing downtown greatly supports downtown vitality, helping to maintain a greater offering of shops and restaurants.
    Second, many community members want an alternative to single-family housing. There are empty nesters looking to downsize, families or individuals with a change of circumstance, those wanting a more walkable lifestyle, and those in the “boomerang” generation who grew up here and wish to return.
    Allowing for our community to remain intact, to sustain our social fabric and build upon that is a good the city should promote.
    Third, the Orinda Union School District has expressed the need to get creative to compensate teachers, given limited funds. The most impactful way to do this would be to provide housing dedicated to district teachers. The city should partner with the school board in achieving that goal.
    Lastly, as developers include a percentage of below-market-rate units, the city should encourage units that suit the needs of families with school-aged children. There is no greater good the city has to offer than access to our excellent schools, and the schools have room for it. Schools are expected to remain under-capacity in the most recent school board projections.
    Young families who value education are a great fit for this community and would add to our city. I’m excited to see Orinda grow in this way.
    – Arran Schultz

OrindaVision is Out of Focus
    In the June edition of The Orinda News, OrindaVision (OV) presented its goals for Orinda. Space did not permit submission of the details. Of course, details matter. The details establish that OV’s grandiose plans for Orinda are completely unrealistic, and would hinder, not help, revitalize downtown.
    The written public comments submitted in connection with the May 26 joint meeting of the Planning Commission and Downtown Planning Subcommittee (comprised of council members Inga Miller and Nick Kosla) contained 16 emails opposing housing downtown, and only two supporting new housing. One was from OV’s chair. And this despite a massive effort by OV to generate support for its position from its mailing list.
    OV’s submission included a graphic showing the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica (www.3rdstreetpromenade.com), which has about 100 stores, as an example of its vision for Orinda. The size and scope of the Third Street Promenade are completely unattainable in Orinda.
    OV’s submission also included housing and other hardscape that would take over much of the parking on the privately-owned lots in the Village. To compensate for the loss of parking, OV proposes new underground parking. Apart from the cost, which makes underground parking infeasible financially, parking (let alone underground parking) cannot legally be required for new projects with affordable housing within one-half mile of BART – which includes most of the Village.
    The recently completed online survey, sponsored by the Planning Department, contains responses of 703 residents. Parking was the third highest priority; housing was fifth, favored by fewer than 29 percent of residents. In other words, the public does not want to replace parking with housing.
    The draft Existing Conditions Report, prepared by the Planning Department, counted 211 on-street parking spaces in the Village. The ULI Report, submitted three years ago, proposed adding 240 housing units to the Village. Because parking can no longer be demanded of a developer, adding such housing would swamp the available public parking in the Village.
    Notably, the Village cannot be revitalized if parking is non-existent or scarce. No one will come to shop or dine if they cannot park.
    For these reasons, OrindaVision needs to rethink its vision for Orinda and bring that vision into focus with today’s realities and the desires of Orinda’s residents.
    – Nick Waranoff

Stack and Pack: What’s Really Behind the Downtown Plan
    Behind the Stack and Pack in Orinda Visions’ letter in the June edition of The Orinda News, there are a number of purported reasons for the implementation of stack and pack.  Listed are:
    1. Better designed buildings
    2. Pedestrian-friendly
    3. In-town residential living
    4. Preserve Orinda’s history
    5. Generate vibrancy (I like this one!)
    6. “Better direction for commercial property owners” (this means control, folks.)
    Does anyone actually believe the above nonsense constitutes the reasons developers and the City Council want to tear down and rebuild the entire Orinda Crossroads and Village?
    I believe the City Council’s motivation is more money through more taxes. The developers want the business. Who will pay for all this?
    Bureaucracies are like cancer. They always want to spread. They want to relocate businesses so they can be re-assessed at much higher rates under Prop. 13. They want stack and pack for far higher tax revenue. They do not care about current Orinda residents. 
    Businesses in Orinda are marginal at best. Orinda is a small market compared to nearby cities. Stack and pack will result in many of our current businesses leaving. There would be more traffic and crowding in our schools. I also predict the City Council will try to get this through without a vote.
    – Henry R. Pinney