By Richard Colman
Piece by piece, the Orinda City Council has been approving the selling off of valuable land in the city.
Powerful vested interests, using large sums of money, are destroying the semi-rural, village-like environment of Orinda’s cherished surroundings.
New development is contributing to school overcrowding.
Miramonte High School in Orinda is experiencing excessive enrollment. The current school year has forced Miramonte teachers to share classrooms. The Mirador, the school’s newspaper, reported on September 30, 2016, that ” . . . the student population has increased by 25 students this year. That’s enough students to fill another classroom.”
One observer of Orinda politics — a person who did not wish to be identified — called the majority of the city council “rotten to the core.”
One doesn’t have to look hard to see what has happened. And what has happened is just a preview of what is expected to occur.
Over the last 12 years, present and former city council members such as Amy Worth, Victoria Smith, Dean Orr, Steve Glazer, Sue Severson, and Darlene Gee have totally failed to protect Orinda from the bulldozers and steam shovels that are destroying the ambience of one of the most pleasant places anywhere to live.
In 2014, the anger of Orinda’s voters boiled over. Eve Phillips, a newcomer to Orinda politics and an opponent of overdevelopment was not only elected to the city council but came in first among six candidates vying for three open council seats. Phillips received more votes than the vaunted Worth, a member of the city council since 1998 and the so-called “queen bee” of Orinda politics.
In the 2014 election, Phillips received 3,704 votes. Worth’s total was 3,468 votes. Dean Orr, another candidate obtained 2,973 votes. Phillips, Worth, and Orr were elected. Not elected were Bob Thompson, Linda Delehunt, and Carlos Baltodano.
Phillips grew up in the Orinda area and, in 1995, graduated as the valedictorian of Miramonte High School. She later graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford Business School. Now living in Orinda, she says the city is not the same as it used to be.
Excessive overbuilding is leading to overcrowded schools and intolerable traffic and parking problems.
On some workdays, the driving time on Camino Pablo between the Orinda BART station and Miner Road can be as much 30 minutes between 5:00 P.M. and 6:00 P.M.
Usually, the BART parking lot in Orinda is full by 7:30 A.M. on workdays.
About six years ago, the city council approved the Monteverde/Eden Housing project located at 2 Irwin Way, across the street from the Orinda Way Firehouse. Monteverde not only violated Orinda’s 35-foot height limit, but the structure blocks residents’ views of nearby hills. Monteverde has 67 residential units and 30 parking spaces.
Eden Housing, located in Hayward, California, had $103 million in net assets and an annual income $20 million in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015. These figures come from Eden’s federal tax return. Eden’s president, Linda Mandolini, earned $252,000 in the same fiscal year.
Eden is a nonprofit organization. With assets and income at such high levels, the question can be asked: Why isn’t Eden a for-profit organization instead of a nonprofit, tax-exempt entity?
Ground-breaking at Monteverde took place on Jan. 25, 2013. After the building’s completion, Woody Karp of Eden presented the Orinda City Council with a gift.
In 2005, Pulte Homes Inc. applied to build high-density housing near ball fields on Altarinda Road. The result, visible today, is 73 homes squeezed into 11 acres. Expressed another way, the Pulte project has 6.6 homes per acre, The homes are so close together that a tall person can touch two adjacent structures by fully extending his arms. The development is called Orinda Grove.
But Orinda is not done with development.
On October 18, the city council asked the city’s staff to come back with proposals — for downtown development — by working with the Urban Land Institute (ULI). City- council member Phillips voted against the plan, which would cost the city $15,000.
ULI is a nonprofit organization. However, a review of ULI’s federal tax return for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015, shows that the organization had $50.6 million in net assets and a profit of $7.6 million. The head of ULI had, for the same fiscal year, an annual salary of $700,000, a salary higher than that of the president of the United States.
There have been other assaults on Orinda’s environment.
On July 18, 2013, at a joint meeting of the directors of MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission) and ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments), the directors approved Plan Bay Area, a scheme that could lead to the construction of high-rise, high-density housing in Orinda and other cities. At the time of the July 2013 meeting, Worth of the Orinda City Council was also the chairperson of MTC, a position to which she was not elected by voters.
In 2015, the Orinda City Council approved a Fifth Cycle (version) of the Housing Element, a plan to add hundreds of new homes to Orinda, a city that is basically full. Previous versions of the Housing Element also required the addition of hundreds of new homes.
The Housing Element is mandated by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). HCD is run by unelected bureaucrats.
In December 2014, city-council member Phillips moved, at a city-council meeting, to discuss the Fifth Cycle of the Housing Element. Voting against Phillips’ motion were council members Worth and Victoria Smith. However, Phillips’ motion passed with the support of council-members Glazer, Orr, and Phillips herself.
In January 2015, Phillips, at another city-council meeting, moved to have a city-wide vote on the Housing Element. Phillips’ motion was not seconded, killing it. Present at the January 2015 meeting were council members Glazer, Orr, Smith, and Phillips. Worth was absent.
If one wants to go back about two decades, there is what is currently called the Wilder Project. South of Highway 24 on the Orinda side of the Caldecott Tunnel, Wilder is building homes on 1,600 acres. About 250 homes are planned. Home prices range from $1.5 to $3.0 million. Critics of Wilder criticize the development, calling it a “moonscape.”
On June 1, 2016, the Lamorinda Weekly reported that a Wilder resident claimed that ” . . . Wilder now has the highest rate of crime in Orinda.”
Orinda’s continued development is taking place after a four-year drought occurred between 2011 and 2015. During the drought, the East Bay Municipal Utility District, Orinda’s water company, imposed a daily ration of 1,000 gallons per day on each Orinda residence. Households exceeding the limit were fined.
In November 2015, the city council opened up Orinda’s water situation to discussion. There was a resident’s request for examining Orinda’s water use over the previous 10 years. The city council refused to act.
Orinda residents should not be surprised if their city, at some future time, looks more like Tokyo or New York City than the way it looked 20 years ago.