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FAQ

Q: Isn’t downtown fine as it is?

A: This observation had more validity 25 years ago. Judging by the comments made by many signers of the recent citizen petition to the Orinda City Council to get on with renewal, most Orindans recognize that it could be so much better. Downtown is tired and lacking in vitality. The condition of our commercial buildings has much to do with it. Orinda needs to begin a process of preserving what should be preserved and renewing what needs to be renewed. There is much anecdotal evidence from realtors that Orinda homeowner property values have declined in value relative to Lafayette’s in recent years. Realtors often say that young families are willing to pay more for a home in Lafayette because of its more vibrant downtown.

Q: Does OrindaVision propose high-rise, high-density housing in downtown?

A: OrindaVision does not advocate high rise buildings, but does favor a limited amount of high quality market rate housing to stimulate vitality in downtown and meet the demand of Orindans who want to downsize. To accomplish this, the permitted residential density needs to be increased from the present 10 units per acre to 25 units per acre in the commercial districts. This increase in density would enable parking to be underground and out of sight and can be generally accomplished within existing Orinda height limits.

Q: Does OrindaVision favor a vote on downtown?

A: Communities do from time to time put significant planning issues to a vote. When a city council is engaged in moving its downtown forward, according to a sensible downtown plan, the need for a public vote in the normal course is rare.

Q: Why did OrindaVision oppose the Montessori School project?

A: Orinda’s General Plan does not permit pre-schools in the commercial districts. The Council was correct in its decision to deny the requested exception. The Phairs’ site in particular would not have been practical for a pre-school. Parking and traffic issues raised concerns for the safety of children arriving and departing. The only outdoor play space was on the roof of the building. The use would have conflicted with neighboring commercial uses and would not have contributed to the economic vitality of a downtown sorely in need of the vitality that pedestrian shoppers can bring.  A pre-school use of this site would have been a bad planning decision and a bad fiscal decision for the City.

Q: Do we want Orinda to become another Lafayette or Walnut Creek?

A: We need Orinda solutions to Orinda’s planning issues. We have all the talent we need within the Orinda community to decide on what a much improved downtown would look like. The City needs to engage that talent.

Q: Does OrindaVision favor a transit village on the BART property?

A: Many Orindans lament the division of our downtown by Highway 24 and the BART line. To remedy this division, OrindaVision favors a multi-use development of the 20 acre BART property, with predominantly office use (not a residential transit village), with a new pedestrian bridge over BART and Highway 24. We believe that if designed properly it would contribute to the enhancement Orinda’s village character. Such a development would provide the means to connect the two “half-downtowns”, would contribute substance and vitality to our listless commercial districts and would enable the addition of more parking for BART commuters.

Q: Why do you propose an Urban Land Institute Technical Assistance Panel?

A: There is much we could learn from the experience of other Bay Area cities. The expert panelists that ULI recruits to its Technical Assistance Panels volunteer their time to study issues the host city wishes them to address. They bring objective, specific competence. They solicit input from all the stakeholders. The cost to the host city is minimal. A ULI panel would be an excellent way to start a long-stalled civic conversation on a plan for the future of downtown.

Q: Who is going to pay for the renewal you propose?

A: Unlike fixing our roads, private sector financing arranged by the property owners will pay for for the vast majority of the costs associated with downtown improvements. In addition there are public grants available to the City of Orinda to help pay for planning and infrastructure costs.

Q: What’s wrong with shopping in Lafayette?

A:  Nothing. But many Orindans would like better choices in Orinda and many would like their sales tax dollars to benefit Orinda to a greater extent.

Q: Are increased sales taxes associated with a revitalized downtown going to help Orinda’s budget that much?

A: Orinda needs revenue from a variety of sources. The primary source of enhanced revenue to the City, the school district, and the fire district related to renewal or redevelopment would be from increased property taxes, not from sales taxes.

Q: Isn’t renewal going to drive out our favorite merchants?

A: Not at all.  But this is one of the reasons for a downtown plan. . A good plan will accommodate the needs of Orinda’s merchants. The average retail tenant lease is 5-7 years. Most tenants need to adjust the size of their space from time to time and are willing to relocate to obtain space more suitable to their needs.

Q: Are your dessert & coffee events closed to the public?

A: These events are in private homes by invitation of the hosts who are happy to accommodate friends and neighbors interested in a conversation on the future of downtown.

Q: How does OrindaVision come by all of its insider information?

A: OV has no “insider information”. We bring our past experience in development and care about the future of downtown Orinda. We attend public meetings of the City Council and relevant commissions and pay attention. We avail ourselves of the numerous reports available on the city’s website, including financial statements, budgets and city agendas, especially those of the Planning Commission. In addition, OrindaVision Steering Committee members serve or have served in many civic volunteer positions, including the city’s Finance Advisory Committee, the roads campaign committees, the Board of the Orinda Community Foundation, Friends of the Creeks, leadership positions in local churches, on homeowner association boards, on parent club boards, campaigns for school tax measures and in youth sports organizations.

Q: Isn’t OrindaVision “made up of or beholden to developer interests”?  

A: No. Orinda Vision Steering Committee Members are volunteers with no connection to, or funding from, developers.  We want well planned, well designed, superior quality renewal to happen and are interested in attracting high caliber developers with proven track records to Orinda.

Q: Aren’t you really in it just for the money?

A: OrindaVision Steering Committee members seek no financial gain from possible future development. We are volunteers who would only benefit from downtown renewal to the extent that other Orindans would benefit. We are interested in a better downtown for our children and grandchildren.

Q: Should city officials ever even be talking with developers?

A: Of course they should. One of the primary duties of City officials is planning for the future of their city. Real estate developers are in the business of creating the environments of the future.

Q: What do you think of the Monteverde Senior Apartments by Eden Housing?

A: A tour through Monteverde reveals an exceptionally well-designed building. Perhaps its elevation could have been stepped back a bit from Orinda Way, but the site vegetation is already helping it to settle in on its site. The project has won a significant number of industry and design awards and has broadened the housing stock in Orinda. It is recognized as one of the highest quality below-market-rate housing developments in Northern California. It is an excellent location for seniors and a welcome diversification of Orinda’s housing stock.

 

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