homesalameda.org newslettermarch, 2008
February 23, 2008. This long-awaited workshop was sponsored by the Alameda Planning Board for the purpose of providing an objective, educational public workshop to provide information on the historical background of City Charter Article XXVI (Measure A) and the benefits and limitations it provides to transit and housing. The workshop was free and open to the public. A list of speakers and detailed agenda can be found at the City of Alameda Website.
By Helen Sause
The entire group was mesmerized by Woody Minor's presentation on Alameda's history and the convergence of events that led up to the passage of Measure A. Most of us had never seen this presentation and it was an excellent way to begin. Sam and I came here in 1964, arriving just after the "fill" occurred at South Shore and Harbor Bay Isle, and we joined in the fight against the bridge (remember that?!) from the Peninsula that was designed to touch down in two places in Alameda. The huge Buena Vista Apartments complex had just been built for low to moderate income people and the shock of having 634 apartments become a reality and housing people of diverse cultures and incomes was just settling into the city's consciousness. The demolitions of Victorians began to be felt as new unfortunately designed (or not designed) boxy replacements were taking their places.
Mr. Minor stated that from the end of WWII until the advent of Measure A in 1973 some 800 Victorians were torn down. These demolitions were often by the owners or those who sold their homes rather than take on the tremendous cost of renovating these beautiful buildings. Many had been converted to apartments during the War so there wasn't a marked change in population due to this rise of boxy apartments. These many changes created an extremely tumultuous time for Alameda and people felt beset on all sides and powerless to alter the juggernaut of change being foisted upon them. The blunt instrument to halt change was Measure A.
Now onto the forum. Mr. Hanson Hom provided a comprehensive summary of the legislative history of Measure A, although it was unfortunate that he did not cover the legal challenges and settlements to the legislation which, I think, would have indicated that its legality has never been really tested in a court of law.
The panel on "What are the Benefits and Limitations of Measure A on the Development of Housing" was moderated by Lee Harris, a lawyer and Alameda resident who was past president of the city Planning Board. He did an excellent job of drawing out the issues from his panel of experts. These were Jim Adams, architect, ROMA; David Burton, architect and expert on climate protection; Jim Musbach, well known economist, EPS; and Denise Brady, preservation expert and local realtor.
Their considerable discussion focused mainly on the non- Measure A aspects of Alameda that we all know and love. There was some discussion of Measure A compliant projects, which did not reflect these aspects. In response to the comments about the lack of neighborhood amenities in Bayport, Mr. Harris clearly pointed out that the City's requirements prohibited integration of retail and other amenities that make neighborhoods sustainable and transit friendly in the project. It was noted that Harbor Bay Island was built to be Measure A compliant. A subsequent question asked the City to compare the costs incurred for Marina Village, Harbor Bay Island and Alameda Point. It was noted that the land fill provided by Utah Construction for South Shore and the federal Urban Development Action Grant provided for Marina Village may have made a difference in the infrastructure provided in these projects vs. Alameda Point which must deal with numerous soils conditions and current regulatory compliances.
With the exception of Ms. Brady, the panelists opined that, for Alameda Point, it would be not be possible to recreate the community that we love without changing Measure A. (Others may disagree with this but the transcript should provide the info to form one's own conclusions.)
The afternoon panel on "How Does Measure A Affect Auto Use and Transit Options in Alameda" was ably moderated by Judge Richard Bartalini. The panelists included Stuart Cohen, well known transit expert and director of TALC, a non-profit group of transit organizations; John Ellis, principal, WRT/Solomon (this is the firm selected by the City to carry out the MTC grant funded study of transit for Alameda Point); Brian Canepa, Nelson /Nygaard, respected Consulting firm; and David Howard, Co-Chair Action Alameda.
This panel drilled down on the relationship of diversity of development and types of transit and the effects on land use development. Mr. Howard advanced his suggestion that using the State Density Bonus law would provide sufficient density (using certain assumptions this could be a density of 30 units per acre) to attract good transit systems. The Panel expressed its views that there wasn't one thing that would achieve adequate transit modes. They noted that to have adequate ridership it is necessary to be able to group the additional units within 1/4 mile of the transit stops.
None of the speakers could opine on the impact to Measure A from the State Density Bonus. But assuming that the limitation of the ground area to no more than two units per 4,000 square feet (respecting the 2,000 square feet required by Measure A), it would prohibit the "stacking of units" necessary to provide the desired density. They noted that density is one of several factors. Other factors include the patterns of neighborhood development, integration of retail and commercial uses and design, availability of cheap parking, the frequency and dependability of transit service, and the transit alternatives offered (i.e. express service, different modes of service available, such as ferry and bicycle, etc.) It was repeatedly noted in numerous ways that transit plans need to be well thought through, especially since we are an island community. it is also important to reduce trips within the island. Also, it was stated in several ways that the convergence of these factors of thoughtful design, good transit service, and housing density result in less transit than that generated by single family homes. The numerous Environmental Impact Studies throughout California have established this as an accepted principle.
Different examples of density found throughout Alameda were used to show how design and density promote our current good transit and also results in a comparatively good level of ridership. Stonehenge and Park Street, with its housing over retail were examples used. Discussion of housing over retail reaffirmed the limitation of Measure A to two attached units only, not what is found on Park Street. Requirements for sustainability of development and reduction of the "carbon footprint" is dictating that more and more attention be paid to the relationship of housing and transit. Funding for transportation systems was questioned. Mr. Cohen indicated that there was some funding being made available to communities attempting to do sustainable development,t but that Alameda would not comply with requirements for funding because of Measure A's restrictions.
The impact of parking was also a major consideration. The proven fact that where people had to actually pay separately for parking (i.e. adding on $50 - 60,000 for a car parking space when purchasing a condo or an apartment) dampened the number of cars owned by the residents and increased transit ridership. The panelists spoke of "de-coupling" parking and use of transit in a number of conclusive examples. Funny thing occurred later during questions when a person known to be retired and also known to have generally 5 -7 vehicles parked in their yard complained about the traffic through the Posey Tube early in the morning. If this person paid by the car parked, it might lessen the number on their property. It was also pointed out there is the increased frequency in new housing construction of three car garages.
Again this seemed to make it evident that that the present Charter requirement to build only single family or at a max duplex dwellings in Alameda would not promote good transit or ridership for the City and certainly would detract from the likelihood of sustainable development at Alameda Point.
During the day there were numerous protests to discussions of Alameda Point with the protesters asserting that the discussion was to have been limited to the impact of Measure A on Alameda. The panelists observed that the past impacts on a built-up community would be different from the future and that the City had the opportunity to do a model development based on the most recent practices and regulatory requirements and modern housing needs and preferences. This seemed to indicate that the City should consider a different approach to housing development at Alameda Point than that dictated by Measure A.
The conclusions that these panelists reached made it quite clear that the impact of Measure A on the built-up portions of Alameda had not seemingly had a quantifiable effect. Yet is was clear that there has been and will be an impact on new developments done and yet to be done. These recent developments do not reflect the characteristics described to be loved by Alamedans and desired by those coming to the city. The restrictions of Measure A have had a very real effect on developments like Marina Cove, Heritage Bay, Bayport and potentially will have an effect on the housing at Alameda Landing. It was reaffirmed by these panelists who are experts in their field that Measure A has had a definitely negative impact on those developments and would have an even more evident negative impact on Alameda Point's development. From aesthetics to competing for the funding to create sustainable communities, the City would be impacted.
Except as noted, I have chosen not to comment on the questions /answers which did not add new information to the discussion and I would rather not be challenged on my inept note taking abilities and the danger of misquoting someone.
However there was one person who spoke at the end who indicated that he had come with a firm conviction that Measure A should not be modified, but that the day's discussion had opened his eyes to the reasons to modify it for certain areas. A nice demonstation of what education can do - and heartening to hear it said!
Cheers for the Planning Board toughing it out and doing this educational panel! Knowledge is maybe dangerous, especially if one closes one's mind to it!
When we talk about housing development, the "D" word - Density - invariably comes up. Many of us think high density means huge, overcrowded buildings, and hideous traffic, but does it? Take our density quiz to find out.
Before moving on please note that housing density is most often calculated as dwelling units per acre. These figures express a net density, meaning that it excludes public streets or any other public areas. So a single family home built on a half-acre of land would have a housing density of two units per acre.