Approving the Housing Element is the Right Thing to Do

On November 15, 2022, Alameda City Council will make a decision on the Draft Housing Element and associated zoning amendments. State law requires that City Council adopt a housing plan that meets the regional need for housing and affirmatively furthers fair housing. After two years and over 24 public meetings and workshops to draft the new Element and amendments, the State’s Department of Housing and Community Development confirmed that Alameda’s draft plan is in compliance with State Law. City staff is recommending that the City Council approve the draft Housing Element and associated zoning amendments.

Alameda Post - a portrait of Andrew Thomas. Keep reading for his take on the Housing Element
Alameda Planning, Building, and Transportation Manager, Andrew Thomas. Photo City of Alameda.

Others are arguing that Council should not approve the Housing Element and associated zoning amendments. However, what they don’t disclose is that if the City Council fails to adopt the Housing Element, the Alameda community must prepare for potentially severe and immediate consequences.

The “Builder’s Remedy” and unregulated housing development

Santa Monica City Council recently discovered the consequences of failure. Santa Monica received applications for almost 4,000 housing units in buildings up to 15 stories high after it failed to timely adopt a Housing Element and fell out of compliance with State Law. “Builder’s Remedy” projects have also been submitted to the cities of Beverly Hills, Redondo Beach, and West Hollywood. Failure to adopt the Housing Element means a City has a non-compliant General Plan and zoning code, which means housing applications do not need to comply with the local General Plan and Zoning Ordinance. Under the “Builders Remedy,” housing developers can submit a housing application on virtually any site in Alameda, including in Alameda neighborhoods and in places such as the Harbor Bay Club, where housing is not planned and potentially in sizes far exceeding current and proposed zoning height and size limits.

Loss of state and regional funding for Alameda public improvements

If Alameda fails to remain in compliance with State Law, then Alameda must be prepared to forgo funds provided by state and regional funding sources for a variety of projects such as Jean Sweeney Park improvements, Depave Park improvements, habitat restoration projects, Safe Routes to School improvements, neighborhood traffic calming projects, traffic signal improvements, Park Street and Webster Street improvements, grants for infrastructure improvements in business areas, and affordable housing. The minute Alameda falls out of compliance, Alameda is disqualified from receiving these state and regional funds. All of the projects listed above and many others depend on these funding sources.

Fines and lawsuits

Alameda Post - The outside of an apartment building
The Starling apartments. Photo courtesy AlamedaCA.gov.

If the Council fails to adopt a compliant Housing Element, state law establishes mandated fines which escalate in size until the City adopts a compliant Housing Element. The fines begin at $10,000 per month and increase to $600,000 per month, until the City Council does adopt a compliant Housing Element. In addition, once Alameda falls out of compliance, Alameda must be prepared to be sued for non-compliance. The legal fees for cities that are forced to defend themselves against these lawsuits are very significant.

For these reasons, and many others, staff will be recommending that the City Council approve the Housing Element and associated zoning amendments on November 15. It is the right thing to do. The draft documents are available for review at www.alameda2040.org.

Andrew Thomas is the Planning, Building, and Transportation Director for the City of Alameda. Reach him at [email protected].


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