The Princes of Alameda

For years, the Merry‑Go‑Round believed that the savviest political operator ever to occupy an office at City Hall was former City Manager John Russo.

But in our estimation Mr. Russo now has got himself a rival for the crown:  City Planner Andrew Thomas.

This is the thought that occurred to us as we reviewed the events leading up to Council’s approval of the paradigm-shifting Housing Element drafted by Mr. Thomas.  As we saw it, the City Planner’s deft maneuvering bore remarkable parallels to the example set by Mr. Russo 10 years ago when he won Council approval of new budget‑busting contracts for the public‑safety unions.

In both cases, the result was counterintuitive.  Mr. Russo got contracts through Council that increased General Fund expenses even though his finance staff already was projecting a string of rising operating deficits in the coming years.  Mr. Thomas got a Housing Element through Council that effectively wrote Article XXVI out of the City Charter even though the electorate had voted overwhelmingly just two years earlier to retain it.

Moreover, in both cases, the result enabled the majority of Council members – the direct bosses of the City Manager and the ultimate overseers of the City Planner – to please the interest groups to whom those elected officials owed their allegiance (and, in some cases, their seats).  The new contracts gave the firefighters their first pay raise in six years.  The Housing Element fulfilled the pro‑housing activists’ fondest wish:  an end to “exclusionary” zoning in Alameda.

But to us, the most notable similarity came in the strategy employed by Mr. Russo and, later, by Mr. Thomas, to achieve the result.  Both men framed the issue in such a way to make it appear that Council had no choice but to take the recommended action, and, at the same time, they offered up a parade of horribles that would ensue if Council did otherwise.  Likewise, both men arranged to bring the matter before a favorably inclined outgoing Council rather than risk defeat from its successor.

We’ll tell the stories.  See if you’ll second our nomination.

John Russo

Before Mr. Russo became City Manager, his immediate predecessor, Ann Marie Gallant, had been locked in a battle with the Alameda firefighters’ union.  The fire department was overstaffed, Ms. Gallant believed, and, after a nationally reknowned consulting firm confirmed her view, she closed one fire station and reduced staffing from 108 to 92 sworn firefighters.

The union was irate.  For the 2010 election, it put together a slate – Marie Gilmore for mayor, and Rob Bonta and Lena Tam for Council – that would create a pro‑union majority on Council.  Taking advantage of the IAFF Local 689 PAC’s campaign contributions and “independent expenditures,” the slate won.  Its first official act was to hold a special meeting to get rid of Ms. Gallant.

With its nemesis out of the way, the union turned its attention to securing financial benefits for its members.  The existing contract, which ran from January 2010 to June 2013, did not provide for any pay increases over its term.  This stinginess simply couldn’t continue.  (In fact, municipal miserliness wasn’t the problem:  contemporaneous analyses by both staff and a citizens’ committee showed that the City couldn’t afford to offer raises to any of its employees, firefighters included.  Indeed, the pressing issue was how to cut expenses, not how to increase them.)

Upon becoming City Manager in June 2011, Mr. Russo took charge of negotiating a new contract with the public‑safety unions.  He ended up cutting a deal with the firefighters for a four‑year MOU that boosted their compensation in two ways.  First, the contract guaranteed a minimum annual raise (1.5 percent in 2014 and 2 percent thereafter), with the possibility of getting an even larger pay hike pursuant to a formula devised by Mr. Russo.  Second, firefighters who met certain educational and training standards would get up to a 12 percent bump over their base salary under a newly created “career development incentive program.”

Mr. Russo presented the new contract to Council on December 11, 2012 – and the timing was no accident.  One of the original pro‑union triumvirate – Mr. Bonta – had already left Council after having been elected to the State Assembly, and three new Council members, none of whom had a track record demonstrating loyalty to the union’s interests – would take office on December 18.  It would be better, it seemed, to push the new contract through the still‑sitting Council than to take a chance on three wild cards.

Of the four Councilmembers remaining after Mr. Bonta left, Ms. Gilmore and Ms. Tam were certain votes for the new contract.  Councilman Doug DeHaan was a lost cause.  Which left former Mayor Beverly Johnson, who was completing a two‑year term on Council.  What would it take to get her vote?

Mr. Russo found the right card to play to win over Ms. Johnson, a fiscal conservative who despised litigation.

He began by emphasizing in the staff report the “savings” for the City that would result from the provisions in the new contract requiring pension and OPEB employee cost‑sharing.  But he realized that the MOU still would raise expenses by a net $1.6 million – and thereby increase the projected annual operating deficit, which, even without the added costs, was expected to reach $5.3 million by 2017.  So he needed to offer another inducement.

And he came up with one.  The staff report had described the new contract in detail.  But there was a key term the report hadn’t mentioned, Mr. Russo told Council:  In addition to consenting to cost‑sharing, the union had agreed not to pursue a “grievance” arising from the prior failure by the City to give firefighters the same “retention pay” it gave to police officers.  By approving the contracts, he contended, Council would dispose of the potential claim and actually reduce the total amount spent on public safety.  And it would avoid litigation.

Mr. Russo came to the meeting well‑prepared.  He released a memorandum from a staff attorney opining that “the City has significant exposure on this grievance.”  And he had his staff work up numbers showing that the City would owe the firefighters $3.7 million for the period ending June 2013 and another $3.5 million over the following four years to make up for the omitted retention pay.

At the December 11 meeting, Mr. Russo laid it on thick.  Of course, the City could contest the claim in arbitration.  But this would cost so much in attorneys’ fees that Mr. Russo hesitated even to give an estimate.  And why should it fight it out?  The “grievance” was a dead‑bang loser for the City, Mr. Russo said:  “Our attorneys – and I share their opinion – believe that we are likely to lose” if the issue went to arbitration.  And if the City lost, the financial consequences would be “catastrophic.”

Having thus framed the issue, Mr. Russo made it appear that Council had only one realistic choice:  It could approve the contract and transform a $1.6 million cost into a $5.5 million “savings.”  Or it could reject the contract and end up paying $7.2 million in damages, plus lawyers’ fees.

Ms. Johnson found it hard to resist this pitch.  She recited all of the arguments offered by Mr. Russo and added one of her own:  by “resolving” the grievance, the outgoing Council would leave “a clean slate” for its successors.  “I look at the overall contract,” she concluded, “and I think there are a number of very good reasons why we shouldn’t not move forward with this contract and leave the new Council in the middle of negotiations.”  Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it led her to vote yes.

There is a coda to this story, which the Merry‑Go‑Round learned after it submitted a public‑records request a year later.

After the union filed the grievance in November 2009, the fire chief denied it.  Ms. Gallant then asked her deputy, Lisa Goldman, who held degrees from Harvard College and the Goldman School of Public Policy, and who had worked in Alameda city management since 2007, to take testimony and make a recommendation.  Ms. Goldman did so in December 2010 – and she concluded that the grievance had no merit.  The contractual provision upon which the union relied had been included as a “result of a clerical error,” she found.  And the union’s arguments to the contrary were “neither persuasive nor . . . supported by the record. . . .”

Thereafter, the union did nothing for two years to pursue the grievance.  But then it re‑surfaced in December 2012, just in time to serve as a bargaining chip for a pay raise (and to set up an argument Mr. Russo could use to obtain Council approval).  By that time, Ms. Goldman had left the City, and her findings that would have undermined the narrative were not disclosed to the public.

As they say in the U.K.:  “Well played, Mr. Russo.”

Andrew Thomas

For years, Mr. Thomas never bothered to hide his distaste for Article XXVI of the City Charter, which prohibits multi‑family housing and limits residential density to 21 units per acre.  But he became increasingly outspoken as time passed (and the composition of Council changed).

Early on, Mr. Thomas appeared willing to live with the Charter provision.  When he prepared the Housing Elements for the 2007‑13 and 2014‑23 planning cycles, he did not urge that Article XXVI be repealed.  Instead, he recommended that Council establish an exception by creating a “multi‑family overlay” that permitted multi‑family housing and residential densities of 30 units per acre and applying it to 16 parcels.  This workaround satisfied HCD sufficiently that it certified both Housing Elements.

Then, in November 2018, one of Article XXVI’s most strident detractors – John Knox White – was elected to Council.  The newly elected mayor, Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, appointed a “Charter review” subcommittee consisting of Mr. Knox White and Tony Daysog, which in turn asked Mr. Thomas to provide an “evaluation of the land use regulations contained in” Article XXVI.

To the City Planner, this amounted to an invitation to take the gloves off.

In December 2019, Mr. Thomas presented the Planning Board with his “evaluation,” which consisted of not so much a neutral analysis as a multi‑count indictment.  His scathing conclusion:  Article XXVI “does not support the general welfare of the community, does not support the community’s General Plan goals and objectives, and is not equitable.”

Mr. Thomas stopped short of recommending that Council ask the voters to rescind Article XXVI.  But Mr. Knox White’s hands were not similarly tied.  Together with Mayor Ashcraft, he successfully got a repeal measure – Measure Z – placed on the November 2020 ballot.

Measure Z, of course, was resoundingly rejected.  (We’re still not sure whether the reason for the defeat was that voters wanted to preserve single‑family housing or that they were put off by the offensive campaign waged by some of the measure’s proponents.)  So now, it appeared, the only way to get rid of Article XXVI would be to subject it to death by a thousand cuts.

It fell to Mr. Thomas to wield the knife.  And he sliced and diced with precision.

The City Planner laid the groundwork in February 2021, three months after the defeat of Measure Z, by telling Council that he needed “guidance” from HCD about a “proposed approach to reconciling” Article XXVI and state Housing Element law.  Not only did Council authorize him to write a letter asking HCD for advice, but Paul McDougall, the HCD staffer to whom the letter would go, showed up at a Council meeting to offer it on the spot.  (Exactly who invited him was never made clear on the record.)

Thrown a series of softballs by Mayor Ashcraft, Mr. McDougall insisted that Article XXVI “conflict[ed]” with state law and warned that, when the City submitted its draft Housing Element, HCD “would be looking for programs to address, and possibly remove” the Charter provision.  And if the City didn’t do so?  In that case, HCD wouldn’t certify the Housing Element, and Alameda would suffer the consequences:  Denial of access to state grants.  Lawsuits by the Attorney General and private parties.  Loss of control over land use.  The list went on and on.

Knowing full well what Mr. McDougall would say, Mr. Thomas asked him to put his views in writing.  Mr. McDougall was happy to oblige.  “Collectively,” he wrote to Mr. Thomas, the multi‑family prohibition and density limitation imposed by Article XXVI “prevent the City from complying with State Housing Element Law and other housing laws, and potentially trigger consequences related to a lack of housing element compliance.”

Thereafter, as Mr. Thomas worked his way through successive drafts of the Housing Element, he justified virtually every one of his proposals by arguing that “state law required” abandoning the restrictions established by Article XXVI.   And he almost always included an admonition about what the state (and private parties) could and would do to the City if it submitted a draft that didn’t satisfy those requirements.

The City Planner proceeded one step at a time.

His initial challenge was to come up with a “site inventory” containing 5,353 new housing units, the number assigned to Alameda as its share of the Regional Housing Needs Assessment.  Relying on the precedent set in 2012, he proposed creating another “multi‑family overlay” and applying it to shopping centers, the Park and Webster Street business districts, and a couple of individual sites.

Not even Article XXVI’s most avid defenders objected to this proposal:  state law did require the City to zone (or re‑zone) land to “make available” the RHNA‑mandated number of new units, and, if another multi‑family overlay was necessary to enable it to hit the target, that was okay.  In such a case, Mr. Thomas and the Article XXVI defenders agreed, the state‑law requirement “preempted” the Charter provision.

But Mr. Thomas had more than a repeat of the previous Housing Elements in mind.  He didn’t want merely to apply a multi‑family overlay to specific sites – he wanted permit multi‑family housing and residential densities greater than 21 units per acre everywhere in Alameda.  Nor did he conceal his intent:  the very first draft of the Housing Element presented in July 2021 called for up‑zoning five of the six residential districts.  (The R‑1 district already had been effectively up‑zoned by SB‑9).

This time, however, Mr. Thomas could not defend his proposal on the grounds that the recommended action was necessary to enable the City to meet its RHNA obligations.  In a way, he’d done his job too well.  After several months, he came up with a site inventory showing that, without having to touch the zoning for any residential district, the City could generate more than the RHNA‑mandated number of new units over the next eight years.

So Mr. Thomas had to look for another justification for the proposed residential up‑zoning.  He found it in the statutory language requiring a city to take “meaningful action” to “affirmatively further fair housing.”  This language, he pointed out, imposed a state‑law obligation separate and apart from the duty to meet the RHNA target.  And, as Mr. Thomas interpreted it, the City could satisfy this obligation only by re‑zoning entire residential districts to permit the type of housing that Article XXVI forbade.

The “fair housing” argument was not one Mr. Thomas concocted on his own.  During his  performance before Council and in his subsequent letter to Mr. Thomas, Mr. McDougall himself had suggested it.  (“The Measure A Provisions,” he wrote, “deny fair housing choices and as a result are fundamentally contrary to AFFH.”)  Mr. Thomas took the hint.  Were Alameda to submit a Housing Element that remained true to Article XXVI, he told the Planning Board, “I guarantee you the very first comment we will get back from them, among seven pages of comments, will be, ‘You’re prohibiting multi‑family housing in residential zoning districts?  No, that’s not going to work, Alameda.’”

By May 2022, Mr. Thomas’s work was done.  He’d drafted a Housing Element that met the state‑law requirements, as he and Mr. McDougall interpreted them, for both RHNA and “fair housing.”  After running the draft through the Planning Board (but not through Council), he sent it off to HCD – and three months later he got a letter from Mr. McDougall declaring the draft to be “in substantial compliance with State Housing Element Law.”

At that point, the game was over.  By not seeking advance sign‑off from Council, Mr. Thomas denied Councilmembers the opportunity to suggest modifications to any of the provisions (such as the one for up‑zoning residential districts) in the draft he submitted to HCD.  Moreover, once HCD had blessed the document, any Councilmember considering a no vote could be accused of harboring an intent to defy state law.

In any event, the ultimate approval by Council appeared to be a sure thing.  The HCD‑endorsed draft achieved, albeit indirectly, the objective that had led Mayor Ashcraft and Councilman Knox White to put Measure Z on the ballot two years earlier:  the evisceration of Article XXVI.  Councilwoman Vella, as usual, could be counted on to follow Mr. Knox White’s lead.  The dissenters – Council members Trish Spencer and Tony Daysog – were left to cry in their beers.

But Mr. Thomas was taking nothing for granted.  Mr. Knox White had announced his decision not to run for re‑election in November.  What if a less enlightened candidate got his seat?  In such a case, the approval vote might go from 3‑to‑2 to 2‑to‑3.  So Mr. Thomas scheduled the vote for a date before the new Council took office.  That way, Mr. Knox White would still get to raise his hand in favor.  And that’s what he did:  on November 15, the current Council approved the Housing Element by a one‑vote margin.

As a former President once said, “Mission accomplished, Mr. Thomas.”

* * * * *

Now, we admit that, in portraying Mr. Russo and Mr. Thomas as worthy heirs of Machiavelli, we’ve drawn logical inferences from the objective facts.  And we’ve inferred motive from conduct.  This methodology is not unique:  it’s what juries are asked to do all the time.  But it’s not infallible:  Maybe both Mr. Russo and Mr. Thomas were simply doing their jobs – negotiating employment contracts and drafting planning documents, respectively – without having any policy objective or political agenda in mind.

Still, we can’t help but imagine a scene in which, before leaving Alameda for his new job in Riverside, Mr. Russo calls Mr. Thomas into his office and hands him a well‑thumbed playbook.  “Here’s the way I do it,” the City Manager tells the City Planner. “You’re going to want to use this some day.”  And so he did.

Sources:

Firefighters’ union 2013-2017 MOU: 2012-12-11 staff memo re IAFF MOU

Housing Element: 2021-07-06 Ex.1 to staff report – Draft Housing Element Housing Opportunity Sites; 2022-11-15 – Resolution (draft H.E. attached) (clean copy)

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
This entry was posted in Budget, City Hall, Development, Firefighters, Housing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to The Princes of Alameda

  1. dodikellehercomcastnet says:

    Seconded. Thanks again for the history lesson and how it plays out once again in this totally planned, manufactured, and maneuvered Play, orchestrated by Thomas with a chorus of the three muses on the Council.

  2. Paul Foreman says:

    Another great piece of writing. As one who interacted with Mr. Thomas on this very subject for several years, I can attest to its accuracy. Based on my many exchanges with him I can assure you that Mr. Thomas was not just doing his job. He was pursuing his own policy objective.

    I have no doubt that he sincerely believes that his policy objective is in the best interests of Alameda, but I believe that any department head of a city needs to maintain neutrality and present options to City Council. In this case he instead became an advocate for his personal views.

    In a conversation I had with him after he wrote his December 2019 evaluation of Article 26, I criticized him for writing a totally negative evaluation rather than a neutral document presenting all sides of the issue. His response was that he couldn’t think of anything good to say about it.

    He could think nothing good to say about a citizen initiative that saved thousands of the most historic and eclectic housing structures in California and preserved a beautiful living environment for a very diverse population of both homeowners and tenants, a living environment which is now placed at great risk. Enough said.

    • mjc says:

      So true, Paul, this is why Alameda’s beautiful Victorian homes will be torn down & replaced by high-density apartment buildings even though its citizens voted against it; and ultimately why its historical charm will fade away because of power-wielding idiots who march only to the beat of their personal drums & refuse to hear the voices of the citizens themselves who voted “no” on rezoning, no on rent control, and no on overcrowding this once-upon-a-time charming city and its stinking rotten progressive city council who backs these creeps and aggressive renter groups and big corporate buyouts of mom & pop landlords’ properties only to tear them down, rebuild tall condos with multi-story parking garages, clog the island with so many cars & people you can hardly get off the island in less than an hour, transform it like the developers did Hawaii into “paradise lost”…truly heartbreaking to watch…we used to love it here:(

    • RHNA ABAG HCD AFFH oh my! says:

      I understand that Paul Foreman did not move to Alameda until his retirement, decades after Article 26 was passed, so he does not understand the climate of the time. Harbor Bay was being converted from marshes and farmlands into mega HOA development projects. Rash of apartments were quickly going up along the newly filled Shoreline. Most Alamedans did not want these, so Article 26 was passed to stop multifamily development and a lot of the Harbor Bay plans had to be scaled back due to the public pressure. It had absolutely nothing to do with victorians, especially as they fell out of style at the time. Look at campaign fliers and letters to editor for Measure A through the newspaper microfilms at the library, not a single mention of victorians. But a lot to do with “preserving a way of life” and to tamp down Ron Cowan’s rapid development of Bay Farm. Even Dennis Evanosky, Alamedan’s best known living historian and frequent host of walking tours of victorian homes, will tell you that Measure A had nothing to do with victorians at all and that it was a recent historical revision. The fact that Paul Foreman is mischaracterizing our history and mischaracterizing Andrew Thomas’ position, and won’t mention that these “thousands of the most historic and eclectic housing structures” are already protected by other preservation ordinances on the books, is why the two gentlemen could not work together for a better outcome. Andrew Thomas did not do anything here – simply nobody gave him a better plan to work with.

      • Publius says:

        If in fact historic preservation had nothing to do with the 1973 ordinance (a laughable falsehood but I’ll play along), then why not have a new charter amendment that preserves older SFH homes while allowing multis in newly developed areas? Surely an honest campaign would support such a forthright plank in the charter, no?

        You might say it would be redundant, given your faith in other preservation laws, but really, why would that matter, since the housing activists’ goal is not to demolish? Put Z 2.0 on the ballot with an explicit protection against knockdowns and it passes easily.

        Only a liar, who actually wants to fire up the bulldozers, would oppose….

      • RIP Article 26 says:

        Publius: “why not have a new charter amendment that preserves older SFH homes while allowing multis in newly developed areas? Surely an honest campaign would support such a forthright plank in the charter, no?”
        Uh… We already have Article 28, which does exactly that. The Z campaign kept screaming this from the rooftop, “we already have a *different* city charter that protects our victorians!” Not a single victorian was ever protected by Article 26, because Article 28 does all the heavy lifting. I could buy a victorian and tear it down to make a McMansion and Article 26 would not have stopped me at all, only Article 28 would.
        Too bad you believed your own campaign’s lies. Combination of hubris and ignorance killed Article 26.
        https://www.alamedaca.gov/files/sharedassets/public/alameda/city-clerk/documents/2016_alameda_city_charter_0.pdf

      • Publius Can Read says:

        Article 28 establishes an advisory board. Advisory, as in no power other than the right to opine. No dates of construction or styles of architecture are mentioned, nor are dwelling size nor any other attribute or qualification.

        28 does not prohibit nor does it even address demolition of any structure of any vintage.

        Try again, Ace.

  3. permanentevigilante says:

    I still don’t understand why Andrew Thomas has an incentive to make enemies so close to where he lives. At least Russo moved on to another City Manager job in Riverside which paid more. After being fired from that job, he moved on to Irvine. Now he’s no longer working there and seems to be an independent consultant. But Andrew Thomas never moves on. There’s usually a financial incentive for this kind of behavior. Is all the new multifamily housing built in Alameda bundled up in a REIT that Andrew or his family owns a large part of? I just can’t buy the idea that all his passion for Manhattanization of Alameda comes from his “personal belief system”.

  4. Publius says:

    Why do we have a charter at all?
    -Individual councilmembers explicitly violate it without penalty. (Oddie, Vella)
    -Council as a whole routinely violates it. (Multifamily overlay, then scrapping A26 entirely)
    -Voters’ choices to strengthen or clarify it are consistently ignored. (L1 plus 3 separate elections where we chose and strengthened A26)
    We don’t really have a representative democracy in Alameda, but rather a slate of dictators with 4 year terms.

  5. RIP Article 26 says:

    The recent demolishing of Article 26 can only be blamed on people like Tony Daysog, Sylvia Gibson, Karen Lithgow, Beverly Johnson, and others who waged the “No on Z” campaign. They won and then… Nothing. There was no step 2. No plan to save Article 26 through the next RHNA round, and they did not understand the implications of the new state law Affirmatively Further Fair Housing (which was the impetus of Measure Z to begin with) until it was too late, and it fell to someone like Paul Foreman who finally figured out what was happening and tried to explain but we already had an AFFH-compliant Housing Element plan that was supported by the HCD, and voted on as is.

    I truly think there could’ve been another way, had the groundwork been started much earlier, after the Z campaign. Had the “No on Z” people started reaching out and took AFFH seriously, supported densification in transit corridors and shopping malls and got buy-ins from Z supporters, things could’ve turned out very differently. Oh well.

    • Publius says:

      The people voted for status quo, the definition of which is “the existing state of affairs, especially regarding social or political issues.”

      A vote for status quo is a firm declaration to change nothing. Why on earth would it then be up to the No camp to find another solution? They stated, 60-40, that status quo was their solution. The Yes side failed, and you think the No side should help their efforts??

      I also “truly think there could’ve been another way” and that ” things could’ve turned out very differently.”

      That other path would have been one where the Yes initiative specifically protected existing single family homes from demolition and and the Yes campaign avoided snide imputations of racism against decent people who simply like their neighborhoods. But they didn’t.

      “Oh well.”

      • Publius says:

        To expand, the Yes campaign stated explicitly that no demolitions would occur. Such demolitions were a primary driver of the original 1973 A/26. One could see that on the Yes website but it was taken down shortly after its landslide defeat, but make no mistake, they said the words.

        Voters noticed that the text of the initiative contained no such provision. The campaign’s words were hollow at best, and perhaps even a brazen lie. Their claims were a logical fallacy: no demo’s would happen, but the language couldn’t say so, but trust us, no demolitions.

        To the lies, add in character assassination, and you get a losing campaign.

        But since council votes to overturn the peoples’ will, it seems that the Yes camp won after all. What good are rules or laws when three superannuated student council dorks can vote them aside?

      • Paul Foreman says:

        RIP Article 26, I need to provide some history here that I hope will cause you to change your conclusions.
        Several months before the placement of Measure Z on the November 2020 ballot City Council created a sub-committee of Council Member Oddie and Mayor Ashcraft to determine if Council should place a Measure on the ballot fully or partially repealing Article 26. Chris Buckley and I took it upon ourselves to attempt negotiations with the sub-committee to reach a compromise. In several meetings with Mr. Oddie and Mr. Thomas we offered to recommend to our respective organizations (AAPS an ACT ) to support partial repeal that would have retained Article 26 for our established old residential districts and historic parts of the Park and Webster districts, while allowing density of 30 units per/acre everywhere else. (shopping centers, commercial districts, etc.).
        When we reached a point where Mr. Oddie was leaning strongly toward our position we convened a meeting that added Mayor Ashcraft to the discussion. We expected that she would be hard to sell, but were totally surprised when she told us that she had rethought her position and decided that any ballot Measure should be delayed until 2022, and the matter studied in the interim during the process of drafting our new General Plan. Unfortunately, just weeks later, she changed her mind again and decided to go for full repeal.
        In the Spring of 2022 Mr. Thomas raised the issue that the new fair housing provisions of the Housing Element Law (effective Jan 1, 2021) required the upzoning of all of our residential districts. This was well before the draft was submitted to HCD at the end of May. I researched the issue and reached the same conclusion reached by Mr. Sullwold in his Nov. 13, 2022 post entitled, “We tell it to the judge”. No such requirement exists.
        In the Spring of 2022 only 14 of 197 L.A. area cities had achieved certification of their housing element, even though their deadline was Oct 15, 2021. I reviewed all 14 and learned that none of them had upzoned anywhere near all of their residential districts, even though many had density limits much lower than our 21 units/acre. Thus, I had clear proof of my position.
        In April and May of 2022 the draft housing element was being reviewed by the City Council and Planning Board precedent to submitting it to HCD for review. I wrote letters to both bodies suggesting the resolution of the disagreement between Mr. Thomas and myself on the fair housing issue. . Here is a direct quote from my letter of April 14 to City Council
        “There is an easy way to test whether our conclusions or that of the PD are correct. That is to submit a draft of the HE to HCD that deletes the R-2 thru R-6 zoning districts from the lower income categories and the upzoning proposal and abandons its conclusion that the law requires the upzoning of every residential district in the city. If the HCD approves the draft or if they instead require the upzoning of all residential districts, the issue, as a practical matter will be resolved.”
        I also argued that including these districts in the draft would lock us in to that position when we made our final submission in November. I was ignored, and that is exactly what has happened.
        My point in writing all of the above, is to correct your conclusion that efforts were not made to prevent this disaster, before Measure Z appeared on the ballot and again before the draft housing element was submitted to HCD.

      • RIP Article 26 says:

        Publis. Your comment just validates mine, so thanks.

        No on Z not having Step 2: “We’re changing nothing. Why on earth would it be up to us to find another solution?”

        No on Z not reaching out to find a common solution: “The Yes side failed, and you think the No side should help their efforts??”

        Very sad. You guys celebrated your victory and took the ball home, not realizing it was only halftime and the other team continued to do the necessary work to achieve state compliance. You won a seat at the table with a very large 2-to-1 mandate but did absolutely nothing with it except cross arms and scream “status quo.” Oh well.

  6. Tawney says:

    It’s now called, Thomasville

  7. Paul Foreman says:

    In answer to those who think the HAB provides sufficient protection for historic homes, the HAB only protects pre-1942 homes from demolition, nothing else. For instance it provides no protection for a historic home being squeezed in between to multi-story developments and dwarfed by them, especially since a project that qualifies for a density bonus can add up to three additional floors beyond existing height restrictions, if needed to provide the bonus market rate units.

    Even on a demolition, the HAB determination can be reversed by a simple majority of Council. It has happened in the past.

    More importantly, the HAB has not had much to do. At a 21 units to the acre density limit very few owners are interested in demolishing existing buildings. However, when you increase density to, 30, 40, 50, 60 units per acre and unlimited density in the transit overlay you are opening up a significant financial incentive for development and declaring open season on old structures.

    This may not happen in the near future because of our current economy, but over time it will happen and it will not be pretty.

    • Wild Goose says:

      Yes, HAB decisions *could* be reversed by council. But how many times has this actually happened? 1, maybe 2 times that I know of in all my years living in Alameda, a house near the Alameda Marketplace and a property on Clement Street. And any council member that runs amuck with overriding HAB more than a couple times would easily be exposed to a failed reelection, or even worse, a recall, so there are constraints in place to prevent abuse. Paul, too often you have exaggerated and overblown the perceived danger of things. Another example is your sky-is-falling call to action for SB9 and SB10, and when they went into effect, barely a blip on the city’s housing stock. So you’ll have to forgive me for rolling my eyes when I read “This may not happen in the near future because of our current economy, but over time it will happen and it will not be pretty” because your predictions too often miss the mark and they just send a bunch of Alamedans calling themselves a citizens taskforce on a wild goose chase.

      • Paul Foreman says:

        I hate to argue with a wild goose, prefer a human being, but for the sake of clarity I will respond. comparing current HAB experience with old homes on 22 units/acre plots to what it will be at much denser allowances is like hitting little league pitching and claiming you ae ready for the Bigs.

        As for my opposition to SB-9 and 10, I never predicted an immediate surge in building. The state of our economy and the high cost of construction will not permit it, but the impact of upzoning is a long term proposition. I would also add that SB-9 is child’s play compared to the upzonings embedded in the new housing element.

  8. William says:

    Robert. Your views and observations continue to be so helpful in understanding the world of local politics. It has always been unfortunate that Alameda politics has been so unstable for so long. Where is Chuck Corica when you need him?? 😉 By following State requirements, Alameda has become less of a unique community over the years. Because it’s an island and has such limited space, it should not be forced to become a Hayward or Richmond. It should be viewed as a special community that should be allowed to stay that way. Unfortunate that local politicians use their position on Council to attain higher status with State officials vs making Alameda a better place to live. Andrew has to have Council support, thus he is not totally at fault?

  9. permanentevigilante says:

    Andrew Thomas wears too many hats. Another reason he was able to pull this off is that he is the Planning, Building, and Transportation Manager at the same time this “strong city manager” form of government didn’t have one. Instead we had a series of weak interim city managers at the same time the mayor’s office was in play. It seems to me that there was no one above Thomas to rein him in. He was the strongest bull in the china shop and boy did he break things.

  10. Victor Jin says:

    People who don’t live in Alameda, Should not be in Positions to make decisions for Alameda.

  11. Name Withheld says:

    Mr Thomas has nothing but contempt for Alameda voters. We need to remove him from office, along with everyone else from the Alameda City Council who allowed him to manipulate the system to thwart voters’ rights.

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