Alameda wins Bay Area city housing plan race

Nearly 40 percent of new housing to be built on former naval station

Alameda council member John Knox White and the Alameda Naval Air Station (Facebook, Getty, Alameda Point)
Alameda council member John Knox White and the Alameda Naval Air Station (Facebook, Getty, Alameda Point)

The city of Alameda became the first municipality in the Bay Area to adopt a housing element draft approved by the state. The plan narrowly passed with a vote of 3-2, with Mayor Marilyn Ashcraft, Vice Mayor Malia Vella and Councilmember John Knox White voting in favor and Councilmembers Herrera Spencer and Tony Daysog opposing.

“We are proud and appreciative for the work of our staff, volunteer boards and commission members and my colleagues Mayor Ezzy Ashcraft and Vice Mayor Malia Vella who rounded out the three votes that adopted the document,” Knox told TRD.

Failure to adopt a compliant housing element plan would leave cities open to developers invoking builder’s remedy. The 30-year-old legal provision in tate law aims to spur housing development across the state, and works by invoking a penalty on jurisdictions that fail to approve plans to achieve their state-directed housing goals.Cities that are out of compliance lose authority to stop housing developments that have 20 percent of units as affordable.

During every eight-year cycle, cities across California have to meet designated housing goals. Alameda’s equals 5,353 housing units, with 39 percent of the future housing units designated for the Naval Air Station, which the city designated as a Priority Development Area. In the Alameda Port, 27 percent are on sites currently occupied by shopping centers, 24 percent will be on vacant or underutilized land near the Northern waterfront, and 10 percent will be built in current residential districts.

Shopping centers have been a focus for redevelopment in the Bay Area, with developers eyeing the decline in retail as an opportunity to build more in-demand housing.

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The city is rezoning certain areas to permit multifamily housing and residential densities of at least 30 units per acre. These changes conflict with a city ordinance, Article 26, which prohibits multiple dwelling units and sets a maximum residential density of one house per 2,000 square feet.

In November 2021, the state wrote to the city that “Article 26 provisions deny fair housing choices and are fundamentally contrary to affirmatively furthering fair housing.”

While Alameda was the first in the Bay Area with an approved housing plan, Emeryville is not far behind. The city will formally vote to adopt its plan at a special meeting on Dec. 12. The regional deadline for cities to have a housing element is Jan. 31.

“Emeryville understands the urgency of the housing crisis, and the need to cultivate and support new homes for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds and needs,” Mayor John Bauters said. “We moved this process effectively because our elected policy leadership and superior professional staff are unified under the same mission: to make housing in our communities more equitable, affordable, accessible and just.”

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