Orinda housing element under fire at public hearing


With the city’s housing element under fire, screaming and shouting erupted in staid Orinda on Thursday evening, June 26. The commotion occurred at a citywide meeting to discuss the construction of special housing, in Orinda, for low-income individuals.

The meeting was held in the auditorium of the Orinda Public Library.

At 6 P.M., a representative of a consulting firm began a speech to explain what is called the Housing Element, a plan to build, in Orinda, hundreds of new homes for low-income residents. As the speaker started her talk, she was vehemently heckled by audience members.

Audience members demanded an opportunity to ask questions. As the speaker continued to talk, more and more heckling took place.

Some audience members claimed that they were being censored. One member screamed: “We pay the taxes. Why can’t we ask questions.”

Another participant demanded that Orindans have an opportunity to vote on the Housing Element.

sue-severson-orinda-housing-elementPresent in the front row of the audience was an unsmiling Sue Severson, the mayor of Orinda. Severson, along with the other four members of the city council, voted to approve a previous Housing Element. That project will not only allow construction of low-income housing but also permit residents to construct Second Units, which are much like guest cottages, on their properties. Orinda will permit low-income individuals to move into these Second Units.

One person present in the audience asked why Orinda did not favor giving low-income individuals cash grants, allowing these individuals to decide where to live. The questioner wanted to know what would happen if Orinda built hundreds of units of low-income housing and no one moved in.

Over the last four years, many Orindans have become frustrated over their inability to find a city council responsive to their requests.

In recent years, parking has become hard to find in Orinda. Traffic congestion, which has been prevalent for years, has become worse.

One major complaint of Orindans is that the city council has approved the construction of buildings that violate the city’s downtown height limit of 35 feet. On Jan. 25, 2013, ground-breaking occurred on a 67-unit senior citizens center that will have about 30 parking spaces. The center will exceed the 35-foot height limit. The city council unanimously approved construction of the center, which is being built at 2 Irwin Way (across the street from the Orinda Safeway). The center is expected to be finished this year.

Between 2012 and 2013 burglaries soared in Orinda. In 2012, there were 56 burglaries; the 2013 figure was 86. Thus, the burglary rate soared by 54 percent.

At a discussion session following the interrupted speech, one Orinda resident said that the workshop itself was a “ploy” to show that the Orinda is listening to its residents. This resident, who refused to give his name, claimed that the Orinda City Council has already made up its mind to proceed with the new Housing Element. This resident said that the Thursday night event reminded him of Judge Roland Freisler’s show trials in Nazi Germany in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Judge Freisler held special trials for Germans accused of anti-Nazi behavior. At the trials, verdicts were established in advance and individuals convicted of anti-Nazi behavior were summarily executed.

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2 thoughts on “Orinda housing element under fire at public hearing”

  1. The growth limitation initiatives approved by voters are getting in the way of California’s land use planners’ war on suburbs. High-rise, high-density development – particularly for housing – is the favored model of today’s urban planners. Single-family suburban homes with real backyards are viewed as wasting space, to be reserved for the wealthy or, better yet, razed to make way for high-rise apartments.

    Other Bay Area cities are experiencing similar disconnect between the decisions elected officials make and what residents want. In many cases involving land use issues, City Councils govern “representative government in-name-only.”

    Elsewhere on this blog, the concerns of Pleasant Hill residents are detailed re that city’s willful disregard of building height and density limits set forth in the General Plan and zoning ordinance. These limits were adopted ~ 30 years ago via an initiative that was overwhelmingly passed by voters.

    Those seeking to maintain the low-rise, low-density quiet character of our suburban communities must fight back against elected officials who are more focused on short-term political gain vs. long-term impacts on residents.

    Any law enforcement officers will attest to the fact that high-rise, high-density developments designed as low-income housing will be magnets for crime activity — particularly gang-related crime. These developments put pressure on law enforcement agencies and schools and add traffic congestion and parking problems (these developments are always under-parked). These projects disturb the peace of our suburban neighborhoods by creating these adverse impacts.

    This November would be a good time for residents to express their views at the ballot box.

  2. A small group of angry, shrill, residents tried very hard to disrupt and sabotage the meeting. They failed. It was an embarrassing spectacle that disgusted many people in that room.

    If last night’s meeting reminded some of Nazi Germany, trials and executions, I would say they have definitely lost the plot.

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