‘Housing Element’ May Help Jamestown

Eric J. Kos    In 2012 the city created a document to lay out where Alameda allows acceptable densities to facilitate affordable housing. Littlejohn Commons, shown above at Buena Vista Avenue and Sherman Street, was built on one of those 11 sites. In an unrelated story, a traffic light at the intersection suffered a hit and run Monday evening.

Before a plan becomes reality it faces multiple reviews before the public

Part Three
Jamestown Properties owns and operates South Shore Center. In May Jamestown filed plans with the city to change the shopping mall (“South Shore Center Makeover Planned,” Aug. 15). In order to implement those plans, the company faces an approval process that will soon begin with the city preparing an environmental impact report (EIR). This report will determine the impact Jamestown’s development would have on today’s shopping mall and its surroundings. (“South Shore Process Has Barely Started,” Aug. 22). 

Preparing the EIR could take two years or longer. The report would then come before the Planning Board and the City Council for their review and approval. As it does, the city will afford the public time to comment. The city could have a draft EIR ready for review and comment as early as next October. While the city is preparing the EIR, Jamestown will also be busy. The developer will prepare and refine its proposed design for South Shore. 

Jamestown hopes to present its plans before the Planning Board in January 2021. The city could complete the final EIR as early as September 2021 and the Council could approve the report as early as November 2021.  Once the City Council approves the EIR, Jamestown would then come back to the Planning Board to present its designs for a new South Shore Center. This last step begins the design review process. 

The Planning Board will play an important role in deciding how Jamestown’s plans will unfold. Board members decisions and votes will determine if, and how, Jamestown would proceed. This entire process, however, will not pivot entirely on the Planning Board’s — or the City Council’s — votes. It will hinge, rather, on the City of Alameda’s General Plan. 

“A city’s General Plan has been described as its development constitution — the set of policies within which development regulations and decisions must fit.” Many General Plans, including Alameda’s, contain this or a very similar sentence. This means that first the Planning Board, and then the City Council — with the assistance of city staff — will determine whether Jamestown’s designs conform to, and are consistent with, the city’s General Plan and its zoning ordinances. 

Jamestown faces its first challenge with the city’s zoning. The city’s General Plan diagram clearly shows the entire South Shore property zoned as “community commercial,” without a hint of anything residential. Secondly, Jamestown’s plans to build eight- as well as four-story buildings on the site. The current General Plans map, the “City Design Framework,” excludes from its “urban forest,” the entire 1955 landfill that became known as “South Shore.”

Opponents to Jamestown’s plans have already reminded the city that voters passed Measure A in 1973. This amendment to the City Charter placed a restriction on residential development, limiting any new housing to no more than two stories. Opponents question whether the city has already turned a blind eye to the development at Alameda Point violating this limit and are calling Jamestown’s plans into question. 

Voters placed Measure A into the Charter as Charter Amendment Article XXVI. “There shall be no multiple dwelling units built in the City of Alameda,” Section 1 of this amendment reads. Section 3 reads that, “The maximum density for any residential development within the City of Alameda shall be one housing unit per 2,000 square feet of land. The amendment made an exception for Alameda Housing Authority’s replacing existing low cost housing units and for existing residential units damaged or destroyed by fire or other disaster.

Affordable-housing advocates argued that Measure A created obstacles for anyone but the wealthy to live in Alameda. A group of these advocates, Renewed Hope, informed the city that the group was ready to take legal action. This helped lead to the creation of a General Plan document that lays out 11 sites where Alameda increased the Measure A densities to facilitate affordable-housing construction 

This “effectively overrode the city’s 40-year ban on multi-family housing for these parcels,” Renewed Hope later stated. 

In addition, the state threatened to withhold certain funds from the city if it did not offer space for what it considered Alameda’s fair share of the Bay Area’s need for affordable housing. In July 2012 the City Council passed a housing element, which lays out where Alameda allows densities not permitted under Measure A. City staff chose 11 sites where the city could allow the construction of affordable housing. 

The state of California approved this housing element with its “overlay zoning ordinance.” This ordinance rezoned enough sites to accommodate 2,400 housing units, a number that the state considered Alameda’s “fair share” of the Bay Area’s need for affordable housing.” When the time comes for Jamestown to build its housing at today’s South Shore Center, the city could add this site to its overlay and allow it to become part of its urban forest.