The bulldozer or charming hills:  Which one will be Orinda’s future symbol?

Currently, Orinda’s symbol is the city’s hills.  The symbol can be seen on Orinda’s website, stationery, and plaques affixed to city hall.

From many vantage points, Orinda is one of the best places anywhere to live.

The public schools are good, there is a semi-rural, village-like environment, and peace and quiet.  Orinda is just minutes away from San Francisco and has a great climate.

Orinda has been rated as a very friendly city,  In a survey published in Forbes magazine (Dec. 19, 2012), Orinda placed “second on our list” of friendly cities.  Sammamash, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, was first.

Writing about Orinda, the Forbes article said:  “Orinda has nearly 18,000 residents where 92% of households own their homes.  Roughly 77% of those residents have a bachelor’s or a higher degree. As in Sammamish, the crime rate is much lower than the national average.”

At least, that’s the way Orinda used to be.

However, over the last dozen years, something has gone wrong.  Orinda’s future is in jeopardy.  The pleasant environment and other amenities are at risk.

Since 2005, Orinda has undergone a transformation.  Orinda’s leaders have become complacent.  According to one disgruntled resident, “Orinda has become big, fat, and out of shape.”

Orinda experienced a lost era from 2005 to the present time.  Taxes and fees went up.  Traffic and parking became nettlesome.  A building that exceeded Orinda’s 35-foot height limit was constructed downtown.  A cramped housing project was built.  Crime went up.  One can say that Orinda experienced a lost decade.

To understand Orinda’s situation, one has to be familiar the city’s history.  Orinda, which became a city in 1985, adopted a General Plan in 1987.  The General Plan, according to the spring 2013 edition of the city’s newsletter, The Orinda Way, ” . . . embodies the community’s long-term vision of the future.”  The General Plan is a blueprint.

According to The Orinda Way, ” . . . in 2010 and 2011 the city held a series of public workshops and solicited input through a survey to which almost 1,000 residents responded.”

The newsletter continued:  “Overwhelmingly, the message we heard from our residents is that while improvements to the quality and range of services and retail stores in both the village [Safeway] and Crossroads [theater] sides of downtown are desired, residents wish to preserve and enhance Orinda’s unique small town character.”

How well did Orinda do preserving the city’s unique small-town character?

Four major issues illustrate the changes in Orinda during the lost decade.

THE HOUSING ELEMENT.  What is the Housing Element?  According to The Orinda Way (Spring 2013 issue), “Housing Element law, enacted in 1969, mandates that local governments adequate plan to meet the existing and projected housing needs of all economic segments of the community.”

In 2015, the Orinda City Council approved the Fifth Cycle (fifth version) of Orinda’s Housing Element.  In an article about the Fifth Cycle, the Contra Costa Times (Dec. 31, 2014), reported ” . . . the housing element must show how Orinda plans to accommodate 227 units of market, moderate, low, and very-low income housing assigned by the Association of Bay Area Governments [ABAG].”  ABAG is a regional governmental agency, the directors of which come from a pool of locally elected officials.  No ABAG director is elected directly by voters.

In April 2016, the Contra Costa Times became the East Bay Times.

“ABAG,” according to its website, “was created by local governments to meet their planning and research needs related to land use, environmental and water resource protection disaster resilience, energy efficiency, and hazardous waste mitigation . . .”

In January 2015, Orinda city-council member Eve Phillips introduced a motion calling for a citywide vote on the Housing Element.  Ms. Phillips’ motion did not receive a second, killing it.

THE MONTEVERDE/EDEN HOUSING PROJECT.  On January 25, 2013, ground-breaking took place on the Monteverde/Eden Housing project, a 67-unit development in the heart of downtown Orinda.  Eden Housing of Hayward, California, constructed the development, which is now complete.  Monteverde is at 2 Irwin Way, right across the street from the firehouse on Orinda Way, a main street.  Also across the street from Monteverde, is the Orinda branch of Citibank.  Monteverde blocks views of nearby hills and has 30 parking spaces for its 67 units.  The Orinda City Council approved the project in 2012.

ORINDA GROVE/PULTE PROJECT.  In 2005, the Orinda City Council approved the Orinda Grove/Pulte development, which has 73 homes squeezed into a small area on Altarinda Way.  The homes are so close together that a tall individual can touch two adjacent homes by extending his arms.

PLAN BAY AREA.  On the evening of July 18-19, 2013, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) in a joint meeting with ABAG voted to authorize Plan Bay Area, a scheme to build, in all nine Bay Area counties, high-rise, high-density housing.  Like ABAG, the directors of MTC not directly elected by voters.  These MTC directors are selected by a pool of locally elected officials.

Orinda does not really have local control.  Projects like the Housing Element are mandated by such state agencies as the California Department of Housing and Community Development.  Plan Bay Area is being imposed by regional governmental agencies.  Why even have local government if that government is essentially a pawn of Sacramento or Washington, D.C.?

The city’s newsletter, The Orinda Way has stated (as quoted above):  ” . . . residents wish to preserve and enhance Orinda’s unique small town character.”

Now, in 2016, is Orinda on the brink of experiencing another lost decade?

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