The City Staff Evaluation of City Charter Article 26 “Measure A” can be found at: https://alameda.legistar.com/calendar.aspx Scroll to Planning Board .. January 13, 2020 and click on “Agenda” on the right side of entry. This is the only item on the agenda.
CRITIQUE OF CITY STAFF EVALUATION OF CITY CHARTER ARTICLE 26 “MEASURE A”
- Page 4 of the of the Evaluation concerns the density bonus issue. It states that Article 26 inhibits density bonus projects in existing built up residential areas and the Park and Webster Street business areas, because the State law only allows density bonuses and multiple family waivers on projects that provide at least 5 units. Article 26 requires one dwelling per 2000 sq. ft. Since 90% of our built-up residential areas and 75% of our Park and Webster parcels have a lot size of under 10,000 sq. ft., none of these parcels currently qualify for a density bonus.
- While we do not necessarily support developing housing in our historic business districts, we do recognize the inevitability of our vacant land being re-zoned for affordable housing in order to meet our Housing Element obligations and do not oppose excepting the non-historic portions of these districts from Article 26 and leave it for City Council, after public input, to determine what areas of our business districts are appropriate for such action.
- We are totally opposed to our existing built-up residential neighborhoods being exempted from Article 26. Such an exemption would open these neighborhoods to high density development if supported by a simple majority of City Council. Prior to adoption of Article 26 the City suffered through developer buyouts of single family residences including many Victorians and their replacement with multi-story, multi-family dwelling units that were entirely inconsistent with the character of those neighborhoods. Article 26 put a stop to these developments. We are opposed to allowing these neighborhoods to be subject to possible up zoning to high density by a simple majority of Council.
- We have been told that in most, if not all, of the communities in the Bay Area rezoning is within the discretion of Council. However, we believe that Alameda is unique and that the same factors which justified Article 26 in 1973 and 1991 are even more relevant now. Those factors are:
- We are an island community with the mainland access, public safety, and traffic and parking congestion that this geographic fact entails.
- Our town is the closest residential community to the both the job-rich San Francisco and Oakland markets. Thus, removing Article 26 will put tremendous pressure on City Council to allow the very invasion of our existing built up residential areas that Article 26 is designed to correct.
- Page 5 of the Evaluation states “Article 26 limits the City’s ability to address the local and regional affordable housing crisis.” This is not true.
- The Background Report for our current Housing Element https://www.alamedaca.gov/files/sharedassets/public/alameda/building-planning-transportation/general-plan/he-background-report.pdf at page 35 identified 2245 building sites available to meet our 1723 unit goal, the vast majority of which were zoned for high density housing by applying the multi-family overlay to the existing zoning. After the certification of the Housing Element Council approved 800 more units at Site A in Alameda Point and have recently approved 327 more units at Alameda Landing
- Notwithstanding the above, we are still over 300 units short of the 975 “affordable” unit portion of our overall 1723 unit goal, while having approved more than five times the 748 unit market rate goal. (approximately 620 affordable, 3700 market rate) Thus, our failure to meet our affordable goal has not been due to a lack of available building lots, but other factors such as increased construction costs, and a low affordable housing inclusion requirement which results in over 85% of most density bonus projects being dedicated to market rate housing. In fact, the City should pursue applying to ABAG for a credit against our next ABAG housing numbers for market rate housing approved in excess of our current 748 unit Housing Element goal. Otherwise we will continue adding 85% market rate housing, thus crowding out space for affordable housing.
- Although the next 8-year RHNA goals for Alameda are not known, it is likely that existing vacant land including the adding of dwelling units over our existing retail businesses can be utilized to meet our RHNA without repealing Measure A and by extending the multi-family overlay over enough land to accommodate the same. After these options are exhausted it is unlikely that the State will seek to invade existing built-up residential neighborhoods and more likely it will be recognized that we have reached our capacity.
- From Items A, B and C above one must conclude that the Planning Department recommendation to repeal Measure A has nothing to do with our need to meet our RHNA. Instead it is driven by Andrew Thomas’s often repeated view that Alameda has an obligation to exceed our RHNA obligation.
- Page 6’s citing of the Climate Change Emergency as being exacerbated by Article 26 is a strange rationale. How are flooding and other climate change emergencies mitigated by more building, and more people on an island with limited access to the mainland? Also, most of the added population is being placed at water’s edge.
- Pages 6-7 of the Evaluation states, “Article 26 is not an effective growth control measure and does not reduce traffic or automobile congestion.” Neither conclusion is accurate.
- Article 26 limits the amount of available city land offered for high density residential development to only the acreage needed to meet our RHNA. Repealing, without replacing Article 26 opens the entire City for high density residential development to whatever extent approved by a simple majority of the City Council.
- Article 26 does not reduce traffic congestion, but it most certainly limits high density development as set forth in Item A above. Repealing, without replacing it will inevitably make the traffic condition worse. No matter how many new residents choose public transportation many other new residents will still be driving either out of the City or from point to point within it.
- Page 7 of the Evaluation states that Article 26 does not “preserve the character of residential neighborhoods”. This assertion is ludicrous. Article 26 was approved by the voters for exactly the purpose of preserving the character of our residential neighborhoods and that is what it has done. The Evaluation cherry-picks multifamily housing that was built decades before this problem arose and was generally designed consistently with adjoining single family residences. There are no photos of the narrow multi-storied motel-like residences built shortly before Article 26 was adopted and which led to its passage.
- Page 8 of the Evaluation cites the 2018 City of Alameda Economic Development Strategy which identifies two primary land use strategies to support economic development and job growth in Alameda: preserving land for job-producing commercial uses and providing housing for employees of new businesses. It then argues that Article 26 has forced it to apply the multi-family overlay to commercial or mixed use land in order to meet our RHNA, rather than rezoning existing residential areas.
- The bold faced italics above exposes what appears to be the primary policy goal of the Evaluation. In order to preserve vacant commercial mixed-use zoned land, the Planning Department wants to open our existing Article 26 protected residential zoning districts to high density development. For our concerns about this see Item 1 of this Critique.
- The flaw in the theory that re-zoning existing residential zoned areas will preserve our commercially zoned vacant plots from being invaded by our RHNA requirement is found in the language of the Housing Element Law at CA Govt. Code Sec. 65583 (a) (3) which requires that our Housing Element include, “An inventory of land suitable and available for residential development, including vacant sites and sites having realistic and demonstrated potential for redevelopment during the planning period…” Thus, sites that are not vacant and are populated by exiting occupants cannot be counted toward our RHNA.
- Preserving land for job-producing commercial use is a worthy goal. However, Council has approved projects in mixed-use zoned parcels at Encinal Terminals, Del Monte and Alameda Marina that are predominately residential with only token jobs-producing commercial use. (In the case of Alameda Marina well over 200 existing jobs will be lost).
- The point of (C) above is that City Council clearly does not have the concern for preserving space for job-producing commercial development as stated in the City economic policy and that there are ways to preserve commercial space without repealing Article 26.
- Page 8 of the Staff Evaluation states: “Article 26 undermines Alameda’s efforts to maintain an economically, culturally, and racially diverse community by prohibiting housing types that are most affordable to lower and middle income households” This statement is belied by the facts. The 1970 Census Figures indicate that the community was over 90% white and that the white percentage by 2010 was down to just over 50%. http://www.bayareacensus.ca.gov/cities/Alameda70.htm The current demographic estimates for 2019 show it below 50%. http://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/alameda-ca-population/. The median income for Alameda residents in 2019 was $89,045. https://datausa.io/profile/geo/alameda-ca/ The median of Alameda County is $111,700 https://www.acgov.org/cda/hcd/documents/HUD-Limits2019.pdf Thus it can be safely concluded that Alameda is diverse as to culture, race and income. In fact, the existing built-up residential neighborhoods contribute to this diversity, rather than obstruct it, because many of them, while originally designed as single family now provide relatively low cost multi-family housing. This has been enhanced further by new City and State law favoring the construction of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) adjacent to or within these homes. Conversely the new housing approved pursuant to the Housing Element reduces our diversity because it is 85% market rate. (See Item # 2 (B) above)
- The final argument for repeal presented in the Evaluation is that Article 26’s prohibition of high density housing undermines the General Plan. The answer to this argument can be gleaned from all the preceding paragraphs in this Critique. However, it does demonstrate the Staff Evaluation of Article 26 is premature. Article 26 should be evaluated the broader context of an evaluation of all of the City’s land-use and development documents, including the general plan, revision of which is underway.
Conclusion: Article 26’s impact on our current Bay Area housing crises is negligible to non-existent. Due to the uniqueness of our City as set forth in Item 1 of this Critique we cannot support repeal of Article 26 without protection in the Charter against high density up zoning in our built-up residential neighborhoods and historic areas on Park and Webster.