Citizens for St Stephens Evacuation Corridor Preservation and Wildfire Safety
Mayor Dennis Fay and Members of the City Council
22 Orinda Way
Orinda, CA 94563
Subject: Public Safety Concerns with St. Stephens Church Opportunity Site
Honorable Mayor Fay and Members of the Council:
Thank you for your leadership in leading development of the draft 2023 – 2031 Housing Element (“draft HE”). As a city, we are at a critical crossroad as our community plans housing for the next eight years.
We understand the importance and need for the State of California mandate to boost housing production to address affordability and homelessness. Orinda is being asked to develop its fair share by producing a capacity of 1,506 dwelling units with a RHNA buffer of 25% and has an identified a shortfall of 558 dwelling units.
Based on significant public safety concerns, we are writing to ask the City of Orinda to remove St. Stephens Church parcel from the list of opportunity sites in the 2023 - 2031 Housing Element. We believe key parameters of public safety unique to this site make it not a suitable site for development.
The St. Stephens Church is an integral part of our neighborhood; beyond congregational life, the church plays an important role in providing pre-school care for our children, hosting community meetings, and during the pandemic has been a refuge to catch up with our neighbors. Our neighborhood values the St. Stephens Church congregation and campus.
Based on reviewing the draft HE, we understand the following:
- Draft HE recommends rezoning 1.37 acres of the St. Stephens Church parcel from single family (RL-20) to multi-family (RH-25) with a proposed density of 20 dwelling units per acre
- Development site is in parking lots adjacent to Via Las Cruces Rd. and St. Stephens Dr.
- Allowable building height is up to 27 ft.
- Affordable housing development with a density of 20 dwelling units per acre results in a proposed capacity of 27 dwelling units; and if a density bonus up to 50% is permitted, 41 dwelling units may be possible
PUBLIC SAFETY CONCERN
Many residents in NE Orinda have public safety concerns with the proposed opportunity site. We believe key parameters of public safety unique to this site make it not a suitable site for development, as follows:
1) Proposed location and density add additional wildfire risk to an already “Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone”
We believe adding housing density of approximately 12 times greater, and possibly up to 18 times greater, than the neighborhood is not a responsible choice in an area of high wildfire risk:
- Unlike all other proposed sites, St. Stephens Church is surrounded on three sides by a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone (VHFHSZ)
- The St. Stephens Church parcel is within ~100 feet of VHFHSZ near Via Las Cruces Rd., and within ~250 feet of the VHFHSZ near De Soto Ct.
- Additionally, the east side of the St. Stephens Church parcel and adjacent residential parcels are heavily wooded and downhill of the existing church complex, raising fire risk even further.
We appreciate the attention the City Council has placed on fire preparedness and fire safety. The years ahead pose a much greater fire risk than we have seen in prior decades. Fire experts tell us that there is a very high probability that our area will experience a devastating fire. We as members of this community have been actively working together alongside the City in trying to mitigate risks of fire within our homes, properties, and neighborhoods. But the rezoning of this property is not aligned with our goals of reducing fire risk.
2) Adding density to an already limited evacuation corridor poses a significant public safety risk
The NE Orinda neighborhoods were built 80 years ago and not designed to accommodate wildfire evacuations. The fire department has noted that we are not well situated for a mass evacuation.
- It is likely that more than 700 homes in NE Orinda will need to rely on St. Stephens Dr. as their primary evacuation route (see next page for a breakdown of home counts by road)
- Charles Hill Rd. residents could also need to evacuate via St Stephens Dr. if Honey Hill Rd. is blocked
- St Stephens Dr. and Charles Hill Rd./Honey Hill Rd. are both considered low-capacity residential roads, which is the lowest capacity road designation
- In addition, St. Stephens Dr. has multiple sharp turns and significant hills limiting capacity. Honey Hill Rd./Charles Hill Rd. is even narrower and windier than St. Stephens Dr.
- This is not the case for all the other proposed sites near Moraga Way, near Downtown or off Highway 24
Adding high-density housing to low-capacity fire evacuation roads puts our communities at even greater risk. This risk is not just for the immediate neighborhood but includes the 700+ homes in the broader NE Orinda as they rely on this single evacuation route.
Finally, pedestrian safety is also a significant concern. There are no sidewalks in the community and adding vehicles to an already dangerous situation will only put our residents at greater level of risk.
Based on the significant public safety concerns shared above, we ask the City of Orinda to remove St. Stephens Church from the list of opportunity sites in the draft HE.
Thank you for your immediate attention to this important matter.
Below is a count of homes who could rely on St. Stephens Dr. as their primary evacuation route. The fire department has noted that we are not well situated for a mass evacuation.
La Campana 31
Via Hermosa 22
La Punta 7
La Espiral 88
El Gavilan 45
Las Vegas 43
Las Vegas Court 3
Honey Hill Road 22
Honey Hill Court 3
La Noria 15
La Vuelta 17
Las Aromas 10
Dos Posos 19
Las Palomas 14
El Caminito 20
El Campanero 3
El Sereno 6
El Sueno 7
Camino Sobrante 94
El Pulgar 6
Los Dedos 16
Via Las Cruces 5
El Verano 15
Via Floreado 52
Gardiner Court 12
600 Miner Road and up 73
Ranch Road 9
Sycamore road 12
Tiger Tail Court 11
Canyon View Drive 16
St Stephens Drive 25
Desoto Court 3
Aqua Vista 2
Total = 700+ homes