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Draft Alameda Density Bonus Ordinance on Agenda for March 9 Planning Board Meeting

At their March 9th meeting, Alameda’s Planning Board will consider the first draft of a Density Bonus Ordinance for Alameda. The State density bonus law provides for higher-density, transit-oriented-development projects that would side-step Measure A when low-income housing is built. Alameda’s ordinance codifies how that would work in Alameda, and how higher-density transit-oriented-development can occur in Alameda without changing Measure A.

The “Measure A” legislation in Alameda lives both in the City’s Charter and in the Alameda Municipal Code. It provides, effectively, for a maximum housing density of 22 dwelling units per acre (22 du/ac.) The City’s hired experts have explained that transit becomes viable at a density of 15 du/ac. With the density bonus law, projects that provide low-income housing, or childcare for low-income people, or senior housing, can sidestep Measure A’s restrictions on multi-family dwellings, and build to a maximum of 30 du/ac.

The City of Alameda Planning Department has long ignored the state density bonus law, and the requirement to have a density bonus ordinance, because it weakens their argument that Measure A needs to be changed or repealed to allow affordable housing to be built in Alameda. The State density bonus law has been on the books for over 30 years, and the City does not need an ordinance for developers to exercise it – state law provides for developers to request a density bonus even without a local ordinance. Francis Collins did just that in the Boatworks project, and is currently in litigation with the City to get the project done. (We don’t think the Boatworks project is necessarily a good project, but it’s an example of local use of the density bonus.) We think that the City has been fighting Collins largely because they don’t want a valid density bonus project to get built, because that would show that Measure A does not prevent affordable housing from being built in Alameda.

We also suggested to SunCal two years ago that they examine the use of the density bonus law to enable them to build transit-oriented multi-family dwellings at Alameda Point while still keeping they number of homes below 2,000. They ignored that suggestion, and never publicly acknowledged it, and went forward with 4,500 and 6,000 home project proposals at densities much higher than 30 du/ac, putting their profit over existing residents’ concerns.

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