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State Forces Alameda to Break Measure A Initiative

By Erica Madison and staff

The City of Alameda announced today that the State of California has certified its housing element. After 22 years, the City of Alameda has a State-certified General Plan Housing Element, and City officials say that, as a result, some $230 million in regional transportation funds is still on the table for Alameda. For many residents who attended the Alameda City Council meeting on July 17, 2011, the three hour discussion did little assuage their concerns over exceptions to existing housing density restrictions built into the plan.

The ordinance that passed at the council meeting creates new zoning districts for multifamily housing that override these density restrictions, commonly known as “Measure A.”

Measure A was a charter amendment approved by voters in March, 1973. Section 26-1 of Article XXVI of the city’s charter reads “There shall be no multiple dwelling units built in the City of Alameda.”

An amendment in April, 1986 provided for the replacement of multifamily buildings destroyed by fire or other disaster, effectively establishing all then-existing multifamily buildings as legally conforming with the charter.

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.”

Although there were some residents who supported the Council’s decision to make an exception and allow multiple dwelling units to be built on specified sites in Alameda, most of the speakers were against the move.

City officials blamed the State of California and bill SB 375, approved in 2008, for forcing the City of Alameda to include Measure A overrides in the Housing Element. Officials said that the State of California doesn’t care about Measure A, but, instead, cares about the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) also known as the housing element law (Section 65583(c) (1).) The purpose of the law is to make sure that a mix of different housing is allocated to meet the needs of the population. How the allocation is executed is left to the determination of the cities. 50 percent of the allocation must include multiple dwelling units.

The State of California’s Housing and Community Development Department works with the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to determine how many units of housing each city must allocate. The allocation is determined by an estimate of population growth. ABAG estimates a regional increase of 1.6 million new residents in the next 25 years.

Every seven years the State of State of California’s Housing and Community Development Department must approve the allocation of housing units for each city.

For Alameda, this round (2007-2014) of housing allocation required the City to allocate land for building 2,420 units. If the city did not do this, they would receive a penalty. Alameda is already dealing with a penalty for the 1999-2006 round; the city was penalized 374 units.

“We promised Alameda Point would be ready,” Planning Manager Andrew Thomas said. Because Alameda point was not ready to be developed, Alameda had to carry over the remaining units and add them to the 2007-2014 round.

If Alameda doesn’t allocate land for building multiple units the penalty would be much greater this year, according to Thomas. For the 2015-2022 round, Alameda would need to allocate 1700 units. By overriding Measure A, this prevents Alameda from having to allocate over 4000 units, officials said.

A lot of the residents at the meeting wanted Alameda to leave ABAG, while this is an option this doesn’t prevent Alameda from fulfilling the housing element law, because it is a state law.

Planning Manager Thomas presented the council with the consequences of leaving ABAG and fighting the housing element.

  1. Pleasanton has already tried to fight the housing element law and lost. If Alameda lost then Measure A would be invalidated.
  2. Leaving ABAG means Alameda is not represented in regional planning. This also means that the city could forfeit a chance at taking a piece of the $230 million available for regional transportation funding.

Alameda City Council felt that their only option was to comply with the housing element law.

Here are the sites that may be made available for multiple dwelling units:

1.Coast guard Housing

-Vacant multifamily buildings. This area always had multifamily housing.

2. Alameda Landing/Stargell.

-10 acres on the north-west waterfront.

3. Chevy’s

-Not near any neighborhoods.

4. Shipways by the marina.

5. Encinal, Del Monte, and Chipman.

6. Portion of Alameda Marina.

7. Neptune point

-3.5 acres at the foot of McKay, which is already surrounded by multifamily housing.

8. Ron Good Toyota

– Two small parcels at the foot of Park Street.

Each of these areas will be rezoned as multiple family overlay districts. This represents 1.7% of the land mass in Alameda.

The plan to rezone these sites to come into compliance with the state housing element law passed on a four to one vote.

Councilmember Doug deHaan held the no vote. deHaan was dissatisfied with the amount of notification Alameda residents received about the plan to add multiple dwelling units.

Mr. deHaan pointed out that the City Manager did not issue a press release regarding the housing element.  “11 households out of 24 acres notified. Come on,” he said.

City Manager John Russo took exception to deHaan’s statement. Nevertheless, this was clearly an issue that city staff had prepared for. Andrew Thomas started off his presentation with a laundry list of workshops performed over years to educate the residents about the housing element law and how it affected Measure A.

For many residents though, this meeting was the very first time they ever heard about the state housing element law.

Alameda Vice Mayor Rob Bonta moved to pass the ordinance; Mr. Bonta is running for the California 18th Assembly District seat this November. He did not respond to an inquiry sent through his campaign website asking if he would, if elected, sponsor legislation in Sacramento designed to exempt Alameda from some of the Housing Element law requirements, in response to concerns raised by speakers.

In 2010, during his Alameda City Council campaign, Mr. Bonta stated at a League of Women Voters candidates meeting that “Measure A is in the City’s Charter. The City’s Charter is analogous to the Federal Constitution. It can’t be changed unless by the will of the people. And that’s the only way that I would support it ever being changed.”

1 comment to State Forces Alameda to Break Measure A Initiative

  • Barb

    Bonta has been caught in an out and out lie about the most important issue to Alamedans. I thought as a lawyer he would understand the significance of the City Charter, as he likened it to the federal constitution. Think of what he can do to sell out and undermine not just the voters in Almaeda, but throughout the state if elected. He can continue to pay back his SUPERPAC backers, the special interests, and of course the firefighters. The City will be able to declare bankruptcy after he leaves, but will have to pay each and every firefighter his or her bloated salary forever.

    The only entity stupider than our collective City Council (except DeHaan), led by “MISINFORMED John Russo, is the State of California: It seems like nearly every site picked for the “Overlay” except No. 8, will be underwater in the next 20 years. Apparently the State didn’t read the fine print or see if the Housing Element met the recommendations put forth for the State as to building on coastal properties near sea level.
    If the insurance and title companies are this prescient as well, the taxpayers will be asked to bail them out as well. Good Grief!