An Agreement to….Talk More?

WUDO Supporters! Thank you to all who came out last Tuesday night to see Orinda’s Democratic process in action at the City Council meeting.  A lot went down, and we’re here to tell you all about it.

First, we’d like to give a shout out to the Friends of the Orinda Creeks, who had a winning voice in the downtown discussion. You can read more about their cause here.  

After a few Council agenda items, we entered the bulk of the discussion and what you’ve all been waiting to hear about. Planning Director Drummond Buckley gave a comprehensive presentation on the current state of Orinda’s Downtown, and an overview of what potential steps could be taken as we enter the next phase of Orinda’s Downtown discussion.  You can see Buckley's full report here.  It’s highly recommended reading.

What did Buckley and team present? After a quick lesson on what Orinda looks like today (and a sweet google maps tour), they touched on the history of City Council efforts on downtown over the last 30 years as well as the existing plans. As you have already heard from WUDO, the downtown plan largely dates back to 1987. Yikes! Orinda’s Municipal Code which governs development standards like building heights, setbacks, parking and allowable land use also hasn’t been updated since 1999 so clearly we have some work to do as a city to bring our planning guidelines into the current century.

Then we learned about what could be done to help with updating these plans and policies. First, the importance of a community engagement strategy. This could take the form of public messaging, subcommittees, workshops and surveys. Also, the importance of a Technical Assistance Panel (TAP) where outside experts such as the Urban Land Institute or Main Street America could come in to help give the city an unbiased view on what we could do with our downtown district. Thumbs up from WUDO on either or both of these.

Speaking of said downtown district, the Planning Department also asked City Council to consider two very important things. First, should we update our entire General Plan, or go with a Downtown Specific Plan? And, what exactly do we mean by downtown? Three areas were identified. The ‘Downtown Business District' (shops and restaurants), BART (yes, as much as we’d like to pretend otherwise, BART is part of our downtown!) and the ‘Downtown Office District' (dentists, doctors and other professional offices).

Nearing 8:30pm at this point and we’ve finally arrived at the public comments section. The San Pablo Creeks restoration folks took the floor by storm and the room was overflowing (pun intended) with strong arguments in favor of "daylighting" the creek. WUDO took the floor next (presenting a summation of our most recent blog post) and started the lively discussion of how to proceed in our discussion of downtown. We were followed up by MANY other involved Orinda residents speaking on numerous topics pertaining to downtown. Overwhelmingly, the sentiment was that SOMETHING needs to be done. Residents were also concerned with potential traffic issues, PGE power lines, and the current state of much of Orinda’s downtown real estate. All valid points to be included in the city’s discussion. 

The public comments section was rounded out by Joanna Guidotti, who was raised in Orinda but now lives in Napa Valley and recently acquired the Phairs building and it’s adjacent parking lot. We had heard that Joanna is actively gathering ideas on what to do with her property and were thrilled that Joanna stood up to speak, and made herself available to attendees who wanted to talk afterwards.

A quick side note regarding the public comments- City Council acknowledged the enormous support of a downtown discussion prior to the meeting coming from 200+ emails! Nice work, WUDO supporters!

Are you as exhausted reading this as we are writing it at this point?? Imagine how we felt over three hours into the meeting when the Council was finally able to make their own comments? In a loose play-by-play, here goes:

  • Darlene Gee spoke in favor of continuing the discussion AND engaging and outside firm such as The Urban Land Institute (ULI) as a next step.

  • Dean Orr agreed, and mentioned how ‘excited’ he was to revisit this the topic of a downtown plan after he had been part of the same discussion started nearly 10 years ago. He was also in favor of engaging an outside firm like ULI to help.

  • Eve Philips wants to gather more information from Orinda residents before engaging ULI so we have enough information to form questions to approach them with. She’s also worried about ULI being a national organization whose membership is made up of real estate professionals.

  • Amy Worth wanted to move the process forward as well, and it seemed like she was in favor of moving forward with ULI

  • And, everyone loves the idea of restoring the creek

  • Eve spoke again, and again asked for more information before we proceed

  • Someone else spoke (we can’t remember whom) to say that 200 plus emails WAS enough information, no more surveys needed

  • Sigh. Yes, we agree.

And FINALLY our Mayor Victoria Smith piped in. And suggested, wait for it… that we engage in a conversation with ULI. No motions were made, nothing was voted on. BUT it does seem we had a consensus to begin a dialogue.  

And that our dear supporters is where we leave you. Wanting more, just as we are, but happy that the conversation is finally happening on a city level.

Stay tuned for more updates.