Orinda’s Road to Ruin

Whatever you might think of the timing of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s report on the state of Bay Area roads (Pre-election gambit? Sneaky number-crunching? Coded love song to Lesley Gore? Hey, it could happen.), one anomaly definitely stood out. The city of Orinda, that tony ‘burb of arroyos, hot tubs, and millionaires, has the fourth-worst roads in the Bay Area. They’re even worse than broke-ass Oakland, where decades of heavy industry and diesel truck traffic ground up the streets and the tax rolls were never close to healthy. How, exactly, can one of the richest cities in California be too poor to repair its roads? Let’s say it all together: Proposition 13.

According to Orinda city manager Janet Keeter, Orinda’s roads were never well kept to begin with; in fact, when the city finally incorporated in 1985, the county’s public works department celebrated because “they were so pleased to be finally rid of Orinda.” But because Orinda residents almost never sell their homes (and really, would you if you lived there?), Proposition 13 has capped the property taxes of a much higher percentage of residents than in other cities. You have to sell your home before the county can reassess the value for tax purposes, and as a result, the city is perpetually starved of property tax revenue.

According to several news accounts, the Contra Costa Association of Realtors lists Orinda’s median home price at $1.2 million, making it the ninth richest city in California. But according to Keeter, for tax purposes, the median assessed value of an Orinda home is just $458,427. There’s no sales tax revenue, since Orinda is the ultimate bedroom community. As a result, the city’s annual budget is just $9 million, one-third of which is dedicated to infrastructure repair and maintenance. “It is an affluent community,” Keeter says. “But when you actually look at the property tax base, it’s actually qutie surprising. … Many homes are what we call pre-Proposition 13.”

This November, Orinda voters will be asked to approve Measure Q, a $59.1 million bond package to do the road repair work property taxes pay for in a sane system. You know, the ones that operate in every other state in the union. Thanks again, Howard Jarvis!


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