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Submitted by on 1, March 9, 2009 – 8:00 am3 Comments

Tonight, the planning board is set to discuss an ordinance that could offer housing developers the chance to skirt Measure A, the city ballot initiative which for more than three decades has effectively limited development on the Island.

The density bonus ordinance is being proposed to help Alameda comply with changes in state law that lay out incentives for developers who agree to build a certain amount of affordable or senior housing in their developments. The city has to pass an ordinance to gain state approval of the housing element of its general plan. The ordinance was due in 2004.

Under state law, developers who donate land for affordable housing, convert apartments to condominiums that include affordable units or build child care into their developments also qualify for the bonuses. But the city inclusionary housing ordinance passed in 2003 already requires developers in redevelopment areas to make at least 25 percent of the units they build affordable – something that could make every redevelopment project currently being proposed eligible for the bonuses. (City staff has suggested the requirement be lowered to 15 percent, which is what developers in non-redevelopment areas have to offer. This could, for example, lower the number of affordable units at Alameda Point by 450 under the current development proposal.)

State law allows these developers to request exceptions to city development standards like setbacks and minimum lot sizes in order to accommodate the additional housing on their lots. But under the proposed Alameda ordinance, the city could also allow the construction of more than two attached units contrary to Measure A’s requirements if it seems like the best option.

“The existence of a density bonus ordinance will not require the City to waive Measure A unless the developer of a project eligible for a density bonus requests the waiver and shows it to be necessary to make the project physically feasible,” the city’s planning services manager, Jon Biggs wrote in a staff report to the planning board.

Developer Francis Collins has requested the bonus and several incentives for his newly submitted “Boatworks” development plan.

In addition to considering the ordinance, the planning board will also consider a draft of the city’s housing plan and they’re slate to initiate the rezoning of a number of properties identified in the general plan as sites that are suitable for housing, including some storage facilities, a former gas station, the city’s animal shelter and corporation yard and the old Island High site.


  • I believe the number of affordable units (25%) at Alameda Point is the result of a legal settlement with housing advocates and would not change under the staff proposal as it's separate of the discussion from generic discussion of affordable housing in redevelopment areas.

  • DL Morrison says:

    Thanks for mentioning the density bonus. I have only a superficial understanding of this law, but with that, I don't see how the city could avoid making it applicable to Measure A, given that the state law overrules local laws including charter amendments.

    I have been wondering how this law will be applied in reality and how a specific determination will be made; that is, how much less setback, or how much more lot coverage, or how many more attached units? I imagine that someone like Jon Biggs would have some sense of this, since he would know how the density bonus has been applied in other cities, but I guess the rest of us will just have to wait and see.

  • David Howard says:

    The City's hand has finally been forced by need to pass muster with the State over the housing element. The City got a pass the last time.

    Over the past year, I spoke with one property owner who had a vision for a "Main St." Alameda project that would have benefited from, and made financially viable by, use of the density bonus. (To protect the property owner, I'm not naming the location.) Alameda planning department, while they have known about the requirement for the density bonus ordinance made no mention of the density bonus to the property owner, and thereby killed this property owner's project. The property owner would have been happy to include affordable housing in the project.

    Why would the planning and development staff do this? Because they don't want the density bonus ordinance to prove false the claim in some corners that Measure A prevents affordable housing – it does not. The first density bonus ordinance project that gets approved blows-up pretty much all of the arguments against Measure A, and a city staff determined on up-ending Measure A for personal gain can't have that. (Former city staffer Stephan Proud went to Lennar Urban; Bruce Knopf went to Catellus. And there was a another gal before Proud that moved from city planning work in Alameda to a developer.)

    We (Action Alameda) provided a document to SunCal suggesting that the density bonus could be used at Alameda Point to build fewer than 2000 homes in a multi-family, higher density transit-oriented model, but they refused to acknowledge it, let alone examine it, because they, like the city planning dept. staffers, have other private interests not served by the density bonus.

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