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Letter to the Editor: Orinda City Council Candidate Comparison

Patch user Steve Cohn weighs in on the race.

It appears that the candidate postings for Orinda City Council has run its course with 25 comments on Smith's post (none by Smith), 108 for Glazer (25 responses by Glazer), and 179 for Delehunt (32 responses by Delehunt).  On a scale of "being willing to be up front with the voters" Delehunt and Glazer are pretty much tied while Smith is a distant last. 

Being selfish and limited in words here, I am only going to comment on the topics I posed questions to which include (1) Roads (Smith and Glazers main concern when they ran in 2008 both claiming "roads, roads, roads.") and (2) Emergency Services which consume more of Orinda taxpayer dollars than the entire City budget.

I asked the candidates what they thought of the City's Ten-Year Road Plan starting with the Measure L sales tax and continuing in a few years with two $20 million bond measures.

Glazer responded that he hoped the Measure L funds would be used in accordance with the current City policy of focusing on major roads that the great majority of driving is done on however actual allocation would be based on recommendations by the CIOC and discussed publicly.  As for the probability of the bond measures ever passing, he stated "opinion is always changing".

Delehunt said that Measure L will not address the road problem but that the City is suggesting that it will.  That Measure L does not even cover the cost to maintain roads in their current condition.  She further believes that the Ten Year Plan's two bond measures will not pass and thus "there is really NO plan in place to take care of the roads."

I have attended numerous CIOC and other City road meetings over the years and have spent countless hours acquiring and analyzing road data.  Delehunt has it right.  Our City Council (the effort on roads led by Glazer and endorsed by Smith) has failed us.  A fuller discussion on the Ten Year Plan can be found atwww.RoadToNowhere.info.

I also asked all candidates about the recently released Emergency Services Task Force report (www.OrindTaskForce.org) and the City's involvement or lack thereof.

Glazer said "the voters of Orinda created the MOFD. The City Council did not do this" as his way of saying this is the resident's problem, not the City's.  Smith said essentially the same in the press.  He did say "I will closely monitor the direction of the (MOFD) Board."

Delehunt responded " I believe an official Task Force should be appointed by the City Council that would focus on how to better understand how Orinda residents' emergency services needs are being met so that the Council can appropriately represent its residents in this important discussion."

Glazer is wrong: in 1997 the City went to the County and asked permission to form MOFD.  It did take voter approval to actually form MOFD.  On this issue I like Delehunt's willingness to represent Orinda’s emergency services needs.

Carol Penskar October 21, 2012 at 03:20 PM
@ Steve: Charter City/ real estate transfer tax was vetted in the Nov. 2009 FAC report; the 2010 poll and followup; and again in mid-2011 when Lafayette vetted the two topics and then decided not to move forward. Members of the citizens group in Lafayette pushing real estate transfer taxes came and contributed to the 2011 Orinda City Council discussion of it. It also came up later in 2011 when the 2012 poll was being constructed. WRT Benefit Assessment Districts: the City has an policy that it will work with any neighborhood that would like to try this. To my knowledge, none have approached the City. One group approached the Orinda Community Foundation asking if we would be conduit for road repair payments in order to make them tax deductible. We said no, please go talk to the City. The City already has benefit assessment districts and knows how to run them.
Carol Penskar October 21, 2012 at 03:28 PM
@ Steve: WRT "5 cent flyers": Flyers can be legally distributed. For example, they could be placed by home doorways, or handed out in some public locations. It is illegal to use mailboxes for this purpose. Candidates should lead by example and do their homework. Someone has spent money on the Delehunt campaign. There are the signs around town. There are the newspaper ads. There are the flyers. Delehunt declined to form a committee and file campaign reports. The latter are required for contributions, cash and *in-kind*, that exceed $1,000 in total. The signs and the ads and the flyers sure feel like they exceed $1,000 in total. Who is paying for this? Have the requirements of CA campaign disclosure law been met? Again, a candidate should lead by example. And do her homework. (Please see my homework comments above.)
Chris Nicholson October 21, 2012 at 03:30 PM
I am not denying the existence of these projects. And seniors are not the kind of low income I am objecting to. I am merely pointing out the hypocrisy of those who decry insularity/exclusivity and yet chose to live here specifically due to factors that flow from such realities.
Chris Nicholson October 21, 2012 at 03:38 PM
We ge to vote for two, right? I think I will vote for Linda and then write in Carol Penskar.
Steve Cohn October 21, 2012 at 04:27 PM
Me too. Great idea.
Steve Cohn October 21, 2012 at 04:36 PM
1) And the city has done what about these "vetted" options? Nothing. Stuck with the tried and true / guaranteed to fail (but easy to propose and manage) ones. Did not educate the community on the options nor ask their opinion on them. 2) The city does not have a benefit assessment district for roads. The only thing they offer is for neighborhoods to get together and each person can make a voluntary contribution (no requirement to participate) fix the local street. One neighborhood tried and after hundreds of hours of effort by one person raised a fraction of the money needed to fully repair the street. That was a winner.
Carol Penskar October 21, 2012 at 08:53 PM
@Steve: The January 2010 survey did poll on Real Estate Transfer Tax. You can look it up (first Feb meeting in 2010, I believe). It only polled at about 25%. That plus the Lafayette experience plus an unanswered call to Orinda for a group to step up and advocate this led our unpaid Council members to conclude that it was not worth spending time on now. As I mention above, a Lafayette group pursued this with public hearings, a petition, etc. They could not gain enough traction. Our Council would be receptive if an Orinda group came forward, and would certainly provide as much agenda time as necessary to thoroughly vet it (again). Perhaps RETF alumni would like to take this on? If so, start now for the 2014 general election. If Delehunt does not win a seat, perhaps she would like to do this to gain some hands on experience in Orinda. WRT a benefit assessment district for roads: A neighborhood can decide they want to try their own benefit assessment district. Such a group must provide its own leadership and approach the City as an organized entity. If such a group comes forward, the City will work with them to see if it is feasible. In other words, it would be a test case. One problem is that a legal opinion will be required, and the idea of an assessment district for roads might not pass legal muster. But that group that asked for it would have to agree to absorb the exploration costs, even if the test case failed. No such group has come forward.
Steve Cohn October 21, 2012 at 10:11 PM
I am fully aware of how much the community really understands our roads problem. Close to zero other than the fact that a bunch of roads are in terrible condition. The 25% who supported the Real Estate Transfer Tax in 2010 were not told "we have a $5 million per year problem for the next 30 years if we want to fix our roads. This can be solved with a with(A) a $750 per year parcel tax, or (B) a one cent sales tax plus a one time, when you sell your house, transfer tax which the buyer will pay half of. Assuming you want Orinda's roads repaired and maintained, would you choose A or B?" Orinda residents do not understand the problem nor the options. Any survey taken prior to providing them with that information is worthless. Lafayette does not have a $50 million road deficit plus a $1.5 million annual maintenance shortfall. (plus 30 substandard fire hydrants) So what Lafayette is willing to do to maintain itself and what Orinda is willing to do could be different once the residents get told the truth. WRT the Assessment District option. A neighborhood cannot just set up its own Assessment District. The City needs to do this and a single district would be set up for all participating neighborhood with each neighborhood paying its own costs (no more, no less). It sounds like you are suggesting a form of anarchy where everyone solves their own problems. What is the purpose of city leaders again?
Linda Delehunt October 22, 2012 at 12:12 AM
STEVE IS RIGHT AGAIN!!!!!!!!
Carol Penskar October 22, 2012 at 12:28 AM
Linda, According to the State of CA, you are both wrong: http://senweb03.senate.ca.gov/committee/standing/GOVERNANCE/BenefitAssessmentsPublication.pdf
Linda Delehunt October 23, 2012 at 04:38 AM
Carol, Whoops...It looks like we are putting the cart before the horse! No one is formally proposing a Benefit Assessment District. Voters need to weigh in on their current options which are a sales tax measure married to two future bond measures. If voters reject the current options, a Benefit Assessment District might be an option for future consideration, but not without the proper citizen open forum process driving the discussion.
Carol Penskar October 23, 2012 at 05:02 AM
Linda, you certainly are! ("putting the cart before the horse"). And on multiple fronts. I think that an important quality in an elected official is to be well-informed. Particularly so before suggesting that a well-versed community volunteer like me is wrong about a subject on which I have been working for more than 5 years. You didn't do your homework before weighing in. (Again). So here is a suggestion: beware of relying solely on the advice of those pursuing their own particular agendas. I think, frankly, you are being misled on multiple fronts, and it is not to your credit.
Steve Cohn October 24, 2012 at 12:36 PM
Carol: I read the 24 page document you linked (quite a nice explanation of Benefit Assessment Districts - thanks). Please explain what part of it explains how we are "wrong"?
Carol Penskar October 24, 2012 at 04:15 PM
@ Steve: You ask me to tell you where were you wrong? This phrase, that you wrote above: "WRT the Assessment District option. A neighborhood cannot just set up its own Assessment District". The document I posted for you is clear on this point: a neighborhood *can* be an assessment district. The City could do this *now* for any neighborhood that chooses to step forward, as I wrote above. Emphasis on *now.* The 2009 FAC report was also clear on this point. Would you like me to email you a copy? And the CA document hints that this could be used in certain circumstances for roads, but does not say it directly. That is why (as I wrote above) a legal opinion will be required and the neighborhood will need to pay for it without assurance of success. And now I am done with this topic, since you now have in your hands an excellent reference source. Thank you.
Steve Cohn October 26, 2012 at 12:19 PM
Carol: If you are stepping back from the "debate" after throwing the "you're wrong" bomb, I'll make my concluding remarks about assessment districts based on the 24 page document you referenced. The document states there are 30 different laws related to assessment districts and some allow or require petitions by the people. What the petitions require to be accepted, how the City must/can respond, how taxes actually get collected or roads get repaired and maintained, remain completely vague. And you are suggesting this makes it the people's problem and not the City's and I am wrong in thinking that the City's leaders are letting us down by not creating a viable plan for the people because this document shows that the people can take matters into their own hands. The 50% of the population living on the 45 miles of poor and failed roads might as well petition to join the 15% already living on 20 miles of private roads and take the entire issue of repair and maintenance out of the City's hands as it is clear that the City has no idea on how to address the problem. Or elect a person with different ideas, like Delehunt, who is willing to try something new even though it might require some real work to explain, implement and manage as opposed just going back to the old ideas that all indications are will fail. End of discussion; as you wish.
Don't Tell Me What To Do October 26, 2012 at 02:00 PM
You have several council members who are poorly informed on several issues. Why make being "well-informed" an important requirement now?
Steven Glazer October 27, 2012 at 03:59 AM
Steve, I hesitate to respond given that you oppose my election as well as measure L. I do believe you care a lot about our city and want what is best. I am grateful. So to be real, let me say that your analysis is so wrong. Voters are never given choice of alternatives as you suggest. They can vote up or down on a specific proposal. In my experience, they can say no to one proposal even when they don't like the consequences. It happens all the time. There is no legal basis for presenting an 'A' or 'B' proposal as you suggest. Name a city anywhere in California where your utopian idea has any legal implementation ( beyond an unenforceable advisory vote)?
Steven Glazer October 27, 2012 at 04:11 AM
My second observation is that you believe the past (actions, votes, opinions) are guarantees for future behavior. When I was young I always hoped that I could afford a nice car but I didn't have the money. Does that mean I would never be able to buy my dream car? Of course not. I have worked hard in the proceeding years and my definition of affordability changes. You believe that if 64% of Orinda voters said no to a complete $60 million or so fix fours years ago that in the future they will never have a different opinion. And if in the future they were presented with a choice of a third of that amount ( a $20 million bond or parcel tax) that they will vote the same way as the larger amount presented years earlier. We will have to respectfully disagree on this.
Steven Glazer October 27, 2012 at 04:28 AM
Part 3: Finally, let me suggest an observation about our different life experiences. There are many different circumstances that we encounter in life that confound our 'logical' sense. For example, When our car starts skidding to the right due to speed and road conditions, we want to naturally turn the wheel to the left. Yet professional drivers have learned to resist this logical response as disastrous. In order to regain control, it is is better to go right with the wheels before slowing and turning left. Your concern for the wellbeing of our town is without question. But your thoughtful opinions do not match the experiences of others who actually have expertise in this exact area. That doesn't make the turn of the wheel less stressful. But we all need to carefully understand our experiences in order to reach a safe and secure place. Best regards.
Steve Cohn October 27, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Steve G - I am all for optimism but I think that we need a touch of realism too. In 2007 64% voted for a $60 million bond. Math tells us that it will cost $4 million per year for 30 years to pay off a $60 million bond. That equates to $600 per household. If I remember correctly, voters were told back then that this bond would only cost about $150 per household. Maybe 64% voted for it because they were sold a dream rather than be hit with the cold, hard facts of reality. The latest survey said only 26% would support $600 per year while 77% consider our roads a major problem. How do you bring those two together? That is the job of our leaders. Dream-based leadership, hoping that the 26% will increase to 67% in four years, is too much for this realist to swallow.
Steven Glazer October 29, 2012 at 01:43 AM
It would not be accurate to label my analysis as 'optimistic'. There are a lot of elements in determining success at the ballot - economy, affordability, compelling need, trust, etc. Each voter decides what's important and it can change. I am a realist about these things. I've noticed that you don't address any of my points above, but instead you raise 'new' concerns. This moving target leaves the impression that you are continuing to search for reasons to be opposed. Ok, that is your right. I don't believe your memory is correct about the fiscal cost of the last ballot measure. My recollection is the City never codified the cost to a resident because the actual cost is different for everyone based on their home's assessed valuation (always changing), bond interest rate, loan date, etc. Once again, you assert a false fact and then build a faulty conclusion. The 10-year road plan offers alternatives on the timing and amounts of funding for stages 2 and 3. Currently our school parcel tax is $505. It was not approved by the voters at once. Rather, it rose to this level in 3 different ballots over approximately ten years. The proposed road plan is similar. The Road plan suggests that stage two be either a $19.8 million bond or parcel tax. This is not the $60 million measure you use to justify your loaded conclusion.
Carol Penskar October 29, 2012 at 02:17 AM
Steve Cohn: On a separate but quite related topic: I think the Nov. 18 2008 RETF Report, as Mayor Glazer says, also asserts "a false fact and then build(s) a faulty conclusion." The false facts were two: (1) That MOFD revenues would continue to increase at 7.0%. Zillow shows that Orinda home values were already into roughly a two year decline at that time (2) That MOFD costs could be contained in relation to revenues. This completely ignores the labor contract in place at the time. (And still in place). The faulty conclusion in that RETF report is that property tax growth would continue indefinitely at 7% and that expenses could be capped at 4.5% growth per annum and that this would generate, according to the RETF report, an extra "$50 million plus over 12 years." ((Page 1 of Exhibit B.) Thorough research into the trend of home values and even a cursory reading of the labor contract would have shown that "$50 million plus" was a faulty conclusion based on false facts. Indeed, as I have written many times, we will be lucky to escape fire service cuts. There clearly is no money there for roads. So, four years later, Orinda needs to move on.
Steve Cohn October 29, 2012 at 03:05 AM
This is from the March 2007 issue of the Orinda News. "According to the city staff report, the median value of a home in Orinda was $458,424 (based on the 2005-2006 secured assessment roll of the Contra Costa County Assessor) - far below the average sales price most homes in Orinda would bring if sold on the market today. Therefore, longtime homeowners would would pay significantly less than recent buyers. The estimated cost per $100,000 is approximately $33." My calculator says that $33 per $100,000 times $458,424 is $151.28. I'll send your re-election a campaign a check for the $1.58 error. As for my $60 million cost being "loaded". The current cost estimate for poor and failed roads is "only" $52 million but now we know we have a $2.5 million annual maintenance bill on top of that and only $1 million to cover it. In total, it would cost $5 million to cover this and thus a $4 million shortfall. This is reality. I apologize for being the ugly realist but that's how we engineers are.
Steven Glazer October 29, 2012 at 03:46 AM
I'm enjoying the World Series but have been able to access the official ballot pamphlet info on the 2007 measure. Here is the link: http://www.cocovote.us/getdocument.aspx?id=27 You will see that the analysis does not suggest a specific cost. Rather it identifies the low and high cost based on assessed valuation, bond amount, interest rate and timing. These estimates range from $15.04 to $53.35 per $100,000 of assessed valuation. First I will post the ballot question and then I will paste in the official ballot language info. BOND MEASURE E CITY OF ORINDA Orinda Roads, Drains and Water Supply Bond Measure. To implement the Orinda Infrastructure Finance Plan which will provide funds to repair damaged roads, collapsing drains, and inadequate water supply, shall the City of Orinda issue fifty eight point six million dollars in bonds, requiring an annual independent audit, requiring monitoring by an independent citizens oversight committee and mandating that bond proceeds will only be spent to improve Orinda streets, storm drains and water supply?
Steven Glazer October 29, 2012 at 03:48 AM
TAX RATE STATEMENT FOR BOND MEASURE E An election will be held in the City of Orinda (the “City”) on June 5, 2007, to authorize the sale of up to $58,600,000 in general obligation bonds of the City to finance roads, storm drains and water supply improvements. If the bonds are approved, the City expects to sell the bonds in three series. Principal and interest on the bonds will be payable from the proceeds of tax levies made upon the taxable property in the City. The following information is provided in compliance with Sections 9400-9404 of the Elections Code of the State of California. 1. The best estimate of the tax which would be required to be levied to fund this bond issue during the first fiscal year after the sale of the first series of bonds, based on estimated assessed valuations at the time of filing of this statement, is one and a half cents per $100 ($15.04 per $100,000) of assessed valuation in fiscal year 2008-09. 2. The best estimate of the tax rate which would be required to be levied to fund this bond issue during the first fiscal year after the sale of the last series of bonds, based on estimated assessed valuations at the time of filing of this statement, is five and three-tenths cents per $100 ($53.35 per $100,000) of assessed valuation in fiscal year 2013-14.
Steven Glazer October 29, 2012 at 03:52 AM
3. The best estimate of the highest tax rate which would be required to be levied to fund this bond issue, based on estimated assessed valuations at the time of filing of this statement, is five and three-tenths cents per $100 ($53.35 per $100,000) of assessed valuation in fiscal year 2013-14. Voters should note that estimated tax rates are based on the ASSESSED VALUE of taxable property on the County’s official tax rolls, not on the property’s market value, which could be more or less than the assessed value. Attention of all voters is directed to the fact that the foregoing information is based upon the City’s projections and estimates only, which are not binding upon the City. The actual tax rates and the years in which they will apply may vary from those presently estimated, due to variations from these estimates in the timing of bond sales, the amount of bonds sold at any given sale, market interest rates at the time of each bond sale, and actual assessed valuations over the term of repayment of the bonds. The actual dates of sale of said bonds and the amount sold at any given time will be determined by the City based on need for construction funds and other factors.
Steven Glazer October 29, 2012 at 03:55 AM
The actual interest rates at which the bonds will be sold will depend on the bond market at the time of each sale. Actual future assessed valuation will depend upon the amount and value of taxable property within the City as determined by the County Assessor in the annual assessment and the equalization process. Dated: March 9, 2007. Radha Wood Finance Director City of Orinda
Steven Glazer October 29, 2012 at 03:57 AM
Go Giants!!!
Linda Delehunt October 29, 2012 at 09:06 PM
Steve Cohn that is... :)
Steve Cohn October 30, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Steve G - Appreciate the data and it appears that we basically agree; the projected cost for $60 million of borrowing in 2007 was a great deal that probably cannot be duplicated. I stated that part of the reason 64% of the voters approved of 2007's Measure E $60 million bond measure was that it would only cost them $150 per year. You replied the City never codified the cost to a resident. I found an Orinda News article stating Measure E would cost the average resident $150 (based on a $450,000 average assessed value and a bond cost of $33 per $100,000 valuation). You found the actual ballot language giving the cost to be $53 per $100,000, not $33, resulting in a cost per home of $240. (How 6,600 homes paying $240 per year, $1.6 million total, could pay off a $60 million bond costing $3 million annually in interest is another question.) Compare this to the current ten year plan of a sales tax ($100 per year per household) plus two $20 million bonds ($200 per year per household each), resulting in a total cost of $500 per household; twice as much as 2007's estimated costs. I still believe, with the projection that all of our major roads being repaired by 2017 when they were uniformly in terrible condition in 2007, that a 2/3 vote on twice the cost is so unlikely that to plan on it is unreasonable optimism on your part and to make that the backbone of a long term repair and maintenance plan is irresponsible.

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