Letters to the Editor

Fire Prevention Needs to be a Priority for Our Local Leaders
    Last month’s editorial “It’s Up to All of Us to Be Fire Safe” and Chris Kniel’s letter “Climate is the Crisis, not Housing” makes me ask: What is our local government doing about this? 
    If the Oakland Hills fire was not a wake-up call (“we” did nothing), then the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa and the 2018 Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise, should have mobilized not just “all of us” but our local government, which is responsible for our safety. It did not.
    The City Council just approved its priority list for the next two years and it included, out of a total annual budget in excess of $20 million, $50,000 a year for vegetation removal (an average of 2 cents a day per household.)
    The Moraga-Orinda Fire District (MOFD) is more proactive but not enough. Out of a $28 million budget, $700,000 is allocated to “fire prevention.”  But this includes $600,000 in salaries and benefits to a fire marshall, a fire inspector/plans examiner, a fuels mitigation program manager, an emergency preparedness coordinator, and 4.5 part-time aides (who may do some fuel mitigation). Then there is $25,000 for grading (maintaining) fire trails and finally $25,000 for “exterior hazard removal.”  Chief Dave Winnacker has done a great job securing the fuel break grant from the state, but this is a one-time offer. 
    We need a long-term fuel mitigation process we should have started 20 years ago after the Oakland Hills fire. But how would we fund it?
    When the Orinda Council talked us into joining with Moraga to form MOFD, we were promised that Orinda tax dollars would be used exclusively for services in Orinda.  The only guarantee that this would happen was that we would be electing local representatives to the MOFD Board. Have those representatives kept the promise of how our tax dollars are being used and has the Orinda Council kept track of their promise? No. 
    This year, $16 million Orinda taxpayer dollars went to MOFD. It cost MOFD $13 million to operate Orinda’s three stations, including overhead. The other $3 million went to subsidize the cost of operating Moraga’s two stations. This is not a new problem. It existed from the day MOFD went into operation in 1997. But none of our elected officials have ever addressed it. There have always been more important issues. Maybe, before Orinda becomes the next Paradise, our elected representatives should move this up the priority list. 
    – Steve Cohn

Food Truck Event a Bad Deal
    It is unfortunate that the Orinda City Council sided with the out-of-town food truck operator, Taste of the World (“TOW”), and gave away a three-year right to have the food truck event on Thursdays.  
    The council should have accepted the compromise proposed by our local restaurants and the Chamber of Commerce and moved the event to Tuesdays. TOW indicated that Tuesdays were acceptable. Moreover, Tuesdays would coordinate with the Community Park events.  
    To make matters worse, the rent being charged to TOW is a giveaway. Information that TOW presented to the council at the Oct. 3, 2017 meeting, as reported in the staff report, stated that “each event has overall attendance of between 500 and 600 persons per night, with an average of 85-94 “tickets” (transactions) per truck, which translates to about $1,500 per truck per event.” There are seven trucks. Assuming four weeks per month, that is a gross of $42,000 per month. Surely, a substantial portion of those dollars would otherwise have gone to local restaurants.
    Yet the council accepted staff’s proposal to reduce the monthly rent paid by TOW from $560 to $400. The food trucks will not have to pay rent for November through March, although our local restaurants, of course, pay rent year-round.  
    The city never tried to learn how much of the gross goes to TOW (which pays the rent) and how much is retained by the individual food truck operators. Yet it is customary for a party in the position of the city as landlord to receive a portion of the rent received from the party in the position of TOW as tenant when the tenant sublets the landlord’s premises to a third party.  
    As a symbolic gesture equivalent to poking a finger in the eye of (or making some other finger gesture towards) our local businesses, two days after the council meeting, one of the food trucks was a pizza truck – parked directly across from Village Pizza.  
    I acknowledge that the food truck event is as much about being a community get-together as it is a dining experience. Nevertheless, the council should not be enabling unfair competition by TOW against our small, local businesses that have served our community so well for many years.
    The council and city manager have a right to terminate and/or amend the contract at any time. They should do so and change the day of the week to Tuesday.
    – Nick Waranoff