Alameda, CA

Alameda Council and Residents Debate Where to Put 5,513 New Homes by 2031

Karin K Jensen

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AERO apartments at Alameda PointJohn Sutton/Cypress Equity Investments

On November 30th, Alameda City Council and Alameda residents reviewed and commented on the City’s updated Draft Housing Element, which defines how and where the City will build 5,513 new housing units between 2023-2031 to accommodate the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) in compliance with State law.

What is the RHNA?

The RHNA is the State of California required process to ensure that cities and counties plan enough housing to accommodate all economic segments of the community. For the 2023-2031 RHNA cycle, the State allocated 441,176 housing units for the 101 cities and counties in the San Francisco Bay Area; Alameda’s share is 5,353.

The October 21, 2021 draft plan stipulates that the City will accommodate the RHNA as follows:

  • Approved Projects: 1,442
  • Alameda Point: 1,282
  • Encinal Terminals: 589
  • Shopping Center Districts: 1,000
  • Residential Districts: 900
  • Park and Webster Streets: 300

Total: 5,513, RHNA: 5,353

Public Comment

Thirty-five public speakers spoke at the workshop, and four submitted letters. Major debate points included how the addition of new housing would impact residential neighborhoods, architectural character, transit, and low-income residents.

Bill Pai, president of the Community of Harbor Bay Isle Owners’ Association (CHBIOA), said that the CHBIOA Board opposes any efforts to rezone areas within the community for high-density housing. He said that “the city is already straining to meet its infrastructure commitments to our community at the current population level, and a large increase in housing units and residents will further exacerbate this problem.”

Speaker Mathison expressed concern that, without carefully crafted specifications, upzoning residential districts may incentivize the demolition of existing structures, resulting in the displacement of low-income residents.

Linda Asbury, Executive Director of the West Alameda Business Association, noted that the 2010 Webster Street Vision Plan calls for retaining the existing architectural character along Webster Street south of Lincoln. She expressed concern that the plan for much higher density along all of Webster could result in buildings exceeding the desired three-story height limit.

By contrast, Speaker McBride, an urban planner and housing advocate, noted that many people are being pushed to the Central Valley and Sacramento to commute to their jobs with tech companies in the Bay Area. She said she appreciated that staff is embracing growth “to accommodate the jobs and amazing economy we have in California.”

Others echoed her sentiment, such as Speaker Letterman, who said that Alameda needs to do its part to “build housing for the people who come here for prosperity and to make a living.”

Planning, Building, and Transportation Director Andrew Thomas stated that “we are proposing about 20% of the new housing being distributed in about 80% of the land. So we’re not asking the neighborhoods to take very much. And we believe we can tailor that zoning in concert with our historic preservation and anti-displacement ordinances to get housing added in these areas in a way that does not come with all the negative impacts that many of the speakers talked about.”

Council Debate

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November 30th City Council MeetingCity of Alameda

Council Member Trish Herrera-Spencer objected to the plan’s negative depiction of Alameda’s racial history. She pointed out that Alameda is currently a majority-minority city where the City’s white population is 42.7% of the total, whereas, in 1950, it was 83.2%. She felt that this shows that the City is doing a good job diversifying its population. She objected to further upzoning the residential areas, as she believes the existing neighborhoods are already diverse. They include large homes, where rooms or other portions rent at rates often more affordable than the new apartments at Alameda Point.

Council Member Tony Daysog added that in the November 2020 election, voters clearly said that the City should have a growth control tool to preserve the City’s neighborhoods. He believes that much of the draft Housing Element undoes that voter mandate and results in “willy-nilly growth” in the neighborhoods.

Consequently, he would like to see the new housing go into Alameda Point, possibly in the green areas near the Bayport housing development and in Neptune Park by the Posey Tube (all on the West End) and in the City’s business corridors where there is public transportation.

Council Member John Knox White noted that concentrating new housing on the West End could put the plan out of compliance with the State’s requirement to “affirmatively further fair housing.” The phrase means to take “meaningful actions, in addition to combatting discrimination, that overcome patterns of segregation and foster inclusive communities free from barriers that restrict access to opportunity based on protected characteristics.”

Planning Director Thomas explained that to affirmatively further fair housing, the planning staff and Housing and Community Development Department recommend distributing the City’s new housing across all neighborhoods and not placing it all in the West End.

Knox-White argued that being out of compliance with state requirements would be the worst thing, as it would result in high legal costs to defend against inevitable lawsuits, costly penalties, and loss of ability to govern local land use.

Vice Mayor Malia Vella added that if residents are concerned about access on and off the island, it doesn’t make sense to put nearly all the new housing on the West End, where the only access point is the Posey Tube. In contrast, the East End has the Park Street Bridge, Fruitvale Bridge, High Street Bridge, and Doolittle Drive.

Mayor Ezzy Ashcraft further added that she doesn’t want the City to put all the housing on one end of the City as it will overburden those schools and parks. She said, “We’ve got great resources, but they won’t be great if we overburden them. We can and should spread the wealth.”

Next Steps

Staff and the Planning Board subcommittee will now use feedback and direction received at the workshop to prepare the next draft of the Housing Element to be completed later in December. Go to alameda2040.org and sign up for Housing Element 2022 updates to stay up to date.

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Writing About Asian American history, arts, and culture. Author: The Strength of Water, an Asian American memoir due out 2022. linktr.ee/karinkjensen

Alameda, CA
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