The First Step in Eliminating a Culture is Denying Its Existence 

April 23, 2017

Dear Orindans,

Orinda Watch is a volunteer 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.

Approximately 150 Orindans attended the Orinda City Council (OCC) Meeting held on Tuesday, April 11, 5:00 Special Meeting for the ULI TAP presentation of their recommendations for our downtown improvements. OW as well as various diverse-minded Orinda groups met with ULI to provide input the day before, April 10th, with their own ideas of downtown improvement.  OW looked for evidence in the presentation that our input was considered but regional planning ideas dominated the presentation – less vehicular traffic, housing downtown, and less parking.

Instead of delving into the pros and cons of the many ULI ideas presented, suffice it to say that many of the main ideas presented are riddled with tradeoffs conflicting with Orinda’s cultural norms. Many of the ideas will be reduced to pointless “for” or “against” arguments, further coalescing residents into diverse groups that only support their ideas, when in reality none of us have a say in the matter when it comes to decisions concerning private property we don’t own.

One refreshing aspect of market driven economics and local control is that we don’t dictate what businesses we want downtown. It’s none of our business. If our downtown property owners agree to remodel their buildings or decide to sell to others who want to develop the property, it is at their business risk, not ours. City of Orinda Planning is there to provide approval for plans that meet our General Plan. If the OCC votes to deny an application for a new business that meets the General Plan, as they have in the recent past, they are solely responsible to the community for the economic vitality that the business could have contributed and also the lingering reputation that suggests that Orinda is not open for business. If a member of our OCC gets personally involved with developers, well, we know what happened the last time that occurred.

Inviting regional planning ideas into our City takes on a different approach to downtown development. As we experienced from the encounter with the ULI TAP team, we provided input to ULI but ULI didn’t consider the culture of the community. The mission of the Urban Land Institute is to “provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide.” As we’ve come to understand ULI’s philosophy while researching ULI’s website, responsible land use is infested with regional politics and heavy handed regional planning from Sacramento as dictated to cities through regional governance – Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC).

It only makes sense that one cannot mandate a more economically thriving community but they can always build buildings that no one will lease and create an economic environment that won’t be supported by the residents.

We believe that the best ideas for promoting economic vitality of downtown come from a local level, guided by local policy, informed by local conditions, needs and markets. So, like others, we will take a ‘watch and see attitude’ for new locally inspired businesses opening in the development at 25A Orinda Way (aka Bella Oaks). We wish them success. We anticipate the presentation of National Main Street Center (NMSC) projected for mid May 2017.

Come join us for a lively discussion at our monthly meeting on Monday, April 24th at the Orinda Community Center, Room 8, 6:00-8:00pm. We will discuss downtown development issues as well as other City issues.

Your friends and neighbors at Orinda Watch

 

3/26/2017

Orinda - Culture with Attitude 

Dear Fellow Orindans,

Orinda Watch is a volunteer 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.

The title of this newsletter is taken from an article published in the San Francisco Examiner, Sunday, June 20, 1999 about Orinda. I received the article from another member of Orinda Watch and long time resident. Following are excerpts taken from the article.

“Orinda – its streets are narrow and cracked, many of its homes are small and modest in appointments, its foliage in parts is reminiscent of the jungle. But in the eyes of many, this town remains the most prestigious in Contra Costa County.”

“The town, population 17,348, has an attitude, a la Greta Garbo: it wants to be left alone and takes a dim view of any developer attempting the large and ambitious.

One developer is attempting just that: 225 homes. So far, the application has taken over 12 years, longer than it took the United States to fight the Civil War, WWI and WWII. When Orinda looks in the mirror, it sees or would like to see Provence, restrained, cultured.”

“Orinda is tax poor; relatively few stores, no big ones, to generate revenue. Residents may be affluent, but they drive on old and cracked streets.”

“In the 1960’s, the county and developers learned that banging heads with Orinda was costly and time consuming. The residents attended all the meetings and took notes, they haggled over the smallest points, they hired lawyers and if something was approved they didn’t like, a lawsuit might follow.”

“Think Berkeley married to the Daughters of the American Revolution and you will grasp the confidence Orinda has in itself and its opinions. In a nutshell, residents believe that life should be infused with art and culture, that trees should be left to flourish, that deer and wildlife should be protected, that homes should be tasteful retreats from the toil and strife of the world.”

There you have it my fellow residents, the attitude of our Orindans in 1999. Do we still have the attitude it takes to protect and defend the things that convinced us to call Orinda our home? I believe we do.

Regards,

Your friends and neighbors at Orinda Watch

***

February 26, 2017

Is 2017 the Year Orinda Loses Local Control?

Orinda Watch, as well as other citizen groups in Orinda, were afforded a half-hour appointment with a representative of National Main Street to discuss ideas for ‘economic revitalization’ of downtown Orinda. Suffice it to say that we spent the half hour describing the demographics of the residents and suggested more retail akin to the new development approved at 25A Orinda Way that meets the Orinda General Plan (OGP). Mr. Wagner asked us one question at the end of our half hour session, ‘How do you feel about housing in Downtown Orinda’?

We’d like to discuss several concerns surrounding the economic revitalization of downtown Orinda as it relates to local control: (1) The Orinda General Plan, 1987 – 2007, (2) A Specific Downtown Plan, (3) Downtown Orinda, a Priority Development Area (PDA), and (4) Orinda Citizen Vote for an Updated General Plan.

(1) The Orinda General Plan, 1987 - 2007.

If you are not familiar with the OGP, following is the first paragraph entitled ‘Background’. The OGP can be found on the City of Orinda website.

“The community of Orinda incorporated on July 1, 1985, after 100 years of gradual development. One of the primary reasons cited by many Orindans for supporting incorporation was the desire for local decision making. Land use planning and development application review by local citizens was thought to be of primary importance. This feeling stemmed from a widely accepted desire to preserve the quality of the natural and man-made living environment that has       evolved in Orinda. The timing of incorporation was crucial due to the extreme regional pressure for more intensive development and redevelopment of the area. The City of Orinda's first general plan, therefore, serves as more than a planning document but also as an embodiment of many of the community's values and goals. The General Plan is also considered to be the consensus "blueprint" for the future development of the community.”

As the OGP serves as the embodiment of the values and goals of the residents, it follows that all recommendations from either consultant group, National Main Street or Urban Land Institute, should meet the general plan – we’ll see.

(2) A Specific Downtown Plan.

Through attending various Orinda City Council meetings, there was mention of updating the OGP for an estimate of $300K to $500K. It has also been mentioned that perhaps a specific downtown plan should be considered for the downtown revitalization project. We’ve discussed in an earlier newsletter, that some adjoining cities we’ve researched have opted for a specific downtown plan due to the cost of changing their general plan. This is a slippery slope.  If the changes are not incorporated into the general plan, there is a very good chance the specific downtown plan will not be in compliance with the general plan. We are proponents of updating the OGP to accommodate revitalization of downtown Orinda. Say NO to a specific downtown plan.

(3) Downtown Orinda is a Priority Development Area (PDA).

According to ABAG/MTC, to be identified as a PDA, an area must be: 1) within an existing community; 2) within walking distance of frequent transit service; 3) designated for more housing in a locally adopted plan or identified by a local government for future planning and potential growth; and 4) nominated through a resolution adopted by a City Council or County Board of Supervisors. What is described here is regional planning, not local planning. PDAs will accommodate 2/3 of the growth for Plan Bay Area.

We’ve researched other Bay Area cities that are or have developed their PDAs and while it is obvious that there is public funding available to accomplish PDA development, it is not without compromise.

(4) Orinda Citizen Vote for an Updated General Plan

As PDAs throughout the Bay Area are being developed as if on steroids, city councils are yielding to the pressures of regional planning without regard for local planning.  For Example, Oakland’s Tower at McArthur Village (McArthur BART) is 170 feet higher than allowed by their local zoning restrictions at 24 stories – but approved by the Oakland City Council. In Orinda’s case, we already have, to our detriment, one proponent of regional planning on our City Council, Amy Worth, Orinda Vice Mayor and recent Chair of MTC. If Orinda is to keep local control, we propose that the citizens vote on any updated OGP thereby allowing the citizens of Orinda a vote to keep local control.

Upcoming: Orinda Watch has been invited to submit a survey to Urban Land Institute by March 12th. We will discuss this survey and responses at our upcoming meeting Monday, February 28th. Join us for this discussion and other topics of interest.

***

January 22, 2017

Orinda Downtown Evaluation, a Strategic Priority Orinda in 2017

Dear Fellow Orindans,

Orinda Watch is a volunteer 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.

Subsequent to the September 6, 2016 Orinda City Council (OCC) Meeting, Downtown planning again became a central issue to Orindans. The OCC voted to engage both non-profits - Main Street America and Urban Land Institute (ULI) under contract to evaluate our Downtown. Main Street America is scheduling separate interviews with Orinda community groups on February 7th and 8th.  Orinda Watch has been contacted for inclusion in the interview.

We want to address several issues in this newsletter: (1) concerns that Orindans surfaced for consideration at the September 6th OCC meeting that have not been addressed, (2) present and briefly review the approved Specific Plan for the Town of Moraga, and (3) learn, educate ourselves, and stay engaged in the upcoming planning meetings and consider what improvements you envision for our Downtown.

(1) Items surfaced by Orindans at the September 6th OCC Meeting. 

Orinda Resident Engagement. Develop a process for all Orindans to be heard; not just special interest groups.

General Plan Changes.  The General Plan belongs to all of us and any change should be decided by direct citizen vote. Creation of a specific downtown plan can conflict with elements in a General Plan but has been used by other cities to avoid changes to the General Plan. We feel that this should be avoided.

Traffic.  Orinda traffic has grown to such proportions that it has affected the quality of life for many in Orinda. Any Downtown evaluation should consider present and additional vehicular traffic.

(2) Approved Development in Moraga. We heard many citizens at the September 6th OCC meeting who want more restaurants in Downtown but not many Orindans or Moraga residents are familiar with the growth being developed in the Town of Moraga that may directly affect where we shop, eat, and travel. 

The below link for the Town of Moraga’s Specific Plan describes a potential 630 new dwellings of which 388 are approved and in the process of being built, according to the Town of Moraga website. One interesting thing to note in this Specific Plan is that the Plan downplays the affect of road traffic. Maybe all new residents will be staying in Moraga or taking the bus from Moraga to Orinda BART but obviously not traveling down Moraga Road, the closest main artery to the freeway. Review this Specific Plan and decide for yourself what affect this will have on you and your family.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B51sAwj8P3eaLWhBdTBjWlZqMzQ/view

(3) Educate, Learn, and Stay Engaged. Why the explosion in Bay Area development? Why can’t we rely on market-driven infrastructure development as we have for over 200 years by those who own the private property? Some readers of this newsletter are familiar with UN Agenda 21. Some of you are in total denial of Agenda 21. Well, it exists and you may wonder why all this talk about ‘sustainable development’. We have attached a short read on typical phrases and what they mean in the context of Agenda 21 and a brief history. You will be surprised that some of these phrases mean the opposite of what you assumed they mean. With more knowledge, we can watch both Main Street America and ULI Downtown evaluations viewed through a refreshed set of eyes.

http://nwri.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/How-Public-Officials-can-Recognize-Agenda-21.pd

Come join us at our monthly meeting, Monday, January 23rd, to discuss these issues and help plan our goals for 2017.

***

HO, HO, HO…. Orinda Watch Christmas Party

December 3, 2016

Dear Friends and Orindans,

Come join us for our annual Christmas Party

            When:      Monday, December 19, 2016

            Time:       6:00 to 8:00 pm

            Where:    Orinda Community Center, 26 Orinda Way, Room 8, Orinda, CA

           Bring:      Yourself and a friend, an appetizer & drink to share

            RVSP:      ktjenkins@sbcglobal.net or just show up

Wishing you and your family the best of the holiday season.

Your friends and neighbors at Orinda Watch.

***

Benefits for Some Bring Burdens for Others

November 26, 2016

Dear Friends and Orindans,

The voters have spoken. We have newly elected members on the Orinda City Council (OCC). Darlene Gee and Inga Miller were elected to the OCC. The downtown revitalization issue dominated our local election. We have a majority of OCC members who will likely vote to accept zoning flexibility and general plan changes in exchange for downtown revitalization which could affect other future development in Orinda.

On November 15, 2016, the OCC decided to award two contracts to two third-party consultants, National Main Street Center (NMSC) and Urban Land Institute (ULI), who will suggest ways to improve our City. Eve Phillips voted against the ULI contract. Darlene Gee recused herself from the discussion due to a conflict of interest issue between her employer HNTB and ULI.

It is the Orinda citizens and the private property owners that have determined what they will offer and support in their downtown to date. Economic vitality is not a goal unto itself and cannot be mandated. You can ask the citizen to pick from several choices of what business they would like to see in their downtown but the citizen will ultimately decide what they will or will not support.

Are we willing to accept less parking, more traffic, changing the general plan and potential loss of local control, loss of village character of our downtown in exchange for newer retail, new office space, and more housing units for more residents, for the purpose of improving economic vitality downtown, economic vitality for a few developers, or whatever the latest reason is – we’ll see.

Come join us for a lively discussion and share ideas on this and other matters at Monday’s meeting, November 28 at Orinda Community Center, Room 8 from 6:00 to 8:00pm.

Your friends and neighbors at Orinda Watch.

***

VOTING - WHY IT MATTERS TO ORINDA

October 23, 2016

Dear fellow Orindans,

We are excited to welcome Save Orinda members to a combined Save Orinda and Orinda Watch meeting being held on Monday, October 24 at the Orinda Community Center from 6-8 PM, Room 8.

Elections, Tomorrow 10/24 is the Last Day to Register to Vote 
Some of us are still campaigning for candidates for Orinda City Council. By the looks of the number of brochures remaining, we think we have handed out over 4,000 brochures door-to-door during this campaign. This election is pivotal in restoring our City Council to rule 'for the people'. Make sure you register and VOTE.

If you attended the Candidate Forum on October 6th, the choice was clear between the candidates: 
• Bruce London and Linda Delehunt want to hear your ideas and will lead the residents in downtown update discussions
• Darlene Gee and Inga Miller want a consultant firm (ULI) to lead a downtown development plan for Orinda with no resident input that caters to a minority of residents who want Orinda to look like every other city that lacks character

Darlene Gee – was anointed a seat on the OCC by majority vote by the Council; not elected by the residents. 
K. Jenkins, an Orinda resident, was concerned about Ms. Darlene Gee over a conflict of interest issue between Ms. Gee’s employer HNTB and ULI and emailed the Orinda City Council and the city attorney recently, the following:

"City Council Members and City Attorney, 
Darlene Gee, V. P. of HNTB (an architecture, civil engineering consulting and construction management firm), stood out as a champion in the decision of Orinda downtown development work to award an Orinda city agreement to ULI. Various employees of HNTB participate on ULI Technical Assistance Panels (TAP) in the HNTB West Region (headed by Art Hadnett, HNTB West Division president presiding over Ms. Gee’s region). HNTB has many signature infrastructure projects in the West Division, serves 30 clients in nine states, including projects such as San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium. HNTB is a Bronze Sponsor of ULI. HNTB obtains business opportunities through the ULI relationship.

Due to the financial interest that Ms. Gee has in HNTB and their relationship with ULI, this is a conflict of interest. Ms. Gee should not be using her position on the city council to participate in this decision processes."

Inga Miller – a real estate attorney, is someone no one has heard of. She applied for the OCC when the downtown development residents cast a wide net for anyone who would support ‘zoning leniency’ upon discovery that Victoria Smith was not defending her seat. She has attended zero OCC meetings and is backed by Orinda Vision and What’s Up Downtown Orinda.

Whose Real Property Is It? 
The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property. (Quote by - Karl Marx)

We heard comments at the September 6th OCC meeting from residents who claimed that the downtown property owners were ‘holding Orinda hostage’ due to the condition of their property.

• Question: How do we balance individual rights with the rights of the community? 
• Answer: The community has no rights under the US Constitution and is not protected under the US Constitution as the individual is.

We hope to see you at Monday’s meeting, during which we’ll meet some local candidates, discuss the downtown development topic along with other matters.

Your friends and neighbors at Orinda Watch

***

...and then there was Urban Land Institute

October 17, 2016

Dear Fellow Orindans,

Orinda Watch is a volunteer 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.

We would like to draw your attention to the upcoming Orinda City Council (OCC) Meeting scheduled for Tuesday, October 18, 2016. Refer to the following link for review of the meeting agenda information; Agenda Item I-1:

https://cityoforinda.app.box.com/v/citycouncilmeetings/1/625418333

We recommend you attend the meetings. If you cannot attend, there is streaming video on Orinda City Council (OCC) meetings here:

http://cityoforinda.org/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC=%7BBF732F95-6D97-49B2-9201-752BC231FD77%7D

There are a couple of areas of development to observe during upcoming discussions on the continuation of the downtown planning process.

Downtown Planning Process - Citizen Input
What we observed at the September 6, 2016 meeting is that the 2012 survey consisting of 4700+ citizen comments from the 988 citizens of Orinda about what they would like to have in their city and what they think could improve the city was permanently shelved. The existing members of the OCC implemented no action by our OCC as a consequence of this survey at that time (Amy Worth, Dean Orr, and Victoria Smith) and we assume no action will be taken in the future either.

Continuation of the Downtown Planning Process - No Citizen Input 
At the end of the September 6th meeting, Councilmember Darlene Gee, rallied around the prospect of hiring land use consultants Urban Land Institute (ULI) for 1.5 to 2 days to advise Orinda how to plan our downtown.

Urban Land Institute is a mega non-profit global firm specializing in sustainable URBAN development for cities on a national and international scale and in lockstep with Plan Bay Area on a regional scale and all about Transit Oriented Development (TOD) mixed-use development surrounding metro transit centers such as BART and bus transit to create walking/biking cities thus reducing our reliance on cars.

Did you notice that none of the questions asked by the OCC or Trowbridge of ULI contain the words ‘semi-rural’ or ’35 foot height limit’? ULI doesn’t do semi-rural development. ULI specializes in URBAN development. Should the OCC hire ULI, don’t be surprised with what ULI suggests. ULI will answer the questions as posed but judging by the way the questions have been phrased in the meeting agenda, we can guarantee that any ULI response to the OCC will require zoning changes in our downtown.

The outcome of the 2016 election for Orinda City Council is in our hands. If we want to keep Orinda a place to come home to, not a place to escape from and if you care to retain the semi-rural environment of our city, we recommend - VOTE for BRUCE LONDON and LINDA DELEHUNT who will defend it.