Blogging Bayport Alameda

May 2, 2016

Close the door behind you

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:02 am

The Washington Post is running a series on the “Divided American Dream” which should be a familiar refrain if you’ve been keeping up with national election rhetoric.  But first in the series is about Stockton, CA.  Now you might be saying, “what does Stockton have to do with Alameda?”

Well, a lot in that Stockton is the suburb to the San Francisco Bay Area as a whole because actual suburbs and exurbs like Alameda throw up barriers to building its fair share of housing at every turn. (Ex. see Call for Review on Webster Street mixed use project.  If a project on a street that has services and retail, easy public transportation links, and is imminently walkable — and will bring two affordable housing units on line — cannot be built without running 1000 gauntlets because it has asked for a reduction in the parking minimums then what can get built?)

But I digress.

Anyway, read the whole article, but here are some highlights.

Referencing the last housing bubble:

In San Francisco and Silicon Valley, incomes were rising during the bubble years. And the growing demand to live in the Bay Area was outstripping the supply of homes, pushing up prices. But the longtime agricultural economy in the Central Valley wasn’t taking off. Incomes weren’t rising as home prices were. And there wasn’t a shortage of housing.

“Speculative bubbles are social epidemics,” Shiller says, “It’s just a thing that spreads from person to person. It’s a thought virus.”

But when the bubble burst — and it burst in the Bay Area, too — places such as San Francisco and Palo Alto were much better prepared to weather the downturn. Stockton was left with bad mortgages, few high-skilled jobs and public debt that would eventually push the city into bankruptcy.

The Bay Area still had Apple and Intel and Stanford and tourists and those spectacular views of the ocean. Those communities hadn’t overbuilt because they hadn’t actually built much new housing in decades; instead, they had let places like Stockton absorb the demand.

On who lives in the far flung suburb of the San Francisco Bay Area region:

This is what [Eric] Totman could afford — with space for fruit trees and a chicken coop out back — on a middle-class job 80 miles away. He is one of the fortunate ones in Stockton, in that he bought just after the bust. But he still grapples with the region’s other stark reality, because when he bought this home, he couldn’t afford to buy one anywhere closer to his job. Five days a week, he drives to Redwood City on the San Francisco Peninsula, where he owns a business coaching men’s gymnastics.

And home values in Redwood City are moving even farther out of reach by the moment. They’re up 55 to 75 percent since 2004. In some Zip codes, that’s the equivalent of more than half a million dollars in a decade. It’s the same story all around the Bay: In San Francisco Zip codes, already high home values are up 84 percent, 96 percent, and 97 percent. In Oakland Zip codes, they’re up as much as 76 percent. In Palo Alto, 155 percent.

So gymnastics coaches can’t live there. Or firefighters, teachers, nurses, cops, chefs, clerks or day-care workers. And because they can’t head west (thanks to the ocean) or north or south (where other coastal properties are pricey, too) everyone pushes inland. It’s not high-skilled tech workers moving over here; it’s the construction workers who build their offices, or the coaches who instruct their children.

And the price of being the bedroom community for jobs more than 80 miles, one way, away:

“At some point, Stockton stopped growing in its own right and became part of something else,” says Hannah Harrison, a schoolteacher and Stockton native who moved back here after college at Berkeley when she and her husband realized that their careers would never allow them to afford the Bay Area. Now she and her husband worry about what it means for a city to become a bedroom community to someplace else very far away, to have so many children whose parents return home late every night, so many community members whose lives are fundamentally oriented elsewhere.

We, in the immediate Bay Area of the loudest voices and the most political clout, worry so much about our own quality of life, the “character” of our buildings, the “character” of the city at a fixed moment in time that it becomes difficult for us to recognize what happens when we stop considering what happens when we stop evolving, particularly for future workers and those that will never have salaries that can withstand any housing shortage price leaps.

Is the “character” of a city better when only those that have the monetary means (or those with longevity who purchased homes decades ago) can live here and have the moral authority to simply tell others to “work harder and save up”?

Is it better for our middle class teachers, day care workers, service workers etc be forced to live 80 miles +, each way, in order to afford a decent place to live.  At what point do we realize that a city cannot function or provide proper services for its own moneyed citizens if it consistently pushes out those that simply don’t have enough because of artificial supply constraints.


  1. Speaking of pro-development….Did Marie Gilmore pull papers to run for office?

    Comment by Captain Obvious — May 2, 2016 @ 6:19 am

  2. So gymnastics coaches can’t live there. Or firefighters, teachers, nurses, cops, chefs, clerks or day-care workers.


    Alameda firefighters can…

    Comment by dave — May 2, 2016 @ 6:44 am

  3. The 1452 Webster project isn’t a referendum on city wide or regional housing policy and shouldn’t be a pawn or proxy for any “side” on broader issues. It’s a small project in a specific neighborhood with particular issues, including significant parking challenges faced by lots of people who live here and have to use and park their cars. Among other things, those local parking challenges are increased by people coming from throughout the island to park here during the day to use the casual carpool and ride the bus. So far the City has done little about those issues, but may be looking into those again.

    The current plan for 1452 Webster can and should be modified somewhat to better internalize and minimize its negative local spillover effects while maintaining its positive elements. The Council should review this, so it is good that they are doing so.

    Comment by RS — May 2, 2016 @ 7:28 am

  4. Bay Area Council is releasing bit n pieces of a survey of housing/economic issues conducted within the Bay Area of 1000 residents.

    Comment by Mike McMahon — May 2, 2016 @ 7:29 am

  5. The project at Taylor and Webster st. has a public parking lot one half block away, the only time it is even close to full is on Tuesdays when the farmers market is there. When I go to Up 2 U, or Yokohama for dinner or to the post office I can always park very close to those places. This project is also endorsed by W.A.B.A. , I would think they have studied this because they are usually a pretty conservative group.

    Comment by John P. — May 2, 2016 @ 7:56 am

    • John, my impression was that this project will be built on the existing public parking at at Webster/Taylor. I thought that was the only parking lot in the area, but is there one I’m missing?

      Comment by dave — May 2, 2016 @ 9:20 am

      • Nevermind, I forgot about the one behind Cafe Jolie

        Comment by dave — May 2, 2016 @ 9:22 am

  6. It is annoying that BBA always seems to go to an East Coast source for a report on California.

    Some great stories on KCBS Radio this AM pivoting off the Bay Area Council report:

    Why build more housing? Just wait a bit and more people will leave.

    Comment by vigi — May 2, 2016 @ 9:49 am

  7. One thing that was interesting was the focus on the guy who moved to Stockton where he has fruit trees (a small orchard?) and a chicken coop, because Stockton 80 miles away was the only place he could afford. If the fruit trees and chicken coop were must-haves, then, yes, Stockton probably was an affordable place. There were probably similar houses (at least similar in having fruit trees and a chicken coop or room for one) in a similar price range on the market closer to his business say in parts of Hayward and San Leandro at the time he purchased, but maybe he didn’t want to move there. There are some single family houses with small orchards and chicken coops in Alameda, i.e. large yards, but you can’t really make more of those unless you find more land. I assume but don’t know that in the newer planned communities in Alameda you run afowl of the HOA rules if you install a chicken coop.

    Comment by MP — May 2, 2016 @ 11:42 am

    • Like our blogmistress, I prefer living in a single family detached home over an apartment, but no picket fence is worth an 80 mile commute. I’ve always been puzzled by people who sign up for that misery. Why have a house if you’re never around to enjoy it?

      Comment by dave — May 2, 2016 @ 12:48 pm

  8. The metered lot where the Farmers Market is two days a week and the metered spots on Webster don’t provide usable parking for neighborhood residents. If you think there’s plenty of parking around 1452 Webster, talk to the people who live on/around the immediate area in the 600 and 700 blocks of Taylor (and Central and Santa Clara) and you’ll hear a different story.

    The current plan for 1452 Webster doesn’t provide the parking within the project that it should under the city’s own guidelines. It could and should, even though that would mean changing the plan a bit and possibly shaving a smidge from the developer’s profit margin.

    Comment by RS — May 2, 2016 @ 3:36 pm

    • I have never had a problem parking in that area. The current lot they want to build on isn’t used for parking any longer anyways.

      I think they should increase the # housing units they building on the base before it is in someone’s back yard and then you don’t have NIMBY situation…you just have more traffic but it is expected anywhere you live in the Bay Area.

      Comment by joelsf — May 2, 2016 @ 6:33 pm

      • “I have never had a problem parking in that area.” Well, that confirms you don’t live in the immediate area. The situation obviously varies depending on the hour, day, etc., but there is no doubt that the 600 block of Taylor and elsewhere has challenges.

        “The current lot they want to build on isn’t used for parking any longer anyways.” That’s irrelevant. The issue isn’t that the project will cut the supply of parking. The issue is that the project will increase the demand for parking without a commensurate increase in the supply in accordance with current guidelines, despite the fact that there are various feasible ways for the project to provide that commensurate increase.

        Since relatively modest changes are possible that would still allow the project to go forward, if this is approved as proposed without any adjustment, that means maximizing developer profit on this project is more important than mitigations to address the negative spillover effects the current plan would dump onto the neighbors nearby.

        Go ahead and built it, but do so in a way that internalizes to the maximum extent feasible the negative externalities it produces.

        Comment by RS — May 2, 2016 @ 7:21 pm

        • Thank you RS! I too live in the neighborhood, and find the “I never have problems parking” responses from people living outside the neighborhood tiresome. Well, good for you– but you don’t deal with it on a daily basis, do you?
          One solution that the city hasn’t considered (at least, as far as I know) is residential parking stickers. Most of our surrounding cities (Oakland, SF, Berkeley, etc.) have them. Allot each residence two stickers maximum (additional ones at a higher price) and make the whole area two-hour or four-hour parking limit. Of course, then the people who park all day to use the casual carpool would either have to walk or take a bus to the carpool waiting area, unless the city sets up a designated park and ride area for them.

          Comment by Kristen — May 3, 2016 @ 10:30 am

        • “do so in a way that internalizes to the maximum extent feasible the negative externalities it produces.”

          If we were serious about externalities, the most important externality we would be worried about is additional greenhouse gases. The more parking the project provides, the more greenhouse gases. The more units you drive out of urban transit corridors adjacent to the world’s greatest high paying job center out to Tracy and Modesto, the more greenhouse gases (externality) you produce.

          This project balanced the environmental and neighborhood needs and came to a just outcome. Time to move forward.

          Comment by BMac — May 3, 2016 @ 10:53 am

        • Though I moved away some years ago, I lived on Taylor near Webster for almost 5 years and parking was a hassle.

          I will add to your comment about “maximizing developer profit” and say that the ideology of the Planning Board — at least some cohort of it — is as great if not a greater factor in pushing this project through. This lot believe that increasing density doesn’t require mitigation, it IS mitigation, and a goal unto itself.

          Comment by dave — May 3, 2016 @ 11:02 am

        • “If we were serious about externalities. . .”

          Well, contrary to the suggestion in that reply comment, not agreeing with BMac’s assessment of the various tradeoffs involved in this specific project doesn’t make one not “serious” about externalities. The concerns neighbors have about the possible spillover impact on their daily lives/externalities of this particular project are real and they are serious.

          In fact, the implication — that people who dare to raise local concerns about a project that will be very significant for their neighborhood must not be serious about what they are saying and/or not serious about the knotty policy dilemmas around climate change, suburban sprawl, urban infill, and/or viable transit alternatives and so should be dismissed — is itself not serious.

          Is everyone who commutes a distance to work when they could get a job closer to home not serious about carbon emissions? Is anyone who ever drives a car not serious? What about people who use electricity generated by nonrenewable sources, are they not serious? Of course not. Decisions and compromises we each make every day have to bridge the gap between one’s general principles and aspirations on the one hand and reality’s constraints and concrete practicalities on the other.

          In this case, the effect on global carbon emissions of the City granting or not granting the developer a profit-enhancing parking waiver is approximately zero. In contrast, the risks are significant that putting up this building without combining the new building with sufficient parking on the site will create negative spillover effects for a neighborhood that already has a disproportionate number of issues and challenges.

          Yes, let’s move forward and let’s hope this works as advertised.

          Comment by RS — May 5, 2016 @ 5:13 pm

  9. I live in the neighborhood also, for 73 years. I never have had a problem parking on or near Webster st. I deal with it. I have no problem with a two or four hour parking limit, I think that could help l solve the problem. I don’t believe that holding up a project like this that is really a good fit for Webster st. is worth it for three spaces. I believe this project is also furnishing its residents with bus passes.

    Comment by John P. — May 3, 2016 @ 10:56 am

    • I don’t want the project to be held up over this issue either– I’m glad to see more housing units in the area.
      It’s funny, (or not!), but for us the problem isn’t so much parking, but how casual people have become in partially/entirely blocking our *very* narrow driveway in order to “squeeze in” to a street parking spot. This is a growing problem for us and several neighbors, and I think it speaks to the renaissance Webster St. is undergoing. More people are visiting our end of town now, and it’s great. But the city needs to deal with the increased flow of people in and around Webster. I’m hoping the bike lane project on Central will make Webster a more attractive place to bike to, at least on the weekends.

      Comment by Kristen — May 3, 2016 @ 11:09 am

      • When I lived there, from ’01 to ’05, Webster’s renaissance was just a dream and even then, people frequently blocked our driveway. More than once I or my wife was late to work because of it.

        Comment by dave — May 3, 2016 @ 11:15 am

  10. short term, I think parking time limits would help. Then we need to have more parking or a parking structure at some point. I just might not be here for that battle.

    Comment by John P. — May 3, 2016 @ 1:14 pm

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