Decisions for the next Council

Unlike the presidential election, the race for Alameda City Council has yet to be described as “existential.”

Nevertheless, the Council elected this November will be called upon to make decisions in a number of areas that will affect the well-being of the city and its residents for some time to come.

Today, we’ll talk about three of them.


One of the myths being promulgated by the proponents of Measure Z, the ballot measure to repeal Article XXVI of the Charter, is that repeal will make it easier for the City to “comply with state law,” specifically the state housing element law.  In fact, repeal won’t make much, if any, difference in the City’s ability to satisfy the legal requirements set by the state.  City staff, the Planning Board, and the next Council still will face a daunting challenge regardless of whether Article XXVI remains in the Charter.

Here’s why:

State law requires every city to adopt a “housing element” as part of its general plan.  The city must submit this plan to the state Department of Housing and Community Development for approval.  To get the OK from HCD, the plan must show, among other things, how the city intends to meet the regional housing needs allocation assigned to it by the relevant regional agency (in this case, the Association of Bay Area Governments).

Like other cities in the region, the City of Alameda is required to adopt a new “housing element” by January 30, 2023.  As a practical matter, this means that the City must submit its plan to HCD by the summer of 2022.  City staff, led by Planning, Building, and Transportation Director Andrew Thomas, prepares the draft housing element, and both the Planning Board and Council need to review and approve it.

Mr. Thomas has his work cut out for him.  Recently, ABAG informed the City of Alameda that it must “make available” sufficient “housing opportunity sites” to accommodate 4,900 new housing units during the next eight-year planning cycle, which covers the period between June 30, 2022, and December 15, 2030.  (In addition, the RHNA sets quotas in four income categories, but to keep things simple we’ll focus on the overall total.)  By comparison, the City’s RHNA during the current cycle was 1,723 units.

The 4,900 unit number is subject to revision, and the mayors of five Alameda County cities recently sent a letter to ABAG objecting to the way in which the agency assigned RHNA quotas in the East Bay as compared to the South Bay, and demanding a reduction.  Even under their proposal, however, the City of Alameda still would be responsible for 3,500 new housing units, more than double the quota in the last cycle.

Once the RHNA numbers are finalized, the City will need to identify “housing opportunity sites” with sufficient density to yield the required number of new units.

In 2012, this task required a bit of creativity (cynics might call it legerdemain).  To meet the City’s RHNA quota of 2,420 units, Mr. Thomas invented the 30-units-per-acre “multi-family overlay,” which the Planning Board and Council then applied to 16 individual parcels.  Having re-zoned these sites in 2012, the City was well-positioned in 2014 to satisfy its RHNA quota of 1,723 units for the next cycle.  The multi-family overlay didn’t need to be applied to any additional sites, and a couple of the sites re-zoned for a higher density in 2012 actually got taken off the “available” list.

Meeting a 4,900-unit (or even a 3,500-unit) RHNA quota won’t be so easy.

The first task will be able to come up with the list of “housing opportunity sites.”  Measure Z itself won’t provide the solution.  Even if the ballot measure passes and enables the next Council to re-zone areas for residential use, it won’t render the parcels in those areas automatically “available” for new housing.  The next Council could re-zone the Park and Webster Street business districts for high-density, multi-family housing, but HCD may not deem it sufficient that new residential units could be built on a commercial site.  More likely, it wouldn’t allow the City to count, for example, the site on which the CVS pharmacy now sits against its RHNA quota unless the owner actually intends to put housing on the property.

Unfortunately, there is not much land left in Alameda that truly can be considered “available” for new residential development as of June 30, 2022.  Already fully built projects won’t count (unless Council decides to increase, retroactively, the density allowed for them).  The City can, however, include parcels where a project has been approved but not all of the necessary building permits have yet been issued.  For example, all of the North Housing and Boatworks sites, and the unbuilt portions of the Alameda Landing waterfront and Alameda Marina sites, can go on the list.  Moreover, the City can take credit for the balance of units remaining under the no-cost conveyance agreement with the Navy at Alameda Point, but it cannot not go beyond the 1,425-unit cap set by that agreement, even though there is a lot of vacant land at the Point that might seem to be developable.

Then what?  The Marina Village, South Shore and Harbor Bay shopping centers are candidates for re-zoning for residential use.  So is the infamous Harbor Bay Club, which the late Ron Cowan himself once proposed turning into housing.  (Due to restrictive covenants, residential use is not allowed in the Harbor Bay Business Park.)  But it wouldn’t make sense for the City to re-zone these parcels if their owners had no intent to build housing there.  And, absent such intent, HCD isn’t likely to let the City count any of them toward its RHNA quota.

After the “available” sites are selected, the next task is to assign a maximum (or minimum) density to each of them.  Again, the fate of Measure Z is irrelevant.  If the ballot measure passes, the next Council can choose to create a new maximum density for every residentially zoned site in the city (or for all parcels within a defined area).  If it fails, the next Council can engage in a maneuver similar to the one used in 2012 and create another high-density “multi-family overlay.”  For purposes of satisfying the RHNA requirement the result is the same either way.

But assigning densities may get complicated.  For one thing, the 30-units-per-acre density used for the multi-family overlay in 2012 probably won’t generate enough units to reach the target for the next cycle.  Theoretically, the right number is just a matter of mathematics (total acreage times X equals 4,900).  But a case could be made that different types of housing, or the same types located in different areas, should be given different maximum densities – as long as the total continues to add up to 4,900.  If so, we’d expect that people living in certain neighborhoods might argue that the highest density housing belongs somewhere else on the island.  But where might that “somewhere else” be?

The next Council, with input from the Planning Board, will need to approve the overall scheme devised by Mr. Thomas and his staff to meet the new RHNA quota.  But it will also become heavily involved in refereeing disputes over specific re-zoning decisions.  And we’re afraid that Isaiah’s prophesy may come true:  “People will oppress each other – man against man, neighbor against neighbor.  The young will rise up against the old, the nobody against the honored.”  We wouldn’t want to be sitting on the dais when that happens.

Police reform

In the aftermath of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis and the arrest of Mali Watkins in Alameda, the current Council embarked upon a campaign to “reform” the Alameda police department.  It will be up to the next Council to decide how to finish what the current one started.

For a while, it looked like “transformational” change was on the way:

  • On June 16, Council passed a motion written by Councilwoman Malia Vella and Vice Mayor John Knox White freezing hiring in the police department (even though there were then 11 fewer cops on the job than the most recent budget had authorized), and requiring the police chief to obtain advance approval from Council before making any “policing policy changes.”
  • On July 21, two Council members (Mr. Knox White and Councilman Jim Oddie) presented a resolution declaring racism to be a “public emergency”; calling for cutting the police department budget by 42 percent; and establishing a host of new “oversight” procedures, including “a process for non-police review of all instances involving physical contact and use of force as well as a monthly random audit of Alameda Police Department’s bodycam footage for traffic stops and non-use of force arrests.”

But Mr. Knox White and Mr. Oddie appear to have gotten out over their skis.  Council passed only the portion of their proposed resolution that declared an emergency, and, rather than cutting the budget and imposing the oversight procedures, it voted to establish a “community-led process” for addressing five topics suggested by Ms. Vella:  “unbundling services currently delivered by the Police Department”; “a review of Police Department policies and practices”; “Police Department accountability and oversight; “a review of laws that criminalize survival”; and “systemic and community racism/anti-racism.”

Except for the first, these “topics” were so broadly and vaguely worded – it was, after all, Ms. Vella who came up with them – that one wasn’t sure exactly what the “process” was supposed to produce.  (In business-school lingo, they call this the “deliverable.”)  Nevertheless, City Manager Eric Levitt appointed a four-member “steering committee” whose task, according to a City press release, was to “take the lead in developing a community-led process and work plans to address the future of policing and systemic racism in Alameda.”  The steering committee then appointed a “task force”/ subcommittee for each of Ms. Vella’s five topics; every subcommittee has nine or 10 members.

According to another City press release, the steering committee and subcommittees meet individually and hold joint monthly meetings.  As of October 6, they had “met several times to identify their mission, goals, and information needs,” and, on that date, they met jointly to “meet the Interim Police Chief, discuss the City’s budget, and talk about how information requests will be managed.”

So at this point it’s fair to say that, over the last four months, a lot of people have gotten involved in the “process” and that they’ve held quite a few meetings.  But we continue to be unsure about what is supposed to happen next – or when.  At its July 28 meeting, after a welter of wordsmithing, Council adopted a resolution “pledg[ing] to return in October 2020 prior to the next quarterly budget review to begin the process to develop, adopt and implement a comprehensive strategic plan informed in part by the community-led workgroups.”  Whatever that may mean, no such item appeared on the agenda for either the October 6 or the October 20 Council meeting.  Indeed, as far as we can tell, none of the “community-led workgroups” has yet forwarded any recommendations to staff.

Even more fundamental questions remain (at least to us) about what to expect from the “process.”  For example, the Council members repeatedly emphasized that they wanted to “center Black voices” in the structure they were setting up.  Does this mean that the subcommittees’ mission is to present Council with recommendations reflecting only the will of the Black community (assuming there is such a homogeneous group)?  Likewise, although the impetus for Council’s actions was the Mali Watkins incident, the fifth topic identified by Ms. Vella is “systemic and community racism/anti-racism.”  Does this mean that the charge given to the subcommittees (or at least one of them) includes recommending not only how to reform the police department but also how to restructure municipal government, or even society as a whole?

And then there’s the issue of when and how the general public will get a say on the topics being considered by the subcommittees.  At the July 21 Council meeting, Mr. Levitt stated, in response to a question by Councilman Tony Daysog, that the committees would “receive community input,” but “the method has yet to be determined.”

Whatever the answers to these questions, it seems likely that a lot of work will still need to be done after the current Council leaves office.  This being Alameda, we are hopeful that our fellow citizens will manage to develop a set of concrete proposals for the next Council to consider.  But we confess that we were somewhat taken aback by recent stories in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune (our onetime employer) and the New York Times about how the campaign for police reform has played out in Minneapolis, which is, of course, where it all started.

Initially, nine members of the city council signed a pledge to “begin the process of ending the Minneapolis Police Department and creating [a] new transformative model for cultivating safety in Minneapolis.”  But it turned out that not everyone agreed what the pledge meant, and, if it was interpreted as a call to abolish the police department, the city’s mayor, a plurality of residents, and an increasing number of community groups all opposed it.  A city commission then rejected a proposed ballot measure for eliminating the charter requirement to fund the police.  Since then, no more public hearings have been held, and no further council votes have been taken.  “Instead,” the Star-Tribune reported, “council members are relying on the city’s staff to help them create a plan.”

Which, of course, makes us wonder:  Would it have been wiser for the current Alameda City Council to have done that in the first place?  Is it too late for the next Council to do it anyway?

Public-safety union contracts

The current public-safety union contracts will expire on December 18, 2021, and, under normal circumstances, the next Council will face the task of approving the next round of MOUs some time next year.

The timing is uncertain because it appears that negotiations for a new contract between the City and the firefighters’ union apparently already are under way.  (Council “provided direction” on this issue to staff “by unanimous vote” in closed session on September 15.)  City Manager Levitt told us that he will not be presenting any new public-safety union contracts before the election, but “I can’t provide a definitive for the rest of the year.”  (Our bet:  The timing will depend on whether Ms. Vella and Mr. Oddie, the two candidates backed by the firefighters’ union, win re-election.  If they don’t, get ready for a November/December “surprise.”)

Whichever Council reviews the next round of public-safety union contracts, they will deserve close scrutiny – which prior Councils haven’t always exercised before rushing to put them into effect.

As its last official act in December 2012, the outgoing Council approved public-safety union contracts covering the period from June 30, 2013, to June 24, 2017.   (How those contracts were sold to the public is a story in itself.  Basically, then-City Manager John Russo ginned up an argument about needing to settle a “grievance” filed by the firefighters’ union – and denied by the City – three years previously.  The argument was a crock.)  This contract introduced the concept of guaranteeing an annual minimum raise for firefighters and cops but enabling them to get an even greater raise based on a formula – the so-called “Balanced Revenue Index” – reflecting annual increases in tax revenue.

In April 2015, even though the 2013-17 agreements would not expire for more than two years, Mr. Russo presented Council with a set of new public-safety union contracts that would run from November 1, 2015, to December 18, 2021.  (It was Mr. Russo’s last official act as city manager).

The staff report did not explain why the contracts needed replacing so soon, but a long line of union honchos and politicians (including State Assemblyman Rob Bonta and Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan) took turns at the podium endorsing the new MOUs.  Also urging approval were two citizens (and future union-endorsed Council members) named Malia Vella and John Knox White.  Council ended up authorizing the new contracts by a 3-2 vote, with Councilman Oddie and current Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft in the majority and former Mayor Trish Spencer and current Councilman Tony Daysog dissenting.  (Former Councilman Frank Matarrese supplied the deciding vote.)

The new contacts retained the guaranteed raise/BRI method of the agreement they replaced.  And that method has worked to the public-safety union members’ benefit, producing greater-than-minimum raises in every one of the five years in which a pay hike was guaranteed (no raise was due in 2019).

Here’s the data:

Year Minimum Actual
2015    2.00%   4.1%
2016    2.00%   4.36%
2017    2.00%   3.97%
2018    2.00%   2.94%
2019    None   None
2020    3.00%   3.88%

In retrospect, this shouldn’t have been surprising, since the BRI formula included revenue from one tax – the property-transfer tax – that could be expected to go up significantly every year as development heated up at Alameda Point and along the northern waterfront.  Indeed, former Assistant City Manager Liz Warmerdam recognized this consequence, and when she negotiated contracts with the City’s miscellaneous employees in February 2016, she removed property-transfer tax revenue from the BRI formula for the next round of MOUs.

According to Transparent California, the average Alameda fire captain earned $294,979.77 in salary and benefits in 2018, the last year for which data was collected; the average fire apparatus operator earned $266,156.40; and the average firefighter $217,949.85.  At the same time, the number of IAFF Local 689 members on the City payroll has gone up:  between FY 2013-14 and FY 2019-20, authorized positions for the fire department (net of the chief, deputy chief, and division chiefs) increased from 99 to 110.  The result is that total fire department salaries and benefits have jumped by 28.12 percent since the current contracts went into effect.

Similarly, according to Transparent California, the average Alameda police sergeant earned $290,427.55 in salary and benefits in 2018, and the average police officer earned $218,493.28.  Unlike the fire department, authorized positions for the police department remained the same between 2014 and 2019 (88 officers), but the number of cops actually on the job fell from 84 to 77.  As a result, police labor expense has increased less than fire labor expense over the life of the current contract.  For the cops, the increase is 17.27 percent.

Taken together, salaries and benefits paid to firefighters and cops ate up more than half (53.36 per cent, to be precise) of the revenue coming into the General Fund in FY
2018-19 – and if future tax receipts decline as a result of the pandemic, the size of the slice of the pie going to public-safety union members will get even bigger.

Under these circumstances, will the firefighters’ union (which usually leads the negotiations from the labor side) demand further raises for public-safety workers in the next round of contracts?  We can’t imagine otherwise.  But can the City afford to give it to them?  That’s an entirely different question that the next Council will need to answer.

And what, if any “concessions,” real or imagined, will the firefighters and cops be asked to make in exchange for higher pay?  If the negotiations were conducted at arms’ length, one could imagine the City insisting, for example, on increased employee contributions for pensions and retiree health benefits.  But the negotiators for the City know that any agreement has to get the votes of a majority of Council members, and how hard a line they are able to take may depend on who wins the two Council seats in November.

* * * * *

So there are our three key areas in which the next Council will need to make decisions.  (There are, undoubtedly, others.)  We suggest that, before casting their ballots, Alameda voters should evaluate the candidates on the basis of whom they trust to exercise informed and unbiased judgment in these areas.

And which of the five might that fit that bill?

You really didn’t expect us to tell you, did you?


New RHNA quota: 2020-10-08 TVC Letter to ABAG Executive Board President

Police reform: 2020-07-21 staff report re steering committee; 2020-07-28 Resolution Alternate – Adopted

The BRI computations for each fiscal year are shown in the Comprehensive Annual Financal reports available on the City website (

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
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22 Responses to Decisions for the next Council

  1. D says:

    Can you explain a little more about the multi-family overlay? Is this just a zoning trick?

    • Under Article XXVI of the Charter (aka Measure A), multi-family housing is prohibited and density is limited to 21 units per acre. As the name suggests, the “multi-family overlay” allowed multi-family units and increased the maximum density to 30 units per acre. It was applied to 16 parcels, including all of the new developments along the northern waterfront.
      Whether it was a”trick” depends on your perspective. Mr. Thomas and other City officials argued it was necessary to enable the City to meet its RHNA quota as required by state law.

    • Dave says:

      The multi-family overlay is the application of the Density Bonus Law – which the state legislature introduced in 1979, 6 years after Measure A/article 26, to give developers who actually want to build affordable housing, a way to get around Article 26 by allowing them to build multifamily units, and build more market rate units, when they build truly affordable units and/or day care centers are part of their project.

      This is why Measure Z is a lie – because we can already build the sort of projects proponents talk about. And they are being built – drive out Ralph Apazetto Parkway past Main Street to Alameda Point, to see the 3/4 story multifamily units being constructed there on the MF-overlay zoning.

  2. William says:

    City council members of most cities are a problem. They sleep with the Unions and cram increases in Fire and Police compensation in to the mouths of their residents. Alameda has been a respectable community for years with low rates of crime, thus should we not applaud APD vs. cutting their budgets? Given Alameda is next to Oakland, with a terrible record of crime, why would we jeopardize Alameda’s safety by reducing Police coverage? As multi-occupant development increases, so will crime. If Alameda’s City Council could stop using band-aids and stop trying to build their portfolios for future campaigns, we would all be better off.

    • Dave says:

      There is no shortage of scholarly articles that show that simply increasing police staffing levels alone does NOT actually reduce crime levels.

      For example: Do More Police Lead to More Crime Deterrence? – Gary Kleck, J. C. Barnes, 2014. SAGE Journals.

      We do, however, need to push City Council out of bed with the local firefighters union, and we do need elected officials that care more about residents then their own campaign climbing. (Witness Rob Bonta who served on city council for less than 1 year…)

      And we do need to consider a re-allocation of funding at the local and county level, regarding police. Not every call for service (witness Mali Watkins) deserves an armed uniformed response. Most police officers and chiefs really don’t want to be responding to mental health crisis calls any way where there is really no threat of violence.

      Alameda County mobile teams to help people in mental crisis

      Bay Area News Group

      PUBLISHED: June 15, 2020 at 6:01 a.m. | UPDATED: June 15, 2020 at 9:46 a.m.

      Within a few months, teams of mental health workers and EMTs will be dispatched in some Alameda County cities to help people having a mental crisis or substance abuse problems.

      The pilot program, called the “Community Assessment Treatment and Transport Team,” or CATT, will roll out in Oakland, San Leandro, Hayward and Alameda sometime this summer.

      Each team will have a licensed behavioral health clinician and an emergency medical technician. The mental health workers will be from the county, and emergency medical technicians will be from the ambulance company Falck Northern California. They will travel in a modified Chevrolet Tahoe.

      They will be dispatched through 911 calls and if necessary will work with local police officers and firefighters at the scene to assess people and get them treatment.

      People in mental crisis are often taken into custody under California law code “5150,” which allows authorities to involuntarily temporarily detain someone for psychiatric hospitalization. Currently, they are taken to the John George Psychiatric Hospital or emergency rooms.

      “This is the first time that we are pairing an EMT with a clinician,” Stephanie Lewis, of Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services, told the San Leandro City Council during a briefing June 1.

      The teams will operate daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

      The ultimate goal is to have 12 teams, according to Jeanette Dong, the director of San Leandro’s Recreation and Human Services Department, which has been working with county agencies over the past three years to launch the program. The program could expand to other county cities depending on its success.

      “We have been one of the primary advocates for this type of ability and service,” she said.

      No start date has been announced, but it’s expected to happen before September.

      “There have been a few bumps in the road,” Dong said. “COVID-19 has certainly delayed the hiring of staff, vehicle conversions and the necessary training.”

      Lewis said the teams will operate under a three-year pilot program, and will then be evaluated to see if it should continue.

      The estimated cost was not immediately available. Funding is coming from Measure A, approved in March 2004. The sales tax brings in about $100 million annually to provide health care for low-income and uninsured residents.

      The program also will be paid for in part through the state Mental Health Services Act, which voters passed in November 2004 to support county mental health programs.

      Along with Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services, others behind the mobile team program are the Alameda County EMS Agency; Bonita House, an Oakland nonprofit mental health agency; and Alameda County’s 911 ambulance provider, Falck.

      San Leandro Councilman Pete Ballew said during the meeting earlier this month that officials should work to get the teams on the street as soon as possible because of the coronavirus pandemic. People are stressed as a result of the pandemic, he said, and the stress can be worsened if someone has mental illness.

      “There has never been a greater need for us to get this off the ground,” Ballew said.

  3. Paul Foreman says:

    Thank you for an excellent post. On housing, interersted people need to read the comprehensive report of Gab Layton of the Embarcadaro Institute:
    Ms. Layton provides data to show that the 2023 RHNA numbers are flawed due to double counting and other gross accounting errors and result in an overcount of 941,000 units, statewide.

    The problem with the appeal of the five Alameda County Mayors (of which I am sure our Mayor is not one) is that it does not change the the overall RHNA computation for the entire Bay Area. Even if thery are succesdful it simply pushes, the north bay number on to south bay communites or vice versa.

    Unfortunately, there is no provision in the law for an appeal attacking the overall State RHNA or the overall RHNA for the entire Bay Area or any other region. However, even it the absence of such an appeal provision in ther law, it can be challanged in court as an abuse of discretion. It is not easy to prove an abuse of discretion by an administrative agency, but Ms. Layton’s report does provide an arguable basis for taking this to court. Ms. Layton presented her case at a Zoom meeting of Livable California on Saturday. The video is available at. If you view it you will see that several cities in California are contemplating such an action.

    The current numbers are ridiculous. No city in California will be able to come remotely close to reaching them. To make matters worse they were computed before Covid 19! If they are not drastically reduced every city in California will become delinquent, allowing developers to enjoy streamlined approval of their projects free of any meaningful environmental or city planning.

    What is evn more disturbing is that our City Council, while being responsible for a unique island community that will be adversely impacted more than any city in the State, just accepts these numbers and in a sense encourages them when our Planning Director says we should be doing more than our share.

  4. Regarding the housing issue, Paul Foreman above says, “The current numbers are ridiculous.” Andrew Thomas said the same thing in 2016.

    In 2016, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission issued a report with suggested housing numbers for each municipality to meet long-range housing goals, and they asked cities, including Alameda to comment. I wrote a story that includes extensive comments by Andrew Thomas slamming the report as totally unrealistic.

    Here are a few excerpts from the story:

    MTC’s forecast calls for adding roughly 10,000 new homes in Alameda by 2040, with the majority to be added in existing neighborhoods, outside of so-called Priority Development Areas (PDAs) like Alameda Point and the Northern Waterfront. This could only be accomplished if a host of improbable and unrealistic events were to occur, according to Thomas.

    “Some major nonresidential sites like South Shore Shopping Center would have to close,” said Thomas, “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,” said Thomas. “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,” said Thomas.
    “Add that all up and we get about 2,000 unrealistic units,” said Thomas. “We need 5,000 more. 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.”

    Counting on the state and region to “provide funding for major transportation improvements and affordable housing, if Alameda approves greater growth, is a leap of faith Alameda cannot be expected to make,” said Thomas.

    Here is the link to the full story:

    The City Council should be reminded of Andrew Thomas’s words from 2016.

  5. Kim Mac says:

    Since the issue or demand is on the table for Alameda to eventually add 4,900 more “units,” is the word “unit” actually defined by the state? Are these rental, homeownership units or both? I’m asking because, while we can use more housing, that doesn’t mean 4,900 more 2-story, 3-bedroom homes and $1m condos few can afford. There are people who actually want “tiny houses,” a senior mobile home park (that doesn’t mean trailer trash people!) and even articles in the past about efficiency condos/homes for mostly single people who do not want to have kids or take on huge mortgage on top of their student loans. I realize that’s not everyone, but it is a group of people who do not want massive homes and huge HOA fees. Lowering that carbon footprint so to speak. Although this article is a few years back, it still is relevant for many Millenials:

  6. Paul Foreman says:

    Kim, I can not find a definition of the word “unit” in the State Housing Element Law. The affordable housing categories of very low income (up to 50% of county median income), low income (up to 80% of county median income) and moderate (up to 120% of county median income) are based on a family of four, so I am assuming a three bedroom unit, but I dont see that in the law. Both owned and rented units are included, with no breakdown of which I am aware.

    The problem is not only with the Housing Element Law, it is more related to the fact that up until 2011, the State was funding affordable housing construction to the tune 1.5 B per year. Governor Brown eliminated that funding in order to meet other needs. This left us with a funding source of the Density Bonus Law that was never intended to be more more that a supplement to State funding, but now is primary. It gives a market rate developer a 20% density bonus for contributing as little as 5% of his project for very low income units. or 10% low income or 25% moderate income. The City has an “inclusionary” ordinance that requires a market rate developer to provide at least 4% vey low, 4% low. and 7% moderate for a total of 15%. Most developers add 1% to the very low income contribution to qualify for the bonus. Thus a 100 unit project in Alameda with 16 affordable units, 5 of which are very low income, gets 20 more market rate units added to his project, leaving us with 16 affordable and 104 market rate. (13% affordable)

    All of the above has led to a statewide average of 15% affordable and 85% market rate. This leads cities to vastly overbuild market rate housing in order reach their affordable numbers. Alameda is a prime example. Our current housing element reqjuires 975 affordable units and 748 market rate units. the City has approved well over 4100 units with over 3200 market rate and are still not at their 975 goal, eventhough they have special circumstances which gives them a 25% affordable return at Alameda Point, Site A and a 50% affordable retrun at North Housing, also at Alameda Point.

    We are now seeing voter approval County or State bond issues for direct funding of affordable housing rather than by the Density Bonus law, but this totally dysfunctional funding formula is still the primary source for affordable housing. Unless and until the State finds ways to replace the Density Bonus funding with adequate direct State subsidy of affordable housing, the shortage will keep getting more acute, while at the same time we will be crowding our City to a totally unsustainable and unsafe level.

    There are many groups trying to fix this at the State level. See

    For a treatment of the problem much more detailed than the above see

    By now you are probably sorry that you asked the question!

  7. Paul Foreman says:

    Kim . I hae thought more about the issue of the definition of a unit. I have looked at our Alameda Inclusionary Ordinance and a treatise on the Density Bonus Law at
    They both indicate that a unit qualifies as long as it is appropriate for the size of the household for which it is designed. Household size appropriate to the unit means 1 for a studio unit, 2 for a one bedroom unit, 3 for a two bedroom unit, 4 for a three bedroom unit, etc.

    From the above, I conclude that units can be of any size, starting as small as a studio. Thus it appears that a developer could offer all studios and qualify under both our Inclusionary Ordinance and the State Density Bonusd Law. This makes little sense to me. I will try to speak to our City Planning Director about this and get back to you,

    • Kim McV says:

      Thank you for researching more. I appreciate it. Not everyone needs a huge house so I think any future development should fit more of our needs, not a developer’s wallet. Like I’ve heard eons ago (and saw with my own grandmother), many single/widowed seniors are “overhoused” and if they could move to a manageable 1-bedroom, single-story option, then another family with a bunch of kids could move into that home. Developers won’t got for that, but we should keep a stiff spine. People talk of wanting their adult children (recent college grads) to move back. That group of adults don’t need a 3-bd home but something smaller to simply be able to live where they grew up.

      • Paul Foreman says:

        Kim, There is a need for affordable housing at all levels of household size. What concerns me that a hundred unit project in Alameda gets a density market rate add on of 20 units for 16 affordable units that only provide housing for one person per unit (if all are studios) while the other 104 units may be accommodating 4 or more people per unit. When the density bonus was only a supplement to direct State funding of affordable housing this might have been acceptable, but now that it is the primary funding source it is patently dysfunctional to give developers an all studio option.

      • cw says:

        Paul, affordable housing rules in Alameda require the affordable units to be substantially similar in size and type as the market rate units. A builder could perhaps get away w/ nicer appliances and a loft for the market rate that might not be in the subsidized unit. But they couldn’t build 30 affordable studios and 170 4 bedroom market rate townhomes.

      • Paul Foreman says:

        I hope that you are correct. Your information contradicts the response I got from out Planning Director, Andrew Thomas, quoted in my response to Kim above. Can you give us a citation to an ordinance, resolution, etc., that supports your conclusion.

      • Tony says:

        CW: no, you’re not quite right. You are probably referring to Section 8 rules, where, yes, Section 8 units in an apartment complex need to be similar to the other units. Section 8 is “tenant-based” subsidized housing. Paul is referring to affordable units built by the developer (ie project-based affordable housing) as part of a larger residential project; the developer either subsequently manages the affordable unit, or sells it (along with the whole complex after entitling the project) to another entity who will keep that unit affordable to certain income categories. In the situation Paul is referring to, developers can build units of varying sizes, including below Measure A standards so long as certain requirements are met.

      • cw says:

        From the Alameda Marina Master Plan-
        “The 104 affordable units will be spread among and within the market rate units throughout the site, built in proportion to the general size and configuration of the market rate units, and on a similar timing to the market rate units to ensure that all of the affordable units are constructed and that each phase includes an appropriate proportion of the affordable units.”
        Other big projects have had similar language. Are developers agreeing to this out of kindness, because staff negotiates it, or because it is in a policy somewhere? I guess I do not know.

      • Paul Foreman says:

        CW, Most of the larger projects need something from the City over which the City has discretion, so they enter into development agreements with the City in order to get what they need. That gives the City leverage to negotiate terms. Alameda Marina, Del Monte, Site A (Alameda Point), are a few that have such agreements. Other development proposals need nothing from the City. All they need to do is to meet existing ordinances, for density, set backs, design, etc. They don’t require a development agreement to move forward so the City has no real leverage.
        I don’t know if the other development agreements have this language, but I do know that the developers of Alameda Marina have been especially wary of public opposition to their project and have countered such with being very forthcoming on meeting the needs of the community. For instance, I think their proposal also provides for workforce housing, the level above moderate income, something that few if any of the other projects offer.

      • Tony says:

        Oh, ok: I see what you’re saying: yeah, but even with those projects, you’ll see units of varying sizes, but, as you point out, “built in proportion to the general size and configuration of the market rate units.” Look at this way: if the general size is “2,000 sq. ft.”, developers will still build, say, units of 1,700 or 1,800 sq. ft., which are below the 26-3 standard, but they are, as you quote in the case of Alameda Marina, “built in proportion to the general size and configuration of the market-rate units.”

        I think the key take-away is this: developers (with Council approval) right now are building contrary to the 26-3 rule, and most certainly contrary to 26-1 rule — and this skirting (with Council approval) of Measure A (Article 26) is taking place because of two “work-arounds”: the density bonus and the multi-family housing overlay.

  8. Paul Foreman says:

    Kim, This morning, my inbox included a very quick response from our Planning Director, Andrew Thomas, “Yes, you are right. Density bonus law does not require a certain size unit. A property owner can decide to do all “senior” one bedroom units, and city cannot require that he or she do some 3 or 4 bedroom units for “families”. ”

    This reinforces my view that the Density Bonus Law is more pro-developer than pro-affordable housing.

  9. Tony says:

    Hi Kimberlee,

    The City of Alameda has incorporated the State Density Bonus Law into its own ordinance. As a result, developers can refer to the Local\State Density Bonus Ordinance and seek a waiver from Article 26-3, which stipulates that units must at a minimum be 2,000 sq. ft.

    So, using the Local\State Density Bonus Ordinance, the City of Alameda and developers are right now building housing products of less than 2,000 sq. ft. at Alameda Point, and have used the ordinance to build housing that is *not* compliant with Article 26-3 elsewhere in Alameda.

    Here is a request by the Site A developer for a waiver from Article 26: see Exhibit 4:|Text|&Search=%22Eden+Housing%22

    Here are plans for housing ultimately built at (or under construction at) Site A: if you go into the weeds of the diagrams, you will see housing products of less than the Article 26-3 2,000 sq. ft. threshold:

    Kimberlee: long and short: these “Z” guys are selling you a bill of goods: we *can* build multi-family housing that is not consistent with Article 26-1 and Article 26-3 because, we are doing so right right now — literally right around the corner from you, as well as at Alameda Point.

    The *only* reason why they’re trying to do away with Article 26 is to basically open the flood gates to let developers build on a scale far in excess than that which Article 26 (intact) holds back.

    We’ve got on the books right now a proposal to build 1,200 units at Southshore that will consist of two (2) 8-story tall high rises. Get rid of “Z”: and you basically greenlight that project: reject “Z”, then we can begin to significantly scale that down, if not something else. This Southshore project is the poster-child of what I mean by “opening the flood gates” or “run-away” development that will soon ensue.

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