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Straightforward Review of the California Density Bonus Law

The law firm of Myers Nave provides a straightforward review, and a little history, of the California Density Bonus Law here. The law has been on the books since 1979 but never exercised in Alameda.

That’s odd, because use of the density bonus law would probably provide a reasonable compromise between the pro-Measure A and the anti-Measure A people in Alameda. It provides developers with a subsidy for building affordable housing units, senior citizen residences or child care facilities providing services primarily for low-income people. The subsidy takes the form of an increase in permitted market-rate homes that developers can build, in return for building low-income and senior housing. Given that 25% of the homes at Alameda Point are supposed to be affordable housing units, it makes sense to evaluate how the density bonus law could be implemented to achieve this. But, the master developers who look to Alameda Point, and the majority of Alameda City Council members whose campaigns have been funded by land developers have no interest – they all just want to overturn Measure A to remove all limits on the number of houses that can be built, to maximize profit.

But look what changes to the law in 2005 brought:

SB 1818 also provides a new mechanism for developers to secure a density bonus. Applicants for a tentative subdivision map, parcel map, or other residential development approval who make a sufficient donation of land to a city or county, are entitled to a 15% increase above the maximum residential density under the applicable zoning ordinance and land use element of the general plan.

Developers can secure a density bonus for donating land to the City or County so that they could build very-low income housing.

Or how about this one:

Lastly, SB 1818 adds a section on parking ratio requirements. The section sets the maximum amount of parking spaces that a city or county can require for a housing development eligible for a density bonus, upon a developers request. For one bedroom units, 1 space is required. For two to three bedroom units, two spaces are required. For units over four bedrooms, 2.5 parking spaces are mandated.

This limits the number of parking spaces the city can mandate for the housing – so that developers can’t build, for example, two parking spaces for 1-bedroom condominium units. Advocates of changing Measure A insist that high-density provides for smaller units with fewer parking spaces and less cars. But developers know they can get a price premium for housing units that have extra parking spaces assigned to them. The density bonus law parking provisions ensure that developers can’t get excessive parking for small units.

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