Another History of Measure A (1973)

Dennis Evanosky    This photo shows the evolution of rental housing from 1908 to 1962. The Queen Anne-style home in the center was built in 1892 as a single-family residence and converted to a duplex in 1908. The Park Terrace apartments on the right were built in 1929 in the Mediterranean Revival style. The apartment house on the left rose up in 1962 in the Midcentury Mundane style. In 1973, Alameda voters passed Measure A prohibiting apartment buildings like The Park Terrace.

Measure A is an exclusionary zoning charter amendment adopted by the Alameda electorate in 1973 designed to prohibit construction of multifamily housing. Proponents emerged in opposition to the proposed development of Harbor Bay Isle by Utah Construction and Doric Development and the pro-growth City Council incumbents. Although purported to “protect the environment,” an examination of the stated positions of the original “framers” and opponents, and the multiple legal challenges can help Alamedans understand how Measure A prolonged racial and economic inequalities.

While the 1960s and 1970s brought an increased national consciousness of the environment and racism, Alameda experienced increased racial residential segregation and exclusion. The Island’s electorate supported Proposition 14, a statewide initiative overturning fair housing legislation, and the Alameda Housing Authority displaced thousands of Black tenants. 

Environmentalism included the Save the Bay movement, the first Earth Day in 1970 and the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency. In this era, some suburban residents went to the ballot box to implement growth controls. This included Alameda, which had a 90 percent White population in 1970. 

Proponents framed Measure A as necessary for the “environment.” Inez Capellas wrote that the charter amendment would prevent private property confiscation, prevent tax increases to pay for services and “preserve and protect the very things that make this city a desirable place in which to live.” 

Measure A’s opponents were primarily connected to what some Alamedans for a Better Community called Alameda’s “power structure,” a network of pro-development attorneys, financiers and officials. Mayor Terry LaCroix wrote the ballot argument against Measure A and argued it would stop growth, prohibit construction and raise taxes. “By creating an artificial scarcity, it would increase the cost of housing and deny people of modest income the opportunity to live or to remain in Alameda,” LaCroix wrote. 

Affordable housing advocates also expressed concerns about Measure A. HOPE (Housing Opportunities Provided Equally) did not support the ban on multiples, “as there is no time-limit specified, and as multiples are the acknowledged way providing more low- and moderate-priced housing units,” according to its 1973 newsletter. The Alameda NAACP’s branch president John Ware and former Housing Authority Commissioner Al DeWitt both opposed Measure A, each referenced racial prejudice or fair housing in other endorsements. 

On three occasions, however, housing advocates fought the city through legal action to force Alameda to agree to provide housing for low-income households. In 1980, HOPE and three low-income residents sued Alameda. According to the lawsuit, “The suit challenges actions of the city alleged to frustrate the development of low-income housing in Alameda and to perpetuate the non-Black character of Alameda.” That case was dismissed without prejudice. 

In 1989, two Black tenants living in the Buena Vista Apartments sued the City of Alameda for discriminatory housing policies. An Alameda County judge preliminarily ruled that the city’s housing policies discriminated against the poor. Before judgment could be reached, the city settled the suit to save Measure A. The settlement allowed for an exemption to Measure A to replace the units “lost” when the Buena Vistas converted from subsidized to market rate. 

In 2011, Renamed HOPE sent a legal demand letter to Alameda calling on the city to update its Housing Element to allow for rezoning for affordable housing. For more than 20 years, the City of Alameda did not have a valid housing element and ultimately had to rezone land for potential apartment construction. 

Some proponents claim Measure A could not have been racist since Alameda is more diverse today than it was in 1973. Although there does not appear to be direct evidence of racist intent, Measure A has indirectly continued racial segregation in Alameda and within the region. 

An analysis of the demographic changes in Alameda after Measure A demonstrate links in what scholar Rolf Pendall called the “chain of exclusion.” Exclusionary zoning reduces housing stock, which excludes multifamily housing, and raises the proportion of single-family detached dwellings. This all reduces affordability and indirectly excludes low-income families and people of color, particularly Black people. 

Alameda may appear more diverse due to the increase of nonwhite residents, yet this is also due to shrinkage of the Island’s White population. Although there are fewer White residents in Alameda, White Alamedans are more likely to own homes. By contrast, Black Alamedans are least likely to own their own homes compared to other racial groups and African Americans in nearby cities in the region. Additionally, Black residents became more segregated and concentrated in areas with more multifamily housing. 

Reviewing the original statements of Measure A supporters and opponents can eliminate historical fictions that have emerged. Recovering the multiple legal challenges by Black residents and fair housing advocates provides an alternative history too often ignored. 

 

Rasheed Shabazz is a writer and West Alameda resident. He is currently writing a history of African Americans in Alameda, titled Alameda is our Home. To support his current oral history project, contribute to the Kickstarter at: https://bit.ly/2FubS8H