New Thursday Night Street Feast kicks off August 17th!

Hope you're hungry!

Starting August 17th, Taste of the World will host a Street Feast every Thursday night in Orinda, featuring yummy food trucks, live music, and cornhole. Trucks will fire up in the Orinda Community Center parking lot from 5 to 9 pm with tables and live music on the Library Plaza. Come sample delicacies from the following purveyors at the very first Street Feast!

  • Copper Skillet on Wheels - all American fare
  • Drewski’s Hot Rod Kitchen - hot sandwiches
  • Southern Comfort Kitchen - cajun/creole cuisine
  • Golden Gate Gyro - halal truck
  • Street Steam Bunz - fresh, gourmet Asian food
  • Got Italian Ice - gluten-free and dairy-free dessert
  • The Guzzler Bar on Wheels - draft beer and wine
  • Tunes by DJ Bizkit

Trucks and music will rotate every Thursday, but will always consist of 5-6 savory options, a dessert truck and The Guzzler pouring microbrews and wine on tap. 

We are big fans of food trucks and the fun sense of community that a vibrant night market can create. We hope you'll join us and invite your friends from nearby communities. The city is piloting the program through October, at which point it will decide whether to make this an ongoing event. 

See you at the Street Feast!

Food Truck Night Market, coming Thursdays to Orinda!

With WUDO’s support, Orinda will be embarking on a new weekly Thursday Night Food Truck Market from Taste of the World. Every Thursday starting in mid-August, seven food trucks will pull up to the community center from 5-9 PM and the Library plaza will be buzzing with live music, cornhole and socializing al fresco! Walk from BART after work, or bring your family and friends for dinner and drinks.

Taste of the World partners with 60+ different trucks, so offerings will rotate weekly and range from pizza and ceviche to gelato to tacos and more. Craft beer and wine will be flowing from The “Guzzler”. We hope you’ll come join in a fun new Orinda tradition.

More details about the start date to follow!

Which comes first? Vibrancy or investment?

chicken egg 2.jpg

With property owner investment in Orinda’s disfuctional downtown quite a way off, we have shifted our focus to some potentially low-hanging fruit. We call these our what ifs:

What if local businesses were alerted when special events are taking place so they could take advantage of potential extra business? For example, back to back weekend dance recitals just came through the Orinda Library Auditorium. Cafe Teatro had its usual business hours when they could have stayed open later and/or added staff during performance times. For further example, two Orinda teens organized their 4th Annual Breast Cancer Walk for Awareness departing from the de Laveaga Train Depot on Mother’s Day. What if businesses in Theater Square and/or the Crossroads got involved?

What if we hosted a Three Bears bike race that started and ended downtown, named after the popular 19-mile loop that draws hundreds of cyclists through Orinda regularly? Baby bear loop for little ones? Goldilocks beer tent for grown-ups?

Speaking of beer, what if we grabbed Orinda Historical Society's list of Orinda's landmarks (the Casa, the Theater, the old bridge, etc.) to create a "pub crawl"-type community event? Titled "Site to Site, Drink a Pint".......who's in?

What if McCaulou's Village Square wasn't a ghost town on Sundays? Kudos to Orinda Books and Village Cafe for bravely staying open and breathing some life into that corner of our town. Bonus what if: what if (gasp!) McCaulou's moved their furniture out of the vacant space at the end and tried to find a tenant?

What if Orinda hosted a weekly or monthly food truck event on the Library Plaza? Off The Grid reached out to Drummond Buckley, our intrepid Planning Director, about this months ago. He followed up with enthusiasm but then it fizzled on the OTG end. Currently we have reached out to Taste of the World Market and a meeting is set including our new Parks & Rec guru, Todd Trimble. Fingers crossed!

What if Orinda restaurants connected to CalShakes to promote themselves?

What if someone bought a plot of land in Orinda and built us our own Westbrae Biergarten? Something open, visible and community-building...and called it de Laveaga Biergarten. Or something. Just spit-ballin' here...

What if we put the space in front of the Library parking structure to good use and built a dog park over half or some portion of it? 

What if the idea for a temporary outdoor "living room" on a quiet stretch (i.e. Avenida de Orinda or the aforementioned area adjacent to the Library parking structure), complete with astroturf, ping pong tables and more, became a reality? 

What if there was a better way to enhance and promote the existing events Orinda has that bring people downtown? The 4th of July Parade is perhaps our greatest success. But we also have the Farmers Market, Orinda Action Day, Concerts in the Park, Movies in the Park, Classic Car show, Lamorinda Idol, Restaurant Tour, Lamorinda Arts Council events, Library events, and yet residents are finding reasons not to bother.

What if we create vibrancy, and that vibrancy begets investment downtown??

*Idea credits to Steve Salomon (interim City Manager), Drummond Buckley, Main Street America, MHS students, us WUDO folks, and Cindy Powell.

**Please email us if you’d like to pitch in in some way. Doing any of these will require a committee of sorts, and volunteers like you! Short of offers of help, we welcome other creative ideas to create more vibrancy downtown via email at info@whatsupdowntownorinda.com

 

ULI Findings, in a Nutshell

Last Tuesday night drew a packed house to hear the preliminary recommendations from the experts at the Urban Land Institute (ULI) who were in town conducting a two day Technical Assistance Panel (TAP). The study was run by six land use professionals who volunteered their time and expertise to bring some fresh thinking to Orinda's downtown. 

The study involved a careful review of Orinda's physical assets (land, infrastructure, buildings, etc), interviews with stakeholders, and a report on our opportunities and challenges. The full written report will be delivered in the coming months, and last week's PPT can be found here

The list of challenges was not new - it included our 30-year old General Plan (the oldest they'd ever seen), the physical division by highway 24, lack of parking and enforcement, seismically unsound buildings, and retail revenue leakage to nearby cities, among other items. The panel concluded that the town is "too car centric" and lacks a "Third Place" (the concept is that home and work are your first two places, and a community gathering spot could become your "third" place). Orinda "was robbed" of an identity over the years, they concluded, but we have many enviable assets to leverage going forward. 

Among them:

  • Our highly educated and involved citizen base, in particular our "exceptional teenagers" who brought frank feedback and creative ideas to their interview 
  • BART: "Most cities would kill to have a major transit stop" and we have an opportunity to maximize its benefits
  • Some buildings with fantastic architectural character that we could build upon, particularly County Club Plaza/Phair's/Orinda Motors
  • The San Pablo Creek and Orinda's beautiful natural setting
  • Existing spaces that could easily be "activated" and marketed for free community use and events
  • A few engaged property owners such as Joanna Guidotti who now owns the Phair's property, and other upcoming properties that will be turning over. And more... 

There was a lot of goodness coming out of the TAP Panel. Here are some of the most exciting recommendations we heard.

  • First things first, the panel urged the city to update Orinda's general plan in a very inclusive Orinda style involving the community. Given that the city has $300,000 set aside to tackle this project, we completely agree and see it as a "no brainer" next step in shaping the future. We will be continuing to advocate for this with CIty Council and the new Downtown Subcommittee of councilwomen Inga Miller and Eve Phillips. 
  • Focus on creating THREE rather than two downtown Districts. 1) Theater District 2) Civic District (Park, Library, Community Center area) and 3) Village Creek District. They suggested creating a "San Pablo Creek Action Plan" to incorporate the creek into Orinda's usable spaces (likely a long process)
  • Consider a property based improvement district (AKA a "BID") which is a public/private partnership between the city and property owners to enhance the streetscape and better maintain buildings (YES! WUDO has advocated for this in the past and strongly believe that Orinda's property owners must be engaged and incentivized to do their part. We also believe that hiring an Economic Development Director makes a lot of sense)
  • "Take the recommendations in the parking study from 2016 seriously," and enforce parking limits downtown. Enforcement or meters seem like an obvious way to reduce all day parking by BART commuters. 
  • "Re-jigger" walking paths from BART to the Theater to direct walkers THROUGH Theater Square, rather than around it. Smart!
  • Build connected, shared parking resources to free up land for better uses. Extra attention was paid to the massive parking lots spanning from Rite Aid to McCaulou's - connect it, share it, and make it pedestrian friendly. 
  • Experiment with short term "activations" of our existing spaces to bring the community together. Market free use of our existing spaces to create community "living rooms". Invite food truck organizers, art shows, pop up retail shops, chess tournaments or even put some lounge furniture and ping pong tables on the Library plaza. Put the unused third screen at Orinda Theater to use for our teenagers. Experiment and see what sticks. Build on our amazing Parks and Rec programs to give the community and our youth exciting places to hang out. 
  • Create low-cost parklets, widen sidewalks and make space for restaurants and cafes to set up tables outdoors. Reward "early adopter" businesses that invest and experiment in Orinda! 
  • Change Orinda's zoning to allow zero setbacks on the sides and fronts of commercial buildings. This will improve window fronts, reduce the number of driveways and ultimately improve walkability. 
  • Develop a signage and wayfinding program to create an identity for downtown (No brainer! More on this in a future post!)
  • And yes, the ULI brought up the idea of housing options downtown, and encouraged the Council to consider a variety of housing types, already allowed within Orinda's laws, to spur commercial development and vitality. A mix of luxury condos, townhomes and senior housing were recommended, along with ideas for how the buildings could be oriented to face the creek and not to overpower the streetscape. 

The meeting lasted nearly three hours and we are looking forward to the final report, which we hope will suggest some concrete next steps. Of course, the logical next question is - PRIORITIES and RESOURCES? What comes first and how do we fund it? 

We'll be continuing that conversation with city leadership while we advocate for progress. 

Pumped about Orange Theory Fitness?


Many of you have been asking "What's up with 25A Orinda Way?"  Over the past months, the developers and their leasing agent have been hard at work seeking tenants for the approximately 14K square feet of ground floor space, so there hasn’t been much to report until now...

We are excited to share that there now a lease pending with Orange Theory Fitness

Even though it's not a restaurant or retail tenant, this seems like good news to us, and we hope it will be a tipping point to attract other businesses to sign up at 25A. For example, consider the Marin Country Mart, which has become a hub of the community of Larkspur since being revitalized in 2009. Very successfully, restaurants and retailers such as Intermix, Rustic Bakery, Hudson Grace, Belcampo Meat Co. and Pressed Juicery happily coexist with SoulCycle, Tutu School, and Barber Lane.  Locals come down to work out or take their kids to ballet, then stay to eat and shop, or vice versa.  In the commercial real estate world they call this a coordinated leasing strategy -  it's something that hasn’t existed in Orinda, but that we could greatly benefit from.

We believe Orange Theory will attract regular, repeat patrons and members, adding to the vitality of our town and increasing the success of nearby local businesses.  And, admittedly, we want more opportunities to get our sweat on right here in Orinda, instead of driving to Lafayette or Walnut Creek. 

Paul Ugenti, owner of 25A Orinda Way is seeking local support because the city will need to approve this use of ground floor space. If you'd like to see Orange Theory in Orinda, please reach out to Derek Farmer at the Planning Department (Dfarmer@cityoforinda.org) and weigh in. 

Welcome to Orinda, Main Street America and Urban Land Institute!

WUDO Supporters, do you smell progress in the air? We do. There has been some positive momentum with regard to Orinda engaging outside consultants to solve the downtown paradox, and we are starting to get downright hopeful.

Last September, we provided a recap of a City Council meeting where a spirited discussion led to an agreement to engage two organizations to help move the process forward. One of these two organizations, Main Street America, recently came to town to interview stakeholders and begin its study. Orinda’s City Council and several local citizens groups, WUDO included, had the opportunity to be interviewed back in February.  

In the past we have shared a bit about the Urban Land Institute, but what can Main Street America do for Orinda, you ask? The website defines its mission as follows…

For more than 35 years, the National Main Street Center has been helping communities revitalize their downtowns and commercial districts. Collectively, the movement is the leading voice for preservation-based economic development and community revitalization across the country. Made up of small towns, mid-sized communities, and urban commercial districts, Main Street America™ represents the broad diversity that makes this country so unique. Working together, the programs that make up the Main Street America network help to breathe new life into the places people call home.

We are encouraged by the MSA’s ‘preservation based economic development’ approach to community revitalization and their quest to  ‘breathe new life into the places people call home’. A coordinated economic development strategy is something we at WUDO have championed since our beginning, and we are excited to see what MSA, which has a successful track record with regard to revitalization, recommends.  

MSA’s Process

When approaching a city such as Orinda, MSA gathers information to develop a global understanding of the community’s vision along with measurable market analysis. From there, it can make actionable recommendations on how we can can move forward to capitalize on our physical, economic and social potential, while remaining sensitive to what the community hopes to achieve.

As part of its desire to learn more about what the community’s vision for downtown the MSA attended a City Council meeting back in February and was able to conduct interviews with the City Council members. Among it strengths, council members listed Orinda’s convenient, friendly and beautiful location. They were quick to point out, however, that the buildings downtown are tired, the downtown is physically divided by the freeway and BART, and despite its small scale and walkability, most people do not walk our downtown -- they park in one lot, do their business and drive down the street to the next lot.  (Guilty! We have definitely dropped off a package at UPS and then driven to Orinda Books.)

When asked about ways to improve our downtown, council members pointed out that locally owned, unique businesses were preferable to big box retailers or traditional suburban strip mall anchors. They also brought up the prospect of a new grocery store and additional restaurants and hoped to create other opportunities to bring residents downtown such as community events. Amen!

It was pointed out that Orinda’s anchors are the Theater on the south side of town and the Community Center on the north side.  We at WUDO like this concept as it reinforces Orinda’s strong sense of community and the role that these centers in play in bringing Orindans together.

In our own interview with MSA in February, WUDO echoed many of the same sentiments. We also pointed to the role that property owners and businesses, in the absence of an Economic Development Director, have played in the shaping (nay deterioration?) of our town, and that we believe in a coordinated and concentrated economic development strategy. We also voiced our hope that from this process, a sense of Orinda as a brand could be formed and promoted in and outside our our town.

Currently the MSA is working on an in-depth economic market analysis of Orinda, which will be shared with the ULI panel as well. The project leader from MSA, Matt Wagner, will present the group's initial transformation strategies to the Downtown Subcommittee in early April (the public will be invited) and conduct a working session with city staff. The, MSA's final recommendations will be presented to City Council in May. The exact date is TBD. 

What's Up with the ULI? 

At the same time that MSA is conducting it's study, the ULI is moving forward in parallel. If you want some interesting reading on downtown's past and present, feast your eyes on the incredibly comprehensive briefing book prepared for the ULI by the planning department team.

The ULI panel of experts will be in town doing its study on April 10th and 11th. We are again looking forward to participating. The ULI will immediately present their recommendations at a joint City Council and Planning Commission meeting on April 11th from 5-8 PM, and a written report will follow in the weeks and months following.

Big kudos to the city planning department whose staff is working extra hard to make both studies happen. Hopefully by late spring/early summer we will have some fresh thinking and solid, actionable recommendations to consider! 

Meanwhile, we’d love to hear from you, WUDO Supporters, on what you’d like for us to discuss with Main Street America and the Urban Land Institute as they study Orinda.  Please email us at info@whatsupdowntown.com with your thoughts.

 

A Possible Makeover at Orinda's Community Park!

Inspiration for Orinda's new park design. Please note, this is not an image from the actual design. (Source: Hapa Collaborative)

Inspiration for Orinda's new park design. Please note, this is not an image from the actual design. (Source: Hapa Collaborative)

Have you heard What’s Up with the Orinda Community Park? As a beloved space that features prominently in our Downtown, WUDO has been closely following the developments surrounding a proposed park renovation. We are excited, and hope you are too, at the prospect of the City working to make our park even better!

It started as a task to upgrade the existing bathrooms and gazebo, but the Parks & Rec Commission quickly realized that other parts of the park needed attention as well. A landscape architecture firm, Callander Associates has been retained to design a new and improved space incorporating the ideas put forth by the Commission and the Community. A few of the ideas currently circulating at the meetings include:

  • new bocce ball courts
  • a naturalistic playground that promotes imaginative play (see inspirational photo above!)
  • a newly-designed bandstand to feature prominently at the center of the open grassy area
  • space for food trucks and outdoor events
  • better integration and use of our fabulous amphitheater
  • new bathrooms (high five for this!)
  • tot and 'big-kid' play spaces that are linked together (What? You mean no more head-on-a-swivel-trying-to-watch-kids-on-two-opposite-playgrounds quandary?!)
  • improved visitor access
  • bringing the ramp leading into the Community Center up to code

The Director of Parks & Recreation, Todd Trimble wrote in last week’s Orinda Outlook that fundraising, led by the Orinda Parks & Rec Foundation (OPR Foundation), is currently the sole source of funding for the project cost. He also states that it is possible to complete this project in phases if need be. For now, the next step is for the Parks & Rec Department and the OPR Foundation to seek approval of the proposed renovation.

There are so many things that we love about the Orinda Community Park; concerts, sports, watching our children climb and swing, taking laps around the path, picnicking with friends after the Farmers’ Market or just sitting on a bench taking it all in. A few of us even grew up playing at the “Tot Lot” decades ago - remember the huge metal slide down the hill?!?! Regardless of our memories, we can all agree that a revitalized park will create new experiences for many generations to come and we remain hopeful that the City can set the bar high for future downtown revitalization. 

A beautiful park, linked with our iconic Community Center and fabulous library will further present Orinda as the gem we all know it to be. To share your thoughts regarding the potential for a park renovation, please contact the City Council. 

A (Re)Formed Downtown Subcommittee & Main Street America is Coming to Town!

Welcome back, ya'll! We are happy to share two positive notes from the latest City Council meeting. 

First, a recommendation was put forth and approved to establish a two-person Council Subcommittee for the impending Downtown planning discussions. 

What's the purpose of the Downtown Subcommittee you ask? According to Planning Director Drummond Buckley, its goal is to provide general feedback to, and be a sounding board for, planning staff regarding downtown planning issues.  Decisions regarding downtown planning that can not be made by staff will continue to be decided by the City Council as a whole. 

Newly-elected council member Inga Miller volunteered to serve on the Downtown Subcommittee, stating that conversations during her campaign had given her insight and perspective regarding the community's current desires for downtown. Council member Darlene Gee suggested that Mayor Eve Phillips serve as the second member of the Subcommittee. Both were unanimously agreed upon. And voila, we have a newly (re)formed Downtown Subcommittee.

Historically, Phillips has eschewed changes to downtown, while Miller ran for office on the platform of improving it. Meetings of the Downtown Subcommittee will be noticed and open to the public, so you bet we'll be following closely to see where this goes.

In other promising downtown developments, the city is moving forward to gather fresh perspective from both Main Street America and the Urban Land Institute - two organizations well-suited to give expert recommendations on our downtown.

Planning Director Buckley stated that consultants from Main Street America will be conducting interviews with stakeholders and community members on February 7th and 8th. WUDO is thrilled to have been invited to participate and be interviewed. These dates coincide with the February 7th City Council Meeting and it seems that MSA will attend and discuss Orinda's downtown with the City Council at this time.  We encourage you to attend, and we'll be telling you a bit more about Main Street America right here, next week. 

Similarly, the Urban Land Institute will begin their Technical Assistance Panel process in April 2017.  

We are encouraged to see some positive movement in the first month of 2017, and hope the momentum can continue throughout the year.