ORINDA -- The city's second recent housing element workshop went off without a hitch last week, in contrast to a June 26 session partially derailed by shouted interruptions from plan opponents.
The "open house" format July 9 generated less obvious confrontation than the earlier meeting's formal presentation, but long-standing local opposition to the city's long-term housing remains firm.
Representing Orinda Watch, 35-year resident Chris Kniel said, "We think we have an arrogant, elitist City Council."
As a core member of the approximately 1,400-member community group whose website states their "most pressing mission is pushing back against the Plan Bay Area agenda" as it pertains to housing, Kniel said, "We're concerned that public input is blown away. The housing element was done in secret."
The housing element is set to be discussed at Tuesday night's Orinda City Council meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. at the Orinda Library.
State law dictates that California cities' general plans must include seven elements -- among them, housing standards meeting the projected needs of all economic segments of the community.
Orinda must adopt its fifth version, governing 2015-2023, by Jan. 31, 2015. It must show how the city plans to accommodate 227 additional units of very low-, low-, moderate- and market-rate housing as dictated by the "regional housing needs allocation" overseen by the Association of Bay Area Governments.
Kniel said he'd like to think the city is listening to his "the-free-market-should-decide-housing" message, but worries that "bureaucrats with loose parameters" are instead misinterpreting the housing laws.
Orinda Senior Planner Christina Ratcliffe acknowledged the opposition but said the city must move forward and obey the law.
"They don't want the state telling them what to do, but for us, the state tells us this is what we have to do," Ratcliffe said.
She mentioned a recently settled 2006 lawsuit, brought against the city of Pleasanton by nonprofit Urban Habitat and a schoolteacher, and said consequences of noncompliance can be severe.
The prior meeting's volatile verbal exchanges surprised Ratcliffe. "We're trying to do better at communicating with residents," she said. "We put comments on the website and look at all residents' concerns."
Orinda Planning Director Emmanuel Ursu said people's questions last week centered on high-density housing construction, which he emphasized must meet general plan guidelines.
Ursu said updates included in the current draft -- involving complying with regional timing, streamlining housing element reviews and establishing plans accommodating people with developmental disabilities -- were minor.
Upon reviewing the plan's three updates, resident Bob Burt said, "There's no requirement to find new property; that satisfies me. Orinda should do its share. We need to follow the law."
Drafts of the housing element and of an environmental impact report are being prepared for a hearing and 45-day public review in September. Comments from the California Department of Housing and Community Development will be taken in the fall, before the City Council's adoption of the final draft in early January 2015.
Elisabeth Kersten of Envision 21st Century Orinda, an informal coalition of residents, spoke in support of the city's housing element.
"The reality is that we have to make Orinda accessible for the next generation," Kersten said. "As we zone, we need to have jobs, housing and transit in balance. We want a community that welcomes people of color and young people."