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

ACT strongly supported the Planning Department’s proposed R-1 amendments submitted to the Planning Board (PB) on Dec. 13. Unfortunately, the PB rejected the two most important objective standards contained in the proposed amendments, the maximum allowable size of any new dwellings of 1200 sq. ft. and the maximum allowance of two total units on a lot including ADU’s. Instead, the PB replaced these standards with a maximum allowable new dwelling standard of 1600 sq. ft. and full application of our current ADU ordinance to the R-1 district. This would allow as many as five units on a current lot or ten units if the owner does a lot split. We strongly oppose both of these PB recommendations. A discussion of both issues and the need for an urgency ordinance follows:

  1. Maximum Unit Size: The Planning Department presented its rationale for a maximum lot size of 1200sq. ft. in its written report to the PB:

“SB 9 allows the City to set size standards provided that those standards allow for at least two 800 square foot units. Staff recommends a 1,200 square foot maximum for three reasons: 1) smaller units are more affordable than larger units and the greatest need in Alameda is for smaller, more affordable units, and 2) Alameda’s Accessory Dwelling Unit Ordinance establishes a cap of 1,200 square feet for ADUs. Having a consistent maximum size for both ADUs and “SB 9 units” will simplify the administration of the ministerial permitting process for both ADUs and SB 9 units, and 3) smaller units will result in smaller buildings, which will result in less visual, shading, and other community character issues.”  

We have asked Karen Lithgow, a well-known local realtor, to compute the 2021 cost difference between purchasing/renting a 1600 sq. ft. dwelling or a 1200 sq. ft. dwelling. The larger dwelling median price is $1,275,001. The smaller dwelling median is price $1,037,500. The larger dwelling average rent is $4286. The smaller dwelling average rent is $3391.  

Adopting the Planning Department recommendation will provide us a with an inventory to meet the needs of poorly served “missing middle” or “workforce” residents who perform vital services for our community as well as providing the other benefits set forth in their rationale quoted above.

  1. Two Dwellings Per Lot Maximum: The Planning Department proposed amending the R-1 ordinance by providing Section c (f) stating:

The number of units shall be limited to two dwelling units or one dwelling unit and one accessory dwelling unit on each lot for a maximum of four (4) total dwelling units on the two lots created by the lot split.   

However, the PB proposes that the current ADU ordinance fully apply to the R-1 district, while acknowledging that this would allow two SB-9 units and three ADU’s on each lot for a total of five per lot, with a SB-9 lot split allowing up to ten units. This will create a level of density that is unsustainable regarding parking, water, sewer and other infrastructure needs, and reduction of our urban forest protection against carbon dioxide and heat. Quadrupling the density of our R-1 districts will be difficult enough for the community to absorb. Increasing density by a factor of ten simply makes no sense.

  1. The Need for an Urgency Ordinance: Staff has presented you with the option of adopting the R-1 amendments in an urgency ordinance. However, staff does not recommend this option. They admit that adopting the amendment in the normal process would delay the effective date of the amendments until Feb. 17 and that between the Jan. 1 effective date of SB-9 and Feb. 17 they would not be able to subject a development application to the objective standards of the amendments. However, they argue that the only significant standard is the 1600 sq. ft. maximum unit size, and that the unenforceability of this standard does not have “an impact to public health or safety”. Their conclusion is faulty on several grounds.
  1. They ignore all of the other standards in the amendments.
  2. They assume that you will not make any changes in the PB proposal, most importantly, reducing the density from five to two units per lot, including ADU’s.
  3. They misconstrue the State urgency ordinance law.

Ca Govt. Code Sec. 65858 (a) states:

Without following the procedures otherwise required prior to the adoption of a zoning ordinance, the legislative body of a county, city, including a charter city, or city and county, to protect the public safety, health, and welfare, may adopt as an urgency measure an interim ordinance prohibiting any uses that may be in conflict with a contemplated general plan, specific plan, or zoning proposal that the legislative body, planning commission or the planning department is considering or studying or intends to study within a reasonable time.”  

The law is specifically designed as an interim measure to allow enforcement of a contemplated zoning change while it is in progress, thus preventing developers from rushing an application in order to avoid the proposed changes. Thus, the statute establishes that such a fact scenario does justify an urgency ordinance to protect public safety, health, and welfare.

The urgency ordinance, if adopted, only has a life of 45 days. You will have time to improve on it in the future if needed. The cities of Los Altos Hills, Portola Valley, Pasadena, and Santa Barbara have enacted such an ordinance while their SB-9 revisions to their zoning ordinance are pending, and we do not doubt that there are others.

There is simply no downside to the urgency ordinance and an important upside that all SB-9 applications will be subject to the same objective standards regardless of when the applications are filed.


Alameda Citizens Task Force
Paul S. Foreman, Board Member

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