April 19. 2022 City Council Agenda-Item 7-C: Draft Housing Element

Re: April 19. 2022 City Council Agenda-Item 7-C: Draft Housing Element

Dear Mayor Ashcraft, Vice Mayor Vella and Council Members Knox-White, Herrera Spencer and Daysog.:

The April draft of the Housing Element (HE) expands the residential upzoning to include the R-2 zoning district with no explanation as to the need for the same. It also, for the first time, displays the Planning Department’s (PD) draft housing site inventory with a breakdown of each parcel’s projected realistic capacity in each of the four income categories. The R-1 thru R-6 zoning districts are labeled “Infill Residential District Sites”. (Appendix Page E-4). Our comments on the same follow.

City Charter Article 26:  ACT has consistently supported the position that the Article 26 density limitation of 21 units/acre is superseded by the state Housing Element Law to the extent necessary to meet our lower income categories RHNA. In both of those categories the inventory reveals that there will be surplus units in excess of our RHNA, even if the R-2 thru R-6 zoning districts are left at their current density. Therefore, in terms of achieving our 2239-unit lower income categories RHNA there is no legal basis for upzoning these sites.  

At the last Planning Board meeting Mr. Thomas cited the provision in HCD Housing Element Guidebook which states at page 22, “…it is recommended the jurisdiction create a buffer in the housing element inventory of at least 15 to 30 percent more capacity than required, especially for capacity to accommodate the lower income RHNA.”  https://www.hcd.ca.gov/community-development/housing-element/docs/sites_inventory_memo_final06102020.pdf 
However, this is a “recommendation”, not a requirement for a certified HE. While the current inventory does not quite meet the suggested percentage in the very low-income category, it meets it in the low-income category.

Moreover, the current inventory significantly understates the realistic capacity for ADUs at item 15(a) at only 400 units. In the report attached to Agenda Item 7-C the realistic capacity is corrected to 560 units, thus adding 160 units to the buffer, spread over all categories. However, even this correction is too conservative. 79 permits for ADUs were issued in 2021, well above the 39 that were issued in 2020 and continuing an upward trajectory. Therefore, a projection of at least 79 new units per year is reasonable, thus raising the eight year total to 632. This increase would also create a buffer to cover a possible rejection of our SB-9 projection discussed below, inasmuch as SB-9 is not currently attracting development here or statewide.

The same report modifies Item 15 (b) of the inventory “infill residential sites”, reducing the projection from 270 units to 238 units with no explanation. The report also makes a 72-unit projection of SB-9 units as if it were a separate item from Item 15 (b) However both Item 15 (a) and (b) include the R-1 district. Therefore the 72 SB-9 units are part of Item (15 (b). After deducting those 72 units from the 238, it must be concluded that the massive upzoning of R-2 thru R-6 is being proposed to gain only 166 units, none of which are needed to meet our RHNA in any income category. Increasing our ADU realistic capacity as suggested in the preceding paragraph reduces that number to only 94 units.

Fair Housing: The draft HE posits that fair housing law requires that every neighborhood in the city be upzoned for the two lower income categories, thus necessitating the upzoning of these districts. There is simply nothing in the Housing Element Law or in HCD requirements that supports this claim.  Here again the Guidebook informs us. At page 8 this requirement is applied to the housing element inventory as follows:

“For purposes of the housing element site inventory, this means that sites identified to accommodate the lower-income need are not concentrated in low-resourced areas (lack of access to high performing schools, proximity to jobs, location disproportionately exposed to pollution or other health impacts) or areas of segregation and concentrations of poverty. Instead, sites identified to accommodate the lower income RHNA must be distributed throughout the community in a manner that affirmatively furthers fair housing.”   

The combination of Alameda’s inclusionary ordinance requiring 11% of residential building projects to be in the lower income categories and the Density Bonus Law has resulted in most of the thousands of units approved for construction during the current HE cycle to contain mixed income housing, with all income categories constructed within each project area. Thus, areas that were lower resourced are now growing areas of market rate housing and will inevitably become high resource areas. There is no reason why projects constructed in the future will not achieve the same result.

The TCAC/HCD Resource Map at Appendix D, page 6 does not demonstrate all of these upgradings of resources because, “even the most recent publicly available datasets typically lag by two years, meaning they may not adequately capture conditions in areas undergoing rapid change.” https://www.treasurer.ca.gov/ctcac/opportunity/2022/2022-hcd-methodology.pdf at page 1.

We also assert that upzoning our R-2 thru R-6 neighborhoods will actually conflict with the fair housing requirements. These neighborhoods are already the source of some of the lowest rent housing in the city, so that any new development will necessarily result in major displacement. Increasing the density will significantly increase the land value of development sites. This, along with high construction costs will inevitably result in higher rents that current residents will be unable to pay. Instead of creating affordable housing the result will be gentrification.

Conclusions:  All of the above demonstrates that there is no legal or policy basis for upzoning our R-2 to R-6 zoning districts.

Obviously, the Planning Department (PD) is of a different view. We are of the opinion that their conclusions are not driven by a neutral application of available data but by the desire for repeal Article 26 consistently expressed by their Director over the past several years. However, the repeal of Article 26 was rejected by a resounding majority of the voters in November of 2020. Therefore, it is a law of the City of Alameda which you are bound to honor to the extent not superseded by state law.

There is an easy way to test whether our conclusions or that of the PD are correct. That is to submit a draft of the HE to HCD that deletes the R-2 thru R-6 zoning districts from the lower income categories and the upzoning proposal and abandons its conclusion that the law requires the upzoning of every residential district in the city. If the HCD approves the draft or if they instead require the upzoning of all residential districts, the issue, as a practical matter will be resolved.

With regard to the submission suggested above we remind you of our email to you of April 11, 2022, wherein we stated the legal and policy necessity for you to take a formal vote adopting the draft to be submitted to HCD in May and the need to delay that vote until after the Planning Board’s final review of the draft on May 9.

There is also a practical reason for this approach. Presenting a draft which excludes the upzoning of these districts, if approved by HCD, will give us the space to expand our housing for the next RHNA cycle eight years from now. The maximal approach of the PD will lead to a future RHNA where the only available space is vertical in the extreme.

Finally, while we have chosen to limit this letter to opposition to upzoning of the R-2 to R-6 zoning districts, we strongly support the position of AAPS concerning height restrictions in our commercial zones.


Paul Foreman,
Authorized Board Member of Alameda Citizens Task Force.

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