Blogging Bayport Alameda

March 16, 2016

Think globally, don’t act locally

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:06 am

Steven Tavares has a new piece up on Alameda Magazine’s website — it’s slightly cut off at the end, but you get the general gist — this time it’s about Measure A and whether the cherished charter amendment has outlived its usefulness.

Given the overall angst about housing prices and pushing families out because of lack of housing supply, the discussion is timely.  But what it comes down to is (1) lack of political will to overturn Measure A and (2) a slow eroding of Measure A through state mandated requirements.

Highlights from the piece:

But if Measure A could not be overturned at the ballot box, it turns out it could be watered down by the City Council. In 2012, a pro-development council majority approved a “density bonus” ordinance that allowed developers to petition the state for waivers to develop restricted zoning areas in exchange for building affordable housing in Alameda. Density bonuses are a zoning tool that let developers build more densely than normally allowed as long as there is public benefit attached, such as the construction of public housing.

The seeds of the rancor that has hovered over political discourse in the city ever since arose from this action, which many Measure A supporters found underhanded. However, the pro-development council’s progress in turning on the new housing pipeline is undeniable. In the nearly four years since exceptions to Measure A were approved, Alameda has responded with a host of new housing projects. “The city has upped its game,” said Debbie Potter, the city’s director of community development. Some significant factors, said Potter, were the city’s density bonus ordinance, its Housing Element, last approved in 2014, and the “multifamily overlay” that facilitates additional housing, specifically, at Alameda Point.

Of course, the housing shortage is by no means exclusive to Alameda; it’s a problem for cities all over the Bay Area and across the state. However, over the decades, Alameda disproportionately worsened the problem by prohibiting new multifamily housing. Maybe no other visuals show the depth of Alameda’s inaction than two charts contained in an October city survey on rising rents and evictions in Alameda.

Between 2000 and 2014, permits for 776 new units of housing were issued, but just 112 were multifamily, nearly all in 2013 and 2014. The report also indicates that the number of multifamily units permitted in Alameda was a shocking 1.49 units per every 1,000 residents. By contrast, Oakland permitted 25 units per 1,000 residents; Alameda County approved 18.67 units per 1,000 residents.

Unsurprisingly, the report pinned the cause of Alameda’s inaction on Measure A.

A separate city report issued last year predicted that rental costs in Alameda are likely to rise until they rival those of neighboring cities. Multifamily buildings in Alameda have a 97.3 percent occupancy rate, which ties the city with Oakland for the country’s sixth-highest occupancy rate. It is simple supply and demand that is fueling the city’s high rent increases and increasing numbers of 60-day eviction notices.

But it’s the environment that has allowed Measure A to exist for so many years that leads to a sort of schizophrenic position of the state of housing and development in Alameda.  On one hand there is real compassion, empathy, and anger over the displacement of families in Alameda due to the rising costs of housing.  But that compassion, empathy, and anger is often paired with a strong disapproval to actually do anything to help increase the supply to counter the demand.  So while folks may feel compassion it doesn’t mean that they would like anything to necessarily change in Alameda in order to accommodate the displaced.  It’s the decades of that attitude that has gotten Alameda to the state it’s in today with regard to housing.

The issue is, is it worth the political energy to change Measure A via the ballot box.  The pragmatic voice says, “no.”  Given that tools like the Density Bonus has eroded much of Measure A’s impact recently, it’s one of the thousand cuts that will ultimately lead to the end of Measure A.



  1. It’s widely quoted that Alameda is 53% renters. I vaguely recall from a post here in the past that Alameda’s buildings are approximately 40% SFH’s. Can anyone confirm or deny that?

    Assuming it’s accurate, does anyone know how that stacks up vs. neighboring cities?

    Comment by dave — March 16, 2016 @ 6:19 am

  2. The report attached to the Nov 4 City Council agenda speaks to the composition of the rental market by building type and the composition of the city by renters and owner occupied, and compares both to the region. I don’t think it gives numbers for all building types in the city.

    Comment by MP — March 16, 2016 @ 6:54 am

  3. 1. I don’t know the numbers, but if you are thinking Alameda has more multifamily housing than most “comparable” cities, I think that is right. We probably have a housing mix that more closely matches our big neighbors Oakland, SF and Berkeley as opposed to smaller cities and bedroom communities like San Leandro, Castro Valley, Pleasanton, etc.

    That mix and moderate density, I think, is what has enabled Alameda to have successful community feel, retail districts, walkability, etc.

    Comment by BMac — March 16, 2016 @ 10:06 am

  4. That mix and moderate density, I think, is what has enabled Alameda to have successful community feel, retail districts, walkability, etc.


    Why mess with success?

    Comment by dave — March 16, 2016 @ 10:11 am

  5. I need to question Tavares’ labeling the previous council as “pro-development” based on their votes around state density bonus and our City’s density bonus ordinance. My point is not to refute labeling Gilmore, Tam and Chen as pro-development in general, but to challenge that their actions in approving multi-unit projects under state law as de facto pro-development. Isn’t the density bonus state law and our City drafting an ordinance also a requirement ? Repeated use of “pro-development” in this context seems gratuitous.

    The mayor ran on a so called “slow growth” platform but her actions as described in today’s blog about voting no on proposal for Building #8 pretty much makes it obvious “no growth” is a more honest description. Voting for multi unit projects using density bonus is about approving something over nothing. There are no viable options for Harbor Bay style SFH at the Point and none for 100% business park ( 100% jobs), or just regular open space parks. The only development proposals which get traction are those which have mixed uses and include multiple units. The previous council was not pro-development as much as voting for projects which are viable in the market over letting the Point languish as a weed garden.

    Comment by MI — March 17, 2016 @ 10:23 am

  6. Not sure it is worth the political energy, but getting id of Measure A would make possible better design,better use of scarce open space. Instead of the big single family houses on tiny lots, essentially detached apartments, we have seen in the last decade, we could have attached single family homes and duplexes and have some decent common open space.

    Comment by Selina — March 21, 2016 @ 5:09 pm

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