Where Are Your Measure R Tax Dollars Going?
Orinda just published the spring-edition of its “The Orinda Way” publication. The second page was devoted to Measure R, our 1% sales tax, and the citizen oversight commission’s (SSTOC = Supplemental Sales Tax Oversight Commission) annual report (for fiscal year ending June 30, 2022).
Measure R is a tax which provides tax dollars to the City, but nowhere in the one-page article is there mention of how many tax dollars were collected and what they were spent on. The article is all about wildfire prevention, which is what everyone thought the tax was all about (see below), but not about how our tax dollars are being spent on wildfire prevention.
The facts for the year (details below) are:
* The City collected $3.7 million.
* It started the year with $600,000 of unspent funds, giving it $4.3 million to spend on wildfire prevention.
* During the year it spent $600,000 on fire prevention and $300,000 on administration, leaving it with $3.4 million at the end of the year.
However, on July 19, 2022, nineteen days after the end of the fiscal year, the City staff went to the Council and asked them to approve spending the entire $3.4 million balance on ROAD MAINTENANCE, not wildfire prevention. And the Council approved $2.4 million for this purpose.
THAT is where our Measure R wildfire prevention dollars are going, to road maintenance.
Why not for wildfire prevention? Because the City has no wildfire prevention plan.
UC’s Center for Catastrophic Risk Management (CCRM) proposed to create a plan for $600,000 (2 months of Measure R revenue). Eight months ago, in August, the SSTOC recommended that the Council accept the proposal. But the City Manager told the Council that the City had other more important priorities (apparently, road maintenance) so the Council deferred any action. The only plan currently in place is MOFD’s plan. This plan is for everyone to clean up their own properties with MOFD and the City spending virtually nothing for the effort except for inspectors attempting to enforce the fire code. All stick with virtually no carrot even though the residents voted to fund the carrot.
Will the code be enforced? Will 7,000 private property owners clean up the excess vegetation (mostly in backyards unobservable by inspectors) that has collected over the decades? How will we measure the effectiveness of the cleanup efforts? The CCRM plan offered a methodology. The SSTOC discussed ways to measure effectiveness but so far only have a big question mark.
The CCRM, including top scientists in the field, presented a plan different than MOFD’s plan. If they thought MOFD’s plan was sufficient, why would they offer an alternative? For the sake of intellectual curiosity? To pry $600,000 out of Orinda to fund their research? (As some have suggested.) Why isn’t Orinda trying any tool available?
It’s a nice idea that everyone will pitch in and take care of the problem with minimal “interference” from government, but people don’t stop at intersections without stop signs and we have a central sewage system, which we are taxed for, because 7,000 separate septic systems don’t work. There is a time and place for government to act in the common interest, especially when they have been handed tax dollars to do the job. Why is Orinda not using the Measure R dollars for the job they were intended?
Orindans have stepped up and offered to tax themselves $3.7 million a year to fund a wildfire prevention plan. This involves removing excess vegetation that has built up over the decades. This vegetation is mainly on private property, but it is a public nuisance. This excess vegetation needs to be identified, removed (with the help of public funds but with the property owners also participating as even $3.7 million a year will not be sufficient), and then monitored (which is what the CCRM plan proposed) as vegetation will rapidly grow back without periodic maintenance. This is exactly what the City does with its roads (a bi-annual survey and revised maintenance schedule) and should have been doing with its storm drains. No one is going to die from a catastrophic pothole or storm drain collapse. Many could die in a catastrophic wildfire. What ARE Orinda’s priorities?
Orindans told the City what THEIR priorities were in the 2020 survey; wildfire prevention. They then voted in the dollars for this. But the City is not spending that money as it should.