Blogging Bayport Alameda

November 13, 2018

Adulting

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:09 am

I wanted to revisit this post for a minute because the part I didn’t talk about, the implications of the Planning Board and the City Council not doing anything, is important.

Let me set the context.  Remember during the election when the purportedly “good government” group put out, essentially, lies about Mayor-elect Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft.  The leader of the ACT PAC/ A Better Alameda group decided to respond here by throwing down a comment and a link and then never returning in a dramatic failed mic drop.  I detailed the wrongness of the comment in that post, but what I did want to write about was the full context of the vote by the Planning Board, of which Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft was a member, and the vote (and responsibility of the City Council) of which she was not a member of at the time.

And I’ll even use the link provided by ACT PAC/A Better Alameda.  The context of those policy decisions came because this was during the period the City needed to bring its Housing Element into compliance.  Mind you, this was not a future Housing Element, this was a Housing Element that had been submitted for 2009 – 2014 and had been found out of compliance at the time it was submitted.  Because we’re really great about electing punters to the City Council.  So once a new Council majority was elected in 2010 and a new City Manager brought on board, it was time to have some adults do some adult level decision making.

The Planning Board, of course, does not have the ability to adopt new zoning or amend the General Plan or the Municipal Code, but they do have the ability — as the advisory board to the City Council — to recommend that the City Council take one of those actions.  Sometimes the City Council takes that recommendation, sometimes they do not.  But at no time — in these three scenarios — can a vote by the Planning Board be considered actually doing that thing aka rezoning.  Because if the City Council opts to do the opposite then the Planning Board vote is rendered moot.

So that’s clear now right?  The Planning Board votes to recommend.  The City Council then votes to actually take the action that is recommended or not recommended.  The Planning Board doesn’t actually rezone as a body.

What was at stake in this not a vote for the Planning Board but a vote for the City Council was compliance with the California Housing and Community Development Department.   Alameda Housing Element had already been out of compliance since 2006/2007 for the 2007 – 2014 period.  Because you’re supposed to submit your Housing Element before the period of time starts.  This was the resulting letter from HCD when the Housing Element was submitted in 2009:

Screen Shot 2018-11-13 at 5.11.11 AM

HCD provided clear direction on how to bring the Housing Element into compliance which is what the City then started working on in 2012 via the Planning Board process.  After submitting the results of the Planning Board process to HCD, HCD indicated that when these were adopted (by a vote of the CITY COUNCIL) they could certify the Housing Element:

Screen Shot 2018-11-13 at 5.12.54 AM

Now, what happens if a City’s Housing Element is out of compliance?  Well you end up in a situation where, like the City of Pleasanton, the State comes in and threatens to strip the city of its zoning and approval powers and it’s all done at the state level.  Add to that, the lack of a Housing Element puts the city at risk of court action as well, which is also what happened to Pleasanton. That’s what inaction and insistence on halting on housing development at any cost will do.  It makes elected officials make bad decisions and it makes people attempting to campaign against candidates attribute — what they think are — bad acts without any sort of context at all.  Even though what that Planning Board did and that City Council did was ensure that the City of Alameda had the ability to retain local control over development issues.

 

16 Comments »

  1. I was unaware of Pleasanton losing its local control. What was the practical result of that? Did previously blocked projects get built under the new state level regime? Did Pleasanton regain its local control after a
    period?

    Comment by dave — November 13, 2018 @ 6:23 am

    • When the State found that Pleasanton’s housing element was out of compliance, a housing group sued. Subsequently Pleasanton lost the ability to issue permits for renovations and building for both residential and business properties. Then, for about a year, the permits were reviewed and approved by the judge in consultation with the housing group’s lawyer, Mike Rawson, now Director of the Public Interest Law Project in Oakland. Pleasanton subsequently brought its housing element into compliance and regained the ability to issue permits. Pleasanton did subsequently build more multi-family homes.

      Michael Rawson has worked closely with Renewed Housing Advocates and has drafted several letters to the City of Alameda explaining why our City is better off complying with State Housing Laws. Today state housing laws are much stricter than when Pleasanton tried unsuccessfully to skirt them.

      The real consequences for the region of zoning for the housing as required by the laws, but still not building the allowed affordable housing are becoming increasingly evident to the region as businesses and neighbors move out of the region and homeless encampments grow without limit.

      Comment by 2wheelsmith — November 13, 2018 @ 6:48 am

      • Renewed Hope Housing Advocates is the name of the Alameda affordable housing advocacy group mentioned in the original reply. Hope was left out of the name in that reply.

        Comment by 2wheelsmith — November 13, 2018 @ 6:53 am

    • There was (1) a lawsuit files against the City of Pleasanton, it’s the link above and (2) Pleasanton was forced because of the court order and state threat to bring its Housing Element into compliance, here’s an article about their reluctance to do so, but they did it: https://www.pleasantonweekly.com/news/2015/01/08/city-council-adopts-new-housing-element-with-development-limits-through-2023

      Comment by Lauren Do — November 13, 2018 @ 6:51 am

  2. Here is also a blog post I wrote referencing the court ruling against Pleasanton which explains why the Alameda rezoning (by the City Council) needed to happen. Which also renders the untrue criticism against Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft in the ABA ad both (1) false and (2) bad governance.

    Edited to add: two more articles about the Pleasanton experiment with an out of compliance Housing Element and a housing cap: (1) Payout: http://www.reimaginerpe.org/node/5616 and (2) Attorney General joins lawsuit: http://www.reimaginerpe.org/tj/news/6-15

    Comment by Lauren Do — November 13, 2018 @ 7:47 am

  3. Being a stones throw from one of the largest job centers in the country, it’s hard to imagine that the focus of our current Mayor was soley on stopping housing development in the midst of a major housing shortage instead of traffic solutions and traffic infrastructure improvements.

    Comment by Karen — November 13, 2018 @ 8:31 am

    • There is a strong case to be made for stopping unbalanced development, as Mayor Trish Spencer and former planner Paul Foreman advocate.

      Several academic studies of development data in San Francisco and elsewhere have concluded that building market rate homes alone will increase the number of low wage earners without a home. Each $1,000,000 plus market rate unit potentially creates two to three low wage jobs that increases the competitive pressure for low-cost affordable homes and forces multiple low wage earners to move toward the urban fringe or into the streets.

      Development of housing may benefit low wage earners when the ratio of affordable homes to market rate homes is at least 1, and preferably more than two affordable units per market rate unit. Since Alameda has recently built far less than one affordable home for every market rate unit, Alameda’s new housing construction has, for at least the last few years, like every other East Bay city, contributed to increasing the shortage of affordable housing in Alameda and in the region,

      So many housing advocates, as do Mayor Spencer and Mr. Foreman, argue that low wage earners would be better off if the number of market rate homes built was capped by the number of affordable homes built. For example, if 100 affordable homes were built, then 50 market rate homes could be built.

      Rigid application of such caps on market rate homes before new funding sources are found for affordable housing would devastate the home building industry. While fewer people would be on the street because economic growth would be inhibited, the infrastructure necessary to build housing would wither away and would take years to rebuild should adequate funding for affordable housing became available.

      Until adequate funding for affordable housing is made available, some claim we face a Hobson’s choice between building primarily market rate homes and increasing the financial burden on lower income households and building no market rate homes at all, thus decimating our building industry. There is a middle ground. We can start with existing inclusionary requirements of 15-25 % for affordable homes in residential developments and raise them over the next decade or two to the 200 to 300% needed to provide all segments of the market with homes.

      There are several options for providing the billions and billions of dollars required to raise the inclusionary requirements without devastating the building industry. For instance, if we drastically increase the wages of low income workers, we could continue to rely on the market to be the primary funding source for homes. Alternatively, we could increase social funding for homes. Social funding includes both government, charitable and cooperative funding. Governments could generate funds by reforming our property tax system or increasing taxes on employers or individuals. Charities are making some progress toward showing that they can seed self-sustaining cooperatives that both support themselves and fund new cooperatives.

      All of these alternatives are economically feasible and better than the status quo. The status quo is rapidly increasing the stress on our friends, neighbors and essential workers to unsustainable levels.

      Comment by 2wheelsmith — November 13, 2018 @ 9:26 am

      • Any one who advocates for capping market rate housing until affordable housing can be built is not a “housing advocate.” That’s a NIMBY.

        Because right now, until funding mechanisms change dramatically, anyone who says don’t build market rate housing — the one guaranteed way to build affordable housing at all — until we get more affordable housing is just saying that to build no housing.

        Comment by Lauren Do — November 13, 2018 @ 11:21 am

  4. A few months back, I attended a forum on housing at Independence Plaza. At this forum, City Planner Andrew Thomas mentioned how being out of compliance with a housing element could result in a situation–like Pleasanton.

    This happened in Alameda, too.

    In 1989, after a judge ruled that Alameda’s land use policies discriminated against poor people and ordered the city to revise its housing element.

    For two-months, requests for permits, zoning changes, variances, all of this was restricted and had to go before a judge for approval [See Oakland Tribune, “Judge: Land policies biased against poor.” 08 March, 1989 http://tenantsvsalameda.blogspot.com/1989/03/judge-land-policies-biased-against-poor.html%5D.

    Since the inception of the Housing Element law, Alameda has had a challenge developing inclusive elements, and the Guyton/Henderson suit with Legal Aid, and the Renewed HOPE/Public Advocates letter of 2012.

    Comment by RAsheed ☥ Shabazz (@Rasheed_Shabazz) — November 13, 2018 @ 2:46 pm

  5. A few months back, I attended a forum on housing at Independence Plaza. At this forum, City Planner Andrew Thomas mentioned how being out of compliance with a housing element could result in a situation–like Pleasanton.

    This happened in Alameda, too.

    In 1989, after a judge ruled that Alameda’s land use policies discriminated against poor people and ordered the city to revise its housing element.

    For two-months, requests for permits, zoning changes, variances, all of this was restricted and had to go before a judge for approval [See Oakland Tribune, “Judge: Land policies biased against poor.” 08 March, 1989 http://tenantsvsalameda.blogspot.com/1989/03/judge-land-policies-biased-against-poor.html.

    Since the inception of the Housing Element law, Alameda has had a challenge developing inclusive elements, and the Guyton/Henderson suit with Legal Aid, and the Renewed HOPE/Public Advocates letter of 2012.

    Comment by RAsheed ☥ Shabazz (@Rasheed_Shabazz) — November 13, 2018 @ 2:47 pm

  6. The problem is too few housing units, so the solution needs to be building more units. Yes, the issue is affordability, but the cause is lack of supply. So, the solution must include massive increases in supply.

    Comment by Eric Strimling — November 13, 2018 @ 4:44 pm

    • The solution is a massive increase in supply. Yet what is built when does matter as it will take decades to increase the supply of homes to meet the demand.

      Comment by 2wheelsmith — November 14, 2018 @ 7:58 am

      • It’s a continuum, not a binary state. Or, let’s use a different metaphor. Its like adding cars to a BART train. The train is still full, but more people get to ride it. Make room. Stop with this nonsense about adding housing actually worsening the affordability problem. One paper that looked at one city going it alone can not overrule what the vast majority of research, economists, and common sense tell us. Bill, you sound like an anti-vaxxer or climate denier grabbing onto the tiniest straw in the face of overwhelming data.

        Comment by BMac — November 14, 2018 @ 9:56 am

    • There are lots of better and more attainable solutions than to simply build, build, build.

      1) Vacancy tax. It forces people to either rent out their homes or to sell them, increasing housing stock.
      2) Tax on foreign buyers. While American wages have largely stagnated, the rest of the world are producing millionaires by the day – and a lot of them buying homes here as a form of “land banking” to protect their equity from uncertain foreign markets and governments, which decreases housing supply and drives up prices for the rest of us. This has worked in Vancouver and New Zealand.
      3) Tech industry correction. A rising tide lifts all boats, but not if your job is in a different body of water. 2018 has been a rocky year, so look for an economic downturn and/or other regions competing to recruit more of our tech workers away.
      4) Restore the city’s down payment assistance program. Alameda used to help 1st-time homeowners buy a home with a sizable down payment fund, which must be repaid back. This is easier than building more BMR homes, especially now that multi-bid competition is going down.
      5) Prop 13 restructuring. Look for it on the ballot in 2020.

      The fact is, Alameda is currently (or has already finished) building 5,000 new units. Oakland is building 5,000-10,000 more. Yet, not a ding in home prices. This requires a multi-prong approach, such as above.

      Comment by Jason B — November 14, 2018 @ 10:57 am

      • What time frame are you using for this data point?

        Alameda is currently (or has already finished) building 5,000 new units

        Because according to ABAG, from 2015 – 2017 Alameda’s RHNA (across all incomes) number was 1723, of that only 17% of that number have permits pulled, meaning that actual units will get built and not just zoned for building.

        And from 2007 – 2014 only 165 permits were issued for an RHNA allocation of 2046.

        Comment by Lauren Do — November 14, 2018 @ 11:20 am

      • Jason:

        1) Regarding vacancy taxes, if a person is intentionally keeping a building vacant, a tax of a few thousand dollars is unlikely to deter them. Vacant buildings cost their owners taxes, insurance, maintenance and utilities. On the face of it, it’s pretty irrational to keep a building vacant when it could be producing revenue but some people have a sound reason. Usually it’s that they plan to sell the building in near future and view a property unencumbered by leases as a better sale. If Oakland’s recent vote on a vacancy tax ($6000/yr) is a reasonable guideline. it’s doubtful that tax would have its intended effect. In any case, even if it did, it wouldn’t bring very many units onto the market, because almost every owner is already cash flowing as best they can.

        2) Regarding foreign ownership taxes, enforcement would be very difficult and that would be a very easy tax to dodge with a well crafted LLC or a domestic pass thru entity. Not to mention it is a very heavy handed assault on property rights and economic freedom.

        3) Tech industry correction. Are you really saying that a weakened local economy is a desirable outcome? Your words do say that, but I’m double checking with you, because surely that can’t be what you mean, can it?

        4) Down payment assistance. Take a look at the city’s GF budget. You will not see capacity for that.

        5) While I am personally in favor of scrapping Prop 13 entirely, it remains very popular, particularly among older voters whose turnout is quite reliable. I would not bet on repeal or major restructuring anytime soon.

        Comment by dave — November 14, 2018 @ 12:12 pm


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