On March 13, 1973, Alameda residents voted for an initiative titled “Measure A” to amend the City Charter to add Article 26 which simply states, “there shall be no multiple dwelling units built in the City of Alameda.” Shortly afterwards City Council amended the Alameda Municipal Code to define multifamily housing as a residential building with three or more units, thereby permitting duplexes.
On March 5, 1991, Alameda residents voted for a second initiative also called “Measure A”, which added Section 26-3 to the Charter. It states. “The maximum density for any residential development within the City of Alameda shall be one housing unit per 2,000 square feet of land.”
In 2020, Measure Z was put on the ballot by Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Councilmembers Jim Oddie and Malia Vella with express purpose of making Measure A null and void. 57% of Alameda voters rejected Measure Z, so Article 26 remains on the books today. It’s the law, and that should be the end of the story, but, sadly, it is not.
There is a State Housing Element Law that requires every city to include a “housing element” in its General Plan that is revised every eight years and contains an inventory of land available for new housing construction in all income categories, very low, low, moderate and market rate with the number of units to be available for development in each category determined by a methodology dictated by the Law.
The law requires that parcels qualifying as available to people in the lower income categories (income up to 80% of the county median) must be zoned to allow at least 30 units per acre. The 2,000 sq. ft. per unit limit of Article 26 only permits 21 units per acre. The City resolved this conflict eight years ago by selecting about 100 acres of vacant land and that was formerly zoned as commercial or mixed use and up-zoned it to allow development of residential construction of up to 30 units per acre. This was lawful because Article 26 is pre-empted to the extent required to comply with state law. Since this up-zoning did not impact our existing R-2 thru R-6 residential districts, it constituted a minimal exception to Article 26.
The City Planning Department is now drafting a new housing element for the 2023-2031 cycle that clearly identifies sufficient parcels of land to meet the state determined number of units needed in all income categories without increasing the 21 units per acre density in our residential neighborhoods (known as R-2 thru R-6 zoning districts). However, the Planning Department is proposing to massively increase the density of these neighborhoods by asserting that state fair housing law requires every zoning district in the city to be up-zoned to a density to allow lower income units to be developed. There is nothing in the law that says that. It only requires that lower income residents not be isolated in “low opportunity” areas of a city. To Alameda’s credit, it has consistently required market rate developers to provide at least 11% of their project at rents or prices affordable to lower income folks. These units are all being built adjacent to the market rate units. (See Alameda Point, Alameda Marina, Alameda Landing and Del Monte projects).
In February of 2020 City Planning Director Andrew Thomas submitted a written report on Article 26 that was extremely negative. He has consistently supported repeal of Article 26 for several years. We believe that his proposed massive densification of these residential districts has little to do with any requirements of state law and everything to do with his steadfast distaste for Article 26. Having failed to repeal the Article with Measure Z, he now seeks to eradicate it without voter approval.
If you agree with our conclusions, it is important for you to participate in the April 19 City Council meeting via zoom and by email. The email addresses are: [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected].
If you write, make sure the subject line refers to “Item 7-C – April 19 City Council Agenda-Housing Element.”
This letter was authored by the Alameda Citizens Task Force. Contact them via alamedacitizenstaskforce.org.