Big Money Influences Orinda City Council Races

Big Money Influences Orinda City Council Races

Mountains of cash helped influence the results of the November 2018 races for the Orinda City Council.

For the city-council races, the table below shows how much money each candidate received between September 23, 2018, and October 20. 2018.

Worth, Amy$30,083
Kosla, Nick$14,325
Fay, Dennis $5,936
Jenkins, Kathleen $4,924
Phillips, Eve $2,801
Oridans for a
Better Downtown
(money for Worth, Kosla & Fay)
Source: Office of the city clerk of Orinda

The election may mean the return of Orinda’s traditional oligarchs to policy-making by the city council.

Five candidates ran for three city council seats.  The winners were Amy Worth, Dennis Fay, and Nick Kosla.  The losers were Eve Phillips and Kathleen Jenkins.

Over the last 15 or so years, the oligarchs have favored development of high-rise, high-density housing and the expansion of commercial real estate.

Over $50,000 in campaign contributions went to the winners of the November 2018 of the city-council race:  Ms. Worth;  Mr. Fay; and Mr. Kosla.  Ms. Worth is an incumbent city-council member.

The losers, Ms.  Phillips and Ms. Jenkins, received about $8,000.  Ms. Phillips was elected to the city council in 2014.

In addition to receiving money, the council winners had the backing of Orinda’s highly influential power brokers, such as Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) a former member of the Orinda City Council and now a state senator representing Orinda and nearby cities in the California State Senate.

The outcome of the 2018 city-council election is likely to change the look of Orinda.  All three winners (Ms. Worth, Mr. Fay, and Mr. Kosla) support development of downtown Orinda and possibly other parts of the city.

During the 2018 city-council campaign, Messrs. Fay and Kosla refused repeated attempts to respond to special questions posed by The Icon.  Specifically, The Icon asked these candidates for their views on land use in Orinda.  The Icon also asked them if they favored limits on taxation and government spending in Orinda.

Ms. Worth did state, at the Oct. 3, 2018, Orinda Candidates Forum, that she favored local control, not State of California control, over the use of Orinda’s land.  However, Ms. Worth, who has served on the city council continually since December 1998, has supported various real-estate developments in the city.

Ms. Worth also serves on the boards of directors of three regional governmental agencies:  MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission); CCTA (Contra Costa Transportation Authority); and Recycle Smart (Orinda’s garbage-collection board).  Recycle Smart is sometimes called the Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority.

Mr. Kosla has a history of involvement with real estate development.  On December 11, 2015, the Bay Area News Group, which publishes the East Bay Times (formerly the Contra Costa Times), showed a photograph of Mr. Kosla giving a talk about a plan to build 53 homes in Walnut Creek’s Tice Valley.  The photograph’s caption identifies Mr. Kosla as a “project spokesperson for Pulte Homes . . .”

Pulte Homes built the Orinda Grove development on Orinda’s Altarinda Road.  Orinda Grove squeezes 73 homes into 8.2 acres.  Thus, on average, each home occupies 0.11 acre.

Ms. Worth’s positions on land use appear to have changed in recent months.  She used to be associated with pro-development positions and now supports a more balanced approach.

On April 28, 2010, the Lamorinda Weekly, quoted Ms. Worth as saying that a housing project in Orinda is “ . . . an asset for Orinda.”  The project at 2 Irwin Way (across the street from the Orinda Way firehouse) is called Monteverde and was built by Eden Housing of Hayward, California.  Monteverde violates Orinda’s 35-foot height limit.

However in February 2018, Ms. Worth wrote a letter to the state legislature expressing opposition to Senate Bill 827, which, according to Ms. Worth, “…would exempt certain housing projects from locally developed and adopted height limitations, densities, parking requirements, and design review standards.”

In June 2018, Ms. Worth wrote two more letters to the state legislature.  Each letter objected to Assembly Bill 2923, which became law in September 2018.  Assembly Bill 2923 grants land-use authority to BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit).  In each of her two letters, Ms. Worth wrote, “Land use authority is a primary responsibility of local government.”  She added, “Authorizing a transit agency to regulate density, height, and parking requirements transfers this essential function away for local government.”

On October 10, 2018, Grace Crunican, BART’s general manager, wrote Ms. Worth, stating, “BART aims to partner with local communities to build 20,000 new housing units at our stations by 2040 and to ensure that at least 35% are affordable.”  Ms. Crunican did not define “affordable.”

The votes for each candidate are displayed below.  The information is based on local press reports.

Worth, Amy3,68825.6%Winner & Incumbent
Fay, Dennis3,06721.3%Winner
Kosla, Nick2,96220.5%Winner
Phillips, Eve2,75819.1%Incumbent
Jenkins, Kathleen1,94413.5%Non-
Source: East Bay Times (Nov. 8, 2018)

No one knows what the new Orinda City Council will propose in terms of real-estate development.  What is known is that more residences in Orinda will lead to overcrowded schools, more traffic congestion, difficulty in finding parking spaces downtown, and less open space.

Also uncertain, is what changes, if any, will be made to Orinda’s current building-height limit, housing density (houses per acre), and zoning rules.  ν

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