Here some key votes and decisions I made while on Town Council from 2014 to 2018. Considered as a whole, they convey a sense of my priorities, ways of working and approach to representative leadership.
The best way to get a sense of how I served on the Town Council is to watch any of the Council meetings I chaired while Mayor throughout 2017. They are archived on the Town’s web site: https://www.moraga.ca.us/.
Perhaps the most important matter I addressed as a Town Council member was the Hillside and Ridgeline Project which revised the Town’s ordinances and General Plan to clarify that development could proceed only in ways that protect Moraga’s undeveloped ridgelines and hillsides. This would seem like it should be a simple matter, but the fact is developers had been reinterpreting the earlier ordinances for decades in ways that marred or obscured the natural ridgelines which embody Moraga’s semi-rural nature. It took years of tough wrangling in the face of legal threats to ensure the key views within Moraga remain pristine.
I am proud of the gun safety ordinance I championed while on the Council. Of course, this effort drew threats and opposition from the National Rifle Association; and there were local citizens who voiced legitimate concerns about their rights. This is a controversial and evolving issue in American society. Because the ordinance was based on a desire to protect children from accidental harm, I threw my support to the advocates pushing for the legislation. After we approved the ordinance, other cities followed our lead.
I voted against the City Ventures development now built next to the fire station on Moraga Way. We have guidelines and standards intended to ensure quality construction in our town which were not followed. This development now blocks the view of one of our major ridgelines from a scenic corridor, and has thus sacrificed some of Moraga’s semi-rural character as one drives into town from Orinda. I do not want this to happen again.
I voted in support of offering the green energy option from Marin Clean Energy to Moraga. Moragans may now select this option, while the option to continue getting electricity and gas from PG&E also remains available to all.
While Mayor, I had to lead the government response to the collapse of the Canyon Bridge and the sinkhole at the intersection of Rheem Boulevard and Moraga Road. Both were unexpected and costly infrastructure failures that required us to seek help from county, state and federal agencies. Getting a fast response for the bridge required strong support from both our county and state representatives, and put an enormous, unplanned workload on the Town’s staff. Our people did all the right things in an amazingly short time. The frustrating delays in securing a temporary bridge and patching the sinkhole were due to weather and slow-decision making outside our control.
I was the Council’s official liaison with St. Mary’s College, the Moraga Chamber of Commerce and the Moraga Youth Involvement Committee. Unofficially, I maintained close communications with Moraga Country Club as its members have common interests in some important matters. In all cases, I think it’s important to continually meet with people, to understand their concerns and to look for ways the Town can be helpful.
While on the Town Council, I was also involved in the processes that led to the hiring of a new Town Manager. In a town like Moraga, this staff position is critically important. Getting people who understand Moraga’s desire to manage growth, protect open space and ridgelines, rein in spending and encourage volunteer activity is a real challenge.
The Mayor usually helps with the yearly Veteran’s Day Celebration. During my year as Mayor I invited the Girl Scouts to join the Boy Scouts in this pageantry because I feel it is important that we give our young women the same growth opportunities as we give our boys. The Girl Scouts have continued to be part of this event.
The concept of West Commons Park started while I was a Planning Commissioner. The developer of Harvest Court wanted to use this land (across from the skatepark) as a dump for excess soil from its development. Working with Preserve Lamorinda Open Space I suggested we turn it into a small, educational park devoted to native plants and animals. It took a lot of convincing and consultation to get it right.
While on the Town Council in 2018, I voted against a very large proposed development in Bollinger Valley. A major problem with it was that there was no way to adequately evacuate residents in case of an emergency. Additionally, the site suffers from extreme soil instabilities, and the project would have required 1.8 million cubic yards of grading to stabilize it. By a unanimous vote, the Town Council concluded that the safety, environmental, and other impacts of the project were too great.
The Rheem Theater is a Moraga treasure. So many of us have had wonderful experiences there: family nights at the movies, our children’s dance recitals, and our teens’ first dates. We can also recall its many crises: it closed and re-opened multiple times from 2010 to 2018, at which point its then-owner threatened its imminent demolition. All the while, this beautiful landmark fell into disrepair.
While I was Vice-Mayor in 2018, the Theater owner approached the Town with a proposed mixed-use building for the vacant lot next door. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between the Town and the owner stipulating that the owner would allow the Theater to reopen immediately while the Town processed the application for the new building. If—after a complete public planning and review process—the Town approved the new building, then the owner would be required to transfer the Theater to the Moraga Community Foundation for permanent preservation.
As a former Planning Commissioner, I knew I would require the same thorough public review for that building as I would for any other, and I had no intention of approving it if it turned out to be wrong for Moraga. (I had voted against the City Ventures and other projects before.)
That said, some residents felt the MOU negotiation process was not transparent enough and that the MOU shouldn’t have been signed at all. In retrospect, I can see their point and if I had it to do over, I’d propose a different approach. One of the best things about being on the Town Council is that the community teaches you, especially when there is a problem or a better way to do something.
In any case, the MOU soon became irrelevant because the owner withdrew the building application. Meanwhile, the Moraga Community Foundation rented and reopened the Theatre from Spring of 2018 to Summer of 2019. Volunteers (me included) cleaned the Theatre from top to bottom. (Ever tried to scrub 40 years of popcorn grease off walls? I have!)
Fortunately, things turned out well. The Moraga Community Foundation helped make the Theater viable, and a wonderful new owner bought it in 2019. He was doing a great job until Covid-19 hit and it closed the Theater temporarily, but I look forward to going back to the movies as soon as possible!