The City of Alameda is planning for more housing because we are facing a crisis. There are Alamedans sleeping outside, in parks, and in tents. There are Alameda Unified School District students who live with their family in cars. There are older adults living on Alameda’s streets. The cost of housing in Alameda is preventing Alameda’s younger generation from staying in Alameda. Lastly, there is one more reason the City Council must plan for more housing: they are required to by State law.
State law requires the City Council to update its housing plan (referred to in State law as the “Housing Element” of the General Plan) to accommodate the City’s fair share of the regional housing need and affirmatively further fair housing. This is not optional, and no local law, even one approved by the voters of Alameda, can overrule State law. Alameda’s share of the regional housing need is for 5,353 housing units over the next eight years, 2023-2031. So, the Alameda City Council and the Alameda City Planning Board must determine where and how 5,353 new housing units will be built in Alameda over the next eight years.
Some argue that the Alameda City Council should avoid their responsibility to comply with State law. What they fail to tell you is that there are consequences for cities that choose to ignore State law:
- If Alameda fails to adopt a compliant Housing Element, Alameda should be prepared to be ineligible for State grants and loans for park projects, transportation improvements, and infrastructure improvements. Alameda depends on these state funds. Jean Sweeney Open Space Park, for example, was constructed with State funds.
- If Alameda fails to adopt a compliant Housing Element, it should be prepared to be sued by housing advocacy groups or the State of California. The State of California just added additional enforcement authority and resources, including authority to file lawsuits against any city that ignores State law. If Alameda is in violation of State housing law, the City may be fined between $10,000 and $600,000 per month, until the City Council adopts a compliant Housing Element.
- If Alameda is in violation of State housing law, Alameda should be prepared to lose its ability to regulate land use or issue building permits (which is a power that is granted to the City by the State). Under State law, the State will decide what to approve and any housing project with 20% of the units for lower income households will be approved even if the project does not comply with Alameda height, zoning, or general plan standards.
California’s housing crisis has reached historic proportions. Alameda’s appointed and elected decision makers must comply with State law by adopting a compliant Housing Element, which will certainly include rezoning certain sites and districts to allow more housing to be built. This process is underway now, and all Alamedans are encouraged and invited to help. You can help by reviewing the draft Housing Element, preparing your own list of new housing sites if you don’t agree with the sites included in the draft Element, and submitting your comments to the City. All the materials are available to you at www.alameda2040.org. It will take all of us and all of you to do it in the best way possible.
Andrew Thomas is the Planning, Building, and Transportation Director for the City of Alameda.
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