From a "radioactive" package that prompted a brief shut down of a portion of Lafayette's busy Mt. Diablo Boulevard to a BART train fire at the Orinda station, 2013 proved to be quite an interesting year in Lamorinda.
Of course, there was a lot more happening in 2013 than emergencies. Of more lasting significance, the long-awaited Caldecott Tunnel fourth bore connecting Orinda and Oakland finally opened, easing many East Bay commuters' daily traffic nightmare.
It was also the year a majority of Moraga residents agreed to tax themselves to help fund the town's public school district. And Orinda residents saw Councilman Steve Glazer announce his bid for state Assembly, then hit BART stations during tense labor negotiations to boldly call for a ban on transit strikes.
Here's a look at more of Lamorinda's biggest stories in 2013.
Districts hire child safety coordinator
In January, leaders of Lamorinda's three elementary and middle school districts agreed to hire a child safety awareness coordinator to educate students about child abuse, bullying and sexual harassment.
The hiring of coordinator Carol Shenon followed efforts by the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa County and the Moraga School District to develop safety guidelines and provide "mandated reporter" training to school staff in the wake of a sex abuse scandal that shook the district last year.
"The goal in all of this is to integrate child abuse prevention programs and studies into the community so (child abuse) is not something people are afraid to talk about," said Carol Carillo, the prevention council's executive director, in January
Lafayette, Moraga school
districts settle lawsuits
Nearly two months after agreeing to hire the safety awareness coordinator, the Lafayette School District settled a lawsuit filed by a former Stanley Middle School student who in 2010 was sexually abused by a teacher. The district agreed to pay $725,000 to settle the suit.
Then in May, the Moraga School District announced it had reached a $2.85 million settlement with former student Kristen Cunnane in her lawsuit against the district and three former administrators over sexual abuse.
The Moraga district settled yet another lawsuit in September with a second victim abused by a former teacher during the 1996-97 school year.
Lafayette fire station closes; plan for new station hatched
When the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District temporarily closed a west Lafayette fire station in June 2012, fire officials blamed the shutdown on mold and rats.
But when officials decided to shutter the station in January, it wasn't because of the pests; it was because the financially-struggling county fire department could no longer afford to staff the facility -- or stations in Martinez, Walnut Creek and Clayton -- after voters rejected a temporary parcel tax designed to keep the district's 28 stations running.
With the setback came opportunity, at least in the eyes of former ConFire Chief Daryl Louder and former Moraga-Orinda Fire District chief Randy Bradley. The two chiefs hatched a plan to build a new shared fire station to replace the shuttered Lafayette station and an MOFD station in east Orinda in need of reconstruction. Still, neither chief was able to convince county supervisors to agree to the deal.
So before Bradley left to become fire chief in Modesto, he presented the MOFD board with a plan to purchase a property on the Lafayette-Orinda border on which the future joint station could one day be built. Despite the lack of a partner, the MOFD board agreed to the $1.2 million purchase.
Although both districts say they are committed to seeing the station become a reality, county supervisors -- who act as the ConFire board -- have still not agreed to a partnership. And neither district currently has the capital to construct the station.
Still, Lafayette residents are determined to replace the fire station, even if that means paying for the construction themselves.
Residents object, but Orinda submits housing plan
The city's attempt to adopt a written plan for meeting state-required affordable housing guidelines made multiple headlines this year, as a group of residents pushed for a document with more citizen input.
Members of the citizen group Orinda Watch began publicly pressing the city this summer to get more input from residents -- including through a vote -- on changes to zoning rules and other issues related to the city's housing element. The document is a portion of the general plan that maps out how Orinda will accommodate 218 market-rate to very-low-income housing units in the 2007-2014 "regional housing needs allocation" cycle managed by the Association of Bay Area Governments.
When the city ignored requests for a citizens committee to help draft the element, Orinda Watch decided to create their own draft, which they submitted to the city in September. City leaders responded by incorporating many -- but not all -- of the group's suggestions into a subsequent official draft.
The state received the housing element Nov. 22. A final determination from the state on the document is due Feb. 20, according to a Department of Housing and Community Development spokesman.
MOFD finances worsen
The local fire district had its share of ups and downs this year, but the biggest news was financial, including the purchase of the Lafayette property and the subsequent discovery by the new administrative services director that the district had failed to set aside more than $2 million in general fund reserves for debt repayment.
The oversight was detailed in a yearly audit that also showed administrators began relying in June on the district's $3.67 million capital projects fund to maintain operations after exhausting the general fund reserve.
That capital fund took a hit with the $1.2 million land purchase -- orchestrated before Administrative Services Director Gloriann Sasser and former Division Chief Stephen Healy, who is now fire chief, took their new jobs -- but has since recovered after receiving more than $1 million in "fire flow" tax revenue in October. As of November, the capital budget was back up to $3.4 million, but there's still not enough money to pay for the new fire station.
The district is also struggling with an increase in pay for benefits earned by current and past MOFD employees. According to a recent review of the pension plan managed by the Contra Costa County Employees' Retirement Association, the district has a $45 million gap between the value of pension benefits earned by district employees and retirees and the money available to fund them. The district also has a $24.1 million funding shortfall in retiree health care benefits promised to employees and their spouses. MOFD also owes $24 million for bonds it issued to pay off past pension debt.
Terraces development shrinks
A heavily criticized plan to place 315 moderate-income apartments on a portion of a 22-acre privately owned Lafayette hillside was placed on hold after city leaders agreed in December to consider a new proposal that calls for up to 45 single- family homes and a number of public amenities at the site.
The decision by the city council to take a look at the new plan also came with direction that the city attorney draft an agreement with developer O'Brien Land Co. to temporarily halt a lawsuit against the city the developer and property owners have threatened should the apartments be rejected.
The council is expected to review the agreement Jan. 13. Officials will then decide on Jan. 22 whether to pursue the single-family home development after receiving public input. The city plans to buy the parcel from the developer for $1.8 million as part of the deal.
The proposal was presented by City Manager Steve Falk at a meeting Dec. 9. Some residents greeted the scaled-back plans with some relief, while others were skeptical. If the council moves ahead. the new project proposal will receive environmental analysis under an existing review, plus scrutiny from circulation, parks and recreation, design review and planning leaders.
If officials don't move forward with the new plan, hearings for the 315-unit apartment proposal will resume.
Lafayette nixes bike park plan
After more than four years of contentious debate, city leaders decided in June to scrap plans for a bike park in the Lafayette Community Park.
Championed by supporters as an amenity that could be enjoyed by everyone from BMX enthusiasts to families, the 1.8-acre bike park was pitched for a hillside at the south end of the community park. The city had initially pegged the bike park's construction at about $105,000, but the price tag eventually swelled to $342,000.
Opponents railed against the park's future maintenance costs, potential lack of safety and possible impact on the surrounding park environment.
While the city council finally voted against allowing the project to move forward, at least one city leader supportive of a bike park suggested residents work together to consider alternate locations.
Lafayette spent $100,000 on design, planning and environmental studies before city leaders ultimately decided to ditch the plan.
Historic adobe sells to preservation group
For years, a group of Lamorinda residents rallied to preserve a historic adobe structure that once housed the family after which the town of Moraga is named. In April, the group finally reached its goal.
On a sunny spring morning, members of the group the Friends of the Joaquin Moraga Adobe gathered outside of the 172-year-old structure to announce they had reached an agreement with developers J&J Ranch LLC to buy the structure and a surrounding 2.3-acre parcel of land. Group members also presented development representatives with a $10,000 check for the initial deposit.
The developers had planned to convert the building into a private clubhouse for future residents of a subdivision planned on 20 acres surrounding the adobe. The Friends group had called for the adobe to be restored and turned into a historical resource center for the general public.
Under the deal, the Friends agreed to pay $500,000 for the building and land, which would be used to pay for half of the adobe's restoration. The group also agreed to set aside $50,000 for operations and ongoing maintenance costs. The developer agreed to pay for the rest of the restoration costs.
City issues refund
to residents for paving job
And now, an unusual story about a fast response to a problem.
When what was supposed to be a straightforward repaving job of a number of residential streets turned into a headache for some Lafayette residents, the city issued some refund checks.
The trouble started in July, when a city-hired company placed a "chip seal" treatment on about 20 residential streets in Burton Valley. Residents upset with the new gravel-like surfaces lashed out at the city, saying the work had turned their streets into the equivalent of "country roads."
The city initially offered to place a "slurry seal" treatment on the roads to make them smoother and asked residents to chip in money as the city has limited funds for road repairs; Lafayette had budgeted $730,000 for the surface seal project.
Just a couple of weeks after the city received more than $23,450 from residents to fix the roads, officials apologized for the fiasco and voted to refund the money. The city ended up funding the additional $57,000 surface treatment from general fund reserves.