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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.


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, 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), over one quarter of its 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 no street applied for inclusion.  The only anomaly was in 1992 when three streets which were part of Orindawoods and comprised, in aggregate, a large cul de sac, signed a maintenance agreement with the City which would grant public access on these streets (not that there was any gate or sign denying access before the agreement was made) in return for public maintenance of these streets. This agreement is still in effect and the City Attorney recently opined that it is a valid agreement thus the City could legally make equivalent agreements with other “private” streets.


There have been a few recent developments (Wilder, Orinda Grove, Miller Ct, Adobe Ln) whose streets meet the strictest of city standards.  But the terms of the agreement between the developer and  the City precluded these  from becoming public streets while not exempting them from any taxes.


Up until 2012, this two-class road system did not have much 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.


The existence of Orinda’s 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. 


This need not be.  It is estimated that the actual cost to maintain a lightly used private residential street is really quite low -- about $400 per year per household.  This is why, prior to 2012, the existence of two classes of streets was not an issue because this was the “private” street resident’s only road cost.  But now, with the imposition of over $500 per year in bond payments and $200-300 in sales taxes per household to repair and maintain only public Residential streets which the “private” street residents never use, the inequity is being felt.  And the fact that the rest of the City is not willing to share the cost of also maintaining the “private” streets (average cost per household would be about $100 per year or 25 cents per day) by adopting them into the public system, makes the imposition even more hurtful.

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