City Hopes to Change 1973 Measure A

Alameda voters will very likely see a measure on their Nov. 2 ballot that will ask them to appeal the 1973 Measure A. This measure became part of the City Charter as Article 26. Section 26-1 plainly and simply forbids the construction of any multiple dwellings on the Island City and 26-2 made exceptions for replacing low-cost housing and the construction of a proposed senior center. 

Voters passed another Measure A in 1991. This added Section 26-3 that limited residential density to one housing unit per 2,000 square feet of land. 

Andrew Thomas, the city’s planning director, laid out the city’s evaluation of Article 26 at the Monday, Jan. 13, Planning Board meeting (“1973 Measure A Pros, Cons Aired at Meeting,” Jan. 23). According to the city’s assessment, Article 26 does not support the general welfare of the community and limits the city’s ability to address the local and regional affordable- housing crisis. 

Thomas also pointed out that Article 26 does not protect historic buildings and architecture in Alameda; that’s the job of the Municipal Code. He also stated that the article’s prohibition of multifamily housing undermines the city’s ability to maintain a “legally adequate General Plan.” The staff report expressed the city’s desire to expand housing opportunities and the city’s supply of affordable housing, as well as to encourage and support “new residential opportunities for senior citizens.”  

Following Thomas’s presentation, members of two groups, the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society (AAPS) and the Alameda Citizens Task Force (ACTF), responded. Each group also submitted written responses to the city’s evaluation of Article 26. 

Members of the AAPS board of directors wrote a letter calling the city’s request that the Planning Board evaluate Article 26 “premature.” The society stated that the city must discuss Article 26 “in a larger context of what changes, if any, the city wants to consider for its development rules.” 

AAPS expressed its surprise and concern about the city’s negative tone toward Article 26. The society told the city that “Article 26 can coexist with the city’s housing-development objectives” and cited the density-bonus ordinance and the multifamily overlay districts as two tools that could allow this. 

In its letter, AAPS criticized the city’s claim that Article 26 “does not preserve the character of residential neighborhoods.” The society reminded the city that it failed to consider the pre-Measure A “scenarios of demolishing historic buildings in order to construct large new apartments.”  

ACTF voiced its concern that the city would change Measure A before it completes its current review of the city’s General Plan. The organization expressed its opposition to exempting “built-up residential neighborhoods” from Article 26. ACTF stated in a letter to the city that repealing Article 26 “in toto” would open these neighborhoods to high-density development. 

ACTF reminded the Planning Board that Alameda is “an island community with public safety, traffic and parking congestion that this geographic fact entails.” The organization also voiced its fear that “removing Article 26 (from the City Charter) would allow the very invasion of our built-up residential areas that Article 26 is designed to protect.” ACFT calls Article 26’s impact on the Bay Area’s housing crisis “negligible to non-existent.”

The organization’s letter pointed to the progress the city was making with its housing numbers with Article 26 in place. ACFT pointed to factors divorced from Article 26 that were affecting a slowdown in construction such as increased construction costs. The organization also criticized a policy that allows developers to build 85 percent of density-bonus projects at market, instead of at more affordable, rates. 

With the creation of the Charter Review subcommittee in August 2019, the city began studying what it feels are the negative effects that Article 26 has on the city’s goals and objectives. At that time the Council ordered city staff to come up with the evaluation that Thomas presented to the Planning Board last month. 

No decision was reached at what the city billed as a Planning Board “workshop.” However, board members voiced their willingness to take a harder look at “26-1,” which states, “There shall be no multiple dwelling units in Alameda.” 

This issue will play out at the both the Planning Board and the City Council throughout 2020 and the city will very likely place the fate of Article 26 before voters on Tuesday, Nov. 3.  

Editor’s note: In anticipation of the Jan. 13 Planning Board meeting the Alameda Sun presented a four-part series about the 1973 Measure A (“1973 Measure A Primer,” Dec. 19, 2019; “Dissecting 1973 Measure A,” Dec. 26, 2019; “Measure A under the Microscope,” Jan. 2; and “Measure A Extends Reach,” Jan. 16).