Repealing housing ban only a start

Article 26 of the Alameda City Charter, which bans building multi-family housing, no longer serves the needs of Alameda in the 21st Century. Alameda currently uses burdensome special state-sanctioned zoning laws to approve building multi-family housing. The Sierra Club endorses Measure Z on the November ballot that would repeal the ban.

We also emphasize that climate action and building affordable housing should frame the discussion of any future housing development in Alameda.

If the housing restriction is lifted, however, we can’t go back to the thinking of a bygone era when sea level rise was not on the radar. Alameda is surrounded by water that is projected to rise dramatically during this century.

The Sierra Club’s 2020 policy guidelines on sea level rise call for a true accounting of a project’s life cycle costs, and that future generations are not stuck with flood-protection costs. Any new shoreline development should first consider natural infrastructure as the environmentally superior adaptive strategy. If that option is not practical, then we need to plan for managed retreat to higher ground.

If neither natural adaptation nor managed retreat is feasible, then a stringent set of guidelines should apply. For example, any new development must have full protection from future coastal flooding at the outset of the project for the lifetime of the structures. Hard infrastructure, such as sea walls and levees, have impacts on surrounding habitats and communities and thus should be carefully considered only as a last resort.

Along with rising seas we have also witnessed the rising cost of housing to the point where its crushing impact on millions of households is an injustice we can no longer ignore as a society. And, in California, new housing units are also exempt from rent control.

Repealing Article 26 will not magically produce hundreds of affordable housing units. Therefore, planning for future housing should emphasize affordability as the highest priority. New projects in Alameda call for only 15 percent affordable units, except at Alameda Point where it is 25 percent. At this rate, the deficit of affordable housing only grows larger each passing year.

New initiatives to offset the limitations of a for-profit housing industry need to be implemented. More state and federal funding for Alameda Housing Authority projects is one option. For example, the housing authority owns 12 acres of former Navy property next to Alameda Landing that is zoned for 586 units of 100 percent affordable housing for which there is currently no funding.

Alameda Point, in particular, offers opportunities for achieving more ambitious affordable housing goals, given that the City owns suitable land there. An infrastructure plan to protect the developed area against sea level rise has already been adopted. Wise use of limited space is good for the environment, good for the economy, and good for the community, especially for families and individuals facing housing insecurity.

The repeal of Article 26 is one step on the road to better planning, if we invest the time and seek the funding to advance affordable, safe housing. Repeal will remove restrictive housing roadblocks to the financial feasibility of renovating Alameda’s struggling business districts and other underutilized land with the addition of apartment and condo choices. Bringing those business districts back to life would be a positive result of repeal of Article 26. Vote “yes” on Alameda Measure Z.

— Igor Tregub, Sierra Club Northern Alameda County Group Chair