Alameda, CA

Under Pressure, Alameda Council Limits R-1 Lots to Four Housing Units

Karin K Jensen
Duplex in AlamedaKate

At its March 1 meeting, City Council introduced an ordinance to implement Senate Bill 9 (SB9). Under the ordinance, no more than four housing units will be permitted on a single-family residential (R-1) lot in Alameda, and units constructed under SB9 will be limited to 1,000 square feet.


SB9 went into effect on January 1, 2022, and requires local jurisdictions to grant by-right approval of two-unit developments and lot splits in R-1 zones that meet specific criteria. SB9 intends to increase density in single-family neighborhoods as one means of addressing the State’s housing crisis. It also creates more opportunities for homeownership by allowing R-1 owners to split their lots, develop the split lot with housing and sell it.

On January 4, the City Council held a public hearing to consider the Planning Board’s recommended ordinance to implement SB9. The Board recommended that up to 10 units be allowed on each R-1 lot, with SB9 units allowed up to 1600 square feet. After public outcry at the hearing, the Council directed Staff to revise the ordinance to reduce the size limit for new units and the maximum number of units per lot.

Staff Recommendation

As a result, Planning Staff returned with a proposed provision: “an Urban Lot Split shall not permit more than a total of four dwelling units on the two newly created lots, inclusive of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and Junior Accessory Dwelling Units (JADUs).”

An ADU is a secondary house or apartment on a primary home’s lot, such as a guest house in a backyard. Junior Accessory Dwelling Units are ADUs within the walls of a proposed or existing single-family residence.

Alameda Municipal Code allows one attached and two detached ADUs for a total of three ADUs on lots containing a two-family dwelling. The proposed ordinance would prevent a property owner in the R-1 District from constructing two units as allowed by SB 9 and adding three units as allowed by the City’s ADU ordinance provisions for multifamily properties. Instead, the proposed ordinance limits ADUs on an R-1 lot to two ADUs if the property owner invokes SB 9.

If a property owner does not want to do a lot split, the ordinance still limits the total number of units on the lot to four. In sum, the ordinance allows flexibility in how owners distribute units on their property, but in no situation would an R-1 parcel include more than four units with or without a lot split.

SB9 allows cities to establish a maximum unit size. Staff recommended a maximum size of 1,200 square feet to be consistent with the maximum size of ADUs under the City’s ADU ordinance.

Council Discussion

Council Members John Knox White and Vice Mayor Malia Vella agreed with Staff’s recommendation to allow SB9 units up to 1,200 square feet. They felt that flexibility in size would make it more likely that owners would build new housing for various household sizes.

Mayor Ezzy Ashcraft and Council Member Trish Herrera-Spencer argued for a maximum size of 800 square feet with the idea of encouraging the construction of more affordable homes. The Council compromised by agreeing to limit SB9 unit sizes to 1,000 square feet.

What’s Next

Staff will update the Council on ordinance implementation in the Fall of 2022 as part of the Housing Element (city housing plan) public hearings and zoning amendments. Council will then have the opportunity to adjust the ordinance as necessary with the benefit of actual SB9 application experience.

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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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