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Council Approves Housing Element

3-2 Housing Element vote preempts potential litigation, fines, additional costs, and loss of State funding.

On November 15, City Council approved the Housing Element (HE) Update and related zoning amendments to accommodate the City’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) for 2023-2031. The RHNA seeks to ensure that cities plan enough housing to accommodate all economic segments of the community. Alameda’s share is 5,353 housing units.

Alameda Post - New housing and waterfront park at Fifth Street
Recently completed housing at the end of Fifth Street by the new Bohol Circle Immigrant Park. Photo Adam Gillitt.

Housing distribution

The Housing Element Update plans for new housing as follows:

  • Naval Air Station (NAS) Alameda Priority Development Area (PDA), 39 percent. Approximately 39 percent of the RHNA will be in the NAS PDA, including 24 percent at Alameda Point and 15 percent at other surplus federal lands.
  • Northern Waterfront PDA, 24 percent. Approximately 24 percent will be on vacant, underutilized lands in the Northern Waterfront PDA.
  • Shopping Centers, Park and Webster Streets Commercial Corridors, 27 percent. Shopping center sites will accommodate 19 percent; the Park and Webster Streets commercial corridors will accommodate 8 percent.
  • Residential Districts, 10 percent. The R-1 through R-6 districts will accommodate 10 percent of the RHNA through accessory dwelling units and in-fill development.

Conflict with Article 26

Alameda Post - an aerial view of new housing
“The Alameda Landing Waterfront residential project and waterfront park helps to reconnect Alameda to its waterfront while providing a variety of housing for very low, low, moderate, work force, and above moderate-income households.” Housing Element, Page 4, Figure 1, City of Alameda.

To accommodate the RHNA, the City is rezoning certain areas to permit multifamily housing and residential densities of at least 30 units per acre. Such amendments conflict with City Charter Article 26, which prohibits multiple dwelling units and sets a maximum residential density of one house per 2000 square feet (21.78 dwelling units per acre).

However, the State Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) concluded in a November 2021 letter, “Article 26 provisions deny fair housing choices and are fundamentally contrary to affirmatively furthering fair housing.” Affirmatively furthering fair housing is required under State law and requires removing regulatory barriers that segregate the community or limit access to certain housing types.

On August 25, 2022, HCD notified the City that its revised draft HE and associated zoning amendments, if approved by the City Council, would ensure it remains compliant with State law.

Consequences of failure to comply

Failure to comply with State law by January 31, 2023 would trigger:

  • Loss of land use control and the “Builder’s Remedy
  • Loss of State funding for open space, transportation, and affordable housing
  • Fines of $10,000 to $600,000 per month until the City complies
  • Additional HE costs associated with being forced to adopt a four-year housing cycle instead of an eight-year cycle
  • Potential litigation.

By approving the draft Housing Element Update with only a minor technical change, Council expects to avoid these consequences.

Public comment

Alameda Post - new housing across the water
Hundreds of new units of housing are already under construction in Alameda along the Northern waterfront. Photo Adam Gillitt.

Public comment was divided, with roughly 40 percent of speakers supporting passage of the HE Update as presented and the remainder opposed. Kelly Lux, Board Chair of the Alameda Chamber of Commerce and Economic Alliance, spoke in support, saying it is essential to provide a range of housing types for employees. Similarly, Anne McKereghan, President of the League of Women Voters of Alameda, said the League believes the City’s plan will foster fair housing for all income levels.

Members of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society (AAPS) and Alameda Citizen’s Task Force (ACT), among others, spoke in opposition, primarily opposing the “blanket upzoning” of residential districts. Paul Foreman of ACT argued that the HE should not include housing density increases in the R-3 through R-6 zoning districts and the transit overlay without confirmation from HCD that this condition is needed for approval. He believes there is time to clarify this issue.

Council discussion

Councilmember Trish Herrera Spencer expressed concern that older housing stock may be at risk of being demolished due to upzoning and noted that newer housing is typically not affordable. While acknowledging that the City had unsuccessfully appealed the RHNA, she said the appeal suffered from lack of support from the Mayor and Vice Mayor.

Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said the present housing crisis is due to cities refusing to approve new housing to keep up with the growing economy for decades. Consequently, the State set ambitious RHNA numbers and plans to withhold funds to cities not showing they are addressing homelessness. She said she believes passing the Housing Element Update demonstrates the City’s commitment.

Housing Element Final vote

The HE Update with related zoning amendments passed 3-2, with Mayor Ashcraft, Vice Mayor Malia Vella, and Councilmember John Knox White voting in favor and Councilmembers Herrera Spencer and Tony Daysog opposing.

Contributing writer Karin K. Jensen covers boards and commissions for the Alameda Post. Contact her via [email protected]. Her writing is collected at https://linktr.ee/karinkjensen and https://alamedapost.com/Karin-K-Jensen.

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Alameda Post Inc. applied to the IRS for 501 (c)(3) non-profit status earlier this year. Members will be notified when the IRS sends a positive determination letter, making their membership or donation tax-deductible. Monthly members will receive their benefits after three months of membership. Memberships including tickets to history walking tours will be offered in limited quantities.