In November of 2020, Measure Z was put on the ballot by Mayor Ashcraft and Councilmembers Oddie, Knox-White and Vella with the express purpose of repealing Article 26 of the City Charter that limits maximum residential density to 21 units per acre. 60% of Alameda voters rejected Measure Z, so Article 26 remains on the books today. It’s the law, and that should be the end of the story, but, sadly, it is not.
The State Housing Element Law requires every city to include a “housing element” in its General Plan that is revised every eight years and contains an inventory of land available for new housing construction in all income categories, with the number of units to be available for development in each category determined by a methodology dictated by the Law.
The Law requires that parcels qualifying as available to people in the lower income categories (Income up to 80% of the county median) must be zoned to allow at least 30 units per acre. The conflict created by our 21 units per acre limit was resolved in our 2015-2023 housing element by selecting about 100 acres of vacant land and that was formerly zoned as commercial or mixed use and upzoning it to allow residential development of up to 30 units per acre. This was lawful because Article 26 is pre-empted to the extent required to comply with state law. Since this upzoning did not impact our existing R-2 thru R-6 residential districts, it constituted a minimal exception to Article 26.
The City Planning Department’s new housing element for the 2023-2031 cycle clearly identifies sufficient parcels of land to meet the state determined number of units needed in all income categories without increasing the 21 units per acre density in our residential neighborhoods (known as R-2 thru R-6 zoning districts). Nevertheless, they propose to massively increase the density of these neighborhoods by asserting that state fair housing law requires every zoning district in the city to be densified to allow lower income units to be developed. THERE IS NOTHING IN THE LAW THAT SAYS THAT. It only requires that lower income residents not be isolated in “low opportunity” areas of a city. To Alameda’s credit, it has consistently required market rate developers to provide at least 8% of their project at rents or prices affordable to lower income folks. These units are all being built adjacent to the market rate units. (See Alameda Point, Alameda Marina, Alameda Landing and DelMonte projects)
City Planning Director Andrew Thomas has consistently supported repeal of Article 26 for several years. We believe that his proposed massive densification of these residential districts has little to do with any requirements of state law and everything to do with his steadfast distaste for Article 26. Having failed to repeal the Article with Measure Z, he now seeks to eradicate it without voter approval.