City Must Follow Charter

The only alternative: Get voter approval to change it.

Over the past two years, the City Council has taken two defiant steps toward approving nearly 4,000 new residential units primarily in the West End. 
First, on the eve of Independence Day — July 3, 2012 — the council rezoned 17 parcels with an overall site inventory capacity of 2,525 residential multi-family units outside Alameda Point for the city’s 2007-2014 housing element cycle. 

Second, in spring 2014, the council rezoned another 1,425 residential units for the Alameda Point project.
Effectively, council brazenly amended the city charter (aka Measure A) — without a vote by the people. Their justification? They claimed the amendment was required by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the state in order to obtain state funding as per SB 375.

That argument simply doesn’t hold water. Some questions to ponder: Why did the city council meet on the evening before Independence Day 2012, at a time when Alameda residents were preoccupied with family, friends and Fourth of July celebrations?

Why didn’t the council’s agenda for that meeting clearly state it would consider amending the city charter to allow for multi-family zoning and higher densities? Instead, the agenda item read, “Adoption of resolution approving amendments to the housing element of the general plan,” with no mention of amending the city charter.

Why didn’t the city council submit an appeal to the ABAG as many cities did?

Why exclude Alameda Point from the housing element, when its status was similar to the other available parcels? 

Had Alameda Point been included, there would have been no need to rezone the 17 parcels outside its borders.

At its May 19, 2012, meeting, the ABAG Executive Board approved plans to dramatically decrease Alameda’s future housing allocation, so there was no need to rezone that many parcels outside Alameda Point. Current ABAG housing allocation for Alameda is only 1723 units. Why did council not consider this reduction?

And lastly, do you really believe the state no longer requires cities to follow the California Elections Code when proposing changes to the city charter, a.k.a. the people’s Measure A? 

Yet last spring, the council again approved the Alameda Point project, with multi-family zoning and high densities not allowed by the city charter. 

And now the city council has approved almost 4,000 residential units, primarily on the west end of the island — an action similar to the one rejected for the west end of the island by 85 percent of voters in the SunCal Measure campaign. Traffic problems at the island’s crossings was the major reason for voting no to SunCal. 

Clearly, the concept of “we the people” is lost on the Alameda City Council. On the eve of Independence Day 2012, council members effectively declared themselves independent of the people’s will. Such action cannot stand. If the council wants to amend the city charter, the California Elections Code requires that they take the issue to the voters. 

This is not the first time this council has ignored the Alameda City Charter. On December 28, 2010, just a few weeks after their election, they fired the city manager and city attorney — actions the charter forbids before a newly-elected council member has been in office 90 days. That infraction resulted in a lawsuit, the cost of which was borne by taxpayers.

The golf course land swap debacle stemmed from another of this council’s loose interpretations of the city charter, resulting in the need for a ballot measure and more expense.

In November 2008, the people clearly signaled their desire for parkland at Neptune Point, rather than housing, but the council overturned Park Measure WW, thumbing its nose at voter preferences. That action begat another expensive lawsuit and another costly proposed measure this spring.

There’s a pattern here, and it’s not hard to spot.

Eleventh-hour votes scheduled at offbeat times. Ignoring the city charter. Overturning election results. Burying the facts in massive, techno-speak documents that even a licensed professional engineer has trouble interpreting. 
Understandably, many in Alameda aren’t aware that the city council has approved so much additional housing. Those who do believe they have been bamboozled. They are right.

Every time the city council approves more housing, the cumulative amounts should be published in a clear, concise summary. Traffic studies and their resulting decisions should take into account that Alameda is an island.

City hall should provide the people with a simple table showing existing travel times and future travel times after a project is built, from different points on the island and from Bay Farm to the freeway on the mainland. 

In other words, council’s actions should be transparent. The will of the people should be paramount.

This council needs to follow the city charter, or get voter approval to amend it. They need to realize they are not independent operators; they are directly accountable to “we the people.” We put them in office, and we can boot them out. 

Eugenie P. Thomson, P.E., is a long-time Alameda resident who is not opposed to growth, but wants an open and honest government, answers and sustainable solutions. Licensed as both a civil engineer and traffic engineer. She is now retired. She is a past member of the California Board for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors (now the California Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists) and has won three statewide Engineering Excellence Awards.