Housing Density Issue Not Fully Discussed

Housing Density Issue Not Fully Discussed

It may surprise Alamedans that, on June 2, the City Council intends to make a recommendation to city staff about drafting a charter amendment to potentially eliminate City Charter Article 26, otherwise known as Measure A, was enacted in 1973 in response to both the demolition of the city’s stock of historic houses at a rate of three per week and to the proposed construction of a massive development on Bay Farm Island. 

City staff now says that Measure A must be eliminated so that we can increase housing density across the Island and that that will allow for better public transportation.

City staff and City Councilmembers also claim that there are other provisions in the City Charter that will protect our historic housing, not understanding that the housing specifically preserved are buildings included on the 1979 Study List. This excluded houses that, at that time, had asbestos siding or substantial remodeling which may have been reversed since then. This means that, without Measure A, many beautifully restored structures do not have protection and could be torn down to make way for dense infill housing.

Both the timing of and haste with which the charter amendment are being moved along are unseemly. As city residents grapple with a pandemic, the loss of jobs, home schooling their children and, in some tragic cases, the death of loved ones, an issue that will affect life on our Island for decades to come is being quietly issued through the political process in a series of hasty online special meetings.

There has been one public meeting of the Planning Board this year on Jan. 13. Coming immediately after the holidays, few people learned of the meeting and, according to the subcommittee report, the meeting was attended or commented on by just  100 people or so. Then, at the end of April, a subcommittee report that was released a mere seven days — the legal minimum — before a special meeting was held. 

The meeting was not in public and residents wanting to participate had to have the technology and skill to join a Zoom meeting. I think it is safe to say that City Council has not collected sufficient public comments to make a decision on something as important and costly as a charter amendment. 

Previously, when the city has gone forward with large projects that would have major effects on the quality of life on the Island, they have held a series of charettes or other public meetings. They solicited the opinions of a diverse group of Alamedans. This happened with the disposition of both the Alameda Naval Air Station land and the land at Jean Sweeney Open Space Park. 

The speed and stealth with which this process is being conducted is unbecoming to our city. We need a bold vision that will actually deliver true affordable housing and public transportation and not increase the density of expensive housing stock. This has happened with the accessory dwelling ordinance. Making important decisions at poorly publicized online meetings in the middle of a pandemic is inappropriate.

Please contact the Mayor and City Council and let them know that a decision as important as the elimination of Measure A (and what it would replace it) deserves a full and robust public discussion in which everyone has the ability to comment. Let them know that, at a time when city revenues are plummeting precipitously, we need to consider how best to spend our remaining money and consider whether it is best spent on basic services or a charter amendment. 

Let us consider a bold and realistic vision that will provide truly affordable housing for our community without sacrificing the beautiful streetscapes that so many of us moved here for.