At its October 25th meeting, the Alameda Planning Board held a public workshop on the Draft Housing Element of the City’s General Plan. Once finalized, the Element will comply with the State of California’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process for 2023-2031. The RHNA seeks to ensure that cities and counties are planning enough housing to accommodate all economic segments of the community.
Allocation and Zoning
The State issued an allocation of 441,176 new housing units for the San Francisco Bay Area. Alameda’s share is 5,353 housing units. Alameda has enough land to accommodate this number. However, City Council will need to revise local zoning regulations that prevent the building of new housing in certain areas.
For instance, Alameda has five shopping centers which provide the opportunity to construct 1,000 units during the 2023-2031 period. However, due to zoning constraints, no housing has been built on these properties in the last 50 years.
The draft Housing Element proposes to accommodate the RHNA with housing units as follows:
- Approved Projects, 1,400
- Alameda Point,1,282
- Encinal Terminals, 589
- Shopping Center Districts, 1,000
- Residential Districts, 500
- Accessory Dwelling Units, 480
- Park Street and Webster Street, 200
Total Housing Units 5,451, Housing Units Required by RHNA 5,353
Encinal Terminals refers to the property at 1521 Buena Vista Avenue, which includes four separate vacant parcels; the City owns one. The current configuration of private and public lands makes property redevelopment challenging. The City proposes to reconfigure property lines to eliminate constraints to development.
Within the 5,353 units, the City must accommodate a range of households from extremely low income to above moderate income. Moderate income is 80-120% of Area Median Income.
The goals of the Housing Element are to:
- Provide ample housing supply to meet existing and projected housing needs to support a diverse, inclusive, and equitable community.
- Ensure housing stability for households of all income levels and preserve and enhance Alameda’s aging and vulnerable housing stock.
- Create racially and socially inclusive neighborhoods that correct historical racial, ethnic, and social discrimination.
- End homelessness.
Several public speakers objected to significantly increasing the density of historic neighborhoods. Christopher Buckley of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society (AAPS) said, “We have major concerns with the draft, most notably the proposal to upzone the R-2 and R-6 zones to double the existing zoning. We believe this is overkill and reckless, particularly since it’s much harder to down zone than to up zone. We recommend a more gradual approach.”
He further recommended a strategy of looking to the shopping centers and vastly underutilized vacant areas such as at Alameda Point.
As a counterpoint, the final speaker argued that addressing historical discrimination means reversing policies that were drivers of that discrimination. He said that means overturning apartment bans and opening the Gold Coast to “more people, more variety, more culture, and more foot traffic.”
Andrew Thomas, City of Alameda Planning, Building, and Transportation Director, noted that Alameda Point is a housing opportunity for the next 50 years. Still, it’s essential to keep in mind the issue of fair housing and what that means.
There’s currently a cap on new housing at Alameda Point, which the City is working to remove. However, Mr. Thomas added that even if there wasn’t the cap, “we have to spread new housing out over the City. We can’t avoid new housing in high opportunity neighborhoods, the ones with the best parks, schools, and transportation. The State is not going to let us put all our new housing at Alameda Point.”
Mr. Thomas pointed out the power of zoning to increase housing availability, noting that before 2017, almost no Alameda homeowners built accessory dwelling units (ADUs). ADUs are independent dwelling units on the same lot as a single-family home. Examples are an apartment over a garage or a stand-alone unit added to the yard.
Since the City changed an ordinance to facilitate their construction, it has averaged nearly 60 new ADUs per year. He believes it is possible to incentivize the construction of additional ADUs by relieving density standards.
He acknowledged that it is more difficult to downzone than upzone but said the City cannot be too tentative. It must meet the State’s housing goals or risk severe penalties.
The City Planning Department will now review all comments from the public and Planning Board members, revise its draft Element and release a new draft for review in December 2021. The Housing Element must be finalized by Fall 2022 for implementation in 2023.