Let’s Find Common Ground for Housing

Let’s Find Common Ground for Housing

Jim Oddie

It’s not every day that Alameda’s neighborhood preservationists, pro-housing advocates, and real estate developers share common cause. Though housing development can be divisive in our town, we have a unique opportunity for this common cause at the former Navy base: Alameda Point.

During my six years on the City Council, one of my proudest achievements was helping lay the groundwork for this important project. With the City Council’s approval of the Alameda Point development plan, it became one of the most forward-thinking development agreements in Bay Area history — with an eye towards sustainability and responsibly meeting our town’s growth demands.

For example, Site A includes 15 acres of parks and open space, new homes in exactly the right place, new infrastructure that includes a new ferry terminal, and affordable housing for over 200 families — all programmed in a way that prevents our island from being overrun by traffic. We should be doing more, though.

There is an opportunity right now for the City Council to request even more housing at Alameda Point — perhaps even several hundred more units. And my understanding is that City Hall has a developer that’s ready, willing, and able to deliver on this — Alameda Point Partners, the master developer that the City Council selected for Site A.

While I expect that my fellow pro-housing advocates would naturally support more housing at Alameda Point, I believe that the residents of our town who focus on limiting housing in other residential neighborhoods across the island should care just as much about supporting this effort.

There’s a tidal wave headed our way — and I’m not talking about sea level rise. With a bevy of new legislation coming out of Sacramento that’s starting to force the hands of local governments when it comes to housing production, paired with what is called the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), Alameda is specifically being asked to approve and build over 5,000 new housing units over the next decade.

If that sounds scary, it’s because even some of the most pro-development cities can’t figure out where to put that many new homes. But where Sacramento used to ask nicely, new legislation is coming out of the Capitol every day that has one simple message: find a way to do it on our own, or they’ll find a way to make us do it.

We’re creative enough to find ways to solve our housing crisis on our own with local control —with locally elected officials making nuanced decisions that are in the best interest of its residents.

But the answer to the question of where to put housing can’t just be “no” or “nowhere.” The answer should be “how should we do it best?” Luckily, we’ve found space for about 2,000 of these units so far — and that leaves 3,000 that still need to go somewhere. The problem is that our city isn’t brimming with extra land — except, of course, at Alameda Point.

The truth of the matter is that if we get stuck with a 3,000-plus unit mandate without pushing some of it onto Alameda Point, these units are going to get built elsewhere in the city — likely on top of shopping centers or in neighborhoods currently zoned as single-family.

While I’m interested in finding ways of creating new housing opportunities everywhere in Alameda, I know many others would prefer to limit housing in some neighborhoods and see new housing built where we have large amounts of undeveloped land. Areas like Alameda Point, which has enough land to accommodate literally the entire RHNA allocation if we wanted it to.

If 3,000 of our required new housing units go somewhere else — and they’ll have to go somewhere — they’ll get built at Harbor Bay; Marina Village; South Shore; around our Park and Webster Street commercial corridors; and in plenty of other neighborhoods where residents would prefer to have less traffic, not more.

We are lucky, though. We have an opportunity to have a once-in-a-generation imprint on our town, and to do it in a way that doesn’t require a political fight. Sometimes, two sides of a zeitgeist-type flashpoint can, in fact, find common ground.

It’s not often we have these kinds of opportunities for across-the-aisle collaboration. We would be wise, as a community, to take advantage. As a former City Councilmember, I know that it’s ordinary citizens who get things done. I urge you — whether you identify as a YIMBY, a NIMBY or neither — to call your councilmember and ask that they allocate additional housing density at Alameda Point.

If you accept that new housing will be built somewhere, but don’t want to see it disrupt our short supply of shopping centers — critical hubs that allow us to shop local — then you want your City Councilmembers to support more housing at Alameda Point.

As you read this, the City Council is in the process of considering General Plan updates. Write or call your councilmember today, as these updates will shape our city for decades to come.

Jim Oddie is an Alameda resident and former member of the Alameda City Council.