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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 $600 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.


Prior to 2012 there was little “friction” between the "private" street residents and the rest of Orinda. It cost the average homeowner about $350 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 (with the exception being 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.  In 2014 and 2016, $45 million in bonds were voted for which will ultimately cost the taxpayers $66 million to repay.  And in 2020 the sales tax increased to a full one percent (bringing in $3.9 million a year).


The 2012 sales tax and the 2014 and 2016 road bonds were used to repair 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.  Half of the residents living on "private" streets enter the road system on Collectors or Arterials, completely bypassing the public Residential streets.  The other half of the "private" Street residents do use the public Residential streets to access their streets, but that use is “de minimis”, with the vast majority of the wear and tear resulting from the garbage trucks servicing the homes on those public Residential streets.  "Private" Street residents, in addition to paying to maintain their own streets, are paying significant taxes to maintain their neighbors' streets which they seldom use and lightly impact.


How significant?


The 2012 sales tax brought in $9.5 million over its 8 year term.  Since “private” street households represent 22 percent of Orinda's families, they paid $2.1 million of these taxes.


The 2014 and 2016 road bonds will 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 22% 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.

That is a total of $18.6 million, already paid or committed to, an average of $12,000 for each of the 1,550 families living on "private" streets.

Looking forward, the projection is that it will cost about $1.25 million a year to maintain the 64 miles of public Residential streets ($19,500 per mile).  That is an additional $180 a year per household "private" street residents need to pay to maintain their neighbor's streets, while bearing the full cost of maintaining their own.

There is no way to prevent these costs.  The 2012 sales tax is past and the bonds cannot be restructured.  And there is no way to exempt private street residents from the new sales tax.


What would it cost the rest of Orinda to agree to maintain the existing “private” streets which want to become public streets?  $19,500 a mile.  $585,000 for all 30 miles.  $84 a year (23 cents per day) for each of Orinda's 7,000 families vs. the $180 a year private street residents are paying to maintain public residential streets plus the $12,000 they were committed to for the upfront repairs of those streets.


If these "private" streets become public, two new funding sources are made available.  The first is $2,500 per mile from the County (return-to-source sales tax).  The second is the garbage-impact-fee imposed only on public streets (even though the garbage trucks impact all streets and all household bear the cost).  This could be up to 90% of the cost of maintenance, as that is the impact of garbage trucks on small streets.  This, $17,000 per mile would be added to garbage bills, about $12 per bi-monthly bill.  $72 per household,

This would fully cover the additional cost of maintaining these streets; zero impact on the city's general fund.

In 2017 a group of residents living on private streets started speaking out. Six and half years later they are still attempting to get the City to see that not only is the city perpetuating an inequity, but that it can easily provide a system for streets to be publicly maintained that the City can afford.  

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