While neither the staff nor the Council have responded yet to the issues raised in Orinda Watch’s July 11 letter, City Manager Keeter did take the unprecedented, remarkable step on Thursday of sending a SPECIAL EDITION of the City’s newsletter that goes to the City’s entire email list to share what she characterized as “misstate[ments] in various forms of communication circulating in the Orinda community regarding the City of Orinda’s housing allocation.”
The City Manager here appears to be using innuendo to refer to what we consider the legitimate concerns raised by Orinda residents, without referring specifically to those legitimate concerns as detailed in Orinda Watch’s July 11 letter. We urge the City Manager to refer to the specific issues raised in Orinda Watch’s July 11 letter in her next communication to the City’s email list. But we must insist that the City Manager also send to the City’s email list a copy of Orinda Watch’s July 11th letter to the Council when she does so, and also give Orinda Watch an opportunity to reply to her responses to Orinda Watch’s letter when she does so. A one-sided presentation on City staff’s part advocating for their point of view on issues of public concern is not conducive to informed public debate—especially when the staff is taking upon itself the role of characterizing and framing the issues and concerns raised by Orinda residents rather than letting them simply speak for themselves and allowing the public to make up their own mind on whom and what to believe here.
We do agree, and emphatically, with the City Manager with one key statement she made in her SPECIAL EDITION of the Orinda Outlook this past Thursday, and that’s her assertion that “[m]any of the comments made at recent City Council meetings and in written materials contain factual errors.” However, as you will see from the following, we appear to disagree with the City Manager as to whose comments and written materials may have been misleading or inaccurate.
Just as we encourage you to share the attached copy of Orinda Watch’s July 11 letter to the Council with your family members, neighbors, and friends, we’d encourage you to share our thoughts we’ve entitled “Clarifying the ‘Clarification’ of Orinda’s Housing Requirements – Pt 1,” which we’ve not only included below, but have also attached as a separate document you can distribute as you wish. HERE.
Clarifying the “Clarification” of Orinda's Housing Requirements – Pt 1
by Your Neighbors at Orinda Watch (July 13, 2013)
A recent SPECIAL EDITION of the Orinda Outlook went to every household in town entitled “Clarifying Orinda’s Housing Requirements.” In it, City Manager Janet S. Keeter shared her reasons for taking this unprecedented action:
"We hope this information helps to clarify what has otherwise been misstated in various forms of communication circulating in the Orinda community regarding the City of Orinda's housing allocation and plans for meeting the State requirements. Many of the comments made at recent City Council meetings and in written materials contain factual errors."
Orinda Watch agrees with the City Manager, wholeheartedly. We agree that with Ms. Keeter’s statement that “[m]any of the comments made at recent City Council meetings and in written materials contain factual errors.”
Ms. Keeter’s initial and thus most important cited example of a “misstate[ment] in various forms of communication circulating in the Orinda community” in her July 11, SPECIAL EDITION of the Orinda Outlook was when she said “[i]t has been stated that the Orinda City staff is quietly planning on updating the General Plan to include high-density, subsidized housing in the downtown area.” In the spirit of open and transparent debate on issues of concern in the City, let’s examine this statement by Ms. Keeter.
City staff has assured Orinda residents that the City has no plans to initiate a General Plan update at this time. The City Planning Director told a group of Orinda Watch members during a meeting on May 6, 2013 that the City did not need to update its General Plan to comply with state housing laws or to meet the City’s needs at this time, and thus had no plans to do so.
The Planning Director made similar statements to the Council and public at the May 13, 2013 Special Meeting of the Council:
"We have reviewed [Plan Bay Area] and find that that document is consistent with the growth projections from the 1987 General Plan that the City had adopted. So there’s no change that would be required . . . [a]nd even if there were such a mandate as drafted, the Plan Bay Area Plan, as it relates to downtown Orinda and the City of Orinda overall, is consistent with our existing General Plan." (emphasis added)
And the City Manager’s SPECIAL EDITION of the Orinda Outlook on July 11, 2013 suggests, by implication, that the City’s draft Housing Element update is simply that—an update of the Housing Element portion of the City’s General Plan—and further implies that the City has no plans to initiate an overall General Plan update at this time.
But what about the Summary of City of Orinda Edits to Housing Element in Response to HCD Comments sent to HCD on June 4, 2013 by the Planning Director? “An area of non-residential sites at the north end of Orinda Village is discussed at length in the text [of this Housing Element and s]tudies of this area are proposed in anticipation of a future General Plan Update.” Response to HCD Comment 9. (emphasis added)
And what about this? “[Rezoning the Downtown to permit high density housing] will likely be an outcome of the City’s General Plan Update, which will be initiated during the timeframe of this Housing Element.” Id., Response to HCD Comment 25. (emphasis added)
But these are just the City’s commitments to HCD in its responses to HCD’s comments that the Planning Director submitted to HCD when he submitted the draft Housing Element for formal review on June 4, 2013. Surely the draft Housing Element doesn’t commit the City to a General Plan update?
Perhaps it does. In fact, according to the Planning Director’s staff report the City Council June 18, 2013, quoting the draft Housing Element itself, the Housing Element commits the City to “initiate an update of the Orinda General Plan to continue the public dialogue about the appropriate mix of uses and densities in the Downtown area.”
And the draft Housing Element the Planning Director sent to HCD on June 4, 2013 included provisions like the following:
"The [Planning Process Review Task Force] PPRTF identified numerous sites in and around the Downtown area where housing could be considered. These recommendations will be considered by the Planning Commission and City Council as part of a future General Plan Update"
-Draft Housing Element, June 3, 2013, p. 4-9
And the following:
"As the City updates its General Plan, it may consider modifying development standards throughout the Downtown area, based on community input and discussion. . . . [Z]oning that is more amenable to mixed uses would help achieve a desired balance between housing and employment opportunities, while also creating a stronger market for Downtown businesses."
Id. at p. 4-10
And the following:
"The City has been exploring alternatives for a [General] Plan Update, with a focus on the Downtown area. . . ."
"From 2007 to 2009, the City convened a Planning Process Review Task Force (PPRTF) to evaluate possible changes to land use designations and allowable densities in and around the Downtown area. While the PPRTF discussions were focused on zoning, any substantive changes to zoning densities would have triggered parallel changes to the General Plan for internal consistency. These changes (discussed below) will continue to be evaluated during the time horizon of this Housing Element."
Whom are we to believe? The City Planning Director and his representations to Orinda Watch during a meeting on May 6, 2013, the Planning Director again to the Council and public at the Special Meeting of the Council on May 13, 2013, and the City Manager in her SPECIAL EDITION of the Orinda Outlook yesterday? Or the Summary of City of Orinda Edits to Housing Element in Response to HCD Comments and the revised Housing Element sent to HCD on June 4, 2013 by the Planning Director?