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, 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 half cent sales tax in 2012, which provided $1 million a year, and two road bonds totaling $45 million, most of those roads have been repaired. We will be repaying the bonds ($66 million total including interest), over $3 million a year, for another 16 years. In 2022 the sales tax was doubled and extended for 20 years. Last year it generated $3.7 million. It was intended for fire prevention in addition to roads and storm drains, but the majority has been dedicated to the maintenance of public roads and storm drains.
Orinda's roads are now the best in the Bay Area, with an average PCI of 84. (While the condition of the 30 miles of “private” roads is officially unknown, 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 $30 million to upgrade the storm drains on the 93 miles of public roads.
2) 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.
3) It is unknown what the cost to maintain the 30 miles of “private” roads would be, if they were made public. The latest road cost projections show that to maintain the existing public residential streets at an average PCI of 85, the City should spend $19,500 per mile annually. $585,000 per year for all 30 miles of roads; or even less if some roads wish to remain private.
4) 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 the 93 miles of 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 by about $2,500. $75,000 of new revenue if all 30 miles of "private" roads became public.
- Second is the "garbage impact fee" paid by the garbage company for all public, but not private, roads (even though the garbage trucks use, and significantly damage, all roads). The fee is currently about $1.2 million, about $13,000 a mile. But since a garbage truck has up to 9,000 times the impact on a road as a car, the wear and tear from three trucks per week (27,000 equivalent car trips) can be as much as 99% of the total usage. If the fee reflected actual impact on newly designated streets, this fee alone could cover virtually all the cost of ongoing maintenance.
When the residents voted to increase and extend the sales tax, the tax they voted for was titled an Essential Service Tax. The City declared road and storm drain maintenance an essential service. Everyone in Orinda pays this tax. But only about 80% of Orinda's families live on residential streets that receive these essential services.