ORINDA -- A contentious part of the city's general plan, the fifth cycle housing element, moved forward at Tuesday night's City Council meeting with unanimous approval of three alternative sites for staff to review and analyze for an upcoming Environmental Impact Report.

That action drew the same sort of criticism from locals as it has for the past few years, in Orinda and elsewhere in the Bay Area.

The housing element in Orinda, as in other cities, must include a plan for very low and low income accommodations within the city. It is mandated by the state.

The sites presented, and approved, were chosen after three public meetings earlier this year during which citizens gave opinions on where the 227 units might one day go. The council narrowed alternative sites to Santa Maria Church's ball fields, the Village Center and church sites (which includes Rite Aid, Orinda Community Church upper parking lot and 1 Orinda Way) and the church sites area -- currently parking lots for Orinda Community Church, St. Mark's Church and St. John's.

But not everyone is happy with the plan to even consider building more affordable housing in Orinda.


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Before the housing element discussion, a number of people spoke against the housing element and voiced their concern that the city's membership in the regional planning agency, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), has taken away local elected officials' ability of deciding when and where to develop.

One Orinda resident said she found it "abhorrent" the city seeks public comment on a regional plan that the city was forced to accept with no opportunity for input. She referred to the plan as a "top-down central planning scheme."

"It's a program, not a construction project," Councilmember Steve Glazer clarified later in the meeting. "We're trying to comply with state law."

State law mandates that all California cities update their housing element plans every eight years, or face possible cuts in grant money from the state. The degree to which cities have to accommodate lower income housing is a combination of state law and, in Orinda's case, projected population growth by ABAG and its plan to have affordable housing near public transit systems.

The draft EIR is due by Jan. 15, with a possible 120 day extension until no later than April 30, 2015.

Jennifer Baires covers Orinda, Lafayette and Moraga. Contact her at 925-943-8378. Follow her at twitter.com/jenniferbaires.