Dear fellow Orindans,
On Tuesday, March 4, your City Council voted to propose a $20 million bond initiative that, when combined with other financing sources, would be available to fund repairs to some of Orinda’s roads. While we agree that the city’s roads are in desperate shape, and the city must take steps to ensure that our roads are brought to adequate condition, for the reasons we detail below and will discuss further in subsequent newsletters, unless the city becomes more transparent and engages its citizens as we describe below, Orinda Watch cannot support the bond initiative, and we recommend you vote no on this on June 3.
We simply cannot support the City Council’s piecemeal approach to securing public assent to paying to repair the roads, never fully disclosing the total cost eventually required to do so, with seemingly unlimited discretion and no disclosure to the public of what specific roads will be repaired and to what level, while never having a full and open discussion with Orinda residents as to how the city came to be in this situation.
The Bond Initiative
Our roads are ranked among the lowest in the Bay Area. Along with storm drains, our roads need to be fixed and maintained. This bond issue, possibly followed by another $20 million bond issue(s) in a few years, will be on the June 3 ballot, and requires a 2/3 voter approval for implementation. This is the first Orinda Watch newsletter on the roads. Others will follow as our various editors’ time permits. Like the housing element debate, this issue is reasonably involved and affects each Orindan in many ways—thus it is important for each of us to take some time to understand it.
A good background on the specifics of the proposed bond parameters is Jennifer Modenessi's article in the Contra Costa Times, “Orinda council greenlights bond measure for road and drain repairs.”
Naturally, as responsible citizens, Orinda Watch favors repairing and maintaining Orinda’s roads, including arterials, feeders and local roads. But we are skeptical of the city staff and council’s approach as it appears they are continuing their regrettable and unacceptable practice of making decisions for the public by pretending to receive input and bypassing full public discussion and vetting of the issues.
The City’s Unsound Project Management Practices
In their rush to fast track the $20 million bond initiative, presumably based on feedback from the $22,000 telephone survey, the City Council seems willing to bypass sound project management fundamentals, such as starting first with a TOTAL specific detailed scope of work and a TOTAL project estimate for the ten year program—not a piecemeal approach.
The City currently claims their overall objective is to bring the city’s roads to an average Pavement Condition Index (PCI) standard of 70, further defined as good, and per the “10 Year Road and Drainage Repairs Plan": “it is not the optimum condition that will result in every road system being repaired over the next 10 years, [but] it will result in a road system that the community finds acceptable.” In other words, just trust us, folks.
Orindans, looking to understand the scope of the program and to see if the bond initiative warrants their support in higher property taxes, (two previous attempts were rejected) are asking questions like: “Is my road going to be fixed?” “And to what quality standard is it going to be fixed?” “And if it is going to be fixed, about when?” We think these are reasonable questions that a “10 Year Road and Drainage Plan” should specifically address.
As it stands now, the city will not be providing these answers, even though doing so (prior to the bond vote) would be quite straightforward, as much of the work is already contained in the city’s preventive maintenance computer program, “Street Saver.”
When a request was made to the City Council at the March 4, meeting to provide answers to these questions, along with suggestions on how to do so, Vice Mayor Glazer responded: “What is being suggested creates this enormous master plan which has the potential to be irrelevant in a year or two…” Listen at approximately minute 52:00 of the City Council’s recorded audio and judge for yourself.
We beg to differ. Before commencing with a large project, good project management calls for the preparation of a thorough scope document, followed with a good project estimate. Changes are managed with respect to the base. This professional approach helps avoid project cost, schedule, and quality fiascos – like the recent Bay Bridge replacement, which will be weighing in on taxpayers directly and through opportunity costs for decades.
The recommendation also allows for necessary adjustments, such as coordinating with PG&E subsurface work, and it does not cut back flexibility (as the Glazer - Swanson discussion suggests), but it does provide for accountability and responsibility and better project control. In short, this is how large projects are professionally managed. They start with a base scope of work and a total estimate for the work, and change is managed. Flexibility is not impaired but performance and accountability are more clearly defined—perhaps something politicians would rather avoid..
The outline for establishing a TOTAL clear scope definition and TOTAL project estimate are further explained in the footnote to this article. Suggested principles (somewhat like a Project Execution Plan) for managing the road program follow. These are steps that, at a minimum, the city staff and Council must take before presenting any bond measure to the public for a vote. And there’s an argument for a more forceful role from Orinda’s Citizens Oversight Infrastructure Committee (CIOC) and their authority and recommendations.
Suggested Key Elements for a Comprehensive Road Program
To be agreed to and published prior to Orinda residents being asked to vote on any measure whereby they will fund all or a portion of the city’s unfunded road maintenance needs
• A complete detailed and accurate scope of work for the whole program (approx. 10 years) to fix Orinda’s roads and drainage systems, kept current, that shows specifically which road sections will be repaired, and the quality standard (Pavement Condition Index, PCI) they will be repaired to.
• An approximate time frame (year) when each road section (total of 476) will be repaired. (This will be approximate and of course can vary as annual work plans provided by the computerized “Street Saver” preventive maintenance program are optimized.)
• A plus or minus 10% estimate for the entire scope of work broken down by road section (including drainage repairs by road section) and including road and drainage maintenance, kept current through budget adjustments.
• A comprehensive draw down annual plan for the scope of work to be completed in a given year that will be approved by CIOC and go through detail design and then bid for construction.
• A specific financing plan that identifies details of all funding sources, is time oriented, and that supports total estimated expenditures for the total scope of work and clearly ties into the total project estimate (adjusted for inflation).
• An annual audit program that ensures road funds are drawn down correctly and are spent appropriately, just on roads and drainage systems.
• A program for progress reporting including at least an annual report in sufficient detail to show residents scope completed, scope to go, an assessment of schedule, and costs budgeted vs. actual, construction narrative etc.—as determined by the CIOC, made available to all citizens, and posted on the web.
How Did Orinda Get Into this Situation? Let’s Find Out
In addition to proper scope definition and project management, there are other issues that must be discussed and understood prior to the citizens of Orinda voting to fund, out of our own pockets, repairing our roads. For example, just how did the city get into this fix in the first place? Was it because the city’s residents have been stingy and mean spirited and non-public minded about paying monies to repair the roads? Or was it because the regional agency, Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) has systematically, over many years, taken federal and state gas tax funds from their intended purpose of maintaining and expanding Bay Area roads, and diverted those funds to massive mass transit projects that have had limited or no benefits at an appalling cost?
And what does Plan Bay Area have to say about priorities and funding levels for road maintenance and the like? Is road maintenance high on the list or more towards the bottom of priorities? And what is the tax impact for Orindans? Are we paying to maintain our roads more than once? And is there an underlying, systematic agenda on MTC's part to raise the cost of driving on Bay Area residents significantly, in incremental steps, to force them out of their cars? Are these kinds of questions also “irrelevant,” as Mr. Glazer claims re suggestions for proper scoping and project management?
We don’t think so, and our volunteer editors’ time permitting, we intend to bring them to your attention in future articles from Orinda Watch.
We will keep our minds open and see how things develop. Stay tuned.
Your Friends at Orinda Watch
Orinda Watch is a coalition of citizens whose purpose is keeping the people of Orinda, California informed on local affairs while fighting for local control of planning and governance.
For a variety of reasons, a complete Street Saver Analysis must be part of the TOTAL program so that all residents can connect the scope of the streets of interest with the TOTAL proposed program, and know what they are signing up for. Recall these are rather large tax increases that each homeowner will need to justify in his own way. A scope that suggests “an average PCI of 70” is inadequate. The essential elements to provide an adequate scope of work are shown below.
• A detailed listing of all 476 road sections (Arterial, Collector, Residential/Local, Other). This detail is in the program and would allow residents to identify the routes to their homes.
• The current Pavement Condition Index (PCI) of all 476 road sections; now in program, some updates required.
• The proposed PCI of all 476 road sections after the upgrades are completed. Engineering determination.
• The approximate timing for when the upgrades will be completed for each of the road sections. This could be say, “planned for year 2016,” but could change depending on how the drawdown of the annual work scope is optimized.
• Cost calculations that reflect the delta improved PCI index times the cost factor per square yard for road sections, times the quantity for each road section that adds up to the base cost to fix the roads.
• Maintenance calculations and drainage upgrade calculations that consider degradation of the presumed ten-year plan of sufficient detail to allow a reasonable person to verify these calculations and estimates, and arrive at TOTAL funding levels requested for the TOTAL program. Citizens want to see the math from the scope to the total cost, then to the total to be funded considering, inflation and time aspects of ongoing road and drain deterioration.
With the above engineering scope and estimates, citizens would have a sound engineering basis and a sound estimate basis for understanding and verifying the scope of this program an its resultant costs. Really, this is nothing more than sound planning and good project management and should not involve significant extra work, other than the engineering determination of the proposed PCI for each road section (total 476), and perhaps a logical presentation to the citizens that addresses the Suggested Key Elements for a Comprehensive Road Program shown above—before the bond vote, scheduled for June 3.
As an Orinda taxpayer, does this seem reasonable?