2014 Orinda City Council: different year, same disappointment

orinda city councilThe same Orinda City Council members who ran Orinda in 2012 and 2013 will be back again in 2014. Over the last two years, Orinda’s City Council has made plans to change the look of Orinda so drastically that long-time residents may not recognize their city. One Orinda resident has lamented of the new city council, “same disappointment, different year.”

Orinda City Council

Orinda’s mayor rotates among city council members. The new mayor will be Sue Severson. The new vice mayor will be Steve Glazer. Other members of the council are Amy Worth, Victoria Smith, and Dean Orr. Ms. Worth was mayor in 2013.

In a January 2012 survey of Orinda’s voters, 98 percent of Orindans gave their city high marks. The survey, conducted by the FM3 company of Oakland, said that only Malibu, California, and one other city have received such favorable ratings.

Since that survey was completed, the Orinda City Council has approved several major changes — changes that ultimately will alter Orinda environment forever.

On Jan. 25, 2013, ground-breaking took place on a senior citizens center. The center is now being built at 2 Irwin Way, across the street from the Orinda Safeway and Citibank. The center will have 67 apartments and about 30 parking spaces. The center is being constructed in the heart of downtown, where traffic and parking are horrendous. In 2012, the city council unanimously approved the project.

On July 18, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area governments (ABAG) voted for Plan Bay Area, a scheme that will permit Orinda and other cities to construct high-rise, high-density housing (called stack-and-pack housing) near such transit hubs as BART stations.

Ms. Worth, Orinda’s mayor in 2013, is also the chairperson of MTC. For her Orinda work, Ms. Worth receives no compensation. With MTC, she receives over $14,000 per year.

If the interests of Orinda and MTC diverge, would Ms. Worth have a conflict of interest? How can she serve two masters — one which pays her and one which does not — at the same time?

In November 2013, the Orinda City Council approved a plan to construct subsidized, low-income housing in Orinda. The plan is called the Housing Element. In Orinda, somewhere between 200 and 500 low-income units are to be built.

The Orinda City Council Housing Element will allow construction of housing units for “extremely low” income individuals. According to an Orinda City Council Staff Report dated Oct. 1, 2013, “extremely low” income is defined as $26,790 per year.

The Orinda’s City Manager’s office has not said how the income of low-income people will be verified or calculated. Specifically, Orinda has not said if it will examine a person’s last two years of federal tax returns(!)

– assuming such return exist — to verify income. In addition, Orinda has not stated if low-income individuals receive non-taxable forms of extra income such as food stamps, housing assistance (often called Section 8 money), utility allowances, or other benefits.

Without verification or proper calculation of income of allegedly poor people, low-income individuals may actually be middle-income people.

The senior citizens center at 2 Irwin Way currently has a crane protruding high into the air. The crane exceeds Orinda’s height limit of 35 feet.

With more cranes for new construction presumably coming to Orinda, the city may look more like Berlin, Germany, where huge construction projects and plenty of cranes dominate the German capital’s skyline. In a few months or years, Orinda may be another Berlin.

Over 1,000 Orindans have signed a petition objecting to how Orinda is governed and may look in the future. No one knows if the new Orinda City Council will pay attention to this petition.

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