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Published September 21st, 2016
Interest in Orinda's Downtown Creek Running High

Better restaurants and a gourmet market are popular goals for the revitalization of downtown Orinda, while the issue of downtown housing is more controversial, but everybody seems to agree on the restoration of San Pablo Creek as it runs through downtown.
Orinda citizens packed the hall at the Sept. 6 city council meeting and provided the council some 200 pieces of correspondence, and more than 30 citizens came and spoke during the public forum. Friends of Orinda Creeks presented the council with a petition to include in any downtown development plan the restoration of San Pablo Creek in Orinda Village, signed by over 240 Orinda citizens.
After some robust discussion among the council members, the council asked staff to bring the matter back with further information on the goals of downtown development, creek restoration, and the possibility of grant funding for some parts of the project.
The matter has been tentatively calendared for Oct. 18, at which time the Urban Land Institute (ULI) will offer the council a presentation on what services could be provided by a Technical Advisory Panel (TAP), which is composed of outside experts who do an in-depth study or "charrette," interview key groups such as constituents, stakeholders and staff and offer recommendations. ULI has proposed providing a TAP for $15,000.
Orinda resident Reg Barrett, a UC Berkeley wildlife and forestry professor, said that he had probably trained some of the expert consultants that the city might hire. He volunteered to serve, free of charge, to help "daylight" San Pablo Creek, which he said is a tremendous opportunity for Orinda.
Bob Stoops, representing Friends of Orinda Creeks, told the council that the John Muir Land Trust will make a permanent commitment to work with the city on the creek project, including assistance with land acquisition and other help. Council member Amy Worth pointed out that Ashland, Oregon, is a great example of how a creek can be revitalized and incorporated into a downtown.
ULI has many supporters in Orinda, including Paul Koenig of the Orinda Chamber of Commerce, Tom Trowbridge of Orinda Vision, and Orinda resident Ian Baird who urged the council to hire ULI to provide the TAP, which he said is a bar- gain. Trowbridge told the council that ULI has conducted some 32 TAPs in Northern California, for cities as small as Brisbane, with a population a little over 4,000, and San Jose with a population of a million. Lori Reich argued that staff cannot do this job alone, and urged the council to use ULI as well as Main Street America.
But Vice mayor Eve Phillips appeared to be wary of the group, which comprises members of the full spectrum of land use and real estate development disciplines working in private enterprise and public service, and includes developers. Phillips identified as controversial more downtown residential building and the idea of making Orinda a destination. She was one of several who spoke about the need for economic development planning for downtown.
One issue seemed easily resolved: the scope of downtown development will likely be limited to the downtown commercial zone, as the downtown office zone is doing well and the BART parking lot is being treated separately.
Orinda Planning Department Director Drummond Buckley gave an overview from the staff report of the development of downtown Orinda since the city was incorporated in 1985, describing the several downtown development attempts that were undertaken by the city during the past 30 years. Questions in the report include whether the city include economic development policies or programs, adopt a plan for the restoration of San Pablo Creek, include architectural design guidelines, or streetscape designs. Options available include amending the General Plan and/or the Zoning Ordinance or adopting a downtown specific plan; Orinda is the only city in Contra Costa County that lacks a downtown specific plan.
One of the final speakers of the evening was Joanna Guidotti, who purchased the Phairs building, which has stood abandoned for 15 years. She said everything the property owners have brought forward has been shot down by the city council, including tearing down the historic building. She thinks that the creek idea is fantastic and is looking forward to working with the city on downtown development.
Council member Dean Orr, however, wants more than just talk. He expressed his frustration about the entire downtown development discussion process, stating that to collect even more information without acting on it would be like "sticking a sewing needle in [his] eye."
Representatives from several organizations spoke at the Sept. 6 council meeting. For further information about the organizations, or to view the Orinda Planning Staff Presentation, visit the following links:

Orinda Planning Staff Presentation 9/06/16:

What's Up Downtown Orinda:

Orinda Vision:

Friends of Orinda Creeks:

John Muir Land Trust:

Urban Land Institute:

Main Street America:

Orinda Chamber of Commerce:

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