Council okays plan allowing multifamily housing
The City Council on Tuesday approved new zoning rules allowing the development of multifamily housing in Alameda for the first time since Measure A passed in 1973. The vote was 4-1, with Councilman Doug deHaan casting the lone “no” vote.
The new multifamily housing zoning will be applied to 10 properties slated for housing development and were approved as part of a new housing element to be included in the city’s general plan. The element lays out how much housing can be built in Alameda and where, and Alameda’s has been out of compliance with state law since 1991 primarily due to the city’s development limits, correspondence between the city and the state Housing and Community Development department shows.
“In the end, what the hard work of the staff has led to is something that is a common-sense and pragmatic and practical approach,” Vice Mayor Rob Bonta said.
DeHaan said the city has already taken steps to ensure affordable housing is built, though city staffers argued those steps weren’t enough to appease state housing officials who refused to okay prior housing elements the city submitted. DeHaan also questioned whether the city did enough to notify residents about its plans, prompting an angry response from City Manager John Russo, who said city staff did plenty to keep residents informed.
Andrew Thomas, the city’s top planner, said the council needed to approve a new housing element in order to qualify for millions in state transportation funds and to avoid lawsuits that have snagged other communities that have restricted housing development in violation of state law.
“If we delay, and we get sued, please put aside a big war chest. Because you’ll need it,” Thomas told the council.
The new housing element has been championed by affordable housing advocates who have been pushing the city to reach compliance for years. They have argued the city has a moral obligation to provide housing for people with a variety of needs, and at a variety of income levels, legal obligations notwithstanding.
“Alameda is in dire need of more diverse residential options to house a diverse range of Alamedans. I support this not just because it’s state law, but because it’s a rational and minimal way of complying with state law,” said Deni Adaniya, an Alameda resident and affordable housing advocate.
But the plan stirred anew concerns about traffic and safety that are routinely raised when housing development is proposed, and others that Tuesday’s vote would open the door to more densely packed development Island-wide.
“I was on the council for three terms, and we worked hard to uphold Measure A. We were able to uphold it for 40 years. You are the first council that proposes to undermine it,” Karin Lucas said. “If you want to change it, put it on the ballot and let us vote on it.”
Lucas said cities are routinely out of compliance with the state’s housing element law, and other speakers asked for more time to work on the city’s housing element before the council approved it. But Thomas and other city leaders said the state has increased the penalties for noncompliance and that the city needs to act quickly to avoid those penalties.
City leaders said the housing element only requires the city to show they have enough land zoned to allow construction that would meet housing needs numbers determined by the regional Association of Bay Area Governments and the state, and not to develop the housing. They said specific development proposals would still be required to go through an approval process and to address traffic and other impacts they would create.
They said the new zoning scheme will help, rather than harm, Measure A by protecting it from a potentially fatal legal challenge.
“If we go to court, they’ll compare Measure A and state law, and that’s the only thing the court will look at. And that’s a problem for us,” Mayor Marie Gilmore said. “We will lose Measure A for the entire Island forever.”
The three-hour debate over the new housing element – which had originally been slated for a quick voice vote but gained interest over the last few weeks as word of it circulated in e-mails and on local blogs, drawing nearly three dozen speakers to Tuesday's meeting – raised the specter of onetime Alameda Point developer SunCal and its high-density development plan for the Point along with those of what some perceive as the exclusionary nature of Measure A.
“I love living in Alameda, but I feel like there’s a lot of people in our city who don’t want a lot of outside people coming in,” Austin Tam, who supported the new housing element, said.
The new housing element, which will be in place through 2014 if the state okays it, is required to show the city has enough land zoned for construction of 2,420 new homes. The city will allow apartment buildings and other multifamily housing to be built on 10 sites, including a portion of the Alameda Landing site, the North Housing site on Singleton Avenue, the site of the former Chevy’s restaurant on Mariner Square Loop, the former Shipways site, Alameda Marina and the Encinal Terminal and Del Monte sites.
Measure A allows for the development of 21 units of housing per acre; developers building homes on properties where multifamily housing is allowed could build 30 units per acre with just the zoning overlay, and up to 48 units per acre if certain conditions are met. Thomas said the Starbucks building on the corner of Park Street and Central Avenue holds 54 units per acre.
Enacted in 1969, California’s housing element law requires cities to adequately plan for their existing and future housing needs in order to ensure an adequate supply of housing for families at all income levels. Alameda has worked for the past five years to gain state approval of its housing element – one of seven in its general plan – but other efforts to win state approval were unsuccessful.
Prior to adopting a new housing element, city leaders signed off on an inclusionary housing ordinance that requires developers to make 15 percent of the homes they build affordable for people with lower or moderate incomes; okayed a density bonus ordinance that lets homebuilders create bigger developments if they build more affordable housing than required; and approved new rules allowing homeowners to construct in-law units on their property.
In addition to allowing multifamily housing, the new element will smooth the way for development of emergency shelters, single-room occupancy hotels and transitional housing.
Related: City preparing new housing plan
It’s a (multi)family affair
Here are the 10 sites where multifamily housing will be allowed under the new housing element.
Alameda Landing (portion)
Chevy’s site (former) on Mariner Square Loop
Chipman site on Buena Vista Avenue
Coast Guard/North Housing site
Del Monte building/Encinal Terminal/
Ron Goode Toyota (former)
Shipways site on Marina Village Parkway
Source: City of Alameda