Dear Mayor Ashcraft, Vice Mayor Vella and Council Members Knox-White, Daysog and Herrera Spencer:
ACT recognizes the need for the city to achieve a certified housing element and can generally support the draft housing element. However, we must strongly object to the proposed upzoning of residential districts R-1 to R-6 which, in effect, would repeal Article 26 of the city charter. The basis for our objection follows:
- Article 26: HE-27 (p. 22) alleges that the single family restrictions, low density zoning, and minimum lot size requirements of Article 26 are barriers to lower income multifamily housing and should be rescinded or mitigated. Our Planning Director has consistently strongly supported recission, rather than mitigation. Having failed to accomplish this aim at the ballot box, an attempt is now made to accomplish it in the guise of the housing element. However, Article 26 is not a barrier to achieving a certified housing element. In fact, it is irrelevant to the effort because it is pre-empted by the State Housing Element Law (HEL) to the extent needed to comply therewith.
The city, since 2012, has created multi-family overlay zoning districts that provide for density levels to meet the HEL requirements for the low income housing categories. This was accomplished by application of the pre-emption above. This has not been challenged. As a result, the city’s current housing element was certified by the state and has led to the city’s approval of over 3000 new multi-family units in all income categories.
It is obvious from the above that Art. 26 has not been a barrier to our current housing production and will not be a barrier to achieving our RHNA for 2023-2031.
- Upzoning All Residential Districts:
Our R-1 district has already been up-zoned by the recent passage of SB 9 with the density quadrupled from one unit per lot to up to four units. However, our Planning Department is not satisfied with SB – 9 but wants even more density and an easier process for developers!
SB-9 provides that if a developer wants to place 4 full-sized dwellings on the lot, no new ADU’s will be allowed, and the lot must be approved by the city for sub-division. Our Planning Department proposes to upzone R-1 to allow one full-sized dwelling unit for every 1250 sq. ft. which on a standard 5000 sq. ft. lot would allow four such units, the same as SB-9, but it would avoid the need for any subdivision and our current ADU ordinance would allow three ADU’s, raising the total dwelling units on the lot to seven. Thus, what was too much density even for SB-9 sponsor, Senator Wiener, is just right for Alameda. We think not.
Several R-2 through R-6 neighborhoods already contain pre-Article 26 multi-family housing, so that they are already in excess of the current one unit per 2,000 sq. ft. requirement. Densification to one unit per 1,000 sq. ft. for R-2 to R-4 and 750 sq. ft. for R-5 and R-6 plus the 4 ADUs allowed by our ordinance and the one additional unit that automatically applies pursuant to our inclusionary and density bonus ordinances for developments of five or more units will result in six or seven full sized units on the lot with up to four ADU’s added. 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.
We also wonder what consideration has been given to whether the existing antiquated infrastructure providing utility services to these neighborhoods can handle this increased density, and who will pay for upgraded infrastructure if needed.
It is possible that some of our R-2 thru R-6 zoned neighborhoods may, in fact, be “underutilized”. However, to assert that all R-2 thru R-6 neighborhoods have the capacity for more density defies logic and common sense. The Planning Department needs to define the term “underutilized” and do a block by block capacity study before proposing the up-zoning of any of these neighborhoods.
- Fair Housing: Upzoning R-2 to R-6 neighborhoods will actually conflict with the fair housing goals listed in the housing element draft. 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 of lower income tenants. HCD requires that these displaced tenants get monetary relocation assistance, comparable replacement housing and the right to reoccupy the newly developed structure. See https://www.hcd.ca.gov/community-development/building-blocks/index.shtml
The draft housing element gives lip service to this but fails to address how this will be accomplished. (HE-13 at page 19) 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.
- Meeting The RHNA: We recognize that the deletion of the R-2 thru R-6 upzoning creates a shortfall of 520 units from our RHNA which must be included somewhere else in the housing element inventory. We suggest that there are at least four different areas to cover this need.
- Prior drafts of the housing element credited 500 units to the up-zoning of only R-2 to R-6 zoning districts. SB-9 has quadrupled density limits in R-1. Thus, R-1 alone can be used to replace much if not all of this shortfall.
- The draft HE allocates only 480 units to ADU’s, based on the three year 60 unit average. However, the ADU production has steadily risen over that period from 26 to 39 to 64 in the current year. This would justify a higher allocation.
- The draft housing element includes seeking a waiver of the current unit limitation of our agreement with the Navy at Alameda Point. This has not yet been placed on a City Council agenda as a regular item. Instead, Council Members Spencer and Daysog have been required to make a Council referral. With no real priority, it languishes at the bottom of agendas and is continued to subsequent meetings. The city should be moving with alacrity on achieving this goal, thus making it available for the housing element land inventory.
- A preliminary site inventory presented to City Council on July 6 listed the shopping centers at up to 1200 units, not just the 800 now claimed. With a developer already proposing 800 units for South Shore, it is likely that HCD would allow a higher projection.
- Summary: Article 26 of our charter has been with us for almost 50 years and has been approved by the voters on four different elections, the most recent of which was only a year ago. It cannot be pre-empted by the Housing Element Law unless required in order to achieve our RHNA. Upzoning is not required in our R-1 thru R-6 zoning districts. Therefore up-zoning these districts would constitute an unlawful violation of our charter.
Moreover, several of our R-2 thru R-6 zoning district neighborhoods are already beyond the limited density requirements of Article 26 and they are providing some of the lowest rent housing in the city.
More development in these neighborhoods would displace these tenants as new denser construction would inevitably lead to higher rents with resulting gentrification. Thus, even if Article 26 did not exist, opening these neighborhoods to even more multi-family development would be unwise and should be avoided until absolutely required to achieve our RHNA.
We urge you to direct the City Planning Director to delete these districts from his proposed site inventory and distribute the 520 units lost by said deletion to other districts as suggested by Item #4 above.
Alameda Citizens Task Force
Gretchen Lipow, President