Private Streets

There are 30 miles of privately-maintained streets in Orinda. These streets are not gated enclaves but, for the most part, cul-de-sacs indistinguishable from adjacent publicly maintained ones. 1,550 families live on these streets; about 20 percent of Orinda.  These families pay the same taxes as their neighbors living on public streets but do not share in the benefit of publicly funded road maintenance. In addition to paying to maintain their own streets, they are paying over $500 a year to maintain their neighbors' streets with their neighbors not reciprocating.

These streets were not developed as "private" streets.  They were developed as every other street in Orinda was developed: on private property by a private developer to the specifications of the County or City.  But while many (most) streets developed were then "adopted" as public streets by the County; at some point "the powers that be" figured out that streets which were not "adopted" paid the same taxes so why create more public streets and burden the County or City with more road maintenance obligations?  The fact that 80% of the community was "grandfathered in" with road maintenance benefits paid by everyone did not seem to bother the decision makers (even though they personally benefited by "letting" neighbors on private streets share in the cost of their street maintenance.)


Prior to 2012 there was little “friction” between the private street residents and the rest of Orinda. It cost the average homeowner about $400 a year to maintain his/her street.  While general tax dollars (State gas tax and County sales tax) went to maintain the public streets, most went to the 29 miles of Arterials and Collectors we all use.  Very little went to the public Residential Streets which was why Orinda had the worst streets in the Bay Area (excluding the private streets).


In 2012 Orinda voters approved a half cent sales tax which initially produced $1.0 million a year in revenue but that has increased with inflation to $1.2 million.  In 2014 and 2016 $45 million in bonds were voted for which will ultimately cost the taxpayers $66 million to repay.  And now, in 2020, an increase in the sales tax to a full one percent, extending 20 years, is being put on the ballot which will ultimately bring in, including inflation, over $60 million.


The 2012 sales tax, the 2014 and 2016 road bonds, and at least half of the proposed new sales tax were used to repair and will be used to maintain Orinda’s 64 miles of public Residential streets.  Effectively, the only people who benefit from those repairs and maintenance are the 4,200 households living on those streets.  While half of the “private” street residents do use some of the public Residential streets to access their streets, even that use is “de minimis” with the vast majority of the wear and tear resulting from the garbage trucks servicing the homes on the public Residential streets.  So “private” street residents, in addition to paying to maintain their own streets, are paying significant taxes to maintain someone else’s street they never use.


How significant?


Since 2012 the sales tax has brought in / cost about $8 million.  Since “private” street households represent about 20 percent of Orinda, they paid $1.6 million of these taxes.


The 2014 and 2016 road bonds are going to cost $66 million to repay (through 2037).  These bonds are repaid with an ad valorem tax based on a property’s assessed value. While “private” street homes only represent 20% of Orinda by number, they have a higher average assessed value and account for, in aggregate, 25% of Orinda’s property tax base.  Thus, the “private” street homes will ultimately repay $16.5 million of the total bond payments.


The City is putting an increased one percent sales tax which will extend 20 years on the November ballot.  If this passes, it will generate over $60 million in revenue. Some of this will be used for fire prevention; some for storm drain repairs on the Arterials and Collectors we all use; but most of it will be used to maintain the public Residential streets.  The City says it will cost $60 million over the next 20 years on all 93 miles of public roads.  The 64 miles of residential streets represent 70 percent of the total but since they are more lightly used, maybe they only represent 50 percent of the cost; $30 million with private street residents paying 20 percent of that; another $6 million.


Total Cost from 2012 to 2040: $1.6 million (current sales tax); $16.5 million (road bonds); $6 million (future sales tax); $24 million total.  This equates to $15,500 per private road household; averaging $550 a year.  This is as much as they are paying to maintain their own roads.  This is why, what was NOT an issue before 2012, is now an issue.


There is no way to prevent these costs.  The past sales tax is past and the bonds cannot be restructured.  And there is no way to exempt private street residents from a new sales tax.


But what would it cost the rest of Orinda to agree to maintain, and maybe even repair, the existing “private” streets which want to become public streets?


While we paid $50 million to repair 64 miles of public Residential streets, and there has never been a City survey of “private” roads to confirm this, indications are that there are less than $5 million of repairs required to bring all “private” roads up to reasonable standards.  Less if the owners of the few substandard roads participated.  That can be amortized over 20 years for less than $400,000 a year.


“Private” streets are for the most part small (7 homes) cul de sacs with very light traffic.  Their experience is that they can be maintained for $20,000 per mile; $600,000 if all 30 miles become public.


The total cost, $1 million a year, equates to $140 a year per household for each of Orinda’s 7,000 households; or 40 cents a day.  Compare that to the $550 a year the “private” street residents are paying to repair and maintain the public Residential streets.  If the 1,500 households living on Orinda's "private" streets can afford to pay $550 annually to maintain the public Residential streets; the 5,500 households living on Orinda's public streets can afford to pay $140 a year to convert their neighbors' "private" streets to public.