Published December 14th, 2016
Moraga's Departing Mayor Has Some Regrets
By Sophie Braccini
Mike Metcalf Photo Sophie Braccini
This year is the last of Mike Metcalf's service to the town of Moraga as an elected official.
For 12 years he has volunteered as a council member, including three terms as mayor. He had served an additional six years on the planning commission prior to the council. Eighteen years in the life of the retired Chevron engineer have been dedicated to making Moraga a better place to live. He leaves with several gratifications: the approval of Measure K ? the 1-percent add-on sales tax for the roads; and a shift to the perception that Moraga does not have a spending problem, but a revenue problem. Yet there were too many regrets and disappointments to compel him to continue in office. It was time to retire. He feels now free to speak about it.
"Twelve years has been quite long," says the retiring mayor. "There have been too many disappointments, and the same issues keep coming back." Looking at the last 18 years, he notes how little has been accomplished over so long a period, and how resistant to change and close-minded some people can be. He envisages Moraga remaining a small town with great potential for enhanced charm, yet entangled in old issues that no one seems able to unravel.
He vividly remembers one of the first very first meetings he attended as planning commissioner 18 years ago. The topic was the approval of the vesting map for the country club extension, some 50 homes, which to this day remain unbuilt. He remembers a visibly unhappy man sitting in the front row of the auditorium, who stood up after the staff report and made it clear to the commission that the hearing was a waste of time, since the project was a done deal. This was Metcalf's first encounter with Russell Bruzzone, the property owner. Apparently Bruzzone resented the town having any say over what he was planning to do with his property, Metcalf says.
Bruzzone passed away in June of 2001. Since then, the resentment of the Bruzzone family toward the town has been hard to mistake, Metcalf believes. Bitterness and distrust have continued between the town and this major property owner, resulting in stagnation in the town center, Metcalf says.
The Moraga Center Specific Plan area is owned almost entirely by this family. Metcalf recalls that it took eight years to develop the Specific Plan, "easily two years of that was senseless argument, sometimes the fault the town," recalls Metcalf. He regrets that the Bruzzone family refused to negotiate a development agreement with the town. "What we were trying to do was to put an apparatus in place to develop the public infrastructure that goes with the plan (such as the extension of School Street), but for them it seemed more about control," he says. To him, it remains very sad.
His fellow residents in some instances have also disappointed Metcalf.
In his view the attempt to get a referendum against the City Ventures project was disingenuous and cynical. "It was not at all legal, and the petitioners probably knew it, evidently trying to make the approval process so difficult that the developer would simply walk away," he says. He personally believes that this development along Moraga Way, next to the fire station, will turn out just fine once the construction is complete and the landscaping fills in. "It will be so much better than the vacant lot it is now," he says.
Another of Metcalf's major regrets has to do with the Hacienda de las Flores. His wife, Sharon, is an architect by training, who was a volunteer for the Hacienda Foundation for years with her friend Judy Dinkle and several other volunteers. Metcalf truly supported and liked the work that was done by the architect firm Gould Evans, and the concept of a public/private partnership to develop the property. This work represented a great beginning to establishing a business plan for what he calls a public treasure, providing some much-needed amenities for the town. The mayor was disheartened when the project was abruptly derailed and died. "It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion," he remembers.
Metcalf can take credit for the process that led to the adoption of Measure K. It started with getting the town's finances on the right track, hiring quality auditors, forming an audit and finance committee, and hiring real professionals to manage the town finances. He is proud that town staff continues to receive peer awards for superlative financial reporting, and that the town enjoys a high credit rating. He supported the 2009 study by the revenue enhancement committee that showed that the city was not overspending and needed new sources of revenue to take care of its infrastructure. He involved himself in the outreach that followed and led to passage of Measure K ? remarkably, by over 70 percent voter approval. He believes that this instructive approach is necessary to build residents' trust and support for any project. He hopes that such a process will be used for funding the needed storm drain repair.
Over the years Metcalf has formed several meaningful friendships, including with the long-standing town staff. He remembers fondly John Carey on the planning commission: "the brightest and most enjoyable man I worked with." He also very much appreciated Howard Harpham, who was council member for four years, for his intelligence, wit and integrity. For many years he has worked alongside Dave Trotter. "We are very different people, but we understand each other pretty well, and get things done," he says.
Metcalf is not concerned at all about having nothing to do as he steps down. He says that from his now long life, much remains yet to be done. He has a lot of things going on and a long bucket list he wants to get to. It is likely that he will continue to contribute to the town of Moraga, if only as a part of the Kiwanis Club of Moraga Valley, in which he has been involved with for about 12 years.

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