Power, not preservation

On Sept. 10, the Alameda Sun published an article entitled “Concerns for Measure Z” largely devoted to airing some Alamedans’ concerns about repealing Article 26 of the City Charter. Article 26 was originally put in place by Measure A in 1973, banning the construction of multi-unit housing; a second Measure A in 1991 set the maximum density for new homes at 2,000 square feet per unit.

The article included several spurious objections to passing Measure Z and removing Article 26 but is surprisingly straightforward about the primary concern of these self-identified preservationists: preserving the disproportionate power and influence of past and present Measure A advocates over the desires of Alameda voters today.

Joyce Boyd, a member of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society, credits Article 26 with standing between “overzealous developers” and the “unlimited building of luxury apartments.” Let’s be clear: unlimited apartment construction was never on the table and will not be in the foreseeable future. Current zoning, which cannot be changed without years of public comment and environmental study, currently conforms to the limits imposed by Article 26. Ms. Boyd also gestures toward affordability, but how much of a concern can this be for someone who wants to maintain the city’s ban on multifamily housing?

In addition, Boyd laments the possible risk to Victorians in her neighborhood. While it’s true that this was one of the original rallying points for Measure A, Article 26 does not preserve any type of building whatsoever, as she surely knows. On the other hand, the Alameda Historical Preservation Ordinance, which will not be affected in any way by the passage of Measure Z, exists to do just that. Our Victorians are in no danger.

Here is where the article dispenses with these canards and voices preservationists’ actual fear: that Measure Z would empower Alameda’s elected representatives. Paul Foreman gives up the game, correctly stating that “repealing Article 26 does not do anything except give Council discretion to raise density.”

Why would this be a problem? Foreman suspects that given the opportunity, City Council would liberalize Alameda zoning because things have changed since 1973 and that is what their constituents want. It’s not what Mr. Foreman wants, though, so he is adamant that Article 26 stay in place to prevent Council from ever getting the chance. This is the anti-democratic effect of Article 26 that its defenders are ultimately concerned with preserving: it allows the voters of 1973 to frustrate the will of Alameda voters in 2020.

Article 26 isn’t a “firewall” against development, as Boyd claims; it’s a firewall against democracy and self-determination. Fortunately, voters in 2020 have the opportunity to take this power back from Mr. Foreman and his ilk by passing Measure Z, giving us a shot at a more inclusive, affordable and livable Alameda in the future.

— Josh Geyer