Letters to the Editor

Time to Impose Fiscal Discipline on Orinda
    On Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020, the voters of Orinda and of Contra Costa County (which includes Orinda) decided to support tax increases.
    Currently, the sales tax in Orinda is 8.75%. With Orinda’s voters passing Measure R, the new sales tax in the city will be 9.25%. However, a new, higher sales tax in Contra Costa County (derived from the passage of Measure X) will make the total Orinda sales tax 9.75%.
    The funds derived from Measure R – $2.4 million per year or $48 million over the 20-year length of the tax – are supposed to be used for wildfire control, road maintenance and sewer repair. Wildfire control is essential in Orinda, but there is no guarantee that Measure R’s funds will be used for wildfire control. 
    The November 2020 issue of The Orinda News carried a front-page article stating, “According to an impartial analysis of Measure R, City Attorney Osa Wolff, writes, ‘the tax can be used for any municipal government purpose … ’”
    On Oct. 6, 2020, according to an article in the Lamorinda Weekly (Sept. 16, 2020), Orinda’s management employees received a 3% salary hike. The City’s Director of Planning, the article stated, got a 13% salary increase.
    Orindans have no assurance that Measure R’s funds will go for city workers’ salary increases and higher pensions – rather than wildfire control.
    Higher sales taxes have a tendency to reduce consumption of taxable goods. If shoppers boycott Orinda, the city’s merchants might have to cut payrolls, re-locate, raise prices or close down. Jobs could be lost.
    For a $60,000 car registered in Orinda, the sales-tax fee is currently $5,250. When the sales tax becomes 9.75%, the sales-tax fee will jump to $5,850, a $600 increase.
    Currently, California has the highest sales tax rate in the nation. That rate, at the statewide level is 7.25%, but local communities, like Orinda, can impose additional taxation.
    What Orinda and Contra Costa voters have done is make a very high sales tax even higher.
    If Orinda homes burn down because of wildfires, Orinda’s voters should hold the current City Council, which unanimously decided to put Measure R on the ballot, fully accountable.
    Unfortunately, improper management of money and taxation has become, over many years, the hallmarks of Orinda’s city council. The time has come to impose fiscal discipline on Orinda.
    – Richard S. Colman

Where Does the City Go from Here?
    Congratulations to the winners in the election: City Council Members Darlene Gee and Inga Miller and Measure R.
    I hope that our leaders take note of what the opposition was trying to say.
    When all of the votes get counted, Latika Malkani will have received over 6,000 votes; 90% of what the incumbents received. No challenger, at least in the past 10 years, has ever received this kind of a response. Six thousand Orindans are looking for change. What kind of change? The Council needs to ask itself that.
    And Measure R, while receiving almost 60% of the vote, was the least well-received city tax since Orinda was incorporated, and 5,000 people have rejected this tax. Again, the Council needs to ask itself why. Were their objections valid? Are there things the City can do to address the issues 5,000 Orindans had with the tax?
    Is Orinda spending its money wisely? Is it spending it on what the community says are its highest priorities?
    The first post-election city council meeting (Nov. 10) gives a hint of what the City is thinking.
    In closed session the Council is discussing a 600-foot walking path that is budgeted at close to half a million dollars.
    In open session the Council is discussing increasing the fee to a consultant for a downtown plan to over $100,000. Is that the highest priority for $100,000?
    But what about fire prevention? Eighty six percent of those surveyed said this was the community’s highest priority. The ads for Measure R implied that this was the primary reason for approving this $2.4 million annual tax. But the only “official” statement by the City of what is needed, was a single sentence from a staff report back in July which said the City should spend $500,000 – $750,000 a year for 3-4 years. There was no indication of where these numbers came from. To the best of my knowledge, there is no report based on science of what needs to be done to make Orinda as fire-safe as possible. And at the Nov. 10 council meeting, there was nothing on the agenda hinting when these issues would be addressed.
    The City needs to step back and look to the future. We have voted in a massive $60 million, 20 year tax. The City needs to create a long-term plan for those funds.
    – Steve Cohn