Alameda residents resist housing plan for 5,000 new homes in neighborhood
The fight over state housing mandates unfolding across the Bay Area hit the town of Alameda this week, with neighbors yelling at officials in a chaotic town hall meeting over where to build houses.
The small island town of just over 78,000 people is being forced to consider California’s housing crisis – the state is asking it to plan 5,353 new homes from 2023 to 2031.
Each city in the state must develop a housing element plan that details how it will accommodate new homes. As part of the plan, Alameda officials are proposing to allow multi-family apartments throughout the city and are prioritizing denser housing on nearly 100 acres of shopping malls and near bus and ferry connections. They also encourage more secondary suites behind single-family homes.
In the past, small towns, including Alameda, have ignored mandates, bowing to opposition from residents. But Alameda officials say this time the state will impose fines or withhold funding for city projects, like infrastructure, if they don’t provide the required number of units.
Under Rob Bonta, the attorney general has become California’s top housing cop
But residents worry about parking, traffic and a loss of “neighborhood character” if more residents are taken in.
“People want us to do as little as possible,” Council member John Knox White said. “If it weren’t for state laws that required us to do this…we would be building little or no housing.”
These battles over housing elements took place throughout the Bay Area and the state.
When officials in Atherton, an exclusive community on the peninsula, proposed building townhouses to meet their state-mandated goals, some residents adamantly opposed the plans – urging the town to pay a monthly fine of $100,000 instead. In nearby Menlo Park, city officials want to build affordable housing on Sand Hill Road, the hub of venture capital and some of the world’s most expensive commercial real estate, despite opposition from residents. Critics said San Francisco – which is due to plan for 82,000 units – has a housing element project that is flawed and could be rejected by the state.
“Look at Alameda, it’s a perfect example of what’s happening everywhere,” Knox White said. He added that the density increases proposed by the housing element project would only affect 40% of the city’s residential neighborhoods.
In the past, Alameda has ignored state zoning requirements for new units and even incorporated a rule into the city charter that prohibits multi-family homes, Knox White said.
And Alameda tried to evade state warrants this time around. The city was one of 28 in the state to appeal its Regional Housing Assignment, or RHNA, numbers, arguing that it is prone to flooding and severe earthquakes during quakes. But the state rejected it.
Allowing multi-family buildings would undo a voter-approved city charter from the early 1970s that banned such buildings. In 2020, city officials tried to convince voters to remove this element of the Charter with a ballot measure, but that failed.
Nearly all of the 100 residents who gathered Tuesday night at a golf course on Bay Farm Island – an area of town separated by an estuary – opposed the idea of adding housing, especially multi-family buildings.
Residents shouted Andrew Thomas, the city’s director of planning and construction, urging him not to comply with state mandates.
As Thomas laid out plans for the town, residents grew visibly angry that their nearby mall could house 300 new units – the only major change to Bay Farm Island’s housing stock based on the interim housing element.
“That sucks,” one woman said, shaking her head.
“And if there is no room?” a person shouted.
When Thomas replied, “There’s room,” people shouted angrily in response.
Thomas said the city plans to prioritize housing in commercial corridors, like malls, and around public transportation. Although Alameda has no BART stations, it has access to bus routes and three ferry terminals, he said.
Thomas said he hopes some of the residents at the meeting will be open to adding secondary units or accessory living units.
“You’re kidding, aren’t you? a person shouted.
Phil Rigano, a retired general contractor from San Diego, complained that the city is already struggling with too much congestion on its roads. Residents nodded in agreement, complaining that it sometimes takes 20 minutes to leave the island.
Rigano said his concerns were rooted in security. He asked Thomas what the solution was. Thomas said no more buses.
“In other words, there is no solution,” Rigano said, shaking his head. “I think we should start calling people back.”
Many locals feared that the island’s golf course would soon be turned into housing. Thomas said a developer had submitted a plan to buy the property and add 400 accommodation to the club’s nearly 9 acres, but he said that was not part of the accommodation element and any plan would have to go through a environmental review process.
Raychel Cooke, a 36-year-old nurse, also criticized the city’s plans. She told The Chronicle it was up to the state to build more housing, not cities. She said the state should focus on creating more safe parking sites for RVs and Tuff Shed programs, which look like tiny homes, for the homeless.
Cooke also suggested the state dock a cruise ship at the port and turn it into housing — similar to an idea Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan had in 2019. At the time, the port of Oakland said it was only equipped to handle freighters. .
Michael Marx, who has lived in Alameda for 38 years and is a retired consultant for Visa, said he was concerned about traffic and the neighborhood’s character. But, he said, he hopes the city and its residents can find a compromise so that no particular neighborhood suffers a “disproportionate blow.”
“We feel like we’re living in paradise, and we fear that paradise will disappear with these changes,” Marx said.
Thomas acknowledged residents’ concerns, but stressed, “The consequences of not doing this are going to be much more painful.
The city will hold another community meeting on June 9 and must finalize its housing component by the end of the year.