Blogging Bayport Alameda

August 29, 2006

Spin your statistics…

Filed under: Alameda, Development, Measure A — Lauren Do @ 9:10 am

A commenter on this site, who has a blog of his own, recently posted an entry on his blog regarding the density of Alameda as compared to other Alameda County cities and used the 2000 U.S. Census to back up his claims.


And when you put it like that, yes it does seem a little shocking.  My goodness, are we really THAT highly populated? But then, if you actually go and crunch the numbers yourself, the reality is little less shocking and more, “oh…was that all?”

By the way, crunching the numbers yourself is pretty easy, just download the table as an Excel document and sort away. So, let’s first talk about the Housing Units Per Square Mile statistic that ranks the Alameda County cities thusly:

  1. Berkeley
  2. Albany
  3. Emeryville
  4. Alameda

What the ranking fails to include is all those little details that makes a statistic more boring, but gives it a little more credibility.

See, the actual numbers that one would see next to those rankings is the number of housing units per square mile which  is:

  1. Berkeley: 4481.8
  2. Albany: 4260.2
  3. Emeryville: 3506.5
  4. Alameda: 2931.2

When you see it in that context, Berekely has around 1550 more units per square mile than Alameda.  That’s a pretty large jump from number 1 to number 4.  But wait, there’s more.  What the ranking failed to capture was some other Alameda County jurisidictions that fall between Alameda (ranked at number 4) and Berkeley (ranked at number 1).  And those are, in new ranked order:

  1. Berkeley: 4481.8
  2. Albany: 4260.2
  3. Cherryland CDP: 4133.6
  4. Ashland CDP: 4001.0
  5. Emeryville: 3506.5
  6. Alameda: 2931.2

However, you might say, “But Lauren, those aren’t cities, they are Unincorporated Areas!”  Well, if you consider Castro Valley, El Sobrante, San Lorenzo, etc… as cities, then these count as well.  If you don’t consider those cities, then I submit this to you: the population of Albany is 16,444 and the population of Emeryville is 6,882.  Yet the population of Cherryland is 13,837 and Ashland is 20,793.  They count.

Not only is Alameda not ranked in the top 4, it’s pretty sketchy that we are only looking at Alameda County Cities.  There are 19 cities in the Bay Area alone that have more housing units per square mile than Alameda (and I only counted the immediate Bay Area and didn’t include cities in counties like Santa Cruz)  And 67 cities in all of California that have more housing units per square mile than Alameda. 


The cities in yellow are Alameda County ones and the pink, Bay Area cities.  The last column is the one you are looking at.

For population per square mile, the real ranking is:

  1. Cherryland CDP: 11859.2
  2. Ashland CDP: 11284.9
  3. Berkeley: 9823.3
  4. Albany: 9665.4
  5. San Lorenzo CDP: 7893.4
  6. Oakland: 7126.6
  7. Alameda: 6693.4

And even if we were just to compare the cities that were designated as cities in the first ranking, there is 3129.9 difference between Berkeley and Alameda.  And if we include all the Bay Area cities, there are 28 cities with a higher population per square mile than Alameda.  And if we talk about the entire state of California: 126.


I missed highlighting a few Santa Clara Counties, but once again, yellow indicated Alameda County and pink: Bay Area (not even including counties in the larger San Francisco Bay Area.)  The column you are looking at is the second to the last.


  1. Lauren – what’s a CDP?

    Comment by keepmeasurea — August 29, 2006 @ 12:32 pm

  2. It means Census-Designated Place.

    Comment by Snickers — August 29, 2006 @ 1:09 pm

  3. Lauren,

    I’ve contacted WordPress administrators. Your reproduction of a screen shot of my blog goes beyond “fair use” – this is not a “short quotation” but a complete reproduction in its entirety.

    Please remove this and stop infringing on my copyright.

    Comment by keepmeasurea — August 29, 2006 @ 2:18 pm

  4. Keepmeasurea, even though I and my other half support measure a some of your comments and a few others are really making me change my mind as you seem to get really hostal to others with different views and why do you even go on their websites unless you have somewhat simular views unless you are so unreasonable that you just want to create conflict.

    I am for keeping measure A but I am not convinced. I don’t think that Alameda is over populated but in my view you should keep the high rises and multi-family houseing near transportation cores. I see this as being in areas which are close to Bart or CalTrains or downtown SF where people can walk to work. But on the other side I can see Alameda Point could support big some big development which they have access to the Fairy.

    I believe there is not a solution everyone likes but when you come to terms with the rate California is growing you need to relocate people to places which are close to where they work or else they keep moving further out and not only use more resources but spend so much time commuting they don’t have quality family lives.

    Comment by Joe — August 29, 2006 @ 6:56 pm

  5. Joe — I think you hit it — creating conflict is exactly what keepmeasurea is up to. After all, conflict is the best and sometimes cost-effective marketing tool EVER.

    If we all agreed, whatever would we have to talk about? 😉

    Comment by Dave S. — August 29, 2006 @ 8:04 pm

  6. Another way to look at the census data is to compare oranges to oranges and apples to apples.

    For example: let’s take a look at Alameda (72,259 per Census 2000) and compare it against other California cities between 65,000-85,000 and 70,000-75,000, to see if our density is any different, and, if so, to what degree. In conducting this review, we begin to get a glimpse as to whether Alameda is overpopulated or not.

    In the Census dataset referenced above, there are 27 cities (incorporated and unincorporated) that have populations between 65,000 and 85,000. On average, these cities contain 6,209 people per square mile. To adjust for extreme cases with regard to land area, we also calculate a “weighted average”, which for the 27 cases amounts to 6,298. While Alameda’s density at 6,693 is higher than the densities calculated above, it is not dramatically so, suggesting that, at 6,693 people per square mile, Alameda is quite typical for a city consisting of 65,000 to 85,000 persons.

    It may be that the unit of analysis is too broad, so in the next calculation, we pare down the population range, to track cities with 70,000 to 75,000 people. This seems like a reasonable unit of analysis since, at 72,259, Alameda is almost in the middle of this range.

    In the Census dataset referenced above, there are 8 California cities (incorporated and unincorporated) that have populations between 70,000 and 75,000. On average, these cities contain 6,464 people per square mile. To adjust for extreme cases with regard to land area, we also calculate a “weighted average”, which for the 8 cases amounts to 5,234. While Alameda’s density at 6,693 is higher than the densities calculated in this paragraph, again, it is not dramatically so, suggesting that, at 6,693 people per square mile, Alameda is quite typical for a city consisting of 70,000 to 75,000 persons. Alameda is slightly higher — but we’re not talking orders of magnitude difference here.

    Let’s also take a look at the dataset in a third way. Instead of comparing Alameda against similarly-sized populations, let’s compare Alameda against California cities with land masses between 10.00 square miles and 10.99 square miles. The dataset indicates that there are 30 cases. In examining the 30 cases, we throw out anomalies, particularly far off rural areas which may be 10 square miles but whose populations may so low as to skew the data. Again, we want to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges as best as possible.

    The 30 cases is reduced to 16 cases. The cases are below, including Alameda:

    Alameda, Alameda Co 72,259
    Aliso Viejo, Orange Co 40,166
    Arcadia, Los Angeles Co 53,054
    Berkeley, Alameda Co 102,743
    Brea, Orange Co 35,410
    Buena Park, Orange Co 78,282
    Carmichael, Sac Co 63,654
    Compton, LA Co 93,493
    Cupertino, Snt Clr Co 50,546
    Davis, Yolo County 60,308
    Delano, Kern County 38,824
    Los Gatos, Snt Clr C 28,592
    Menlo Park, San Mat Co 30,785
    San Luis Obispo, SLO 44,174
    Westminster, Orange Co 88,207
    Woodland, Yolo Co 49,151

    On average, these cities contain 5,466 people per square mile. In the examples of cities between 65,000-85,000 and 70,000-75,000, the ratio of Alameda’s density to comparison areas’ average densities was close, at 1.07 (i.e. 6,693 to 6,209) and 1.03 (6,693 to 6,464) respectively. In the comparison of cities with land areas between 10.00-10.99 sq. miles, the ratio of Alameda’s density to 16 comparison cases was 1.22 (i.e. 6,693 to 5,466), which suggests a significant difference.

    It may be that some outliers is still skewing the results of the straight average comparison. So, to adjust for extreme cases with regard to land area, we also calculate a “weighted average”, which for the 16 cases amounts to 6,318. While Alameda’s density at 6,693 people per square mile is higher than the weighted average density calculated for this group (6,318), again, it is not dramatically so. So, it seems that Alameda is quite typical for a city consisting of 10.00 to 10.99 square miles, when data is analyzed via a weighted average approach. Alameda is slightly higher — but, again, we’re not talking orders of magnitude difference here.

    The bottom line is that, based on the three approaches reviewed above, when compared against other California cities of similar size with regard to population and land area, Alameda is not over populated.

    Bear in mind that there are many other approaches to putting the data into context. I just offered three that point toward a similar conclusion. Thank you for your consideration.

    Tony Daysog
    Alameda City Council (’96-’06)
    Sr. Associate, urban planning
    consulting company

    Comment by Tony Daysog — October 11, 2006 @ 10:31 am

  7. I appreciate the perspective by Tony. It appears Alameda is slightly more dense than other cities of comparable land area and population. In other words, it is not grossly overpopulated, and it definitely isn’t underpopulated. Now add other factors: access, employment available withing the confines of the city, historically significant architecture, and the fact that we are a diverse community with low crime and good schools—a sort of working equilibrium, and the conclusion I draw is that any land use changes that would affect population density and make up should be debated very carefully and taken in very small steps, lest we throw out the baby with the dirty water, or worse, just drown it.

    Comment by NIMBY — October 11, 2006 @ 12:13 pm

  8. Count on NIMBY to use metaphors that indicate “the end is near” on every post!

    Comment by Ed McBain — October 11, 2006 @ 12:26 pm

  9. Does this density figure incude the land area of the base? If so, it understates Alameda’s density.

    Comment by dave — October 11, 2006 @ 12:45 pm

  10. That’s an interesting point.

    >Does this density figure include
    >the land area of the base? If so,
    >it understates Alameda’s density.

    I used my GIS software to track the land area of Alameda Point, and based on very approximate measurements, it appears to be 2.6 square miles. (BTW: there might be another, more reliable number from Google). So, Alameda less Alameda Point is something like 8.2 square miles.

    Total Pop, 2000: 72,259
    Tract 4274: 1,252
    Tract 4275: 545
    Alameda adj: 70,462

    Adj. density = 70,462/8.2 = 8,592 persons per square mile

    Having calculated the above figure, I think the question we need to ask ourselves is what’s the proper baseline from which to calculate density? Alameda at 10.8 square miles or 8.2 miles?

    In thinking about this, I think there is a key point that one cannot get around, whatever math or statistical shorthand one wants to employ. Alameda Point is Alameda. After all, Council governs land uses there (residential, commercial, etc), and, as we all know, there is new housing there, with more too come if Catellus-Pro Logis has there way.

    Much in the way that the Conressional Budget Office officially “scores” what is included and excluded for purposes of analyzing federal budgets, if I had to “score” the 2.6 square miles at Alameda Point, I would include it in the analysis, meaning the baseline should be 10.8 square miles.

    At 10.8 square miles, Alameda’s density as I noted earlier is somewhat typical for now. While I might disagree with specific phrases, I think the underlying observation made by “NIMBY” merits attention, if his\her point is something like, “We’re okay now but, if we add more, maybe our densities will be out of whack with our comparison areas.”

    It goes without saying that any additional housing is going to change the density from what it is now based on Census 2000 and 10.8 square miles (i.e. 6,693) to something higher. The question is what is the amount of new housing the construction of which puts the city over some tipping point whatever that may be. Is 500 more housing okay? Or, maybe 1,200 more housing units are okay? Or maybe it’s 1,900, and beyond this we pass the tipping point.

    And, as important, what do we mean by tipping point? And I think this is really the crux of the matter, particularly as it relates to discussion regarding Measure A.

    A “tipping point” will differ from person to person. For me, I think one really needs to watch carefully tube capacity, particularly at morning outbound peak hours and evening inbound peak hours. As we all know, most of all traffic in and off the island in the West End and Central Alameda – Gold Coast areas gets funneled through the tube.

    In June 2001, as we were preparing the “Traffic Congestion Management Plan” (TCMP), a plan that requires development projects to incorporate traffic mitigation plans if a certain trigger is pulled (i.e change tube capacity by 1%), I asked staff for information on trafic through the tube.

    At its maximum, the outbound Posey Tube can handle 4,007 vehicles during the morning peak commute hour. Of course, at this rate, this means that traffic barely crawls through the tube toward Oakland. At that time, the existing volume going through Posey during morning peak commute hours was roughly 2,788 vehicles (70% capacity), with 462 additional vehicles soon to join the 2,788 (12% of capacity) as a result of development such as Marina Cove. Thus, by late 2001, the tube was performing at 82% capacity during AM peak commute hours.

    The percentages will have obviously changed since summer 2001, with changes in the economy and housing market, but, all in all, I think any changes will not have been profound orders of magnitude changes. And given the traffic that occurs now from 7:45 am to 8:30 am, I think it’s safe to say we’re operating at 75% to 80% capacity.

    Now, I must caution readers from rushing to judgement in terms of connecting questions of density we spoke of above and traffic capacity through the tube. Traffic through the tube during morning peak commute hours is congested, yes, and obviously there is a connection between traffic and housing. But solutions to congestion could be administrative in nature, not simply “build no more housing.”

    For example: part of the problem with morning traffic is the red light at 7th and Harrison that cars hit once they get out of the tube and want to turn right to get to 880. One idea I raised with then-interim City Manager Bill Norton was to create direct connection from out of the Posey Tube to 880 itself so you never have to go to that stop light. The new road out of the tube would go underneath 880 and spills onto 880 itself. Staff is looking at this as part of the Jackson Street project. If this is feasible, or if we make administrative decisions regarding the stop light at 7th and Harrison, these traffic volume numbers (i.e. 75% to 80% during AM peak commute hours) would not be as unbearable as they currently are.

    But until these and other fixes are in, indeed, it is understandable why residents are concerned about traffic generally, tube capacity in the morning specifically, and inferences between these and residential density. So, if that’s the case, why don’t we change Measure A, as some argue.

    In some respect, there is an argument to be made regarding the correlation between residential density and alternative modes of transportation. There is plenty literature correlating the two, i.e. higher densities correlate with more people take alternative modes of transit, such as bus, to the extent that these are accessible. I’ve come across what appears to be a pre-eminent review of transit oriented development by a UC Berkeley professor, Robert Cervero, who is one of the nation’s pre-eminent smart growth analysts and who, by the way, was also my graduate statistics course instructor while I was a Cal’s City Planning. The link is below:

    Click to access tcrp_rpt_102.pdf

    It is equally important to note that, while there is literature connecting smart growth TOD and different *modes* of transit, from what I can tell in reading that literature above and based on a scant Google literature search, there doesn’t seem to be much literature correlating smart growth higher residential densities with reduced traffic congestion in the form of traffic volumes during AM and PM morning commute hours.

    In other words, yes, with higher densities, particularly at the scale of development you’re seeing in downtown Oakland, you will have more people taking the bus, bus-to-BART, or the ferry, in the event Measure A was changed to allow that scale of development at Alameda Point. But you’re still going to have plenty of people driving to work on a SOV basis and, in the context of Alameda, you’d be funneling even more commuters through the tube. So, you need to look not just at alternative modes of transit but also evaluate traffic volume, when talking about smart growth and changing Measure A. And, in looking at traffic volume, let me repeat that traffic numbers (such as Posey Tube is operating at roughly 75% to 80%) must be evaluated within a broader context, such as how a lone stop light at 7th and Harrison can degrade the level of service through the tube, or how a new road to 880 could upgrade level of service through the tube even with the same number of cars travelling through it.

    In short, I’m not convinced that the City of Alameda is over populated, judging from the data I pulled together in looking at our comparison areas. I think more homes can be built on Alameda Point, and it appears that whether we build 1,500 homes (approximate numbers in original Community Reuse Plan 1996), 2,000 (approximate number in the Alameda Point General Plan amendment) or 2,200 plus (amount of homes APCP wanted), we have mitigations in place to deal with traffic issues.

    Since the only reason to change Measure A would be to build beyond 2,200 homes and at a scale on order of what’s going on in downtown Oakland, waterfront and Jack London areas, questions regarding traffic mitigations beyond signal changes here and there, construction of Tinker (aka Wilie Stargell Blvd) and Mitchell-Moseley (aka MLK Way) need to take place first.

    Thank you for your consideration.

    Tony Daysog
    Alameda City Council

    Comment by Tony Daysog — October 12, 2006 @ 11:58 am

  11. Another factor not considered is prior growth. I grew up in Carmichael when it was country, not even suburb, and note several cities on Tony’s list were similar – areas where huge growth took place in the fifties, sixties and seventies and again in the nineties.

    Alameda had MORE people than its current 72K+ in the forties and fifties and when the Naval Air Station was at its peak. With the advent of the additional homes at the point and elsewhere, will the peak density be higher than it was during and after WWII and when the Naval Air Station was going, full bore?

    I would think that rural communities which had dramatic character shifts from the building of wall to wall housing developments have suffered much more of a character change than the Point, and other, smaller developments will bring, IF they are well planned and integrated with the remainder of our community. The Naval Air Station was never rural, used as open space, bucolic, or charming, as was Carmichael when we first moved there from Sacramento in the 50’s.

    This is not to say I favor or disfavor development, just that the comparison of current density does not tell the whole story with respect to impact on a community.

    Having lived in Newark,New Jersey once, for a year and a half, and Mexico City for longer than that, I know what real urban density is like, and it is less than pleasant. If you want to see acres and acres of poorly planned absolutely Measure A compliant suburban development, go up 80 to Vacaville and then off the freeway, meander around coming back between Vacaville and Fairfield, going generally west. You will go for miles and see no one on the street, not even a dog walker, no corner stores/shops or amenities of any kind, no open space, just miles and miles of unrelieved single family too big houses on too small lots. It is scary – no sense of community at all. This was all rural land, mostly onion fields. I prefer the onions! And, I prefer the lovely mix of housing types and amenities and park space we have in Alameda and the great sense of community and neighborliness. I surely don’t want to have the Point look like Vacaville/Fairfield!

    Comment by Kate Quick — October 12, 2006 @ 12:37 pm

  12. Great blog on Alameda. I came across this and Alameda Musings from a post on!

    Fantastic analysis from Tony. AFAIK, you make a series of free right turns after the tube to get to 880N (ie: there is no stop light, unless a pedestrian wants to cross the road). Can somebody educate me how the stop light at 7th/Harrison is a bottleneck? I ask not to cast doubt on Tony’s analysis, but to educate myself.

    Comment by Cipango J — October 12, 2006 @ 1:12 pm

  13. By stop light, I meant the right turn you refer to, which, in the morning appears to me to be the bottleneck that backs everybody up into the tube. Thanks for the clarification.

    Comment by Tony Daysog — October 12, 2006 @ 1:29 pm

  14. I too appreciate Tony’s time and analysis. One comment, respectfully submitted, is that the discussion about amending measure A at the point is not absolutely about increasing the number of housing. It could consider building the housing mentioned at different densities in order to reduce the SOV trips generated by the overall number.

    I’m not saying that no one wants to increase housing through an amendment of measure A, but there are solid arguments for density decreasing the number of Single-occupancy vehicles, once that number is set.

    It’s also good to see that increased housing has both beneficial and non-beneficial effects on issues beyond traffic. We would be wise to consider the whole package.

    Thanks Tony, you’ve done a lot of work that I’ve always considered doing but didn’t have the time. The information is very illuminating for all involved in the discussion.

    Comment by John Knox White — October 12, 2006 @ 1:39 pm

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