Orinda has a complicated road history that it is still trying to sort out. It is a combination of public and private roads being serviced by a combination of publicly and privately maintained storm drains carrying water collected on public and private property. The rights and obligations of the residents and the City are ill-defined and quite a mess. To date (August 2020), the City continues to attempt to minimize its responsibility, refusing to acknowledge that its interests ARE the interests of All of its citizens.
Part of the problem is the definition of public vs. private roads. Virtually all of Orinda roads are open for use by the public (with one private road being gated and a couple with “no trespassing” signs). The only reason that they are “private” is that the City, and the County prior to incorporation in 1985, would not deem them public. The reason for this denial was quite simple: if they were not public, the County and then the City did not have to pay for their maintenance but could still collect all taxes imposed. The impact of this policy is discussed in the Private Road section of this website.
And the problem has been exacerbated over the past ten years with the addition of new roads all being forced to be “private” by the City. Currently, 30 of Orinda’s 123 mile of roads, home to over 1,500 of Orinda’s 7,000 households, are deemed “private”; denied public funds for maintenance. This has further been impacted by the impositions of millions of dollars of new taxes and fees imposed on all Orinda property owners but only used to repair and maintain public roads and storm drains.
As recently as 2014, half of Orinda's public roads were in a Poor to Failed condition; below a rating of PCI-50 (Pavement Condition Index). With the passage of a sales tax in 2012, which has been providing $1 million a year, and two road bonds totaling $45 million, most of those roads have been repaired. But we will be repaying the bonds ($66 million total) for another 17 years.
The condition of the 30 miles of “private” roads is officially unknown but unofficially it is believed that there are fewer than five miles of roads which are not in good condition.
The major issues remaining to be addressed:
1) The City projects that it will cost $60 million over the next 20 years to complete the repairs on and maintain the existing 93 miles of public roads.
2) The City projects that it will cost $30 million to upgrade the storm drains on the 93 miles of public roads.
3) While there has been no survey of the “private” roads so the exact cost is unknown to repair the sub-standard private roads, that cost could be as low as $5 million, even lower if the current owners of those roads participate in the repairs.
4) It is unknown what the cost to maintain the 30 miles of “private” roads would be, if they were made public. 90 per cent of them are small (7 homes), lightly used cul de sacs. The cost could be as low as $20,000 per mile ($600,000 per year for all 30 miles of roads; or even less if some roads wish to remain private.
At the current time (July 2020) the City is proposing a new one percent sales tax which will generate $2.4 million per year, increasing with inflation, for the next twenty years. Initial indications are that a significant majority of the tax revenue would be used for public road and storm drain maintenance with no provision for “private” roads to be included in the public road network and thus be maintained by public funds.