ORINDA’s PRIVATE ROAD PROBLEM
The 1,550 families living on “private” streets in Orinda should be outraged at how their “neighbors” are treating them. But they are not because neither they, nor their neighbors, are aware of how the private street residents are subsidizing “the best streets in the Bay Area” for their neighbors benefit, while being denied what is now defined by Orinda as an “essential service”; public funding of road and storm drain maintenance.
The BIG PICTURE includes:
* Orinda’s streets are segregated into two classes: (1) 30 miles of Arterials and Collectors that everyone uses and needs to support and (2) 94 miles of Residential streets which provide paved access to private dwellings. 80% of Orinda, 5,750 families out of 7,250 total, live on the Residential streets.
* The Residential streets are further segregated into (1) 64 miles of Publicly maintained streets, home to 4,200 Orinda households, and (2) 30 miles of Privately maintained streets. Most of the “Private” streets were “inherited” from county when the city was incorporated in 1985, but a significant number were also “created” by the city after incorporation. Every development since incorporation (Wilder, Orinda Grove, Miller Ct., Adobe Ln.) has been forced to be “private” (denied public maintenance).
* Starting in 2012, a series of new general (payable by all) taxes and fees have been levied to fund infrastructure (roads and storm drains) maintenance; deferred and on-going. Most of these new taxes have been applied to the Public Residential streets, with the Arterials and Collectors being funded by existing taxes (state gas tax and county sales tax).
* In order to “sell” the taxes to the voters, which would be concentrated on repairing and maintaining Public Residential streets, the populace was told, and they accepted, that EVERYONE used these streets. This was the BIG LIE. It was probably not made intentionally, but the facts show that only those 4,200 families living on the Public Residential streets actually use them or cause their wear-and-tear. This will be explained.
* AND THERE’S THE RUB: The people living on privately maintained Residential streets are not just paying to maintain their own streets, an obligation they accepted when purchasing property on these streets, but they are paying thousands of dollars in taxes and fees to support their neighbors’ functionally equivalent, publicly maintained Residential streets. The taxes were voted in by the majority living on these publicly maintained streets and the fees were imposed by elected representatives who also live on publicly maintained streets. There has been no groundswell to correct this inequity because its cost is not apparent. The cost to maintain one’s street is not that much relative to all of the other expenses of home ownership and few people understand how much tax they are actually paying and where it is going. But people living on private streets do understand there is an “us vs. them” in Orinda and that they are effectively second class citizens, not “worthy” of receiving essential services.
Miles Homes % of Pop
Arterials & Collectors 29.8 1,500 20.7%
Residential 94.4 5,750 79.3%
Public 63.9 4,200 57.9%
Private 29.5 1,550 21.4%
WE DON’T ALL USE THE PUBLIC RESIDENTIAL STREETS
* 50% of Private street residents access the street system directly from and to Arterials and Collectors. They don’t need Public Residential streets to get where they are going.
* The other 50% do use the Public Residential streets to access their Private street, but they exert a de minimis share of the wear and tear on the public feeder street. The average private street is a cul-de-sac with 7 homes. According to former Council Member Dennis Fay (a transportation engineer), the average home generates 5 car trips a day. 7 homes will generate 245 trips per week. According to the City’s latest Road and Drains Repair Plan, a heavy garbage/recycle truck has the same impact on a road as 9,000 car trips. The three trucks providing weekly service to the Public Residential street residents impact those streets with the equivalent of 27,000 car trips, over 100 times the trips made by the Private Residential street residents accessing their Private street. It will be noted that while the garbage/recycle trucks then continue up the private street, they have already impacted the public street and their “detour” up the private street adds no additional impact on the public street. Bottom line; Private street residents using Public Residential streets for access do not materially impact those streets.
* Private street residents use Public Residential streets to visit friends. Maybe, maybe not. But the Private street residents don’t charge their friends to visit, so neither should the Public Residential street residents.
* In summary, private street residents either don’t use public residential streets or don’t materially impact them so saying “we all use Public Residential streets” may be technically correct but “we don’t all impact Public Residential streets” is the truth.
REVENUE and COST BREAKDOWN
* 2012 half cent sales tax; Measure L. This tax lasted 8 years and generated $9.5 million of revenue; used almost exclusively to repair Public Residential streets. The 1,550 families living on private roads represent about 21% of the population, paying 21% of the tax; $2 million.
* $20 million 2014 road bond (Measure J) and $25 million 2016 road bond (Measure L); both also used almost exclusively to repair Public Residential streets. It will cost $66 million to repay these bonds over 18 years. They are repaid from an ad valorem property tax based on the assessed value of the property. While private street residents represent 22% of Orinda’s residents, their properties account for 25% of the city’s property tax base; thus, they will ultimately be responsible for $16.5 million of the bond repayment cost.
* 2020 one cent sales tax (Measure R). This replaced the half cent sales tax (Measure L). It is an Essential Services tax funding not only road and storm drain maintenance but also wildfire prevention. It is generating $3.7 million annually. Private street residents are paying about 21% of that, $800,000 per year. While it was advertised as a wildfire prevention tax, the projected allocation through 2026 is mostly for roads and storm drains. How much of that is for Public Residential streets is indeterminate.
* Garbage Impact Fee. The city has imposed a fee on the waste/recycle company to compensate the city for the wear and tear on the Public roads. It is only charged for, and is only used on, the public roads (even though the garbage/recycle trucks create the majority of the wear & tear on private streets). This year the fee is $1.2 million. It is passed on to the consumers in their garbage bills. Private street residents are paying about 21%, another $260,000. The share to Public Residential streets is indeterminate.
* The City has additional sources of revenue dedicated to public roads that ultimately come from all taxpayers: state gas tax, county sales tax Measure J, etc. The City estimates that these tax revenues will average $2 million a year over the next 6 years.
* In total, private street residents have already paid or been committed to pay $18.6 million for the repair of Public Residential streets; an average of $12,000 per household. They are further obligated to pay 21% of the cost to maintain the roads and storm drains on these streets. The latest estimate for street maintenance for the 64 miles of Public Residential streets is about $1.2 million per year. 21% of that is $260,000 a year; $170 per household annually, increasing with inflation. Measure R will also pay for $30 million of storm drain repair; 22% is $6.6 million; another $4,300 per household. What the share is for Public Residential streets is unknown.
* Bottom line, each private street household, in addition to paying to maintain its own street, has paid or will be obligated to pay thousands of dollars to help maintain the functionally equivalent streets of 4,200 neighbors while those neighbors, including all five City Council Members, bear no responsibility in providing street maintenance to their “friends” living on private streets.
The City has had a policy for Private streets to become Public since 1990. Since then NO STREET has ever been converted from Private to Public. It is obviously a failed policy.
The policy, Resolution 56-90, was designed to admit new roads into the public road system. It was not designed to accept existing roads. And when new roads were developed (Wilder, Orinda Grove, etc.) the City made it a condition of development that they would NOT be public. They would gladly accept the increase in the tax base as revenue; but they would limit the public benefits afforded those roads.
In 2018 the “fact” that the policy was “broken” was noted and the Public Works Director, Larry Theis, was told to revise the policy. What he came back with was the exact same policy as before with one more restriction: no street maintained by an HOA would be considered for acceptance into the public system. The logic behind this added restriction was mind-bogglingly circular. People formed HOA’s to provide road maintenance the City refused to provide and then because they did, the City refused to provide road maintenance. But that “new” policy, Resolution 59-18 was passed by a 3-1 vote by the Council. Needless to say, no road has been converted, or even attempted to be converted, since this new policy was put in place.
The one case where existing roads have been provided with public maintenance was put in place in 1992. The City agreed to provide road maintenance to three streets in Orindawoods IF Orindawoods would provide public access to these roads. That agreement is reviewed every five years and in 2022 the City extended the agreement (for the sixth time) for another five years by not cancelling it. Note, these streets are essentially a cul-de-sac providing paved access to private homes. One of the conditions of both Resolutions 56-90 and 59-18 was that only streets that provided through access would be considered (and since 90% of private roads are cul-de-sacs, this is one of the reasons no road has been converted). There is no record of why this agreement was put in place but the City Attorney has opined that it is perfectly legal.
25 percent of Orinda’s streets, home to 1,550 families, are systematically excluded from receiving public benefits that have been defined as Essential Services while being taxed to provide those services to another 4,200 Orindans, including all five members of the City Council. There is no way to “roll back” the tax obligation. The only way to treat all Orindans equally is to provide everyone with the same services.
If Orinda’s existing private streets were publicly maintained, either by being dedicated to the City or by agreement, they would become public streets and would be eligible for garbage impact fees and County “return-to-source” sales tax revenue. These two additional revenue sources could fully offset the additional cost of maintaining these streets making the change a zero cost option for the City.