1973 Measure A Pros, Cons Aired at Meeting

Above, file photo; below, courtesy Google Maps    Above, 1723 Central Ave. and its neighbors as they appeared around 1900 when the Queen Anne architectural style was the prevalent building style in Alameda. Below, the same home at right managed to escape the wrecking ball while its two neighbors became apartment buildings in 1966 and 1970.

On Monday, Jan. 13, the Planning Board hosted a Measure A “workshop,” opening for discussion what many consider the city’s political third rail. Members of the City Council subcommittee addressed the 1973 Measure A and its 1991 counterpart. Vice Mayor John Knox White and Councilmember Tony Daysog opened the dialog by thanking the board members for working with city staff. Planning Board member Alan Teague set the tone by explaining that only Alameda voters can change the 1973 Measure A that spelled out the only types of building the city would allow and its 1991 addendum that imposed land-use restrictions. 

Both these measures passed voter muster, and the city enshrined them in the City Charter as Article 26. Subsections 1 and 2 from the 1973 vote no longer allowed multiple dwelling units in Alameda except for those replacing low-cost housing under the aegis of the Alameda Housing Authority and a proposed senior-housing development. Subsection 3 from the 1991 vote defined the maximum housing density as “one housing unit per 2,000 square feet of land.” 

Teague reminded the audience that the Planning Board acts in an advisory capacity and not even the City Council can remove or change Article 26. That would be left for the voters to decide. He also said that the board is “about policy, not politics.” 

Andrew Thomas, the city’s planning director, presented the city staff’s evaluation of Measure A. He pointed out that when voters passed Measure A, laws that exist today to protect the environment and preserve Alameda’s housing stock did not yet exist. The city did not have a historical preservation ordinance. There was no design review, nor were public hearings required before a property owner could demolish a building. 

Thomas explained that the state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA, pronounced “reena”) uses a formula to determine California’s housing needs and divides the needs among regions. The Association of Bay Area Governors then informs the cities in its region of the number of housing units it would require them to build. Thomas explained the importance of adhering to the RHNA requirements. 

Many of the speakers disagreed. They pointed to the importance of safety and told the Planning Board and staff that safety should override any state requirements. Speakers reminded board members that Alameda’s police officers and teachers can’t afford to live in the city where they work, presenting both safety and quality-of-life challenges to already overworked police department and school district. 

Thomas explained that adhering to RHNA could require rezoning some of Park Street from commercial to residential. He pointed out that not a single building with ground-floor retail and upper-floor residential units has been built on Park Street since 1973. Thomas shared examples of high-density buildings that rose up before 1973. All these suited the neighborhoods because they were architecturally similar. 

Two speakers told the Planning Board that the examples that Thomas presented were not realistic, saying that multi-unit buildings rising up today did not fit their surroundings as Thomas’ examples did. They compared the new buildings to “styrofoam cups replacing sturdy heirloom wine glasses.” 

Many of the speakers supported possibly changing the 1973 measure, but pointed out that more study was necessary before the city allowed increased density. One speaker told the board that the city must consider impacts on transportation, sewer, water supply and parks that more density would bring. Others stressed the importance of safety and asked what would happen in the event of a catastrophe like an earthquake or major fire? 

The Planning Board and staff listened as one speaker called Measure A “47 years of exclusionary housing.” Another speaker echoed the Vice Mayor’s concern that his children will not be able to afford to live in their own hometown. 

The meeting wound down with Planning Board members stating their cases. One said that Measure A creates barriers for city staff and that all neighborhoods, not just those on the West End, should share in seeing multiple units on their streets. Another suggested that the city modify Measure A to conform to the city’s General Plan, instead of forcing the General Plan to conform to Measure A. 

The Alameda Architectural Preservation Society and the Alameda Citizens Task Force both presented detailed challenges to the Planning Board and city staff. The Alameda Sun will cover both these organizations and their input in next week’s issue.