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Three Road Systems in One

The City of Orinda, and many other cities, has a two-class road system which inordinately benefits some while penalizing others.  Those being penalized are in the minority, so they have little power to rectify the situation if the City chooses to perpetuate it.


The Three Parts include:

* 29 miles of Arterials and Collectors, the backbone, used by all Orindans

* 64 miles of publicly maintained Residential streets, providing paved access to private homes.

* 30 miles of privately maintained Residential streets, providing the same function as the publicly maintained Residential streets.


Essentially, some roads are considered public and are maintained with public tax dollars, while others, which are functionally the same (providing paved access to private residences), are denied public funds for road maintenance and must be maintained by the road’s residents while they also pay taxes for the "common" benefit (excluding themselves).


In Orinda, the problem started as far back as 1924, 61 years before Orinda incorporated, when tracts of land were subdivided and developed into residential lots and streets.  The development maps were approved by the County Board of Supervisors (BOS); the streets were offered for public adoption ("dedication"), but they were not immediately accepted as public roads by the BOS.  As individual streets were developed, some were adopted, street-by-street, but some never were, for reasons unknown.  Maybe it was because the County, at a particular point in time, no longer wanted to assume the maintenance responsibility of another street or maybe it was that the owners of the lots finally being built did not realize their street or portion of street had never been “adopted” (there are streets that are part “public” and part “private”).


As more streets were developed in the 50’s, the major developments (Orindawoods and Orinda Downs)  had the wherewithal to apply for adoption and all or most of their streets were adopted, but a lot of the single street developments did not “bother” or possibly were rejected.


By the time Orinda incorporated (1985), one third (21 miles) of its 85 miles of residential streets had not been adopted.  These streets were “private,” although for the vast majority the only thing private about them was the source of their maintenance funding.  And since incorporation, not one street has been added to the public network -- the requirements for adoption (Resolution 56-90 adopted in 1990 and "strengthened" in 2018 as Resolution 59-18) were so onerous that only one street has bothered to even apply, and it was turned back.  And the city dictated that the 8 miles of new residential streets developed since incorporation also be denied public maintenance even those developments meet the strictest of city standards. .


The only anomaly was in 1992 when three streets, which were part of Orindawoods, signed an agreement with the City where the streets would be publicly maintained if Orindawoods would grant public access on these streets (not that there was any gate or sign denying access before the agreement was made). This agreement is still in effect, reaffirmed by the Council after the City Attorney affirmed that it is a valid agreement (use of public funds for public benefit).


Up until 2012, this two-class road system did not have much of a negative impact on the residents of Orinda.  There had never been enough tax money  to support Orinda’s roads.  The roads were under-maintained by the County and continued to be so after Orinda incorporated.  By 2004 they were in such bad shape (rated the worst roads in the Bay Area) that the City formed an Infrastructure Committee to determine what it would take to bring them back to a reasonable condition.  The Committee released its report in 2006. Two attempts at a major bond measure to correct the problem in 2006 and 2007 failed by a couple of hundred votes each to meet the 2/3 threshold.  Then the recession of 2008 hit and all attempts to address the roads ceased until 2012.


However, the existence of a two-class road system, providing publicly funded access to 5,500 of Orinda’s residents right up to their driveways while denying that same benefit to the remaining 1,500 homeowners, is now causing a rift in Orinda’s structure. 

The reason being is a series of new taxes and fees being charged to all residents for use only on public roads.  And most of these new taxes are used on the 64 miles of public residential streets, not the "common" arterials and collectors that all residents use.

These taxes include:

* Measure L, half cent sales tax adopted in 2012.  This was collected for 8 years generating about $9.5 million.  It was used almost wholly to provide deferred maintenance on public residential streets.

* Measure J, $20 million road bond approved in 2014.  It will cost $28.7 million to repay, payments continuing  through 2037. It was used wholly to provide deferred maintenance on public residential streets.

* Measure L, $25 million road bond approved in 2016.  It will cost $37.5 million to repay, payments continuing  through 2037. It was used almost wholly to provide deferred maintenance on public residential streets.

* Measure R, full cent sales tax adopted in 2020 for 20 years.  It is generating about $3.9 million a year.  This tax is for Essential Service including wildfire prevention in addition to road and storm drain maintenance.  However, through 2026, the expected expenditures are $5.2 million for wildfire prevention and $26.7 million for publicly maintained roads and storm drains.

* Other Sources (state gas tax, county Measure J sales tax, garbage impact fees).  $15.5 million for the six years 2021-2026.  These are not new taxes but they are dedicated to publicly maintained roads.

So since 2012, through 2026, the residents of Orinda have taxed themselves an additional $100 million for roads and storm drains, most of it going to the 64 miles of public residential streets.  The 1,550 families living on the private residential streets are paying over 20% of this, and yet receiving no benefit as they either don't use the public residential streets at all (50% of private streets feed directly into arterials and collectors) or their impact on the public residential streets feeding their private street is de minimis (the majority being from garbage trucks which everyone pays for with their garbage bills).


It is not the fact that people living on private streets object to paying the couple hundred dollars a year that they have agreed to pay to maintain their own streets, or the extra money needed to maintain the arterials and collectors we all use, it is their share of the millions of dollars that have been, and continue to be used to repair and maintain the public residential streets that provide the same service as the private residential streets, paved access to private residences, that they object to.  There is no way for the City not to charge these taxes to all residents.  The only solution is to provide all residents with equivalent services.

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