Alameda, CA

City Council to Consider Whether to Increase R-1 Zoning Density Significantly

Karin K Jensen
A former single-family residence converted to a duplex in AlamedaKarin Jensen

At its January 4th, 7 pm meeting, Alameda City Council will consider a Planning Board recommendation to amend the city’s municipal code to comply with and exceed Senate Bill 9 (SB9) requirements to increase density in single-family residential (R-1) zones. SB9 grants by-right approval of duplexes and lot splits in R-1 zones if they meet specific criteria.

In sum, property owners may now convert single-family homes into duplexes and split their properties in a process implemented entirely by City staff, without public notice or hearings or Planning Board review or assistance. The process is similar to obtaining a building permit. Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB9 into law on September 2021, and it went into effect on January 1, 2022.

The Planning Board’s recommendation goes beyond SB9’s requirements by authorizing not only two units per parcel pursuant to SB 9 but all the units allowed under the Accessory Dwelling ordinance. In sum, where SB9 would allow no more than four units on what was previously a single-family parcel, the Planning Board’s recommendation could result in up to ten units.

As an example, the owner of a single-family home could split their lot, convert their home into a duplex, add a duplex on the new lot, and add up to three accessory dwelling units (ADUs) to each lot. An ADU is a secondary house or apartment on a larger, primary home's lot. ADUs cannot be bought or sold separately but can provide rental income or house a family member.


SB9 is intended to ease the restrictions of traditional single-family zoning and allow small-scale infill development that helps address California’s housing shortage. SB9 builds on previous State legislation for ADUs but provides more significant opportunities for sale and ownership of the resulting units.

Although the City of Alameda (“City”) is not required to adopt an ordinance to implement SB9, staff recommended amending the R-1 zoning regulations to create clarity and certainty for staff, property owners, and the larger community. The R-1 District in Alameda includes about 9500 parcels.

Planning Department staff initially recommended amending the regulations to comply with SB9 requirements, limiting density to two units per parcel. At the Planning Board’s December 14 meeting, Planning Board Member Alan Teague proposed amending the R-1 municipal code to allow not only the two units per parcel allowed under SB9 but all the units permitted under the ADU ordinance, which together, could result in up to five units on each parcel. All Planning Board members except Hansom Hom voted in favor of this.

Requirements and Restrictions

To take advantage of the rights afforded by the proposed altered ordinance, an owner must have an initial lot size of at least 5,000 square feet (SF). However, if an owner splits their lot, the resulting lots could be as little as 40% of the original lot size. Each lot must provide frontage on a public street or a pedestrian or vehicular access easement to a public road.

Restrictions include:

  1. Lot splits must not result in the demolition or alteration of an existing dwelling unit subject to rent restrictions or occupied by a tenant within the last three years.
  2. Lot splits must not result in demolishing dwellings in historic districts or properties.
  3. No housing units built on the property may rent for a term shorter than 30 days.
  4. Neither an owner nor anyone acting in concert with the owner may further subdivide lots resulting from the land division.
  5. Units added to the property must be used for residential purposes only.
  6. The owner must occupy a dwelling unit on one of the resulting lots as their principal residence for a minimum of three years from the date the lot split is approved.

What to Expect at the Meeting

At the January 4th meeting, the City Council may;

  1. Approve the regular ordinance as recommended by the Planning Board
  2. Adopt an urgency ordinance as recommended by the Planning Board
  3. Approved the recommended ordinance with adjustments requested by the City Council
  4. Remand the ordinance back to the Planning Board to address issues of concern

Substantively, the regular and urgency ordinances are identical. Both include the Planning Board’s recommended amendments to the R-1, One-Family Residence District municipal code. The difference between the ordinances is the timing by which they would become effective.

The urgency ordinance would become effective immediately upon adoption if adopted by a four-fifths vote of the City Council. The regular ordinance requires a second reading and would become effective 30 days after final passage, approximately six weeks after the effective date of the urgency ordinance.

How to Comment

The public can view the complete Planning Board proposal to the City Council here and submit comments to Council Members before the meeting by email. The public can also attend the January 4th, 7 pm meeting over zoom and submit comments verbally. Verbal statements are likely to be limited to two minutes.

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Writing About Asian American history, arts, and culture. Author: The Strength of Water, an Asian American Coming of Age Memoir.

Alameda, CA

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