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General Plan and Draft Housing Element Update Debated

State has determined City Charter Article 26 to be unenforceable

On May 3rd, City Council held a public hearing to review and comment on the Annual Report on the General Plan and the Draft Housing Element Update. The Draft Housing Element Update describes how the City will accommodate the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) for 2023-2031.

The RHNA seeks to ensure that cities and counties are planning enough housing to accommodate all economic segments of the community. The State issued an allocation of 441,176 new housing units for the San Francisco Bay Area, and Alameda’s share is 5,353 housing units.

Alameda Post - Draft Housing Element Sites Inventory
This map from the 2022 Draft Housing Element shows proposed locations for new housing

The State’s Housing and Community Development Department (HCD) recommends a buffer of 15% to 30% more capacity than required to ensure sufficient capacity to accommodate the RHNA throughout the planning period. With a 20% buffer, the City’s RHNA increases to 6,424 units.

A point of hot debate at the hearing was how to resolve the conflict between the State’s requirement to affirmatively further fair housing and the City Charter’s Article 26. Article 26 prohibits multifamily housing – the most affordable housing type – and residential densities above 22 units/acre – the densities that support affordable housing.

Many public speakers and some Council members argued in favor of maintaining Article 26, but the State has deemed that it conflicts with state law and is unenforceable. Failure to comply with State law will result in significant loss of funding, fines, and costly lawsuits for the City.

Learn more about the 2022 housing element at alameda2040.org/housing. Voice your opinion and suggestions by submitting comments at alameda2040.org/contact. Or, you can get involved by visiting CityofAlamedaCA.aBalancingAct.com/Housing and using the online simulator to suggest which projects should be included. In addition, join City Planning, Building, and Transportation Director, Andrew Thomas to discuss the issue at three upcoming conversation events sponsored by the Alameda Chamber and Economic Alliance.

April 2022 Draft Housing Element

The State deemed Article 26 fundamentally contrary to furthering fair housing. Consequently, the Draft Housing Element has removed the multifamily prohibition and residential density prohibition from shopping centers, Park and Webster Streets, and the R2 through R6 residential housing zones.

Alameda Post - 2022 Draft Housing ElementFurther, the Draft Housing Element alters height limits as follows:

  • Commercial Stations: Changes to the height of adjacent residential district.
  • Park Street:
    • Existing height limit: 5 stories, 4 stories on side streets
    • Housing Element: 5 stories on side streets.
  • Webster Street:
    • Existing: 3 stories
    • Housing Element: 5 stories
  • Shopping Centers: No change, unless less than 5 stories.

Finally, the Draft Housing Element proposes to meet the RHNA and buffer as follows:

  • Ten Projects: 2,200
  • Alameda Point: 1,482
  • Shopping Centers: 1,200
    1. South shore: 800
    2. Harbor Bay: 300
    3. Alameda Landing: 100
  • Park/Webster 100-400
  • ADUs: 328-400
  • Residential Districts 400- 720 (Zoning changes)

for a total of 5,710-6,402 housing units.

Discussion

Chris Buckley, representing the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society (AAPS), submitted a proposal to maintain Alameda’s lower density standards by offering incentives to multifamily housing projects complying with City height limits.

The West Alameda Business Association (WABA) recommended increasing height limits north of Lincoln and maintaining a three-story limit south, saying this would create adequate housing while preserving the charm of the Historic Webster Street District.

Many members of the public objected to upzoning residential districts or raising height limits, citing concerns about traffic, inadequate parking, shading, and pressure on schools. Others noted that if the City doesn’t raise height limits, it may have to build out, using more open space.

Councilmember John Knox White asked City Planning Director Andrew Thomas what would happen if the City declined to rezone the residential districts. Thomas replied that the State would reject the Housing Element for failure to affirmatively further fair housing.

Councilmember Trish Herrera Spencer argued for challenging the HCD requirement to distribute more affordable housing outside Alameda Point because they deem it a lower resource area. She cited the West End’s new parks, ferry terminal, shops and restaurants at Alameda Landing, and new apartments’ high cost.

Councilmember Tony Daysog suggested using a housing overlay strategy to meet HCD requirements and preserve Article 26. (Overlay zones lay atop existing zoning ordinances to incentivize developers to build affordable housing in specific districts.) He added that if the State decided to sue the City, he was okay with that; he felt the City should stand its ground.

Mayor Ezzy Ashcraft spoke in favor of compliance, citing the significant loss of funding opportunities resulting from non-compliance. She particularly supported increased housing along transit corridors as a way to bring more vitality to businesses and encourage use of public transit.

Vice Mayor Malia Vella and Councilmember Knox White spoke in general support of the Housing Element, feeling that it well balanced the opposing demands made by HCD and the community.

Alameda Post -TCAC resource area designations
TCAC resource area designations. City of Alameda Housing Element.

What’s Next

Based on City Council and public comments, staff will modify the Annual Report and Draft Housing Element and send the revised documents to the State Housing and Community Development Department (HCD). The State will review the Housing Element by August, and the Planning Board will hold hearings to revise zoning as needed.

From August through September, the Planning Board will hold public hearings to review HCD’s comments and revise the Housing Element further. In November and December, City Council will hold hearings and take final actions on the Housing Element and zoning amendments so the Housing Element can be implemented in 2023.

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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