History of Private Roads’ Attempts at Road Maintenance Equity
In March 2017, residents of Mira Loma Road, the private section of a road that is both public and private, went to the Director of Public Works, Larry Theis, and asked him how their 900 feet of street could become a public street. This started a saga that is continuing today, six and a half years later, with no more resolution than when it started.
After many meetings with the CIOC, a year later CIOC member Dennis Fay, who would soon become a member of the Council and finally the Mayor, suggested to the CIOC that the City create a task force to explore the possibilities of bringing private roads into the public domain. At their March 14, 2018 meeting the CIOC unanimously agreed to Fay’s suggestion; which was presented to the Council at their April 10 meeting. The Council directed staff “to return to the Council with a recommendation as to the composition of the task force, what the general scope of the task force should be and what format outreach and coordination should be made in a more informal session where there could be open dialogue.”
The next day, April 11, 2018. The CIOC did what the Council requested, outlining the how a task force could be formed. This recommendation was presented to the Council three months later at their July 10th meeting by Theis, but then he undercut their recommendation with excessive cost estimates. In response, the Council scrapped the idea of a task force and instructed Theis to review the City policy on private roads; conferring with the CIOC.
The existing policy was Resolution 56-90, in place since 1990. Since it was put in place no existing private road had been converted to a public road and no new road had been allowed into the public domain. All new roads, as a condition of development imposed by the city, were required to be privately maintained.
In response, Theis made mostly minor revisions to 56-90 with one major addition: no road maintained by an HOA would be considered eligible for acceptance into the public domain. This was actually not that major a change, as the existing policy already excluded cul-de-sacs from consideration and 191 of Orinda’s 203 private streets are cul-de-sacs. Of the 12 private “through” streets, four are maintained by an HOA (Roads of Hacienda Homes). These four roads have been in existence for about 80 years. What he did not do was confer with the CIOC before submitting the new policy to the Council at their September 4, 2018 meeting. When the CIOC found out what Theis had done they considered complaining to the Council but they never did.
The Council adopted the revised policy, Resolution 59-18, without asking what the CIOC thought of it. Only Council Member Darlene Gee, a professional transportation engineer and former member of the CIOC, opposed it.
The private road residents did not give up. While a task force would have been the best way to discuss the issue of allowing private roads entrance into the “exclusive” club of public road maintenance; and even though Resolution 59-18 excluded all but 8 of Orinda’s 203 private streets from consideration; the Council agreed at their March 19, 2019 meeting to hold a workshop (because a council meeting was not the appropriate venue for open discussion with members of the public). The workshop was scheduled for August 27th.
The workshop was held. About 100 members of the public attended. The staff made a presentation as did a group of residents. Then 17 members of the community stood up and made statements, either questions or support for bringing private streets into the public domain. While the purpose of the workshop was to allow the residents to interact with the members of the Council, and while all five members of the Council were present, the minutes of the meeting show that they chose not to engage.
The workshop had been moderated by an outside professional. He produced an 11 page report which he presented to the Council at their October 1, 2019 meeting. In his report he listed 17 things the city could explore. The minutes of the meeting end with "Mayor Miller confirmed staff had sufficient direction."
That was the last time the the private road issue came up for the next four years with the exception of Mayor Dennis Fay's plan to create a pilot program in 2022, which never got off the ground. The city took no more steps to provide what was elevated to the level of an Essential Service with the passage of Measure R in November 2020 to all Orindans; only to those living on public roads but denied the 1,550 families living on private roads with no path to become a public road.
But what some call a “vocal minority” continues to ask the city to address the issue. This minority presented the city with a letter of support for finding a solution to the inequity of public road maintenance as far back as 2018; a letter signed by 825 residents (a minority but a significant one).
And in the survey leading up to the Measure R essential services tax, conducted in February 2020, the question was asked if the respondents would actually pay an separate tax to pay for the maintenance. The question was: “The City is considering a ballot measure that would generate funding to repair and accept ownership of private roads into the City’s publicly maintained road system. Does this sound like something you would support or oppose?” 48% of those responding said they would. Almost a majority. When told the cost could be $25 million, the support went down to 38%. What if the staff, which prepared the questions, had asked “what if the cost is 25 cents a day”? Maybe a majority would have agreed.
There is considerable support for equity in maintaining Orinda’s roads. When will the City investigates ways to accomplish this?