1973 Measure A Primer

Part One in a Series

The five-and-one-half weeks between Feb. 7 and March 17, 1973, brought surprise, tragedy and change to Alameda. On Feb. 7, a U.S. Navy fighter-bomber crashed into the Tahoe Apartments on Central Avenue. On Tuesday, March 13, Alamedans went to the polls and passed Measure A, putting a damper on almost all real-estate development on both the Main Island and Bay Farm Island. Then four days after the vote, just after 10 p.m.  Saturday, March 17, the fire department responded to a call that Porter Elementary School was on fire.  

Of those three events, evidence of only one remains. The Tahoe is gone. The crash destroyed the apartment building. The Sycamore stands there today at 1810 Central Ave. The school is gone. It stood on today’s Alameda High School campus not far from Oak Street and Alameda Avenue. The vote lives on, however, engraved in the City Charter as Article XXVI — 26 for those not versed in Roman numerals. The article reads: 

“Sec. 26-1. There shall be no multiple dwelling units built in the City of Alameda.

“Sec. 26-2. Exception being the Alameda Housing Authority replacement of existing low-cost housing units and the proposed Senior Citizens low-cost housing complex, pursuant to Article XXV of the Charter of the City of Alameda.

Almost 20 years later, on March 5, 1991, Alamedans went to the polls again and added the following to Article XXVI: 

“Sec. 26-3. The maximum density for any residential development within the City of Alameda shall be one housing unit per 2,000 square feet of land. This limitation shall not apply to the repair or replacement of existing residential units, whether single-family or multiple-unit, which are damaged or destroyed by fire or other disaster; provided that the total number of residential units on any lot may not be increased. This limitation also shall not apply to replacement units under Section 26-2.”

Alamedans backing the vote for Measure A in 1973 included a group calling themselves, “The Committee of Concerned Citizens.” Activists in the group included Inez Kapellas, who had unsuccessfully run for City Council in 1965; Joan Narahara, who had survived interment in Topaz, Utah, during World War II; and Frank Ratto, a respected journalist and historian, whose family had lived on Bay Farm Island since 1905. 

The 1973 vote changed Alameda’s political landscape beyond the passage of Measure A. The results introduced a three-man slate to the City Council. The newcomers ousted their incumbent opponents by claiming that currently seated members favored uncontrolled growth in Alameda. Among the three victors was Chuck Corica, who — among his many accomplishments — would later play a key role in getting the 1991 Measure A on the ballot. 

Opponents to the 1973 Measure A invested $30,000 to see it defeated, while the measure’s grassroots proponents invested $1,276 in victory. The uncontrolled growth that Alamedans feared would come not on the Main Island, but largely from Utah Construction and Doric Development’s projects on Bay Farm Island. The day after voters approved Measure A in 1973, Mayor Terry LaCroix said that passage of Measure A is definitely a message to the City Council to disapprove the proposed rezoning for Harbor Bay.

Doric Development’s Ron Cowan said that he agreed that the vote was “an expression of feeling against our project.” He didn’t throw up his hands in despair, however. “We now have to study what effect passage of Measure A will have.” The effects went beyond anything Cowan could have imagined in 1973. They echo today on Alameda Point. 

The Planning Board will take up this 46-year-old measure and all its trimmings at its Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, meeting.

 

 

The Alameda Sun will explain the history of this contentious piece of the City Charter over the next four weeks.