ORINDA -- A contested plan for future housing in Orinda is undergoing yet another edit as city staffers continue to make changes to the document as requested by a community group.

Residents and council members got their first look this week at the latest batch of revisions to the city's draft housing element as suggested by members of the group Orinda Watch. The draft document is now in its fourth version; the fifth draft will undergo planning commission review Oct. 22, along with an initial environmental study.

While the city council approved most of the changes presented by planning director Emmanuel Ursu on Tuesday, Councilman Dean Orr pushed back on modifications in the document's introduction he said shift the element's purpose from meaningful community planning to simply complying with state housing requirements. "I think any aspirational sort of future thinking that was in this document is now void," Orr said. "It's no longer here."

Orr's observation touched off a brief debate with fellow Councilman Steve Glazer, who suggested reversing some language in the introduction to place the emphasis on planning for housing for current and future residents.

"I think that's a subtle but great change," Orr said. "That intent has really been removed from the rest of the document,"

The exchange came toward the end of nearly three hours of public comment and discussions between council members about the state-required housing element, which outlines how Orinda plans to accommodate future housing as part of regional housing needs managed by the Association of Bay Area Governments.

The city needs to show how it can provide land for 70 very low-, 48 low-, 55 moderate- and 45 above-moderate-rate income housing units in the 2007-2014 cycle. Once the city adopts it, the element document must be certified by the State Department of Housing and Community Development by a January deadline.

If the element is not certified, the city could lose out on state transportation and planning funding, including $553,000 in grant money already earmarked for road repairs.

Members of Orinda Watch, other community groups, residents and even some out-of-towners began publicly pressing city leaders in July to withdraw the draft housing element, which they argued had been improperly submitted to HCD for review, among other complaints.

When officials did not respond to repeated requests to withdraw the element, the group decided to create a citizen's edit, or "redraft" of the plan using community input, which they submitted in September to city staffers. The city incorporated many of those revisions in the fourth draft of the element, which was discussed Sept. 17.

On Tuesday, spokesman Rusty Snow sought to clarify "misinformation" about the group, including its goals and affiliations. Orinda Watch's objectives, Snow said, are to help the city maintain "local control" and help residents be "the decision-makers" for issues concerning Orinda.

"It should be noted that having local control does not mean being forced to do something," Snow told the council. "Thus, Orinda Watch may have issues with directives from outside agencies and other authorities if their directives adversely affect the town of Orinda."

Those outside agencies and authorities, Snow said, "may" include Plan Bay Area, a highly-debated regional growth and transportation blueprint approved by a number of Bay Area agencies in July; the Association of Bay Area Governments; the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which is chaired by Orinda Mayor Amy Worth; HCD, and the state of California.

"We hope in the long run the citizens, the council and staff will consider Orinda Watch's activities very beneficial to the well-being and interest of the citizens and the town of Orinda," Snow said.

Additional public input on the housing element will be taken at the planning commission meeting and a city council meeting Nov. 19.

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