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 (February 2021), 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 including interest) 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 on average), 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.
5) The part of the "funding equation" that the City has refused to acknowledge is that when a road becomes "public", two funding sources are "triggered". First is the County's "return-to-source funding which is currently about $500,000 a year for existing public roads. Half of that is based on public road mileage. For each mile of "private" road that becomes public, that amount will increase about $2,500. $75,000 of new revenue if all 30 miles of "private" roads became public. Second is the "garbage impact fee. This is passed on to residents in their garbage bill but it would reduce the city's cost if it "declared" private roads public (when only requires a private road to allow public access and the city to agree to pay for maintenance). Since garbage trucks inflict the vast majority (over 90%) of the wear and tear on small cul-de-sacs (which include most of the "private" streets) this fee should cover most of the maintenance costs. Thus, the cost to the city for assuming the responsibility to maintain a private street could be de minimis. (But the city has never done this analysis.)