Make Housing More Accessible

Make Housing More Accessible

Passionate questions swirl around Measure Z

Editor’s note: The Alameda Sun published an article about Measure Z on Sept. 3 (“New Housing Measure on Upcoming Ballot”). On Sept. 17, the Sun published an article voicing the opposition to the ballot ("Concerns for Measure Z”). This third and final article gives voice to those in favor of the measure.

Proponents of Measure Z on the Nov. 3 ballot want Article 26 struck from the City Charter. On March 13, 1973, voters approved banning the construction of apartment buildings in Alameda with these words:

“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 and the proposed Senior Citizens low-cost housing complex, pursuant to Article XXV Charter of the City of Alameda.”

A lawsuit filed in January 1989 reflects the problems inherent in forbidding the building of apartment houses in Alameda as stipulated in Article 26. Clayton Guyton and Modessa Henderson sued the city on behalf of the Buena Vista Community Association.

The suit addressed the city’s refusal to provide low-cost housing to tenants when the 615-unit Buena Vista Apartments raised its rents beyond what the tenants — most, if not all, Black — could afford. In April 1990, the city settled with the plaintiffs. The court-approved arrangement required the city to apply for state Proposition 84 Rental Housing Construction funds to build 85 units of low-income housing.

Less than a year later, on March 5, 1991, Alameda voters redefined the 1973 ban on multiple dwelling unit by approving this addition to Article 26:

“Section 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.”

The intent of Measure 26 was not racist. However, the measure’s “one unit per 2,000 square feet” requirement — picture 20 equally spaced buildings on land the size of a football field — did not permit developers to build apartments. The city claimed that it could not find space for these apartments. This effectively stifled the building of the low-income housing units required in the 1990 settlement with Guyton.

Racism does play a role in this game. It raised its head on March 10, 1992 — a year after passage of Article 23-3. The City Council — sitting as the Alameda Housing Authority Board of Commissioners — decided to defy the settlement reached two years earlier. The Council voted not to apply for Measure 84 funds, as the settlement with Guyton required. Brett Mahoney covered the meeting for the Oakland Tribune.

“Thirty-five residents spoke at the meeting, complaining that low-income housing should not be built in their neighborhoods because it would lower property values, create traffic congestion and make streets unsafe,” Mahoney reported.

Mahoney also told Tribune readers that, “One resident received a standing ovation when he said building low-income housing in the island city would only lead to the creation of “an East Alameda like East Oakland.” Mahoney also reported that this same resident added that allowing such housing would “create roving bands of anarchist gypsies which vandalize storefronts as they do in Berkeley.”

“At least one member of the crowd did not cheer the decision,” Mahoney wrote. Clayton Guyton walked out of the meeting. walked out of the meeting.

Fast forward 18 years to 2020. Can we draw parallels between the early 1990s? Do the 18-year-old comments about creating an “East Alameda” apply today? Should we compare the “roving bands of anarchist gypsies” to protesters of today?

Those opposed to the Measure Z say that Article 26 in the City Charter had no racist intentions, and it did not. However, the Article prohibited the building of the apartments required in the city’s settlement with Guyton. It therefore played an indirect role in displacing the occupants —remember, mostly Black — of the Buena Vista Apartments.

The lasting impact of Article 26 is felt today when large companies are attracted to Alameda, until they experience the housing shortage brought on by Article 26’s “2,000 square feet” requirement.”

This requirement has also brought the city face-to-face with the state of California, which has threatened to remove funds unless Alameda falls in line with the state’s housing requirements.

These requirements no longer allow the city to adhere to the “2,000 square feet” requirement. New housing developments reach skyward and modern styles do not echo Alameda’s Victorian homes.

Opponents of Measure Z fear that this development will overcrowd Alameda and worsen the traffic and parking problems. Proponents argue that if elected officials and staff use processes not in place in 1973 to adjust the General Plan. They say the city must need to do this without interference from what they consider an outdated Article 26.

Opponents fear the repeal of Article 26 will lead to the demolition of the city’s Victorian houses.. Proponents point out the seven years after enshrining Measure A into the City Charter as Article 26, the city passed a historical preservation ordinance. This ordinance made demolishing Alameda’s historical housing stock much more difficult than in 1973.

“Measure A does not block the building of affordable housing,” said Paul Forman. “Our housing element affordable housing goal is 975 units. With the recent approval of the proposed 50 percent affordable housing at the 581-unit North Housing Project we have approved 862 units.” Moreover, the Housing Authority goal is to make North Housing 100% affordable. If that is accomplished we will have 1152 affordable units. We still have until the end of 2022 to complete this effort, so the numbers could go even higher.”

Renewed Hope Housing Advocates, East Bay Housing Organizations, Buena Vista United Methodist Church, Alameda Justice Alliance, Alameda Point Collaborative, Alameda Renters Coalition and the Sierra Club all endorse Measure Z.