Council Approves Housing Element

City of Alameda -- City Council approved the Housing Element with a 3-2 vote at the Nov. 15 council meeting.
City of Alameda -- City Council approved the Housing Element with a 3-2 vote at the Nov. 15 council meeting.

Council Approves Housing Element

At its Nov. 15 meeting, the City Council adopted the 2023-2031 Housing Element update with a 3-2 vote. In doing so, Alameda becomes the first city in the Bay Area to adopt their Housing Element for the 2023-2031 cycle.

The state of California has already approved the city’s Housing Element (“State Review Finds Alameda’s Draft Housing Element in Compliance,” Sept. 3), which requires every city to demonstrate how they will meet the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) and comply with Housing Element Law.

Alameda’s RHNA is 5,353 units. AFFH stipulates that the new units need to be spread throughout the city. Per the Housing Element, 39 percent of the future housing units are designated for the Naval Air Station, which the city designated as a Priority Development Area; 27 percent are on sites occupied by shopping centers and commercial corridors, 24 percent will be on vacant or underutilized land near the Northern Waterfront, and 10 percent will be built in current residential districts.

To accommodate the city’s RHNA, several zoning amendments had to be implemented. For housing units in the commercial districts, the Housing Element will add a Community Mixed Use Combining District zoning designation to shopping centers such as the Alameda Landing Shopping Center and the Marina Village Shopping Center. The zoning designation at Webster Street Plaza property at Atlantic Avenue will be changed from Manufacturing to Community Commercial. Lastly, the Land Use Diagram designation will be changed from Medium Density Residential to Community Mixed Use.

For the Northern Waterfront, a Multifamily Residential Combining District zoning designation will be added to two sites (2363-2433 Mariner Square Loop and Drive and 2199 Clement Ave.) and a change will be made to the General Plan Land Use Diagram designation for the property on Mariner Square Drive from Business to Mixed Use.

Finally, the city is rezoning certain areas to permit multifamily housing and residential densities of at least 30 units per acre. Even though this conflicts with Alameda Municipal Code Article 26, which stipulates a density of 21 units per acre, city staff believes the update is consistent with past city actions to comply with State Housing Element Law.

At the meeting, Alameda Planning, Building and Transportation Director Andrew Thomas expressed the consequences if the city failed to adopt a Housing Element approved by the state. Consequences include loss of state funding for open space, transportation, and affordable housing; litigation costs; and loss of land use control and the “Builder’s Remedy.” According to the staff report, under the “Builder’s Remedy,” developers may propose eligible housing development projects that do not comply with either the city’s General Plan designation or zoning for the proposed site.

About two dozen residents spoke at the meeting. Their reactions were mixed.

“The chamber fully supports staff recommendations to approve housing element,” said Kelly Lux, board chair of Alameda Chamber and Economic Alliance. “To be a truly mixed-use community it is essential to provide a range of housing types in Alameda. Without housing, businesses cannot thrive in Alameda.”

Others believed the Housing Element would not meet the standards city leaders have proclaimed.

“There is no requirement from the state that makes any of these new units affordable,” said resident Devin Westerholm. “It is going to be market rate. If you can’t afford to live here now, you won’t be able to live here then.”

Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft was adamant it was time to approve the Housing Element.

“We need to move forward because this isn’t just numbers, these are people’s lives,” said Ashcraft. “There’s a real human face to this and it’s within our grasp to be part of the solution and not a part of the problem.”

Ashcraft, along with Vice Mayor Malia Vella and Councilmember John Knox White voted in favor of the Housing Element adoption, while councilmembers Trish Herrera Spencer and Tony Daysog voted against it.

According to Thomas, the city has worked on the 2023-2031 Housing Element for more than two years and held 30 public workshops, attended by hundreds of Alameda residents and community groups.