Eve Phillips for Orinda City Council
Issues Facing Orinda: An Advocate for Residents
I believe the role of the Orinda City Council is to act as an advocate for our city and its residents, both in its internal affairs and in its interactions with the broader region. I support local control and a strong voice for Orinda citizens in determining the future of our town. I would like to protect key elements of our original General Plan, including height limits, setbacks, and a commitment to a semi-rural environment.
For more details, I have shared my responses below to questions posed to each candidate by the Orinda News, to be published in the October 2014 edition (slightly edited for clarity).
1. Many local residents have expressed strong opinions on the 5th Cycle Housing Element. What are your feelings about this state-mandated program and the potential loss of state grant money for noncompliance? How will you incorporate public concerns?
I believe the frustrations felt by the citizens around the development of the 5th Housing Element are due to the perception, that I share, that the current Council is more interested in receiving approval (and funds) from the regional transportation entities than in the interests of the citizens of Orinda in shaping the future of their town. Our preferences as residents should take a much stronger role in this discussion.
The Housing Element debate is a manifestation of a much larger issue of local versus regional control over local planning and development. I am, in general, in favor of local control for Orinda over its planning decisions. While of course we must abide by state laws, the discussion we should be having first is on the costs and benefits of a certified Housing Element, which would require rezoning parts of our town for high-density housing to meet the various housing capacities levied on us by the regional planning organizations.
The presentations given thus far in Orinda on this topic appeared only to support creating a certifiable Housing Element and have not given the community a forum to discuss the tradeoffs of engaging in that process. In addition, they have not offered an opportunity for the community to speak together or even ask public questions with public answers of the consultants driving the process. Even should we, as a community, decide to move forward with developing a certifiable Housing Element, we need much more transparency and communication with citizens, property owners and local business in the selection of potential sites. We need this communication to rebuild trust and to create clarity around Orinda’s future development plans.
Having a non-compliant Housing Element presents potential costs and risks, in terms of lost government incentives and the threat of lawsuits, but so does paving the way for additional high-density housing in Orinda. Regardless of the result, I believe the Council can drive a much more transparent, inclusive process to address the frustration felt by many residents. I put my trust into the citizens of Orinda to work with their elected City Council to come up with a plan forward for Orinda.
2. The changing face of Orinda’s downtown continues to be a source of concern for many. What are your views on building height and density issues?
Orinda is facing increasing pressure from state and regional groups to continue to develop high density housing, which frequently includes pressure to increase height limits. However, I believe such high-density, high-rise development violates our General Plan and is completely out of character with Orinda’s unique, semi-rural charm for which most residents chose to live in this town. Such development projects rarely take into consideration the concerns and preferences of existing citizens.
In addition, Orinda must compete with other Bay Area towns and cities for families on the basis of quality of life, schools, and scenic beauty. If we want to continue to be attractive to new residents and to protect our investments in our properties, we must preserve our town’s character.
We also cannot allow our downtown to stagnate. Redevelopment consistent with existing height limits and setbacks should be encouraged. Empty buildings harm all our local businesses and appropriate, realistic proposals should be welcomed. I have heard many suggestions from residents for organizations that could fill our downtown: a boutique hotel, specialty grocery, co-working space, schools. While each presents tradeoffs, I support a discussion about what could thrive in our town and improve our quality of life.
3. How would you rank, in order of importance, three areas of need in Orinda?
First of all, I believe we need new voices on the City Council that can rebuild trust and communication with the citizens of Orinda. The last several years have been marked by an increasing disconnect between the Council and the residents on important issues like planning, downtown development and roads. Many residents have lost confidence in the public process.
Second, Orinda needs to make some hard decisions about local versus regional control over its planning and development future. The choices will be felt for generations to come and thus we should carefully consider the type of environment we are creating for the families of the future.
Third, we need a real comprehensive plan to fix and maintain our roads, not just a funding plan. The piecemeal approach has led to bills like Measure J that only address a portion of the issue and lack appropriate safeguards for the funds. Road repair is not cheap, and this approach increases the odds that the future funds are not allocated. In addition, we must be realistic about the funds required to maintain our roads on an annual basis to avoid falling into the “fixing” trap yet again.
4. What leadership/management skills/experience do you possess that will make you an effective city councilmember?
I have spent my career evaluating industries and processes to look for opportunities for improvement via the use of technology. In my current role as CEO & co-founder of a digital health startup, I have assembled a diverse team of doctors, designers, engineers, and business people to develop products that can increase access to high-quality, lower-cost behavioral health solutions. In this company and elsewhere in my career, I led the creation of our business strategy and managed the development of the products that fulfilled that strategy. My educational background (engineering at MIT, MBA from Stanford) has also enabled me to hone strong analytical and team-based problem solving skills.
Through each of my leadership and management roles, I have established a capacity for learning, listening, and coming up with creative yet practical solutions that I think will be very well suited to solving the challenges faced by Orinda’s City Council.
For each issue, whether roads, safety, the Housing Element, or others, I would seek citizen input and work to understand the motivations behind various viewpoints and tradeoffs amongst various solutions. My motivation to run for this position is my passion for Orinda, and to provide excellent stewardship for the charming, unique town that I had the privilege of going to high school in, and where my family and I have chosen to live.
I am a strong believer in the role of the citizen serving their community. For me, this position is not a career but an opportunity to serve the community that I care for deeply. In that vein, if elected, I will voluntarily pledge to limit my tenure on the Council to two terms as I believe we are best served by citizen leaders with our community’s interests at heart.