Are Measure R Tax Dollars Being Used as Voters Intended?
The short answer is NO.
Orinda residents have said that wildfire prevention is twice as important as infrastructure (roads and storm drains). However, from the inception of Measure R in April 2021 through June 2026, the City has spent or is planning on spending almost ten times as much on roads and storm drains as on wildfire fuel removal.
Measure R was titled "Orinda Essential Services Measure". It listed four essential services: wildfire risk reduction, emergency preparedness, repair of storm drains, and road maintenance. They were listed in that order. This was the priority the residents of Orinda gave them in a survey prior to the vote to pass the tax.
In that survey, 55% of respondents listed wildfire prevention as extremely important; 54% said emergency preparedness was extremely important; three questions related storm drains which 33% gave the highest rating; and seven questions about roads were rated extremely important by 28%, half as many as wildfire prevention or emergency preparedness.
So, when the City put the measure on the November 2020 ballot, the advertising for it stressed wildfire prevention. There were pictures of a child with a lit match saying: "We teach our children not to play with fire and now it's our turn to follow this common sense advise. Wildfire prevention can't wait." Roads and storm drains were mentioned, but the ads stressed wildfire prevention in words and imagery.
However, Through June 2023 (end of the city’s fiscal year) from its inception (April 2021), only $1.2 million, 14% of the 8.3 in revenue generated, has been spent on wildfire fuel mitigation. Meanwhile, $1.7 million was spent on road maintenance, 50% more than on wildfire fuel removal.
And the projected revenue and budgeted expenditures through 2026 show that over the next three years $9.2 million are for roads and storm drains, 5 times the $1.8 million budgeted for wildfire mitigation.
However, Measure R is a SUPPLEMENTAL tax, supplementing existing taxes for essential services. These existing revenue sources include the state gas tax, the County’s Measure J return-to-source tax for road maintenance, garbage impact fees, and others. These are all infrastructure taxes.
While Orinda property taxes fund our fire department, MOFD, with $22 million annually, the city has no control over how MOFD spends this money (and very little goes to wildfire prevention and virtually zero goes to fuel mitigation), so Measure R is the only source for wildfire prevention efforts by Orinda.
From the inception of Measure R through 2026, in addition to $16.5 million of Measure R revenues to be spent on essential services, the city projects an additional $15.5 million will be spent on essential services from other sources, a total of $32 million. Of this, $26.4 million will be spent on roads and storm drains, over 5 times $5.1 million being allocated to wildfire prevention (including public awareness education) and nine times the $3 million allocated to actual fuel mitigation.
This is for what Orindans said was their highest priority in 2020. Measure R tax dollars are NOT being used as the voters intended them be be used.