Measure A Protects Neighborhoods

Measure A Protects Neighborhoods

Preservationist says vote down Measure Z this election

The claim that the Historical Advisory Board (HAB) and city zoning ordinances are sufficient to protect historic structures in Alameda is misleading. Although the HAB was created with Article 28 of the City Charter to “preserve and protect structures of historical significance,” its powers and duties reside in the Alameda Municipal code. These ordinances currently state that “any building that was constructed prior to 1942 shall not be demolished or removed without a certificate of approval issued by the HAB”.

As many of us have seen, however, city ordinances can be eliminated or changed by a simple three-member majority vote of the City Council. Because the HAB and zoning regulations exist as ordinances subject to the whims of the Council, the power to significantly damage Alameda’s neighborhoods would lie in the hands of just three members of the Council if voters repeal Article 26. This is in contrast to Article 26 itself, which is protected from the Council by virtue of it existing in the Charter where it would take a majority vote of all of the people if it is to be changed by anyone.

Since Article 26 prevents developers from replacing most existing residential buildings with something larger, there is no incentive to demolish the existing buildings for more residential density. As a result, there have not been many applications to do this for the HAB to consider. If Article 26 is repealed, it is likely that there will be an increase in these kinds of applications.

There is an appeal process to HAB decisions now that states that “the City Council shall reverse the decision of the Board only if it finds, upon the evidence of qualified sources, that the historical resource is incapable of earning an economic return on its value. If the Council so finds, it may grant the appeal.”

That appeal process has been used before to overturn HAB recommendations to keep buildings from being demolished and it may very well be used again. Disturbingly, the update to the Alameda General Plan now being proposed by city officials states that we should “consider amending the Municipal Code to prohibit the demolition of residential buildings constructed prior to 1942 for the purpose of increasing the number of housing units on the property, unless the property is designated in the Housing Element as a Housing Opportunity Site necessary to meet the city’s regional housing needs allocation or the structure lacks architectural merit.”

Who gets to decide if a structure lacks architectural merit? Clearly, it is imperative that Article 26 be kept in the charter to protect our neighborhoods from the whims of the City Council. Vote “no” on Measure Z.

Karen Lithgow is the President of the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society.