Dear Fellow Orindans,
There are times when we don’t know whether to laugh or cry, or simply be profoundly troubled by our current city council and staff leadership and how they think about the public they serve. This is one of those times.
This past Thursday evening, several of us attended the “State of the City” address by Mayor Sue Severson in the Orinda Library auditorium. The lack of attendance had to be a terrible embarrassment for the city council and staff. Sadly, it also suggests the lack of trust Orinda’s public has in its current leadership. While we’ll share our observations of the setting and the talk itself below, what was astonishing was what went along with the talk.
The event opened up with Mayor Severson urging the attendees (all five or six of us) to get up and sing a song about unity entitled “We’re all in this together,” complete with twirling around (“Orindans everywhere, wave your hands up in the air”). Were we in Orinda? In the United States of America? Have we come to this in the city, chanting about unity and affirmation of our city leadership? Just as Mayor Severson announced we would be singing the song together with arm waving and intermittent dancing (see song lyrics below), one Orinda Watch member turned to another with a really pained expression and said, "I'm out of here." And he promptly got up and left.
And about half way through the presentation there was also a "Geese Flying Video." It showed geese flying in formation with numerous captions like: "having trust in one another, willing to accept help, stand by each other, working together collaboratively, being helpful, respectful, encouraging..." Wow . . .
We have nothing but respect, and appreciation for the Orinda student who performed the song, as she did so with the charm, intelligence, and skill that we see in all of Orinda’s young people—in our homes and all throughout our community. Our concerns here are with the state of mind exhibited here on the part of the city council and senior staff.
While the talk itself addressed a number of issues regarding matters in the city, ones that the public would expect in a state of the city address, from the above we learned about much more than the state of the city itself. That is, the song and dance and video tell us what the city council and staff leadership think about the public they serve. The song and dance and video also show us how they have chosen to respond and react to the legitimate and material concerns that Orindans have repeatedly raised in recent months over the city council and staff’s conduct and agenda. It is as if our concerns and the issues we’ve raised in countless letters, public testimony at council meetings, and in other ways, not only lack merit, they simply don’t exist.
And to the setting and the speech itself, talk about irony! The picture above of our mayor delivering her State of the City Address on March 27, 2014 really captures the degree of public disconnection from our current city council and staff leadership.
Mayor Severson’s theme as presented in her first slide “2014: A Year of Teamwork & Collaboration” certainly explains the nearly empty auditorium. Having been completely slighted during the drafting of the 4th Cycle Housing Element last year, Orinda citizens are tired of hollow references regarding community input. For months, City Council and Staff stared at and eventually totally ignored a large number of concerned, thoughtful, and committed Orindans who presented cogent verbal and written opposition to the June Draft which had already been submitted to the Department of Housing and Community Development by City Staff without any public input, contrary to prior instructions by City Council. So, this begs the question: Teamwork and Collaboration among whom? Our mayor’s e-mails from last year and recent statements from interested parties probably hold the strongest clues; it is quite obvious that senior city staff and the council are already working with a developer to bring high density housing to Orinda’s downtown.
The empty seats bring another issue to mind. Many City Council meetings are understandably sparsely attended. “Understandably” because this council appears to be pursuing an agenda completely independent of Orindans’ interests and stated desires. However, as long as the meetings are poorly attended, this Council knows it can get away with whatever it wants.
Orindans, we all must let the Council know where we stand on important issues. Send Council members e-mails, speak at City Council meetings, or write letters to the editors of local newspapers. Equally important, encourage your friends and neighbors to become informed.
Orinda Watch seeks to be a source of relevant and factual information regarding essential matters in our beloved city, and yes, where pertinent and necessary, about the conduct of Orinda’s City Council and city staff leadership. When most Orindans learn the facts, they become outraged. This is not due to skillful spin and argumentation, or even “disunity” on the part of concerned and committed Orinda citizens—far from it. The facts speak for themselves, and Orindans are not responsible for the conduct of the City Council and staff leadership—they are. We yearn for the days to come, hopefully soon, when we will have a city council and staff leadership who will act in the interests of the residents of the city.
But until then, let’s make sure our voices are heard on essential issues in our city, as Orindans did so many times last year (though, ultimately, to no avail with this council and this staff leadership). If we can increase the pressure on City Council, they’ll have no recourse other than allowing real public input. Won’t they? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if all these seats were filled with opponents of current secretive Council policies during most meetings? Then, they’d have to collaborate with us, they would have to pursue an agenda that served the interests of the city as a whole and all of its residents. Wouldn’t they?
“Come on everyone!”