ORINDA -- Buoyed by the results of a recent survey showing voters are willing to pay for continuing repairs to the city's notoriously bad roads, Orinda city leaders are moving forward with a $20 million bond measure for the June ballot.
While the City Council stopped short of authorizing the measure, its unanimous vote Feb. 4 to pursue the bond issuance allows city staffers to return with ballot language at the next council meeting Tuesday. Council members also asked staffers for an update of the city's 10-year roads and drainage repairs plan showing the expected impact of the bond measure. City leaders will then take a final vote whether to place the measure -- which would require voters to pay an annual ad valorem tax on assessed property value -- on the ballot.
The council's decision corresponds with the second phase of the city's 10-year roads and drainage repair plan, a document approved by Orinda council members in 2012 that outlines how the city plans to fund the repair of storm drains and roads rated as some of the Bay Area's worst. The first phase of the four-step plan is a half-cent sales tax that sunsets in 10 years. Voters approved that tax in 2012.
The next two phases call for $19.8 million bond or parcel tax measures -- one in 2016 and the other in 2020 -- to fund repairs. The final step asks voters to extend in 2022 the half-cent sales tax for an as-yet undetermined length of time.
The council's move to push up the timeline of the 2016 bond measure followed a presentation by Oakland-based polling firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates explaining the results of a phone survey conducted last month.
The opinion poll asked 400 Orinda residents about potential ballot measures, including bonds of $10 million, $20 million and $40 million.
A total of 70 percent of residents polled indicated they would support a $20 million bond; 24 percent said no and 6 percent were undecided. A slightly higher percent of voters supported a $10 million bond but only 43 percent backed a $40 million bond. A successful bond measure requires two-thirds voter approval to pass.
The survey also asked residents about two related measures that would make Orinda a charter city solely so a real estate transfer tax could be established.
The 1.5 percent transfer tax would be assessed on the sale of a home, and the proceeds would fully fund public road and storm drain repairs, according to the survey.
But poll results show voters overwhelmingly opposed the transfer tax and charter city measures, even when told it would be possible to repeal the half-cent sales tax as that funding would no longer be necessary.
"It seems very unlikely in my estimation that those measures, even with strong campaigns behind them, would reach the threshold needed to win approval," said polling analyst David Metz, who explained earlier that survey results overall had about a 5 percent margin of error. A total of 56 percent of residents polled opposed the charter city idea, and 67 percent said no to the transfer tax.
Still, supporters of those measures urged the council to defer a decision on the bond measure, calling survey conclusions that there is sufficient voter support to pass it "misguided."
Resident Art Haigh argued that wording in the survey implied the bond measures would fix the city's infrastructure problem, and said the funding was inadequate. He also said a bond measure funded by an ad valorem property tax would likely fail to reach two-thirds voter approval; voters rejected similar bond measures in 2006 and 2007 for $59.1 million and $58.6 million, respectively.
Haigh also said he feels the transfer tax was not "adequately explained" in the polling question. "It set up a false choice," he said, and asked the council to defer their decision until they and the public have heard a "thorough explanation of a real honest solution" and not a "Band-Aid" to Orinda's infrastructure funding problem.
It costs the city about $2.2 million annually in Measure J, gas tax and transportation and drainage impact fees to maintain its heavily used arterials, collector and school routes. According to public works director Charles Swanson, $20 million would fund repair of about a third of the city's residential streets, which rate poorly on an industry standard "pavement condition index."
The city also says sales tax proceeds are higher than anticipated, and repairs funded by those proceeds will likely begin in May.