How do I get the City Council to act on this issue? By telling them that they need to treat everyone in Orinda equally; including how they allocate our tax dollars for road maintenance. You can most effectively do this by joining your neighbors by signing up for our mailing list. In addition, you might call (253-4200), write (22 Orinda Way) or email members of the City Council.
How many private streets are there in Orinda? There are 204 private streets with over 1,350 homes on those streets; about 20 percent of Orinda’s residents.
What can private streets do that public streets can’t? The main right of a private street is to deny public access (put up a gate). However, some private streets (Wilder streets for instance) do not even have that right; they have to provide public access. It should be noted that to our knowledge, of the 204 private streets in Orinda, only South Donald Drive and Rich Acres are gated.
Can a private street get public funds for maintenance? The answer appears to be yes but under the current City policy, it would be very difficult. (1) There are three streets in Orindawoods which are private but the City maintains them (Ridge Gate, Village Gate and Watchwood). How this came about is unknown. (2) The city does have a policy, adopted in 1990, by which a private street can petition to become public. However, the policy makes it virtually imposible for most private streets to “qualify” as a street needs to be a "through street" which excludes 90 percent (27 miles) of Orinda's private streets (and would also exclude 180 public streets). To our knowledge, no street has ever been qualified. Starting in April 2017, "upper" Mira Loma has been requesting public status but, to date, the City has made no viable effort accept its petition.
What retrictions would be put on private streets if the city agreed to maintain them? This is unknown. The city has started a review of its policy towards private streets. The City Council has taken the first steps to form a Task Force to review the issue but to date it has not been formed. It is not unreasonable to assume that if the city did provide public funds for the maintenance of a private street, assuming the street did not literally become a public street, the private street would have to guarantee public access.
Can the City force our street to become a Public Street? No. There are federal, state and local laws and court cases supporting the rights of private property owners retaining their rights. This is a link to one discussion of this issue. In addition, it is hard to believe that the City would force a street to be publicly owned so that the City could pay to maintain it if this was against the wishes of the residents of that street. It has been an uphill battle to get the City to even discuss the issue of maintaining private streets for streets that are requesting that service. If a street did not want to be maintained by the City the City would say “fine and thank you” and collect taxes to maintain the streets that did want to be maintained by the City.
Are the recently elected new tax fundings (Orinda half cent sales tax and $45 million of road bonds) available for private streets? No. These were sold to the voters as money to rehabilitate Orinda’s 64 miles of public residential streets. It is not supposed to be used for Orinda’s 29 miles major streets either; the arterials and collectors. These new taxes will cost the taxpayers about $70 million over the next 20 years as the bonds are paid off. This equates to $10,000 per household. Every property owner, whether on a public street and receiving benefit or on a private street and not receiving benefit will pay this $10,000; averaging $500 per year.
How are the major streets repaired if not by these funds? Orinda’s road policy dedicates three funding sources for street maintenance and repair (state gas tax, county Measure J sales tax, and garbage franchise fees) to the exclusive use of the major streets. In fact, after the new sales tax and bond funds are used up to bring the public residential streets up to reasonable standards (2019), there will be no money to maintain them.
So if there is no money to repair either public or private residential streets, how can the city change its policy to fund the maintenance of private streets? The city would either have to reallocate existing funds (from its major expense, the police force, or use park and rec fees for something other than park and rec activities), or develop new funding source for long range maintenance of its infrastructure. This new funding source would most likely be a new tax. If the city offered to share this tax with the private street holders, in all likelihood they would support it and the tax would pass. The CIOC, in its latest revision of the Road and Drainage Repairs Plan, informed the City that it would have to raise an additional $2.5 million annually to adequately maintain the public residential streets it has spent over $50 million repairing. It has been estimated that it could cost as little as an additional $300,000 per year (12 cents per day per household) to maintain the 30 miles of private streets.
Are there other tax revenues available for the private streets? Maybe. Some of the state gas tax and county Measure J sales tax may be allocated based on the miles of roads the city maintains. If the city paid to maintain the 30 miles of private streets, its tax receipts could increase by as much as $300,000 annually. The private street holders cannot access this money, tax dollars they are already paying, on their own. Only the city can be awarded these funds and only if it changes its street maintenance policy.
How much do private street residents pay to maintain the public streets? The State gas tax, County Measure J sales tax and garbage franchise fees all go to maintain the major streets everyone uses. However, the 1/2 cent sales tax and road bonds are used solely for the residential streets which are not used by everyone. The Sales Tax produces about $1 million per year, an average of about $150 per household. The $45 million in road bonds will cost about $65 million to repay, an average of $3.25 million per year for 20 years. This is paid as an "ad valorem" tax based on assessed value. Orinda's total property tax base is $6.5 billion. Thus the bond payments cost about $50 per $100,000 of assessed value. Since the average home is assessed at $900,000, the average bond cost per home is $450 per year. So, every homeowner, on private and public streets, are paying $600 per year to maintain the public residential streets. But the CIOC has told the City that it needs to raise an additional $1.5 million per year (and renew the sales tax) to maintain these streets. That is an additional $200 per household for a total of $800 per year.
How much do private street residents use the public residential streets? Very Little. In the campaigns for the sales tax and road bonds voters were told that everyone uses the public residential streets. This is not true. None of the 15 percent of Orinda who live on the major streets use the public residential streets except to visit friends but since everyone pays to maintain the major streets, it is only fair that the residents on the major streets fund the other streets, even though they may not use them (that is what a community is all about). In addition, 50 percent of those living on private streets never use the public residential streets except, again, to visit their friends. They people access the Orinda road system directly into one of the major streets which everyone funds. The other half of the private road residents do use the public residential streets to access their private streets, but only half of the public residential streets act as "feeders" to the private streets and other public streets. The other half, 180 publicly maintained residential streets, are cul-de-sacs, just like 90 percent of the private streets. They only serve residents, their visiting friends and their service providers, just like the private streets. And yet we are paying half of $800 per year each to maintain them.
How much will it cost to maintain the private streets? Very Little. There are 30 miles of private streets. Some of these will probably wish to maintain their private status even if the community agreed to pay for their maintenance. The CIOC told the City that it will cost $2.5 million a year to maintain Orinda's 64 miles of public streets; $40,000 per mile. There are those on the CIOC who believe this number is too high. Also, as half of these streets are through streets, they get more traffic (and thus more wear and tear) than the lightly used cul-de-sacs, such as comprise 90 percent of the private streets. One HOA, with well-maintained streets budgets $20,000 per mile. This seems reasonable and would result in a total cost of $600,000. State and County funding and the "dropping out" of some streets could easily bring that number down to $500,000. That is equivalent to $70 per household for Orinda's 7,000 households which is equivalent to 20 cents a day. Recall, the private street residents are paying $800 per year to support the public residential streets that, for the most part, they do not use.
How does the additional cost to maintain private streets compare to Orinda's total street maintenance cost? Orinda's major streets currently cost $1 million per year to repair and maintain. But the CIOC reports that the City needs to raise another $22 million to complete its Ten Year Road and Drainage Repairs Plan, mostly to be used for storm drains. This will cost an additional $1.7 million per year to repay. The $45 million in existing road bonds will cost $3.25 million per year to repay. The public residential streets will cost $2.5 million per year to maintain. That is a total of $8.5 million per year. The addition of $500,000 so that the obligation to maintain all city streets falls on the shoulders of all city taxpayers does not seem unreasonable.
Would private streets be forced to become public streets? No. If a private street wanted its maintenance to be publicly funded, it might have to become a public street (land title passed to the City). However, it is just as likely that all a private street would have to do to obtain public maintenance funding would be to grant public access to the street (no gates or signs). In no case would the City force any private street to become a public street (there are laws prohibiiting this).