Houses, houses everywhere!

A break today from politics, while we wait to see what the union- and developer-funded cabal mis-named “Alamedans United” does next to get its slate of candidates elected to local offices.

In the meantime, we draw your attention to Richard Bangert’s piece in the Alameda Point Environmental Report (a shorter version of which appeared in the Sun) about the “draft preferred scenario” issued by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments.  The regional planners’ handiwork will make you laugh – if you don’t throw up first.

The “scenario” purports to update the “Plan Bay Area 2040” published in July 2013.  Among other things, that document “forecasts” housing and job growth between 2010 and 2040 for every city in the Bay Area.  A city isn’t legally required to build housing or create jobs to meet the “forecasts” – but its ability to get funds from MTC and ABAG depends largely on what it does to “implement” the Plan.

In the original Plan Bay Area, MTC and ABAG projected that 6,450 households requiring new housing would be added in the City of Alameda between 2010 and 2040.  At the end of August, the regional agencies announced that they have upped the “forecast” to 11,600 additional households by 2040 – an 80 per cent increase.

But that isn’t the real news.  The real news is where the MTC and ABAG planners say the new housing should go.

In the original Plan Bay Area, the housing growth foreseen for Alameda was concentrated in the two “Priority Development Areas”:  Alameda Point and the northern waterfront, which together would account for 4,770 of the projected 5,890 new housing units.  Only 1,120 new units would need to be built elsewhere in the City over a 30-year period for the overall forecast to be met.

The “draft preferred scenario” turns this relationship on its head.  Now, the PDAs are expected to take care of only 4,150 of the 11,600 additional households requiring new housing.  As a result, space will need to be found elsewhere in the City to accommodate the other 7,450 additional households.

And where exactly do the MTC and ABAG planners think Alameda should put the new housing units?

Assistant Community Development Director and City Planner Andrew Thomas had the same question.  When he posed it to ABAG, they sent him a link to a web-based platform that showed the new housing on a parcel-by-parcel basis.  Mr. Thomas was kind enough to pass the link along to the Merry-Go-Round.

So we suggest that you go to   Click on Alameda.  You’ll see a map covered with little circles, each of which identifies a parcel on which the planners say new housing or jobs can go.  (Wiggle the cursor over a circle and you’ll see the number of residential units; click on it and you’ll get the parcel number).

Now let’s focus on the three biggest circles.  From left to right, they represent:

  • Parcel 144461:  1,425 housing units.  This parcel is located in the area on the southwest side of Alameda Point now zoned as a nature reserve.
  • Parcel 144462:  3,000 housing units.  This parcel appears to overlap Site A at Alameda Point, where residential development already is planned, and what was formerly known as Site B, which is zoned for “employment and business” uses.  The 3,000-unit figure is twice the maximum number of new housing units that can be built without penalty at the entire Point (1,425 units).
  • Parcel No. 147429:  4,131 housing units.  This parcel encompasses the area now occupied by the South Shore Shopping Center.

We encourage our readers to pick a circle near their own home to find out what new housing the regional planners have in mind for their neighborhood.  But this exercise shouldn’t distract from the key point:  MTC and ABAG actually expect Alameda to put residential units on a nature reserve and – presumably after tearing it down – an existing shopping center.

Find this appalling?  Well, so did Mr. Thomas.  Here’s what he told Mr. Bangert would need to happen for the City to realize the “draft preferred scenario”:

  •  “Some major nonresidential sites like South Shore Shopping Center would have to close, and the city council would have to agree that those major commercial sites should be redeveloped as huge residential sites with 400 to 500 units each.”
  • “Bay Ship and Yacht goes away; state tidelands restrictions go away; and city council rezones this major maritime industrial site for residential, yielding 500 units.”
  • “The Port of Oakland eliminates restrictive covenants on Harbor Bay Business Park, and city council approves 400-500 units in the business park.”
  • “Many individual small business owners on Park Street or Webster Street get together, tear down their businesses, and the city council approves 400-500 units in four- to five-story buildings along these streets.”

Even these steps would yield only about 2,000 additional housing units, Mr. Thomas told Mr. Bangert.  “We need 5,000 more [according to the MTC/ABAG planners].  So what other unrealistic thing needs to happen?  We currently get about three second-unit requests and inquiries a year.  It’s expensive to build a second unit in your back yard. Those requests would need to magically increase to about 200 per year.”

Mr. Thomas did more than vent to Mr. Bangert.  With approval from the Planning Board, he also prepared a letter to the regional planners that – politely – challenged the assumptions in their “draft preferred scenario”:

The City of Alameda has consistently informed ABAG and MTC over the last ten years that Alameda’s existing historic neighborhoods cannot be expected to accommodate significant new housing growth.  Over the last ten years, the existing neighborhoods have added two to three units per year and they have lost one or two units per year for a net gain of about one unit per year.

The preferred scenario assumes about 250 units per year in existing neighborhoods outside of the PDAs.  This assumption means the Preferred Scenario will fail in Alameda.

Mr. Thomas ended his letter by – respectfully – chastising the state and regional planners for failing to “take more aggressive steps” to “directly link” their expectations about housing growth to “concrete commitments of transportation and affordable housing funding.”  And he wasn’t just whistling Dixie.  At just about the same time MTC and ABAG were saddling Alameda with their updated forecast of additional households requiring new housing, the state Department of Housing and Community Development was turning down the application, backed by the City, for $23.7 million in cap-and-trade funds to help finance the senior- and family- affordable housing projects now in the works for Alameda Point.

Small wonder our City Planner was frustrated.  So was Base Reuse and Transportation Director Jennifer Ott, who traveled to Sacramento to object – unsuccessfully – to the cap-and-trade decision before the Strategic Growth Council.

And so are we:  We’re not sold on the idea that Alameda is some sort of Statue of Liberty whose duty is to welcome the huddled masses from outer Alameda and Contra Costa Counties to our shores.  But if that’s the role the regional planners insist that the City play, at least the state and regional agencies ought to be willing to pick up part of the tab.

If only we had a politically well-connected lobbyist in Sacramento who could make this clear. . . .


Plan Bay Area Jobs, Population & Housing Forecast (July 2013): final_pba_forecast_of_jobs_population_and_housing

Plan Bay Area “draft preferred scenario”: 2016-10-10-ex-1-to-staff-report-to-pb-august-30-2016-letter-from-plan-bay-area-20402016-09-02-staff-memo-re-preferred-land-use-scenario

Andrew Thomas letter to MTC & ABAG (September 28, 2016 draft): 2016-10-10-ex-2-to-staff-report-to-pb-draft-september-29-2016-letter-from-city-of-alameda

Jennifer Ott letter to California Strategic Growth Council: casgc-letter


About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
This entry was posted in Alameda Point, Development, Housing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Houses, houses everywhere!

  1. b&t says:

    Just out of curiosity- I may have missed this as I only tuned into the conversation recently- is there a plan to clean up toxic waste at Alameda Point, given the area’s history as a naval air base?

  2. dave says:

    Nothing to worry about, we all know this new development will only add 1 car.

  3. carol says:

    “if only we had a well-connected lobbyist in Sac’to…” Isn’t that what we are paying Don Perata for?

  4. carol says:

    The Alameda magazine article cited above contains the following statements: “The California Infill Builders Federation has retained Perata’s services,…Yet the city of Alameda stands as the biggest client of Perata Consulting, LLC.”
    Please visit the website and read the Mission Statement of the California Infill Builders Federation. This organization appears to be the motive force behind much of the development Alameda MGR describes. The CIBF Board of Directors includes: Jim Falaschi, (well-known developer and donor to Alamedans United); Kofi Bonner, Lennar (builder of Alameda infill homes); and Ezra Rapport, ABAG Executive Director.(!!!).
    Am I the only one who sees a conflict of interest in representing both the City of Alameda and this group representing aggressive infill development?

  5. RJS says:

    I have to say that I am (regretfully) not all that surprised to find that the Alameda ‘housing allotment’ has been substantially increased. Leave it to others to understand the island nature of Alameda. It is not like we could just incorporate new space. Maybe we should talk to Elon Musk about him building some intelligent islands floating off Alameda Point for the new housing. Think about it. Every morning they could sail to San Francisco to ease the commute, then sail back and return, say, about 4:00 PM to pick up residents. Tricky, but technologically feasible. (Ask Elon.)

    This idea that Sacramento is legislating growth has me going. Is it not better to let market forces work here? Alameda is pretty darned close to paradise – and should command a good price to live here. I don’t think we need mandated growth here. Just my thoughts, though. Don’t take it personally.

    • carol says:

      We, the Nine County Coalition, are still out here fighting unelected ABAG/MTC governance tyranny. We may have lost a battle, but the war goes on. We filed this lawsuit because this is exactly the kind of government overreach we were afraid of. We tend to be kind of right-wing and libertarian leaning [which is probably why this kind of mandated growth doesn’t fly in Piedmont and other communities less progressive than Alameda]. but Don’t say we didn’t warn you all.

    • David says:

      Centralized planning to the benefit of some elites…. ‘wonder what political models that sounds like?

    • BMac says:

      “Is it not better to let market forces work here?”

      Are you proposing removing market distortions from the housing and development picture? If you are, you need to start with zoning and land use policies. If “market forces” were what we were going to let work here, your neighbor would likely build a residential tower on their property in order to respond to those market forces.

      There are legitimate concerns people may have as to why adding more housing on the special snowflake that is Alameda is not desirable or feasible. An allegiance to market forces is not one of them. *This applies to the rent regulation debates as well.

  6. MP says:

    Thanks for linking to the 2013 and 2016 ABAG figures. Flexibility and sensitivity to changes in data are a good thing. But the big difference in the long term projections for Year 2010-2040 household growth for Alameda between the 2013 projection (21% growth) and the 2016 projection (38% growth) give one pause. Is this someone playing around with an Excel spreadsheet or is there something, hopefully, a little more reliable (reliable in a good way) going on?

  7. Gaylon Parsons says:

    “So what other unrealistic thing needs to happen?” is just wonderful. South Shore is no more going to morph into 500 residential units than it is going to turn into a senior housing facility.

  8. David says:

    Since 1979, the state-wide density bonus law has provided the developers – who wanted to – could sidestep any local zoning and planning restrictions to build multifamily housing, so long as affordable housing units were included.

    The state law says that developers are entitled to the waivers, even in the absence of any local ordinance. (Alameda didn’t enact a density bonus ordinance in 2010, when it had to do so to get its Housing Element approved.)

    No developer ever asked for a density bonus until 2005/2008 or so, when Francis Collins did so re: the Boatworks projects. The City of Alameda fought him on it. They’re still fighting him on it.

    It has been possible since 1979 to build multifamily housing in Alameda – provided that housing for low-income people was included. Somehow, no developer ever took advantage of it until just recently.

    Click to access density_bonus_law_2015_web_version.pdf

    • David says:


      “Alameda didn’t enact a density bonus ordinance in 2010, ”

      should be

      “Alameda didn’t enact a density bonus ordinance UNTIL 2010, “

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s