Blogging Bayport Alameda

September 28, 2015

Housing goal oriented

Filed under: Alameda, City Council, Development — Lauren Do @ 6:08 am

Tonight the Planning Board looks like it has a short agenda, but the first agenda item has three topics which should be of interest to anyone who has any sort of opinion on new development projects.  These are items that were identified in the 2015-2023 Housing Element which was certified by the State of California to meet the number two goal identified as a priority to the City of Alameda:

“Provide housing that meets the City’s diverse housing needs, specifically including affordable housing, special needs housing, and senior housing. “

I believe that most people (not all, because this is Alameda after all) would agree that the City should streamline the process to provide (1) affordable housing, (2) special needs housing, and (3) senior housing.

The Housing Element enumerated a few policies and programs that would support that goal, and has brought before this Planning Board draft ordinances that would support the stated goal of providing housing for vulnerable Alamedans.

• Policy HE-4 “Encourage and support residential opportunities for senior citizens, including senior housing projects, multifamily housing projects with accessible and small housing units, assisted living projects, and in-law projects.”

• Program 4.1 “Continue to support the addition of secondary “In-law” units for small households or seniors……”

• Program 4.2 “Consider amendments to the Zoning Ordinance to require universal design elements in all new housing projects of five or more units.”

The first draft ordinance, I believe, will be widely supported.  This is the Universal Design ordinance that has been in the works for a few years now.  Even though there have been requirements at individual projects there has not been a citywide policy on the books.   The major points will be that the Citywide policy will only apply to projects that are five units or greater, and the expectation is that 15% of the units in the project should be universally designed so that it can be adapted for aging in place or to accommodate a person with disabilities.

According to the staff report, these are some of the universal design expectations:

• Access to the Front Door: An accessible primary entry that does not require the resident or visitors to climb stairs to access the unit is essential for seniors or residents with mobility issues. Adding wheel chair ramps to access the front door of a home can be expensive, and in some cases impossible, if the home is designed with many steps between the sidewalk and the front door.

• Access to the Living Spaces in the Unit: A senior aging in place or a disabled resident must have an accessible path of travel (without stairs and with adequate hallway width) from the front door to the living room, bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen area. Stairs within a home are problematic and can be difficult to eliminate or modify after the home is constructed. In addition, the hallways and doorways need to be wide enough to accommodate a wheel chair, and the walls should have blocking to make it easy to add grab bars if they are needed for a future resident of the unit.

• Accessible Bathrooms and Kitchens: Build bathrooms and kitchen fixtures that can be easily modified at a later date with a minimum cost if necessary to accommodate an individual’s needs. Replacing fixtures in the bathroom and kitchen is often costly. For example, replacing a bathtub with a shower typically costs over $1,000. Furthermore, if the floor area within the kitchen and bathroom is originally built in confined spaces, a retrofit of the space to accommodate wheelchair access becomes infeasible and would require costly and extensive interior remodel of the home. Therefore, the Universal Design Ordinance requires that the kitchen and bathroom include adequate floor space to operate a wheel chair and that the bathroom include a shower facility that does not require a senior or a resident with mobility issues to negotiate a bathtub.

The second draft ordinance should have some fans, but also some detractors from hard line Measure Aers. Right now Alameda does have a second unit ordinance but because of, well, Measure A, it doesn’t produce any meaningful numbers of additional units.  This proposed amendment would lower the minimum lot requirement and clarify that a second unit is allowed in all residential zones and not just for single family zones.

And finally the last ordinance looks to clarify that any area that currently has a multi-family housing overlay would be limited to multi family housing only and would not allow single-family housing.  From the staff report:

[S]taff is recommending that Planning Board and City Council consider prohibiting detached single-family housing on sites that are designated for multifamily housing. The specific sites that would be impacted by the change include:

• Any future development proposals for the North Housing site, a portion of the Alameda Landing waterfront site, the Shipways site, and the Encinal Terminals site, and
• Any future re-development or change in entitlements requested on the Marina Shore property and the In-N-Out Burger/Chase Bank/Safeway Gas Site.

I think all of these are great.  I have a few issues with some of the second unit requirements, mostly the parking requirements because it’s a bit unclear still, but overall I think that these all would be positives to meeting the stated goal of the Housing Element.


  1. I think it is time to acknowledge that there is new paradigm for what encompasses ‘vulnerable Alamedans’. At his point most anyone making less than $100,000/yr and doesn’t own their own house is ‘vulnerable’.

    Comment by frank m — September 28, 2015 @ 8:35 am

  2. Any family making under 100K is vulnerable indeed. We need to see initiatives region-wide to increase pay and develop highly dense housing paired to transit to keep up with our region’s robust economic engine. These changes can’t come soon enough. Our middle and lower classes are being ravaged by rising housing costs and longer commutes.

    Comment by angela — September 28, 2015 @ 11:14 am

  3. On its surface, a ban on single-family homes for parcels with multi-family overlays appears to address a major problem introduced by the housing cap imposed on the North Housing site. With single family housing banned, the North Housing site could still fulfill one of the purposes of State Housing Laws despite the housing cap by enabling multi-family developers to outbid single family developers for the site at the planned Navy auction.

    Robert Sullwold, though, in his usual thorough analysis, pointed out that the City Charter may invalidate such a ban as state housing law does not explicitly allow the banning of single family housing. Further, it is not clear that simply banning single-family housing at the North Housing site would make the City’s housing cap on the North Housing site legally enforceable, which I presume is one of the purposes of the single-family housing ban.

    Both those who favor rapid- and those who favor slow-paced developoment of housing may want to carefully review the legal implications of such a ban before implementing it. There are other, more clearly legal, alternatives for promoting affordable housing within the City.

    William Smith

    Comment by William Smith — September 28, 2015 @ 1:06 pm

  4. State housing law also does not explicitly allow the banning of multi-family housing either, and yet, it’s been on Alameda’s books for 40 years now.

    However, state law does allow for jurisdictions to prescribe what zoning can go in certain areas, which, I believe is what will happen. Much like some areas are zoned for Industrial uses only, so too can areas be zone for multi-family housing only.

    Comment by Lauren Do — September 28, 2015 @ 3:10 pm

    • I agree that most cities could ban single family housing from specific areas, as Alameda has done for Park and Webster commercial districts. With the ban on multi-family housing in Alameda’s charter, banning single-family housing from residential developments on parcels not identified for affordable housing in the housing element may be more problematic legally – unless the voters repeal or the courts nullify the charter ban on multi-family housing for the entire City.

      Comment by William Smith — September 28, 2015 @ 4:44 pm

  5. I’m all for more multi-family housing in Alamed, yet I wonder if an outright ban on SFH in multi-family overlay areas could lead to an unintended and segregating result.

    Comment by AK — September 28, 2015 @ 4:16 pm

  6. I would like to see our Planning Board enter the 21 first Century. Climate Change is a reality. There is nothing that has been approved or ‘in the pipeline’ that addresses this. Really all the new single family housing is pretty ugly. It will sill sell as this is the last grasp at ‘the American Dream’. I don’t blame the Planning Board for that but it seems like they are approving 20th Century Housing at a time when we have maxed out our resources. Building ‘multiplexes’ is fine but really they need to look further beyond. Maybe we need a Green Building Prop in Alameda.

    Comment by frank m — September 28, 2015 @ 4:23 pm

  7. and meanwhile in Berkeley……

    Comment by frank m — September 29, 2015 @ 4:10 pm

  8. #6, I think the argument that would be made is that new development that is being approved, whether housing or commercial, is being required to be built in line with IPCC’s 60-year time-line for sea level rise and to provide the ability to provide additional protection when seas rise higher. As each of these developments is across the street from other housing/business, etc. this is lessening (in a very small way) the need for sea level rise protection that our existing neighborhoods will need and providing the beginning for a more comprehensive solution. Because of the planning for sea level rise in our newer developments, at times these developments are more prepared for rising waters than their neighbors are.

    Comment by jkw — September 30, 2015 @ 7:43 am

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