Vote NO on the City of Orinda June road bond measure

Vote NO on the City of Orinda June road bond measure

Orinda Watch has submitted a formal opposition to the city council and staff’s $20M road bond. Our statement has been accepted as the ballot argument in opposition to the measure. You can review the full text of our opposition, and of the measure proponent’s ballot argument, at the bottom of this message.

We understand that our roads are in desperate shape. We also understand that Orinda citizens, when presented with the full information about the condition of our roads as well as with the total amount required to bring all of them up to acceptable condition and the various possible ways of raising those funds, may decide then to support new taxes to repair those roads. But that’s not what we are presented here with this bond initiative, far from it. Thus, we recommend that Orinda citizens vote no on the city’s $20M road bond initiative this June.

There are three irremediable deficiencies in what the city staff and council have presented to the public that cannot be fixed before the election this June—and it’s not even clear that the current city staff and council are willing to fix any of them at any time (and perhaps this raises an additional question as to whether our current city staff leadership and council are the right people to lead the city at this time):

1 - Inadequate project scope and excessive discretion in the city staff and councils’ use of the funds

As we pointed out in our ballot opposition statement,

[t]his Ordinance fundamentally fails to identify a clear scope of work and apply sound project management principles. The scope language is too broad and open ended. A bond initiative of $20 million demands thorough disclosure that details what specific roads the Project Plan designates for repair, the quality of repair (Pavement Condition Index), Plan scheduling, and cost estimates tied to the scope of work. The public must be provided this before voting whether to approve any bond initiative to repair our roads.

The city could easily provide this information through the StreetSmart system which contains detailed data on the condition of each road segment and the cost to bring that road segment to adequate levels of repair, but declines to do so—presumably preferring the seemingly unlimited flexibility in the current bond measure to use the funds raised as the city council and staff choose.

This is not only inadequate project management for a project of this size and scope—and afterall, a plan that does have thorough disclosure can always be changed and adapted to changing future conditions—but it also begs a second question: why does the city council and staff insist on having so much flexibility and discretion in using the funds raised in the proposed bond initiative? This insistence on their part is deeply troubling to us, and would be troubling even if there weren’t so many instances where the current city staff and council told the residents one thing, and did another, often seemingly in pursuit of an agenda for the city that appears to be counter to the wishes and interests of most Orindans.

2 - City staff and council are not being open about the full amount of funds needed to repair our roads

Again, as we pointed out in our formal ballot opposition statement,

[T]he city is disingenuous here about the full cost of repairing Orinda’s roads, a cost which will be much greater than the $20M they hope to raise. Thus, the city will come back to the residents for more money to fix the roads in just a few years. Piecemealing out the solution rather than being honest with the public about the true costs and dimensions of the problem is wrong. And what guarantees do citizens have about specific road and drainage repairs? NONE. Does the Plan repair THEIR road, assure a level of quality agreeable to taxpayers, state an approximate time frame for repairs, and inform taxpayers of the associated costs? No. All we have in Ordinance 14-02 is: Give us the money and trust us to do the right thing!

The city staff and council appear to have adopted a strategy of letting the condition of our roads reach a crisis stage, then coming to the public every year or two insisting that the public must adopt this tax measure or that tax measure to solve the crisis conditions of the roads, with the implication it was the public’s fault—its mean-spiritedness and unwillingness to fund necessary city infrastructure—that was to blame for those crisis conditions.

To add insult to injury, the current city staff and council never fully disclose to the public the full dimensions of the problem, or the full funding required to fully maintain our roads. Rather, they piecemeal out the “solution” like they are doing so here.

Further, the public never is told whether the funds raised will fix their road, let alone when. Again, why the secrecy, and why does the current city council and staff insist on such unreviewable flexibility in using the funds raised?

3 - There is never any discussion or disclosure of how we got into this fix

The city council and staff never discuss or disclose how the city got into this fix, with many tens of millions of dollars in deferred road maintenance and our roads in disgraceful shape. It is either just an act of God, perhaps, or the-above noted insinuation that it is the result of mean-spirited Orinda citizens unwilling to fund necessary infrastructure in their own city.

But who has been running things in the city for the past dozen years? The current council has largely been in place during those years, as has the current city staff. Hmmm . . .

And, further, there has been no discussion, no disclosure, of the role of the regional transportation agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), in the deterioration of not only Orinda’s roads, but roads all throughout the Bay Area. MTC was set up by the state of California in the early 1970s with its purpose to take the gas tax revenues paid by Bay Area residents to the state and federal government, and distribute those funds in an equitable fashion to maintain and expand the Bay Area’s road infrastructure.

MTC, however, has over the years, and increasingly, diverted those gas tax revenues that were designated to keep the roads maintained, and allocated those revenues to massive mass transit expansion and capital projects—mass transit projects that have had appalling costs, appalling cost overruns—projects that have utterly and completely failed to expand mass transit ridership. But in any event, those gas tax revenues diverted to mass transit capital projects were raised in the first place to maintain the roads, not to fund mass transit projects!

MTC admits in their Plan Bay Area, adopted in 2013—a plan that will govern expenditure decisions over the next 25 years—that they are deliberately underfunding road maintenance in the Bay Area by $20B over those 25 years (and yes, Orinda’s full underfunded road maintenance needs are included in that $20B underfunding). And, yet, MTC then demands countless tens of billions of dollars for mass transit capital expansion projects and operating subsidies, including more than $20B for just their five biggest capital expansion projects, including $4.5B for their monument to mass transit, their new Transit Center in San Francisco (they call it the Grand Central Station for the Twenty First Century). One of those five projects is even a project to use gas tax revenues to turn portions of our freeways into toll roads, so that we can pay yet again for the roads that we already paid for.

In this, MTC is simply carrying out their longstanding policy of raising the cost of driving on Bay Area residents, in order to force Bay Area residents out of their cars and onto mass transit. MTC’s Executive Director Steve Heminger wrote in a 2010 memorandum to the California Air Resources Board that in order for MTC to achieve its objectives—that is MTC’s objectives for the Bay Area, not the residents’ objectives—for the Bay Area, it would need to raise the cost of driving by 5x what it was at that point, in order to force residents out of their cars. Bemoaning lack of authority to order such a rise in the cost of driving immediately, Heminger in his memo stated that MTC would pursue the next best option—leaning on the towns and cities, in incremental steps, to raise the cost of driving.

In the light of all of this, MTC’s deliberate strategy of withholding gas tax revenues from their designated purpose of maintaining our local roads makes perfect sense from their perspective, as their doing so forces local towns and cities to raise taxes on local residents (and hence raise the price of driving).

But shouldn’t we have an adult conversation about MTC’s strategy in the first place, their appalling track record in their mass transit expansion projects (and their diverting gas tax revenues raised for road maintenance rather than raising new funds for mass transit capital projects), and their willful and intentional underfunding of our road infrastructure? Shouldn’t we have an adult conversation within our city and perhaps with other cities about whether it might be possible to insist that MTC perform its most important function, and that is to make sure the Bay Area’s road infrastructure is adequately maintained by equitably distributing state and federal gas tax revenues to the cities and counties in the Bay Area?