Letters to the Editor

Access to the Public Should Make a Street Public
    I write to address a letter by Gary Johnson (The Orinda News Dec. 2019) who says that he “presumes” the developers and then the purchasers of homes on private streets were trying to save money by building streets that don’t meet the city and county’s standards.
    As a resident of the Wilder subdivision, I can assure Mr. Johnson that our beautiful private streets meet the highest standards of both city and county, offering Orindans easy public access to the five playing fields and Arts and Garden Center we have built for the city.
    Other subdivisions such as Orinda Oaks, Orinda Downs and Orinda Grove have similar private roads, and all are private because the city of Orinda required them to be private to avoid maintenance.
    Regarding the older private streets in the city, the reasons for their being classified as private some 50 years ago are random and unknown in many cases.
    Ironically, in 2014, 85 percent of private streets exceeded the city’s goal of the Pavement Condition Index (PCI) of 50. Only 24 percent of the city’s public streets could meet that standard! Clearly, the “presumption” is incorrect that private roads are of inferior quality.
    Like 50 percent of Orindans, Mr. Johnson lives on a residential cul-de-sac used mostly by the households on his street – not an arterial or collector road that most Orindans use. His street had a PCI of 23 in 2014. By 2018, the PCI of his street had increased to 98 due to construction funded by the taxes paid by private and public road residents alike.
    Had Mr. Johnson’s street been deemed private by some unknown criteria, he and his 24 neighbors would have paid $10,000 per household for these repairs. While private road residents helped pay for his repairs, we are barred from receiving any of our tax dollars for our own streets, which we must maintain out of our own pockets.
    Private road residents did not choose to live on private streets – they were forced to do so by the city or historic circumstances, and most private streets are not gated or posted and are open to the public.
    I single out Mr. Johnson only because he wrote to express his opinion, but he represents many Orindans on public streets who have misconstrued the facts. Surely most Orindans, once armed with the facts, will agree that the streets in our city that offer public access should be maintained by the taxes that we all pay.
    We should ask ourselves why all of Orinda’s roads are not public rather than why some are private.
    – Kathleen Finch

Voters Need to Know How Extra Sales Tax Will Be Spent
    Orinda plans to poll residents about increasing the city’s sales tax by one-half percentage point or more, perhaps up to one percentage point more (The Orinda News, Dec. 2019).
    According to the newspaper’s article, “City Council member Amy Worth says city leaders have ‘…no pre-conceived notions on how we should spend the money…’.”
    City leaders are obligated to state how any extra sales-tax money would be spent. Otherwise, extra money could go for undesirable projects.
    In Nov. 2012, Orinda’s voters approved a one-quarter percentage point increase in the city’s sales tax. At the same time, California’s voters passed Proposition 30, which increased the statewide sales tax by another one-quarter percentage point. Thus, the current Orinda sales tax is, according to the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, 8.75 percent. Before 2013, the Orinda sales tax was 8.25 percent.
    Increasing the city’s sales tax could result in residents going to other cities or counties to avoid the higher Orinda tax. 
    Alternatively, more Orinda shoppers might go online for their purchases. Shopping online can result in paying a lower sales tax or no sales tax at all. Anyone who shops online extensively will find that some out-of-state firms don’t charge California sales tax despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling (South Dakota v. Wayfair, 2018) stating that out-of state firms must add applicable California tax – and applicable sales taxes in other states – to buyers of merchandise.  Most food purchases, in California, remain tax-free.
    In California’s Alpine and Modoc counties, the sales tax is 7.25 percent.
    Raising Orinda’s sales tax would be regressive, meaning that the tax would hit the city’s low-income residents harder than those enjoying higher incomes. Remember, Orinda has many senior citizens living on fixed incomes.
    Orinda’s businesses might lose customers under a higher sales tax.
    California already is a high-tax state. California has the nation’s highest taxes in three areas: the sales tax; the gasoline tax; and the top bracket of the personal income tax (13.3 percent).
    Orinda’s voters, to date, have been very supportive of meaningful tax increases. For example, in 2018, the voters approved Measures E and I, both of which provided extra funds for the city’s schools.
    If Orinda’s sales tax has to increase, demand that the city’s leaders tell voters what Orinda would do with any extra funds.
      –Richard S. Colman