Our Recommendations on Critical Moraga Races

Most important includes emphatic NO on Onoda

We've rendered a specific yes/no recommendation (along with impressions and observations) only if a candidate has a voting record upon which we could reliably assess fiscal responsibility and good governance.

 

We've provided our impressions and observations for candidates who didn't have one.

Summary below, and loads of candidate-specific detail farther down the page (click here to jump to that)

In addition to our Council and MOFD recommendations:

We recommend a NO vote on Contra Costa County Measure X that will raise sales taxes. Virtually every economist agrees that raising sales taxes (a regressive tax) during a recession is a bad idea. Measure X is presented as a "general tax" and thus requires only a 50% threshold to pass, and has no restrictions on how the money is spent irrespective of campaign related promises. Interestingly, the county needed special legislation passed in Sacramento to even float the measure - state law otherwise limits local/county taxes from exceeding 2% on top of state sales tax levies.

How we did it: We conducted over 10 meetings with Town Council candidates (generally two rounds apiece with two different sets of SMARTMoraga folks), along with reviewing their Moraga Citizens Network answers (video here), their websites and their candidate statements.

 

Click on the candidate names below to read our full discussion on each

YES: Renata Sos


Renata was appointed to the Town Council in September 2018 after former councilwoman Jeanette Fritzky resigned for health reasons.

Renata has demonstrated a genuine willingness to proactively reach out to residents (and makes herself readily available to them), actively listens to different perspectives, and quite clearly has deliberated and rendered decisions with those conversations in mind to vote in what she believes is in the Town’s best interest.

She’s shown herself to be fair and balanced, considerate, intelligent and thoughtful. Although we haven’t agreed with all of her positions and votes, our direct interactions with her – along with her explanatory comments during council meetings – make it evident she weighs the input she receives and exercises sound judgement when making decisions. We are confident that she’ll continue with her open lines of communication and that her future decisions will be similarly thoughtful and balanced.

She has duly earned another term on the council, whether considered standalone or in comparison to the entire slate of candidates.

It’s as simple as that.




Kendall Langan (discussion)


A lifelong resident of Orinda (on the border) and Moraga, Langan is something of a free spirit and rough around the edges insofar as typical Moraga politicians go. What our meetings with him have revealed is that he’s something of an “everyday Moragan” with no hidden agendas and a willingness for open dialogue, as evidenced by his postings on Nextdoor and by his series of Zoom “town hall meetings” during which he’s answered any question people have asked.

The approach demonstrates to us a willingness to proactively engage and listen to residents, and Langan’s messaging frequently emphasizes “for you” and “your interests” with “you” and “your” meaning us, the residents. Our meetings with him made clear that he means what he says, and he views himself as a representative of and advocate for the residents.

He doesn’t have the same detailed level of knowledge as some other candidates who already have been involved with Moraga politics, which will require him to study, learn and listen to get up to speed on some issues. He’s cognizant of this and was proactive in committing to doing so, which we believe is genuine. He’s quite clear in his philosophy that taxes should always be a last resort and doesn’t believe the town has sufficiently explored or implemented cost savings or operating efficiencies to warrant its constant refrain that it’s lean and barely scraping by. Needless to say, we think he’s 100% spot-on with that.

He has taken some criticism on Nextdoor for a few of his comments that residents felt weren’t well supported or merited factual evidence (or where he stated conclusions/opinions but didn’t present enough information to justify them). After speaking with him in more detail, our conclusion is that he actually has some pretty good intuition and accurate insights for an “outsider,” and the legitimate criticism is really that he should have spent more time supporting the genesis of his comments and communicating them with more precision and clarity.

One of our members said, “He’s interested in the democratic process of town halls, where problems and issues get discussed and all input is received and considered. He’s got history and interest in making Moraga better for all residents, will put in the effort, and says what he thinks. He’s not fake.”




Ursula Schilling (discussion)


Schilling is an unconventional candidate by Moraga standards. She is a “free spirit” without previous experience on Town commissions or boards and doesn’t have a campaign website. A resident since 1975, her background includes working as a stockbroker, a chemistry teacher, as a classical pianist, and in industrial sales.

Referred to often as “the shopping cart and waving ambassador lady at Safeway”, we inquired about the why and how of that job. In short, she heard Safeway had a shortage of workers and was worried that might result in closure of the store, so she offered to help. We surmise from our conversation that she’s continued there because it keeps her busy and out-and-about.

Though there was buzz around town wondering if she was a serious candidate, our meeting with her confirms that she is serious about her desire to be on the Town Council. She clearly articulated her views with confidence and brevity, believes fiscal viability is important and that Moraga needs to be more business friendly.

She believes the members of the Town Council need to cooperate more effectively and compromise to craft mutually-acceptable solutions rather than seemingly split into groups that tend to vote together, creating winners and losers. She also believes that many of the towns “problems” are not as complicated as they are made out to be.

She was humble and honest acknowledging that she lacks the depth and breadth of town financial and planning knowledge relative to the other candidates, but promised to study, learn and work hard for residents.

We felt she was intelligent and civilized, with one member summarizing: “she’s something of an odd duck in a Moraga election, yet a great contrast to the fake friendliness and patronizing attitude of some previous councilmembers.”




NO: Teresa Onoda


This is Teresa Onoda’s decision-making in a nutshell: Declare a fiscal emergency just minutes after approving 6% raises, $5000 bonus programs, $500 car allowances, and spending a full hour lobbying for a Moraga Poet Laureate.

Follow that with backroom deals without the knowledge or authorization of the Town Council, tens of thousands of dollars in unauthorized spending, real estate giveaways, and culminating in trying to force a tax on residents that was 10 times larger than needed.

It pains us to say it about this outwardly cheerful former Mayor and Councilmember, but Onoda’s prior performance on the council from ’14-’18 was nothing short of disastrous. Worse, it was riddled with dishonesty and recklessness.

Read any SMARTMoraga article from 2017 or 2018 detailing the consistent poor decision making, scandals, cost overruns, lack of accountability and opacity while she was Mayor or Vice Mayor, and it’s imminently clear she should not be elected again.

We’ve linked just a subset of relevant articles we wrote during her term down at the bottom. They include detail on:

  • Resident satisfaction plummeting by 40%, and disapproval ratings more than doubling

  • Repeated violations of the public trust, including at least two unauthorized, backroom deals directly contravening Town Council direction and costing taxpayers tens of thousands in legal fees

  • A bloated and dishonestly-managed tax initiative that was nearly 10 times larger than necessary (that she championed while ignoring resident input that it was based on seriously flawed assumptions and contained intentionally misleading information)

  • Failing every single "fact check" we conducted during her term as Mayor

Her leadership was a lesson in precisely how NOT to demonstrate financial responsibility, transparency or good governance.

Her track record alone earns an absolute, unequivocal “NO” recommendation, yet she still believes that more taxes are needed and continues to defend, minimize or ignore her own, her council’s and town staff’s poor decisions and dishonesty to the extent that she’s doubled down, stating she will “stick with the same policies and approach”.

Let us be clear: That simply cannot be allowed to happen.

--

Links to just a few of the articles we wrote during her tenure as Mayor and Vice Mayor:

Fiscal emergency after granting raises, bonuses, and lobbying for a Poet Laureate: here

Resident satisfaction plummets: here

Unauthorized deals and legal fees: here

Unauthorized Hacienda deal collapses: here

Contravening specific council direction: here

Failing every fact check: here

Bloated and dishonest tax initiative: here

And a more recent one portending what the future would hold (hint - more of the same): here




David Stromberg (discussion)


David is a five year Moraga resident, has served on the Planning Commission for the past few years and as its Chair for the past two. He moved to Moraga from Lafayette, where he was a longtime resident and served on the school board.

As a result, his area of focus in Moraga has been on development and planning. Like most all Moragans, he favors “smart growth” and preserving ridgelines and open space. He’s quite clearly intelligent and very articulate, with well-formed positions driven by the facts available to him.

One not insignificant concern we had was his public statements relating to new taxes (and specifically the types of taxes) since they seemed to presume new taxes are necessary and a foregone conclusion, which every reader of SMARTMoraga knows is seldom the case, and most certainly is not the case now.

After discussing with him some highlights of what we’ve uncovered during the phony fiscal emergency, storm drain fiasco, and patterns of obfuscation and spin we’ve seen come out of town hall related to finance and operations, we became comfortable that his statements have been based on the limited information available to him since deciding to run for council, and that he’d base decisions on actual financial and operating information and considering a breadth of alternatives. He stressed that he isn't advocating for the tax, and intends to "examine every avenue to address the Town's financial picture and needs with an open mind."

His comments also led us to conclude that he views tax increases as an alternative only if determined absolutely necessary and after legitimately exploring and implementing cost reductions and operational efficiencies, including shared services with neighboring towns so we aren’t needlessly duplicating efforts.

Overall, he presents himself as professional and thorough.

One of our interviewers said, “His planning-related knowledge obviously is excellent, but he will need to come up to speed on the financial side to ensure the town maintains fiscal discipline and that the town council isn’t railroaded into decisions because the information they’ve been provided has flawed assumptions or otherwise leads them to someone else’s preferred conclusion. I think our conversation was eye opening for him in that respect, and think he’ll have no problem standing up for what’s right for residents first.”




MOFD District 2 - YES: John Jex


Just like the election two years ago, voters have a choice between a truly independent Director (Jex) and one with direct ties to firefighter unions (Smith). Contrast Jex's modest self-funded campaign with Smith's, which is run by a committee out of Sacramento with 100% of its funding coming from the firefighter union. Jex, who also is endorsed by the Orinda Firewise Council, is the incumbent and a former Partner at Deloitte, thus bringing significant financial acumen, responsibility and oversight to the board role. His previous service and performance on the Board has been independent, balanced, financially responsible and worthy of another term. Full article available: Click Here