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Council to Vote on Zoning to Override Measure A Housing Density Limitations

On Tuesday, June 17th, Alameda City Council will vote on an ordinance that introduces a new zoning element that would override the housing density limitations embodied in Article 26 of the city charter, commonly referred to as “Measure A.” According to the ordinance, “the multifamily residential combining zone (MF District) is an overlay zone intended for lands in Alameda that are well located for transit oriented multifamily housing.”

Earlier this week, Council approved the 2007 to 2014 Housing Element of the City’s General Plan which includes references to the new MF District overlay zone.

The intent of the new zoning district is also to make provisions for affordable housing in the city, and to respond to housing growth allocations to the City of Alameda. The Association of Bay Area Governments makes those allocations in conformance with the state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Assessment process.

History of Measure A

In 1973, Alameda voters approved a local ballot measure, Measure A, which modified the city’s charter to state, “There shall be no multiple dwelling units built in the City of Alameda.”

A 1991 amendment added language that specifically limited the density of housing in Alameda, stating, “The maximum density for any residential development within the City of Alameda shall be one housing unit per 2,000 square feet of land.”

The result of these two charter amendments was a cap on housing density in the City of Alameda at 22 dwelling units per acre (du/ac) before any density bonuses for including affordable housing in a development.

Supporters of the housing density restrictions also point to the so-called “Red Brick Building vote” in 1984 which upheld the limitations and prevented the conversion of a former industrial building, the Union Iron Works Turbine Machine Works Building, built in 1918, into an apartment building.

In 2010, Alameda voters rejected Measure B, a measure put on the ballot by developer SunCal that would have relaxed the density limitations for Alameda Point, and moved forward SunCal’s development plan for the former Navy base.

Increased Density

In conformance with state law, the new MF District grants developers a minimum density of 30 du/ac, and with density bonuses for affordable housing, that number could rise to 40.5 du/ac, or roughly double the current “Measure A” maximum. By comparison, the Summerhouse apartment complex at Buena Vista Avenue and Poggi Street is approximately 30 du/ac, and most of Bay Farm Island is 8 du/ac to 10 du/ac.

The City of Alameda says it’s necessary to get the Housing Element certified by the State of California to maintain access to state funds. Senate Bill 375, passed in 2008, tied regional transportation plans and investments to municipal obligations to zone land for housing.

According to the staff report for last Tuesday’s meeting, “the City of Alameda currently receives state transportation funds for projects such as the Stargell Extension, the Webster Street improvements, and street resurfacing projects. Noncompliant communities are, or will become ineligible for certain state park, planning, and housing grant programs.”

So far, the City of Alameda has designated 11 sites in Alameda as candidate sites for the new higher density zoning district, including the “Shipways” site at 1200 Marina Village Parkway, “Neptune Point” at the end of McKay Avenue near Crab Cove, the former Del Monte terminal at Buena Vista Avenue and Sherman Street, the “Chipman” site at 1557 Buena Vista, the site of the former Ron Goode automobile dealership at 1801 Park Street, the former Island High School site at 2437 Eagle, the former Coast Guard North Housing site in the city’s west-end, the “Alameda Marina” site on Clement Avenue, and Alameda Landing.

City Council will consider the ordinance as a consent item at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 17th, in City Council chambers at City Hall.

30 comments to Council to Vote on Zoning to Override Measure A Housing Density Limitations

  • DHL

    So the only time to discuss this ordinance was at a city council meeting the night before a national holiday?! WTF.

  • cg

    You snooze, you lose! The document has plenty of errors that might invalidate it, such as continuing to call Grand Street Grand Avenue [including the Grand Avenue Marina!], Alameda Towne Center, & referring to the master developer engaged for AlPo. You can still submit written comments before JULY 17.

  • Barbara

    We cannot allow this to happen!
    Traffic is bad already, we do not need more low income housing because we had 500 Block of Buena Vista experience. Alameda is very generous in respect to rental units.
    More renters will guarantee more property taxes as they will vote for it.
    This Council (GilTamBo) has to go…

    What can we do?

  • Marie

    Good question Barbara. This makes me sick to my stomach. We don’t have enough traffic apparently.

  • Surprisingly, the multi-family overlays will allow the City to build new homes that generate 10 – 20% less traffic outside of their immediate neighborhood than the same number of single family homes. As new housing is essential to generate the funds needed to lay the infrastructure to attract highly desirable businesses to Alameda Point, the multi-family overlays will minimize the total traffic generated by development of Alameda Point.

    The multi-family overlays will also allow us to meet our fair share of the regional housing needs requirements on a minimal amount of land – leaving more land available for commercial development, open space, larger lots for single family homes and civic uses.

    For more information on multi-family housing, please visit Renewed Hope’s website at

    Many City documents related to housing are posted there.

  • Bill – isn’t it true that one look at San Francisco or Manhattan proves that high-density housing doesn’t necessarily eliminate gridlock?

  • Barbara

    “Welcome. To a city that is charming and friendly and where housing is also within reach of individuals and families in the local workforce – that is our vision for Alameda.
    Renewed Hope Housing Advocates promotes the development of housing that is affordable to the majority of the people living in the Bay Area.”

    True message is: Let’s destroy Alameda!!! Slowly…

  • David,

    A legitimate concern about multi-family housing is that more units COULD be approved for parcels than for single family homes – if we are not vigilant about maintaining the limit on the total number of units that Alameda citizens agree to, which may be no lower than State law requires. State law mandates that a minimum number of units set by ABAG be permitted by right. The mix of zoning for multi-family and single family housing required by our new housing element allows us to meet the state minimum with less land than strictly zoning for single-family housing would have.

    Gridlock is far more sensitive to the total number of housing units, rather than the type of units – single family or multi-family. Reaching a consensus on the allowable number of units above those required by the State should be where we focus our energy. Perhaps the City planning process for the Seaplane Lagoon funded by MTC and about to get underway will be an opportunity to develop a consensus on the appropriate development targets for Alameda Point, especially the best mix of single-family and multi-family housing. Those who want to minimize traffic while building the minimum required number of homes may be drawn to emphasize multi-family housing over single family housing.

    There are tradeoffs for determining the acceptable number of units – those concerned about maintaining City finances without taxes or layoffs may be inclined to accept more units and more traffic congestion – as are those concerned about economic development. Others are more concerned about minimizing traffic congestion and maintaining neighborhoods as they are. Multi-family housing benefits all as it allows more units, more taxes, more economic development, more open space, and more community facilities while generating less traffic than an equivalent number of single family homes.


  • Bill – I disagree with many of your stated benefits of multi-family housing…

    “more taxes” – not true. Building housing is a losing proposition – it costs more to service those residential units with fire, police, parks, streets, etc. than the property taxes they raise. This has been proven time and again. For just one example, see page 4:

    “more open space” – not necessarily true. Especially not when all available space gets vacuumed up to build condominiums and apartments. Contrast San Francisco or Manhattan with Bay Farm Island with it’s parkettes and big waterfront park.

    “more economic development” – how so? temporary construction jobs? that’s not sustainable, unless we keep building condos forever on every available inch of open space.

    As for state law, one size does not fit all. Alameda should largely be excluded from the ABAG housing allocations because the city is locked in by the Bay on one side, and Oakland on the other, with no direct freeway access, no BART access. It took 25 years to replace the Eastern span of the Bay Bridge after Loma Prieta – how long will it take to get another bridge or tube for little old Alameda? We need a state assembly representative that will push for legislation to acknowledge Alameda’s unique circumstance.

    And separately, I take issue with Renewed Hope’s (you and Laura Thomas) party-line about Measure A being motivated by racist intent, without any evidence to back it up. I keep searching for evidence to support that thesis and I just don’t see it. And further, I support continued density restrictions in Alameda for the benefit of quality of life for everyone in Alameda, and I don’t appreciate Renewed Hope implying that I’m a racist for doing so.

    That Bay Citizen article was such an incredibly shoddy piece of slanted work. For example, the Measure A election in 1973 was in March, several months before the Symbionese Liberation Army killed Marcus Foster, the schools superintendent, on November 6th, 1973.

  • Barbara

    It is always easy to call any rational argument as “racist” to shut people up. Those do-gooders are “racists” themselves because they want to keep people in poverty by serving them. Instead of encouraging people to come from poverty they offer incentives like low income housing to make sure that they stay in their place and not move up for a better life. About 50% of Americans and illegals are getting food stamps. What a shame…

    The organization like Renewed Hope are institutionalizing poverty, low income families and make others to pay for it. For example they state that “Even after the real estate mortgage collapse, the median priced home in Alameda in 2010 was $609,000. With a 20 percent down payment, it could be purchased by a family earning $125,000 a year. The median family income in Alameda County is $64,000. (Statistics are from the Association of Bay Area Governments).”

    So how is that more taxes for our City when they make $64,000 a year; people with $125,000 will pay more taxes. In addition, our City was fine for a long time, current finances are the result of poor management, elitist entitlements, and disregard for the rest.

    More people = more traffic, no matter how you dice it…

    We are an ISLAND… we can exist just fine if our politicians recognize that good management is not limited to more taxes. Our politicians are stuck in their thinking, and cannot move beyond only one solution they see: more taxes. I call it lazy thinking…

    People like David Howard are the solution, not a problem…

  • A 2005 Brookings Institute report found that having a car improved outcomes for low income families. That is counter to the thesis that high-density transit oriented development is necessary to provide affordable housing for low income families.

    And another, related brief from last year:

  • Barbara

    Ha? Now, more cars = more traffic…
    Do-gooders always change the argument…
    Hard to keep-up…
    Do you want to improve outcomes for low-income families? Stop babysit them… They will learn if they want to improve their lives…This is a free Country and the best in the whole world. Stop destroying it with redistribution of other’s people money!

  • David and Barbara,

    I appreciate your comments – and your concerns – and especially the references. Thanks!

    The concerns you raise about the effect of housing on the City’s financial health, traffic and open space are all valid – and, with vigilance, manageable.

    We can prevent adverse impacts on the long term financing of City services by setting up special assessment districts for new developments that will make up the shortfall. In the short term, City finances will benefit from fees for building permits and from taxing the increased sales to the new residents. In the longer term City finances will benefit from larger property tax rolls provided we set up an effective fee structure in special districts to pay for City services.

    Yes, Barbara, more residents means more traffic, but unless State law changes, we will have more residents. So more residents in multi-family housing means less traffic than the same number in single family housing.

    I expect that all families of all incomes in multi-family housing will rely heavily on autos for transportation. With transit, some of them won’t feel they need a second car and take transit – which is why multi-family housing generates fewer car trips per resident on average.

    David and the Action Alameda team, thanks for offering this forum for a community discussion of development and housing policies, especially for Alameda Point.


  • Barbara

    I am sorry, but I developed an allergy to taxes.
    I just have no more money to pay ALL those taxes. Everyone wants some of it: schools, utilities, transportation, sales, property, gasoline, permits, garbage…and the list goes on and on…
    Do-gooders want all of us to be poor by taxing us to the roof.

  • cg

    Just say NO to SB375 & AB32! “Unless State law changes, we will have more residents”. Have you ever moved somewhere b/c the State TOLD you to live there? With all due respect, Bill, I don’t think enough people will move into Agenda21, stack-n-pack transit villages in Alameda, just because the “State” wants them to do so. Building housing is one thing; where people actually want to live is another. And to really bring transit villages here, we would need to reconsider something we voted down long ago, the Southern Crossing:
    Not gonna happen. This illustrates the folly of OneBayArea Regional Planning.

  • cg

    Sorry that link doesn’t work. But Google Southern Crossing bridge if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

  • dlm

    Bill — “So more residents in multi-family housing means less traffic than the same number in single family housing.” This is academic claptrap. You cannot extrapolate from such a generalized statement into specific predictions on what will happen here. Just for starters, none of the assumptions regarding a “central city” apply here, since we have employment centers beyond SF, like Silicon valley. The notion that everyone commuting from here will be able to hop on the transbay bus or the 51 is very simplistic.

    I think the frustration that many people feel over this whole issue comes down to the undeniable reality — we’re on an island. You feel like going to a bridge and saying, “Look, it’s water, and it goes all the way around”.

    So far as the affordable housing people go — they had to destroy Alameda in order to save it.

  • Issue: Traffic


    Good to hear from you again!

    Less traffic outside of the immediate neighborhood (the key to minimizing gridlock on our regional roads – including the through the Tube) per resident has been verified by study after study after study. For a brief summary see Bay Area and national transportation expert John Holtzclaw’s paper at

    John has conducted many studies in Bay Area cities to document the decreased traffic per resident (not dramatic – 10-20% generally – but enough to matter) of multi-family housing.

    While we have good bus service today, we will have better bus service in the future and, as bus service improves, so will the percentage of trips we make with the bus.

    Do you see any prospect for service with single family vehicles improving in the future if we are going to continue to grow our economy? Although we are moving towards an economy that is less dependent on vehicle miles traveled for growth, vehicular travel is likely to remain essential to economic growth for several decades. Do you have an alternative to vehicle travel to promote economic growth?

  • Bill – that report looks just like more of the same…

    Many smart-growth assertions are challenged in this book:

  • Barbara

    New American Dream per William Smith:
    People packed like sardines in communal living with diesel bus for transportation running non-stop.
    How far backward did we go?
    Civilization in hands of do-gooders = suffering to all…in the spirit of sacrifice?
    Why this hate toward good life?

  • David and Barbara,

    David, thank you for the link to “Thoreau Institute” and their book “The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths.” The site has links to many excellent resources for planning – for example to the National Association of Home Builders. For your reference, the updates to the “Vanishing Automobile” are now handled through the AntiPlanner blog,

    The case studies in the book of planning in American and European Cities are especially informative – and the Web tools helpful. The case studies drive home the importance of planning based on understanding of the actual conditions and not on uncritical application of necessary, but facile dogmas – such as the smart growth principles. I agree with you that these principles are imperfect, but still are the best starting point for long-term economic growth that I know of.

    Do you have other suggestions for principles to serve as a starting point for planning to support such economic growth for Alameda, and for the East Bay upon which Alameda’s economic well being is heavily dependent? “Vanishing Automobiles” documented well how to protect the status quo, but I found little on how to address the shortcomings of the status quo.

    The foreclosure crisis, evictions, and forced long commutes to afford suitable housing, even for families with 6 figure incomes,have convicned me that status quo policies can and need to be improved upon. I’m hopeful that once thoroughly vetted by you and others, the multi-family housing and transportation policies that I espouse, even if flawed, will be an improvement on the status quo.

    Perhaps I’ll learn more about your concerns at the Council meeting Tuesday night. The agenda inlcudes a hearing on the second reading of the proposed ordinance to implement the multi-family housing overlay approved in the housing element. I hope to see you at the meeting!

  • Barbara,

    I don’t harbor any “hate towards good life” that you attribute to me. I enjoy a good life and want to protect and enhance it.

    Our economy and the institutions that support it have all been built on the assumption that growth will continue indefinitely. Without that growth, we cannot maintain the good life many, but not all, of us now have in Alameda.

    The threat that land use and other regulations pose to the good life made possible by our local economy are more obvious than they used to be. These threats include a stalled local and regional economy, due in part to government restrictions on development, of which the charter ban on multi-family housing is but one example.

    A less robust and sustainable economy strains the financial resources of our Alameda City and County governments – and the reliability of police, fire, and medical services we all depend on. Restrictions, such as Alameda’s ban on multi-family housing,drive up the cost of housing and transportations and make our regional economy less sustainable economically and environmentally.

    How does the charter ban on multi-family housing facilitate housing of the workers and the growth of businesses that they would patronize? The evidence abounds that the ban does not.

    You have yet to convince me that it is possible to sustain “the good life” in Alameda with the ban on housing in place. Instead, I see the ban leading to our City slowly falling behind other similarly sized communities, such as Fremont, Pleasanton and Livermore in the services that our community can offer to our residents and our businesses.

  • Bill,

    “The evidence abounds that the ban does not.” – where, exactly, is that evidence?

    You haven’t provided any evidence to back up all your assertions. For example, yourself, and Renewed Hope keep running around suggesting that the housing restrictions were rooted in racist attitudes, without providing any evidence, and despite the fact that those restrictions couldn’t possibly be effective to keep people of certain races outside of Alameda.

    You haven’t responded to evidence that shows that residential housing costs my to service (police, fire, parks, streets, etc) than other land uses. How do you hope to offer more public services by pushing money-losing development policies?

    You haven’t responded to the empirical evidence – San Francisco and Manhattan – that high-density housing does not eliminate automobiles and congestion, and does not produce “affordable housing.” (On the contrary, some argue that congestion is in fact the GOAL.)

    You haven’t addressed the impracticality of overbuilding Alameda with high density housing given that we have no BART (and never will) and have no direct freeway access, and we’re locked in by the Bay on one side and Oakland on the other.

    You haven’t addressed how construction, as an economic development catalyst, is not sustainable.

    And you haven’t responded to evidence that pushing low-income people transit-oriented housing, without automobiles, limits their upward financial mobility, per the Brookings Institute studies.

    And as I have explained to you many times in the past, and you well know, the State density bonus law has been in effect since the early 1970s, and could have been exploited – in fact, Francis Collins tried to exploit it for years and finally succeeded – to build that “affordable housing” you want. Not even all of the low-income Guyton units have been built, which are exempt from the housing restrictions. The opportunity to build the type of housing you want has been present in Alameda for 30 years or so.

    Not that affordable housing means anything – it just means that people spend less in absolute terms and get less. In fact, the Chronicle just ran an article on micro apartments that would rent at a premium on a square foot basis compared to existing units. So just because they are small, and multifamily, that makes them affordable? Not so.

    The reality is it all ultimately will come down to subsidies, a la Section 8, to house many low-income people in anything better than a micro-apartment.

    As for ideas for economic growth in Alameda, yes, I’ve suggested many, and put them up on

    Ironically, City Hall is actually coming around to my point of view – commercial economic development at Alameda Point. They’re finally granting long term leases to tenants there. They’re looking at how re-use the facilities the for commercial uses, rather than tearing them down to build condos. They’re recognizing what I’ve said all along – if the jobs/housing balance is all so important, then lets create more jobs in Alameda – at Alameda Point and Harbor Bay Business Park – across the income spectrum, to balance things out. Roughly 70% of working Alamedan’s leave Alameda each day to go to work. In a city of 41,000 registered voters (people over the age of 18), the top 10 employers offer only a few thousand jobs.

    We need more sustainable jobs – ongoing businesses, not temporary construction – like Peet’s VF Outdoors, Bay Ship, Delphi Productions, etc. not housing.

  • Barbara

    When you blow-up government and its benefits, increase taxes, provide anti-business environment you will have to have a substandard way of life.
    Alameda is not like other cities, we need special attention because we are an Island and not drive-thru city like other cities. Also, when you pump the city, any city, with low income housing in no time you’ll have to deal with unintended consequences.
    You wrongly assume that high housing density = the good life.

  • Some housing advocates dispute the idea that micro-units address escalating rents, saying that the compact dwellings are cheaper simply because they’re smaller.

    “It’s disingenuous to say it creates affordable housing, it’s just that you get significantly less space,” said Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco. “This doesn’t create affordable housing, it simply creates another lifestyle option.”

  • Barbara

    “We need more sustainable jobs – ongoing businesses, not temporary construction – like Peet’s VF Outdoors, Bay Ship, Delphi Productions, etc. not housing.”

    I support it 100%. This is a right solution to Alameda.

  • William,

    Thank you for answering our questions quickly; your responses are settling nerves and calming the local population. I have but a few simple questions:

    – Do you drive to work, take public transit, or ride your bike?
    – Do you usually drive over a bridge or through the tunnel during commute time?
    – Do you prefer Forbidden Island or McGee’s on a Friday evening?

    – Is “Renewed Hope” going to make any money on this little venture?
    – Why were mailings only sent to residences within 300ft of the proposed rezoned areas? The rest of us were supposed to find the ad in the local paper?
    – You still haven’t explained how adding hundreds/thousands of units on unoccupied land will result in less traffic. Your contention is that it will add less traffic than single family residences, but that only makes sense if the jobs are nearby.
    – Will this project build a new bridge/tunnel?
    – You say, “While we have good bus service today, we will have better bus service in the future…” while my tarot cards predict continued BS from those looking for power and/or buyers of snake oil. Can we both be correct?

    All the beneficial consequences of this proposal make sense if you’re inventing a new city, or playing SimCity, so I understand what you are trying to accomplish, but giant projects like this which change rules voted in by the populace, put huge strains on the infrastructure, and offer monetarily benefits to some while annoying everyone else makes this into a poop-dollar type situation.

    I probably won’t see you tomorrow night as I (and most everybody) am just learning of this and have a conflict.

    Thanks for playing,

  • David and Barbara,

    I’ll be taking the points you raise one at a time over the next few days, starting with your concerns about my remarks allegedly attributing one motivation for continuing the ban on housing to racism.

    My intent is to publicize the observable or predictable adverse consequences of the ban on housing, including correcting what the experts I trust consider to be erroneous portrayals of those consequences. For a number of reasons, no area is more often protrayed erroneously than traffic generated by multi-family housing.

    Please take me to task if in the heat of the moment I slip and describe someone’s motivation. I have found that such assignments do not foster constructive debates.

    When I note that nearly one-third of all black families in Alameda were evicted within a few short weeks by the former owners of the Harbor Island Apartments, I am reminding the community of an unpleasant consequence of our housing ban. Irrespective of the reason they were evicted, the black community in Alameda suffered great harm.

    Because of the demographics of our diverse community, in which many of our minorities, American blacks, African blacks, Filipinos, American Indians, Indian Indians …. tend to have lower incomes and therefore disproportionately bear the brunt of the adverse consequences of our housing ban. The ban restricts the supply of the most economical form of housing, whether the housing is subsidized or not.

    If our community restricts the supply of economical housing, we have an obligation to provide subsidized housing to counter the adverse impacts of that ban. These subsidies are at best awkward, and at worst counterproductive. Far more cost efficient is to remove government restrictions on the type of housing allowed to be built and to let the market determine the proper mix of housing for Alameda. Such a policy would reduce the need for housing subsidies.


  • Bill – I don’t think anyone would disagree that the black community suffered harm when everyone at Harbor Island Apartments was evicted.

    But is the cause of that not the eviction itself? And how the City of Alameda Housing Authority apparently didn’t adequately enforce Section 8 standards on the property? According to some reports, half of HIA residents were Section 8 tenants. As a former Section 8 landlord myself, who went through inspections, I fail to see how the property could have fallen in such a state of disrepair with so many Section 8 residents, if the Housing Authority was doing its job.

    And did that happen by accident? Some residents suggested that the development of Bayport made the HIA complex in it’s then-form untenable. Indeed, the Housing Authority director Michael Pucci was quoted as saying that he’d like to reduce the number of Section 8 tenants in the complex.

    Those people were displaced by something other than housing restrictions written into the City Charter.

    As I’ve explained before, I think you are barking up the wrong tree. The State density bonus law – specifically designed to facility the construction of “affordable” housing – the Guyton Settlement have all provided a means, for decades now, for multifamily housing to be built in Alameda. But Alameda City Hall has done little to help, even fighting Francis Collins over it. Few Guyton units have been built. The Collins project was the first density bonus project ever approved in Alameda, some 30 years after the State law as introduced, and only after a lengthy legal battle.

    The community would be better served if you pressed our current and past elected officials for explanations for why the facilitated the eviction of HIA, and why they’ve done nothing to facility the construction of multifamily housing under the law as it has existed for decades.


    Bill – I think the Sentinel study only reinforces my point that you are barking up the wrong tree. (And I remember when the study was released, however, at the time, I didn’t connect it to what was happening at HIA.)

    There were, in fact, available apartments in Alameda to house the displaced residents of HIA. (I remember all the “for rent” signs at the time too.) The problem was not that housing restrictions were discriminatory, or that they prevented there from being apartments available for rent. Remember – half of Alameda’s housing stock are rental units.

    The discrimination problem was the attitudes of the landlords and property managers who wouldn’t accept or deterred HIA residents. All the multifamily housing blocks in the world aren’t going to help if landlords discriminate against tenants.

    And this is why I think you are really misguided – your tireless energy could be better spent on addressing a genuine problem of racial discrimination, instead of the housing restrictions.

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