On Wednesday night the big Harbor Bay meeting was puzzling and amazing all at the same time. The best thing about this was watching the drama unfold particularly when you don’t really have a dog in the fight, horse in the race, or any other animal related saying.
First was the color coordinated shirts. Blue for the Harbor Bay Associates supporters and red for the Harbor Bay Neighbors. Then there was Andrew Thomas show where he brought everyone up to speed on how the City got to this particular place. After that came the 30 minutes of from the HBIA and 30 minutes from HBN. The HBIA presentation was a huge dog and pony show complete with fancy videos and everything about how great the new club was going to be which seemed really out of place because everyone had agreed that the night’s discussion would not be about the new club that HBIA wanted to build but rather the Packet Landing site where the current Harbor Bay Club exists.
HBN — for a neutral observer not attempting to suck up to win the votes of Harbor Bay voters in the next election — would find the arguments offered by this group to be pretty unconvincing. They insisted that Harbor Bay Club had to stay where it was because it was somehow owed to the community. Then they had an architect come to attest to the fact that, yes, the Club at the current site could be remodeled. Apparently this struck no one on the HBN leadership as weird to remodel someone else’s business for them and announce this as though it is meaningful. And then there was the parade of Bay Farm HOA Board Members. This is apparently super important in Bay Farm parlance, but rather meaningless for the rest of us serfs (even those of us that belong to an HOA, I don’t know if I would, personally, readily announce that I was on the Board of an HOA, but that’s just me).
Just so folks don’t think it’s a strictly Alameda phenomenon of opposing development, recently the Planning Board in Berkeley approved a large downtown project that would bring 302 residential spaces to Berkeley. That proposal met a fair amount of oppositions, but look at how the opposition and proponents were described:
Opponents cited the scale of the project, flaws in the approval process, concerns about earthquake safety and worries about the impact of construction on nearby Berkeley High School. Advocates called for more housing in Berkeley and for increased activity downtown. To a remarkable extent, the divide in opinion was generational: older commenters were opposed; younger ones approved.
“We have to stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good and get housing built now,” said Eric Panzer, chair of Livable Berkeley. He said many opponents had secured housing in Berkeley years ago and wanted to “pull up the drawbridge.”
Also, check out some of the strong comments from the Board members:
After many many many letters to the editor and signs cropping up all over the island, there is a chance, once and for all for all the cards to be figuratively laid on the table with regard to the whole new Harbor Bay Club and what will happen with the space that is left if neu-HBC is built.
The funny thing about all the handwringing over the whole topic is that it was assumed that some how the approvals for the housing at the current HBC site was fait accompli and being actively pushed by City Staff, but while the City Manager has changed, the staff that writes the reports and aligns the staff recommendations with what is best for the City of Alameda as a whole has not. I guess it must have come as a surprise to some folks that staff is suggesting that the City Council not move forward with rezoning the current HBC site. From the staff report:
Amending the General Plan is a policy decision that requires that the community and the City Council balance and value different, and sometimes competing, public interests. In this case, staff recommends that the City Council move to affirm the current General Plan and Zoning designations for the property. The staff recommendation is based upon the following:
• The City of Alameda General Plan and Zoning Ordinance provides enough land for residential use to meet the City’s regional housing needs through 2023. In 2023, the City Council may need to re-evaluate its residential land supply as part of the next State-mandated Housing Element update. At this time, no rezoning for housing is needed.
• The Alameda community as a whole has an expressed need for recreational services and facilities. To ensure that the City maintains lands designated for these purposes, staff recommends that the City Council maintain the Commercial Recreational designated lands to address the commercial recreational needs of current and future generations of Alameda residents.
Raise your hand if you actually believe that Frank Matarrese has unironic stationary that reads: “From the desk of Frank Matarrese.” I totally believe he does.
Anyway, from the desk of Frank Matarrese to you is Frank Matarrese attempting to tackle kinda sorta the whole problem with Alameda families and individuals losing their housing without actually having to add any supply to the housing inventory or actual institute any sort of real rental protections, here are his “solutions”:
To help protect renters from unfair evictions, I want to expand the scope of the RRAC to include evictions
To provide more affordable housing without overbuilding, I want to increase the numbers of affordable units by offering amnesty to owners of illegal units in exchange for turning them into affordable housing
To discourage landlords from reaping unreasonable profits from unwarranted and extreme rent increases, I propose increasing their Alameda business license tax based on their increased profits
First, “expanding” the scope of the RRAC without giving the RRAC any real powers is sort of useless. Unless the RRAC becomes a body that has the actual ability to fine and lien property owners for not complying with the rulings, then you might as well have the RRAC in charge of ponies and rainbows while you’re at it for all the good it will do.
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.”
At the last City Council meeting there was a line of people who got up to speak during the public comment period about issues of rising rents and the effect that it has on the citizens of Alameda. Unsurprisingly because there has been so much activity around the issue of the housing shortage the City recently sent out a Press Release touting its accomplishments on “strengthening” mediation tools. Of course most would agree that the “strengthening” was pretty minimal and does nothing to help folks in need right now which directly lead to the petition circulating asking for a moratorium.
But naturally Mayor Trish Spencer wanted to chance to say that she did something in the face of a petition that says that the “something” hasn’t stopped the bleeding. These days you know you’re in for some Trish Spencer “good news” when you get a Press Release from the City these days. We’ve had some pretty inane ones lately like this “save the date”. But I digress.
At that meeting Trish Spencer again opted to delay as opposed to move forward decisively. She suggested a “workshop” to discuss the issue in detail after the suggestion by Marilyn Ezzy-Ashcraft to agenda something immediately.
Based on the posting from Mayor Trish Spencer’s nominee, we finally know why Jim Oddie abstained on the appointment as opposed to an outright “no” or “yes” vote:
Since DMHC is a state agency, Jim Oddie has been helping me, via Rob Bonta’s office, to try and get a response from DMHC. Yay, Jim Oddie!
Jim Oddie is Rob Bonta’s District Director, and Rob Bonta is the Chair of the Assembly Health Committee, Jim Oddie’s office has been helping me deal with this state agency. Even though I will disagree with his positions at times, our district is fortunate to have the leader of this powerful committee as our State Assemblyman.
But even after watching the City Council meeting, it’s not clear why Tony “elections have consequences” Daysog decided to go ahead with not only voting for the nominee, but also seconding the motion.
Let me actually clarify what happened, because technically there has not been an up or down vote yet for Carol Gottstein. The first vote taken was to approve the entire roster of Mayoral nominees. That vote ended in the 2 – 2 – 1 split. Trish Spencer and Tony Daysog as “yes” votes. Marilyn Ezzy-Ashcraft and Frank Matarrese as “no” votes and the abstention from Jim Oddie.
Then a second motion was made to approve everyone but Carol Gottstein which was an unanimous vote so technically, since Carol Gottstein was not not approved, Trish Spencer could offer her name up for consideration at another City Council meeting. It will be interesting to see if Trish Spencer decides to double down on that one.
On Tuesday night, Steven Tavares at the East Bay Citizen began tweeting out a link to an article about one of Mayor Trish Spencer’s nominees to the Commission on Disability Issues. Of course this is not the first time Trish Spencer has come under scrutiny for questionable appointments. And I’ll point out, again, that her pick for the Open Government Commission was inappropriate given his statements about the Sunshine Ordinance and the Brown Act. Not to mention her choice for the Rent Review Advisory Committee’s previous comments about low income housing and role in attempting to bring a moratorium against subsidized housing in Alameda.
But this one might be the most puzzling of all of Trish Spencer’s nominations and her insistence on standing by her nomination. Although the video is not up right now, I have confirmed with the City Clerk that the vote — after this nominee was bifurcated from the rest of the nominees — went 2 – 2 -1. Trish Spencer and Tony Daysog voted for the nominee. Marilyn Ezzy-Ashcraft and Frank Matarrese voted against the nominee. And Jim Oddie abstained. I’m not sure why Jim Oddie abstained, I’ll have to wait for the video.
As posted in the comments, a great article in City Lab reports on the initiative to “Sue the Suburbs” over lack of housing construction. Now, I think we all realize that the likelihood of this effort being successful is pretty small, but it will bring even more attention to the problem and the lack of solutions being offered by our policymakers and if it is successful, well, that would be huge.
The suburb in question here is the city of Lafayette which makes a pretty easy target given its demographics and amenities (like a Bart station). Before our city leaders get too comfortable watching another city go through public scrutiny of its lack of housing construction, it’s interesting to note that from 2007-2014, Lafayette met a higher percentage of its RHNA housing allocation than Alameda. The ABAG page is somehow broken right now, but according to the City Lab piece, Lafayette constructed 65% of its RHNA numbers. Alameda, only 6%. And yet there’s “too much housing” right Tony Daysog?
But back to the effort, highlights from the SF Business Times reporting:
This City Council is definitely in a much better position, budget wise, than previous City Councils. On the back of staff reductions and savings from previous years — in addition to an improved economy — this Council found itself in the position of having a lot of reserves in excess of the 20% required.
In addition to spending more money than suggested by staff in the proposed budgets, Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese suggested that the excess money above the 20% required for reserves be spent down so — I guess — there isn’t the temptation to spend it. That one was a little hard for me to wrap my head around, that the City will spend money in order to not spend it, but I believe that the goal was to not have the buffer so that the City wouldn’t be tempted to backfill shortfalls in down years with the reserve buffer. Of course, one could say that is the whole point of a reserve, but personally I think it’s ironic that the City Council member voted in to be the fiscal conservative is the one that suggested the City spend money as opposed to continuing to sock it away in a rainy day fund.
Anyway as staff reliably always does, they came back with suggestions on how to spend down this some odd million dollars on non-recurring, one-time expenses. Based on the laundry list that was given to the staff by the City Council. staff produced a report on why some of the ideas were better than others: