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Published January 11th, 2016
Eve Phillips, Orinda's New Mayor, Runs Toward a Better Future

Eve Phillips didn't let a new baby or a very active life slow her down, and she's running into the job of Orinda's new mayor with the same zeal with which she dives into running marathons.
And with some of the issues facing Orinda, especially in downtown development, her job may seem like a marathon.
Phillips took over the job of mayor of Orinda on Dec. 20. Elected to the city council in 2014, taking the seat vacated by Sue Severson, Phillips served as vice mayor in 2016. It is traditional that the vice mayor steps up the following year, and the top vote getter steps in as vice mayor. Phillips is pleased to serve, and, although she does not always agree with the rest of the council, she sees herself as a facilitator of conversations.
Phillips grew up in Moraga and attended Miramonte High School. She graduated from Massachussets Institute of Technology with a degree in computer science and followed that up with a master's degree from Stanford. Phillips is quick to point out, however, that she "still bleeds blue and gold." Her family has attended UC Berkeley for four generations, including her grandparents, aunts, uncles and sister. Phillips herself has taken classes at Cal, and has no difficulty mustering up a hearty, "Go Bears!" when the situation arises. (And no, she is not hiding the ax.)
After graduation, Phillips worked in London and San Francisco before returning to Lamorinda and deciding to settle down in Orinda. Phillips is the CEO and Co-Founder of Orinda-based Empower Interactive, a provider of a digital behavioral health platform.
In her spare time, Phillips enjoys hiking and biking but she is really more of a runner, having done cross country and track at Miramonte with her schoolmate, and now council member, Inga Miller. Phillips has run the Boston Marathon 13 years in a row. In 2016 she only ran half the marathon because she was seven-and-a-half months pregnant, but she'll be back in 2017.
Her first baby, Cary Louise Nichols, was born in June and she and her husband are delighted. Phillips gushed about her "favorite small constituent": "she is wonderful, has a great temperament, she's a lot of fun."
Taking on a council position is just a part of her dedication to Orinda. "Moving back here was the first time I felt like I wanted to set roots back here. I want to be here for the duration," Phillips says. "Seeking an opportunity to become more involved led me to throw my hat into the ring (for city council)," she added. "I enjoy taking on a lot of things and being busy. I've really enjoyed this opportunity to be able to serve."
Since the issue of road repairs is now well in hand, it appears that the big topic for Phillip's term will be the possibility of downtown development. Phillips cherishes the semirural character of Orinda, which typically describes the residential areas, but also tree cover and the size of housing in relation to lots. Orinda's general plan talks about maintaining the village character, including issues such as setbacks of the lots and height limits.
One of the things that makes Orinda unique is being able to look up and see trees. Like many others, she likes the idea of reorienting the businesses to face the creek. But money to restore the creek is the issue. Phillips notes that there is lots of enthusiasm and there may be others who can help, such as the John Muir Land Trust. The creek, she says, is in a challenging state right now. If it is not possible to "daylight" the entire creek, perhaps portions could be done.
Orinda businesses are to serve Orinda residents, Phillips said. Orinda is not trying to attract visitors. Looking at the retail leakage study Phillips concludes that Orinda loses some of its dining dollars and a lot of grocery money to Lafayette. She noted that Orindans also lose the opportunity to run into their neighbors while grocery shopping. She acknowledges that traditional retail is hard with the advert of e-commerce, but finds that the community seems to agree on the need for more groceries and restaurants.
Of course Phillips is concerned about vacant buildings. She is pleased that the Phair's building has recently changed hands, sold to Joanna Guidotti. Phillips is very enthusiastic to see something going into that space. She is excited that a building has been approved for 25A Orinda Way and the developer is preleasing space, after which building will commence. She is impressed with the clever way the developers are putting parking on the higher levels.
What's on her wish list? Another grocery store would be lovely, data suggests Orinda could use family friendly restaurants and cafes, a co-working space if it makes economic sense, a biking and running store would be great. Does she have any cities she considers role models for Orinda? Aspects of other cities: Danville has kept a lot of the historic aspects; Healdsburg with its town square; on the smaller side, Woodside has done a nice job for a city of only about 4,000-5,000 people, with a nice downtown, a very friendly and warm environment.
What is she afraid of? "Losing our sense of place, what makes us unique, the buildings that have particular character." She says she doesn't want to feel like she's in a strip mall that could be "Anywhere, USA."
She is very much looking forward to seeing what Mainstreet America can do to help Orinda attracting businesses. Phillips has more reservations about Urban Land Institute: "it feels like putting the fox in charge of the hen house," she opined; we should have our own strong point of view, find areas of broad consensus. She noted that there has been a lot of data gathering but folks aren't coming up with a consensus. But she believes that there is a consensus to be found. Some proposals cannot be implemented, she thinks, noting that the city only has so many levers at its disposal. "At the end of the day it is the private property owners and potential business owners that make this work," she said.

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