Letters to the Editor

Oppose Orinda’s Proposed Sales Tax
Fair minded Orindans should reject the City Council’s proposed 20-year, one percent sales tax for the following reasons:
1) Now, in the middle of a once-in-a-century medical pandemic and associated economic turmoil is NOT the time to embark on Orinda’s largest-ever (over $60 million) infrastructure program.  While many may be able to absorb the average cost of $340 a year; not all will be able to.
2) The tax is being sold as a “safety” tax (by the support group Safer Orinda) but it is not.  So far, out of the total $60 million cost, the city has only identified $500-750,000 going to wildfire prevention.  Since MOFD refuses to provide adequate fire prevention services, the city needs to do a lot more than this.  Until it figures out how to and is willing to dedicate funds for this purpose, no new taxes should be voted for.
3) The city is calling the tax an “essential services” tax.  It is nothing of the sort.  The majority of the tax will go to maintain 64 miles of public residential streets (home to four of five City Councilmembers).  If the maintenance of a residential street is an “essential” service; why does the city continue to withhold that service from the 30 miles of streets, home to 1,500 Orinda families, it calls “private” because it will not allow them into the public road network?
4) The city currently has over $3 million per year at its disposal for infrastructure and wildfire fuel reduction.  It does not need a new tax for this at this inappropriate time.
This is the wrong tax and the wrong time to impose it.  Tell the City Council this by voting no on this tax.
For more information see http://www.OrindaRoadFacts.info.
– Steve Cohn

Reject Sales Tax Increase
The Orinda City Council voted on Aug. 4 to put a sales-tax measure before Orinda’s voters on Nov. 3, 2020.
“Citing the city’s immediate wildfire risks, the Orinda City Council unanimously agreed to put before voters an extension of its sales tax — increasing it from a half percent to 1 percent.” (East Bay Times, Aug. 6).  The Times continued:  “Because it’s a general tax, the revenue is not earmarked for any specific purpose.  The city can legally spend as it chooses.”  In April 2020, The Orinda News carried an article on a possible sales tax increase.
Thus, the possibility exists that any revenue derived from the proposed tax could be spent on matters — such as salaries and pensions — not related to controlling wildfires.
The current sales tax in Orinda is 8.75 percent.  The new tax, if enacted, would be 9.25 percent.  The higher tax would burden Orinda’s already stressed restaurants and retailers.
Increasing the sales tax in Orinda might not bring in the anticipated revenue.  Shoppers might go to another location where the sales tax is lower.  In California’s Modoc and Sierra Counties, for example, the sales tax is 7.25 percent.  In Lafayette (Orinda’s neighbor), the sales tax-rate is 8.25 percent.  These figures come from the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration and are current as of July 1, 2020.
Increasing the Orinda sales tax might lead shoppers to buy taxable merchandize online.  Any experienced online shopper knows that online shoppers can be charged a lower sales tax.
In the United States, there are an estimated 10,000 sales-tax jurisdictions.  Some merchants claim that they cannot keep track of sales-tax rates in so many jurisdictions.  In some of these jurisdictions, online merchants do not charge — or say they do not charge — California sales tax.
If shoppers desert Orinda because of the city’s higher sales tax, then Orinda businesses could lose customers.  The loss of customers and the consequent loss of revenue could lead to Orinda’s businesses eliminating jobs.  Currently, unemployment in California and the rest of the nation is at levels not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The need to prevent wildfires is extremely important.  However, the Orinda City Council apparently did not consider that a sales-tax increase in Orinda might not work as planned.
On Nov. 3, Orinda’s voters should reject the proposed sales-tax increase.
– Richard S. Colman

Time to Walk the Talk
We urge our fellow citizens to support – quietly or vocally – but persistently – revitalizing our small Orinda downtown.  Our city is at last seriously starting to move on this issue – well, to walk-the-talk.
We two are 45-year residents of Orinda.  So, we are hardly “Young Turks” supporting hasty change. Indeed, real change to our Downtown will be – should be – slow, careful. Realistically, improvements will come only, first, when the “plate is set” by the City Council, Planning Commission and city departments, then second, when private owners perceive that the “rules of the game” will permit them to meaningfully spend money to improve their properties – and improve our community – or to sell their properties to those who will. Most improvements that we hope for will be seen in the somewhat distant future – by our children and grandchildren.
The City Council plans to arrive at some good decisions in 2021.  Is this a long way off?  No, we think not. Not in the context of the city’s lack of action in the past many years – decades.
The Past (tired, drowsy): In a quarter century, Orinda has had no new buildings in its commercial area. Not since Theatre Square. Only two…two!…of the other commercial buildings have been renovated since then.  Stagnation?  The city has a well-deserved reputation of being anti “serious” improvement.
We hope for a change. In our view, livable, active city downtowns in America are always gradually, persistently renewing themselves.
Our View of the Future:  Orinda Village in particular, is too far “apart.” It can and should be more “walkable.”  Walkability raises property values, increases commerce and – most important – enhances our sense of community.  “Connect Orinda” has made some positive steps.
But we can do more: Such as – careful density changes for residential, business units. Enhancement, encouragement of mixed-use properties. In the far distant future, open up San Pablo Creek to viewing, walking, maybe dining.  Such steps will help with walkability, and with community.  Indeed, we have already two large communities downtown who can walk – Eden Housing residents and the Orinda Senior Villagers. But, in addition, newly retired and “workforce” housing (teachers, police, fire personnel) will give balance to our downtown.
The opportunity is right here. Right now.
So, let’s give voice to hope for careful change.  Let’s give voice to renewal. Let’s get ready to walk… in our emerging new downtown!

– David and Sandra S. Anderson

Thumbs Up for Downtown District Momentum
In a landscape of doom and gloom for much of 2020 thus far, there is a glimmer of positivity on the horizon. The City of Orinda has been slowly plugging away at a revised Downtown Precise Plan (DPP) that will address at long last a decades old conversation about how to thoughtfully modernize Orinda’s Downtown district. Much work has been done to identify “existing conditions” including current zoning, land usage and structures, and Orinda’s DPP would update the city’s downtown development standards and create objective design standards for multi-family residential and mixed-use projects.
This update is necessary on many levels. First, it will help Orinda attract high level development which will in turn entice an attractive mix of new businesses and increase vitality in our Downtown District. Secondly, it will allow Orinda to make decisions on how to incorporate housing into our Downtown district in a thoughtful way that is in keeping with the city’s unique personality and aesthetic.
It is no longer a question of whether Orinda needs to update and change to allow for modernization and revitalization, but how we will do so on our own terms. Applause to our City Planning Department and City Council for diving in and doing the work to keep the future of Orinda’s downtown in the hands of Orinda’s citizens for generations to come!

– Kirsten Larsen

What’s Up Downtown Orinda Private Roads Too Costly for City
Mr. Koorji’s letter to the editor (August) expressed puzzlement and annoyance that the Orinda City Council ignored a vociferous minority who would like all private roads to be repaired at the City’s expense.
Let me put the case for the 80% majority who do not live on a private road.
The most obvious reason is, of course, the huge cost of repairing one-fifth of all our roads, which probably have been subject to years of neglect. The city is likely to suffer a drop in tax revenues this year due to Covid-19 and so is in no position to take on very costly project that mainly benefits a minority of homeowners.
If I were to spend over a million dollars for a home, I would personally check out all possible contingent liabilities. This would include such things, as who is responsible for road repairs and heaven help you if your property includes a decaying wooden bridge over a creek.
Surely anyone who buys a home does an exhaustive due diligence before making an offer. There are a number of required disclosures that the seller and your Realtor are required to inform a buyer. Private road ownership is probably not one of them. My experience in buying a home last year in another East Bay city was that both Realtors and the seller failed to disclose the ownership of the road. Of course, most Realtors are reluctant to disclose any negative features that might kill a sale; a perfectly logical financial decision. My own research discovered that the road was indeed city owned. I would have not purchased the home unless the other prudent neighbors had set up a viable fund to cover such unavoidable future costs.
Most of my driving in Orinda is on the main arteries and seldom on a private road although I admit I don’t know this for a fact. I imagine most of my 80% cohorts do much the same.
Thus, when those who bought on a private road would have known, or should have known, that the prestige of living on a private road comes with a cost.
I would not support such a bail out and I am sure the huge majority would agree.

– John Benzie

Not Time to Raise Sales Tax
There is a time and a place to raise tax revenue for community needs. Orinda needs public works and appropriate funding, but the present proposals by the City Council are in no way sufficiently well designed. The proposed 20-year one cent sales tax must be rejected so that the community can take the time to reach agreement on how to adequately address the specific needs of Orinda.
Our biggest issues are fire prevention, drainage and road repair. The tax proposal as set forth by the council is open-ended spending for 20 years. It has no honest provision to adequately provide improvements in fire protection, no reasonable provisions for critical drainage repair, and no road repair options for the 20% of Orinda’s residents on privately maintained roads, who are denied the opportunity to join the Orinda road public system.
As a community, we have the need to join together in our mutual needs to support public works. There is no question that in time, Orinda’s citizens can forge an effective plan that will benefit all of us both adequately and fairly. So, I appeal to all voters to turn down this tax as proposed and start over.

– Bill Abriel


Downtown Orinda: Five Points for Consideration
The latest three meetings of the City Council’s Downtown Subcommittee responsible for oversight of development of the Downtown Precise Plan have provided thoughtful guidance for updating Orinda’s aging downtown and its Master Plan from 1987. Proposed changes to zoning, circulation (including traffic), and adherence to state mandates for housing are being carefully considered. Props to our staff and council whose work bodes well for the implementation of long-needed updates.
Following are five points of opinion, taken from various voices at the meetings, that I support and hope to elevate to the public for further discussion, renderings/modeling, and review:
(1) Re-examine Zoning Codes. Enforce Type I (restaurant and retail) zoning on primary streets: Moraga Way, Orinda Way from 25A to the Country Club bridge, and Camino Sobrante. Prioritize our downtown’s best access, visibility and traffic-count areas to ensure retail and restaurant success. City consultants should render/model those corridors specifically, for public review.
(2) Allow housing in the Downtown Office (DO) District with emphasis on parcels along the north side of Altarinda Road (near the Masonic Center, for reference). Allow mixed-use housing in the Downtown Commercial (DC) District only where larger or assembled parcels, along with building height set-backs and topography changes, mitigate the appearance of housing height/mass.
(3) Prioritize redevelopment at the two “bookends” of our downtown: the Country Club block at the north end of the Village, and the CVS/ BevMo/Wells Fargo block at the south end of the Theater District. Each of these sites has sufficient acreage to support mixed-use housing and accommodate parking on site. Each has a locational advantage as an entry point to our downtown and to be a showpiece of the City.
(4) Leverage the city’s in-lieu fees from 25A in a public/private partnership for a 2-3 level public parking garage, located in a central area to benefit the entirety of small retailers in the Village.
(5) Consider relinquishing the street of Avenida de Orinda, instead using it as a public space to improve upon the properties around it and for the community. Activate the current dead-end street into a walkable public plaza or ingress/egress to connect two vibrant commercial blocks.
Each of these points of view is worthy of consideration in our discussion as the downtown planning process moves forward.

– Marianne Moser

Craig Jorgens Best For MOFD Board
I am writing to support Craig Jorgens for the Moraga Orinda Fire Board (MOFD) representing North Orinda.
Al and I have known Craig and his wife Lisa for over 15 years. He has been innovative in bringing Firewise ideas to MOFD, and Craig has consistently voted for changes that are in the best interests of the citizens of Orinda and to make Orinda Firewise and prevent catastrophic fires.
Craig has used his finance and engineering background to enhance the financial stability of MOFD and implement high tech equipment and software to enhance MOFD’s fire detection and evacuation preparedness capabilities.
He was instrumental in hiring our terrific new Fire Chief, Dave Winnacker, and over 2 years ago, Craig initiated MOFD’s chipper program.
Craig is a founding member of the Orinda Firewise Council which now represents nearly 1400 Orinda homes and has successfully lobbied to increase funding for fire prevention in the budgets for both the City of Orinda and MOFD. The Orinda Firewise Council is endorsing Craig and Moraga’s John Jex in this election; they were the only two of five board members who voted to extend the chipper program for this summer.
I know that Craig will continue to provide new and creative ideas to address MOFD’s ongoing financial and operational challenges. Craig supports having MOFD focus more on fire prevention while still providing state-of-the-art fire and emergencymedical services through the utilization of advanced technology to leverage MOFD’s physical assets and highly trained personnel. He has also voted to prudently reserve funds to supplement the ongoing pension and medical benefit shortfalls left by prior administrations.
It is important to note that Craig is independent and not taking outside money or outside special interest assistance. He is committed to purely represent the best interests of Orinda’s residents.
Please join Al and me in voting for Craig Jorgens for the MOFD Board representing North Orinda.

– Lucy Talbot

Re-Elect Craig Jorgens To MOFD; Darlene Gee And Inga Miller To City Council
Orinda is fortunate to have great people representing us for a better community. Craig, Darlene and Inga are all strong supporters of wildfire prevention safety, improving our infrastructure and maintaining the beauty of our small town. Craig, Darlene and Inga all deserve your vote this November. Join me in re-electing Craig Jorgens to the Moraga Orinda Fire District Board; Darlene Gee and Inga Miller to the Orinda City Council. A YES vote for the Orinda Essential Services Measure (extension of the local sales tax) will secure a Safer Orinda for all to enjoy.

– Sue Severson

Factchecking Last Issue’s Letter
While I am sympathetic to the broader issue of the tax burden on private road residents, Kathleen Finch’s letter to the editor in the August issue contained several misleading and false statements about the proposed sales tax for the November ballot.
Although it is correct that the proposed tax would raise approximately $2.4 million, this is not in addition to the existing sales tax, since what is proposed is to replace the existing .5% tax with the new 1% tax. Thus, there is not “$35 million ‘to be determined’” as she stated. Half of that money will still be used for what the original sales tax was intended to address.
Although it is true that “a general sales tax does not require the city to dedicate revenues to any specific use,” a more honest way to state it would be to tell readers that it doesn’t allow the city to state that it would dedicate such revenues in the ballot measure. Nonetheless, Mayor Gee has stated in writing to the Orinda Firewise Council that the intent is to front load those revenues to fire-risk mitigation efforts.
Ms. Finch closes the article by suggesting that the best way to address our catastrophic risk of fire in Orinda is with a $100 parcel tax for a “few years.” The reason a sales tax was proposed, and not a parcel tax – as Ms. Finch well knows – is that it only requires a majority vote, instead of the two-thirds approval required for a parcel tax, a much more daunting proposition.
We need to address Orinda’s high fire risk right now. Let’s separate the issue of public vs. private roads, which cannot and should not be addressed via this issue. Also, remember that much of the abatement/fuels mitigation will take place on city-owned land, which will equally benefit both public and private roads residents.

– Hatti Hamlin