Sunday, December 7, 2008

Orinda council braces for challenging year

ORINDA — Orinda City Council members Sue Severson and Thomas McCormick were chosen this week to serve as the new mayor and vice mayor, and they face a financially lean year during which fixing roads, storm drains and fire hydrant water flow are top priorities.

Despite the challenges, both say they are confident the city is moving in the right direction

"I found that it's very productive to bring people and groups together in a collaborative way," Severson said of watching and learning from former mayor Victoria Smith, whom council members agreed led with a steady hand.

Severson boasts of the city's fiscal efficiency. She hopes council-created task forces and committee groups, such as the Revenue Enhancement Task Force she co-chaired, will help find solutions to Orinda's infrastructure needs. The task force's findings have, so far, met with mixed reviews from the community, but Severson remains optimistic.

Operating on a lean budget, as endorsed by the budget review committee and staff, was "an affirmation that we are doing our job as a city council," she said.

The mother of five children, Severson became involved in the Orinda community as a member of the Orinda school district board, on which she served for nine years. She supports the goals of the district, which will seek voter approval of a $124 increase of the school parcel tax to help Orinda's financially struggling schools.

McCormick shares Severson's Advertisemententhusiasm for the council's goals. He values his work in overhauling the city's planning process, which has admittedly been a source of frustration for many Orinda residents and businesses.

The council-created Planning Process Review Task Force, McCormick said, has already met many times working toward amending zoning codes, shortening the project review process, as well as creating incentives for commercial development in the downtown area.

McCormick will also divide his time between his vice mayor duties and improving the quality of life for teens in Orinda. He's working with a developer and the owner of Europa, a downtown eatery, to set up a youth center underneath the restaurant.

"If you talk to anyone that grew up here, that's the big thing," McCormick said. "(Teens) don't have a place to go to socialize, do homework or just to meet on (weekends)."

The center would be staffed with adult supervisors and paid for with contributions from the surrounding Lamorinda communities, similar to the way the Moraga Skate Park gets support from Orinda and Lafayette, McCormick said.

McCormick is an attorney in Orinda, where he has lived for 13 years. He has four children in Orinda public schools and has been a volunteer for the district and the Education Foundation of Orinda.

The new mayor and vice mayor took their posts Tuesday night, but not before saluting Smith with a lengthy city declaration.

Smith reminisced about her year as mayor, after being presented with flowers and a plaque showcasing a retired gavel.

"The best thing about being mayor is getting to meet with the student groups," Smith said. "(The students) have the best, most poignant questions to ask and I have been impressed by their interest in the election."

Terms for Orinda's mayor and vice mayor (formerly called mayor pro tem) are traditionally served in one-year rotations, with the vice mayor becoming the next mayor.

At Tuesday's meeting, council members Smith and Steve Glazer were sworn in for their second terms, after winning in the Nov. 4 election. Councilwoman Amy Worth, who has also served as mayor, will continue on as a council member.

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