Letters to the Editor
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.
I have read several testimonials regarding the nice folks who got Article 26 enshrined for perpetuity in Alameda’s City Charter, and their lack of any ill intent in passing the law. I do not intend to gain 10 lbs when I sit in front of a cake, but that is the outcome, and it is the outcome of Article 26 that matters.
Article 26, has led to Alameda having one of the lowest levels of Black home ownership in the State. Black residents make up 7 percent of the Island’s population, but 93 percent of Black residents are renters. That is unmistakably an outcome of Article 26. The outcome matters.
If we truly believe that “Everyone Belongs Here” then restrictive development practices don’t Belong Here.
Vote “yes” on Z.
Don Perata’s letter of Sept. 17 suggests that the way to contest a Council that is not in accord with one’s views is to support an alternative slate of candidates. Ordinarily, I agree with that view and I am working hard to replace Councilmembers Jim Oddie and Malia Vella.
However, using the “throw the rascals out” approach does not work when the issue is something irreversible like repealing Article 26, which provides the only protection we have against over development of our City.
Much of the opposition to Measure Z has centered around the protection of our Victorians and other older homes from demolition and replacement with high density units. However, if Art. 26 is repealed it will open the door to a much more immediate danger, approval of tall higher density-development within a year or two!
Art. 26 allows two units on a standard 5,000 square-foot parcel. The State housing mandate only requires a base density of 30 units per acre which figures to four units on the same lot, a rather modest increase. The State mandate only supersedes Article 26 to allow for the 30 units/acre density. Therefore Art. 26 stops Council from raising base density above 30 units per acre.
At a July Council meeting Planning Director Andrew Thomas clearly stated that repeal of Article 26 would allow the city to raise density to whatever level Council sees fit and that this was a good thing because it would allow the concentration of density at specific locations like shopping centers. Higher density inevitably means higher buildings.
Once this higher density is inserted in our zoning ordinance, developers will have the right to construct these denser, higher buildings. Even if a later Council repealed the higher density, any developer who filed a development application before the repeal would be exempted from the repeal. These buildings will dominate our skyline forever along with the other obvious consequences of high density! This is not a problem that is solved by electing new Councilmembers. It can only be solved by voting “no” on Z.