Council may draft companion to open space measure

Council may draft companion to open space measure

Michele Ellson

City Council members have ordered a report detailing the potential legal and fiscal impacts of a proposed ballot initiative that would rezone federal property slated for housing to allow only parks – and expressed support for a companion measure that could pause enforcement of the initiative while those impacts are addressed.

“We’re trying to give the residents what they want without potentially blowing our budget,” Mayor Marie Gilmore said.

Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to order a report that will outline the potential fiscal, legal and other impacts of a proposed citizens’ initiative to rezone 3.9 acres of federal property across the street from Crab Cove. And some said they’d consider a companion measure that would give them time to find the money to pay for the land if approval of the measure necessitated it.

Parks supporters put a measure on the 2002 ballot that successfully sought to rezone the Alameda Belt Line as park space. Council members put a companion measure on the ballot seeking voters’ leave to ask a court whether they’d be required to buy the land if the open space measure passed and to put a second measure on the ballot to seek funding for the purchase if the court required it.

“It’s not like some alternative measure substantively opposed to what residents signed. It’s more like a supplement so that at the end of the day the taxpayers understand that we have options in the event that something unforeseen occurs,” Councilman Tony Daysog said Tuesday.

Council members took pains Tuesday to assure supporters of the initiative that the report won’t obstruct the initiative’s path to the November ballot. The report has to be completed and back to the council by July 1, at which point members can either put the initiative on the ballot or approve the zoning changes it seeks.

“One way or the other, the initiative will be on the November ballot. It’s just a matter of doing the due diligence and determining the exposure of the city,” Councilwoman Lena Tam said.

City staffers will draft the report, which is to impartially lay out the positive and not-so-positive impacts the initiative could pose. Council members said they want it to explore the legal exposure the city might face if the zoning for the McKay Avenue property is changed and any costs it might incur if the city were to buy the property as a result of those changes.

Other items the report could look at include the initiative’s potential impacts on land use, infrastructure funding, open space, traffic and employment.

Vice Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said she wants to know whether the initiative would permit the property to be used for parking and a corporation yard – uses the park district had considered – while Tam wanted to know whether the city’s zoning rules apply to the park district.

“At the end of the day this boils down to ownership of the property,” Tam said.

Supporters of the initiative urged the council to speed the measure onto the November ballot.

“We all live in a community that values its open space. After your study, I hope you’ll move forward to give the community another opportunity to show they value open space,” said Doug Siden, Alameda’s representative on the East Bay Regional Park District board.

Supporter and onetime City Council candidate Jane Sullwold said she hoped the report would thoroughly explore the likelihood that the city will be sued if the measure passes – a notion she questioned.

“Look into those issues and get the complete report. Don’t just go on vague assurances,” Sullwold said.

Siden’s comments sparked a sharp response from Gilmore, one of several from council members who are clearly frustrated about the East Bay Regional Park District’s decision to sue the city for permitting housing on the property, which the district has long sought.

“I don’t think it’s a question of whether we value open space, I think all of us do. I think it’s a matter of knowing what we’re getting into,” said Gilmore, who asked Siden if the park district will offer Measure WW park bond money to buy the property if the measure passes.

In addition to the initiative and the park district’s suit against the city – which seeks to nullify the council’s decision to permit housing as part of its effort to pass a state-mandated housing blueprint before affordable housing advocates sued – the state has blocked developer Tim Lewis Communities’ effort to access McKay Avenue to support the development, and the federal government has sued to reclaim the road.

Daysog said the council ordered a similar report to assess the impacts of 2002’s Measure E, which rezoned the former Alameda Belt Line property as park land. The property’s owners had assessed it at $20 million to $25 million, though the city ultimately won a lawsuit allowing Alameda to reclaim the land for less than $1 million.

In 2010, the council ordered a similar report detailing the potential impacts of a ballot measure drafted by SunCal Companies that would have allowed the developer to build more than 4,500 homes at Alameda Point.

The council's options on Tuesday included ordering the report, adopting the zoning changes the initiative seeks or putting it on the ballot.


Submitted by Joseph (not verified) on Wed, Jun 4, 2014


Can you explain specifically what "affordable housing" is? Is this somehow indexed to east bay new home prices and anticipated increases in value over time?

What chance is there to go back and re-rezone all or part of the Beltway and make that available for housing, and swap that with the 4 fed acres and annex it to Crab Cove? It seems like the 4 acre parcel would have more public value as additional waterfront parkland. The Beltway was a windfall for the city and could now be very useful in this sort of deal.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Wed, Jun 4, 2014

Thanks Joseph, that's a great question. The most basic answer is that affordable housing is housing built to be sold or rented at a below-market rate to people whose incomes fall below certain thresholds - typically a percentage of the median income for a geographic area (like the Oakland metro area, which includes Alameda). So when a developer wants to build homes here on the Island, at least 15 percent of the homes they build have to be affordable to people at these different thresholds, which range from families earning 30 percent of the area median - $27,600 for a family of four - to those earning 120 percent of the median - $106,200 for a family of four. A chart with the federal Housing and Urban Development income ranges for our metro is here: along with links to more info.

Submitted by Keith Nealy (not verified) on Wed, Jun 4, 2014

As I understand it the requirement for affordable housing has been reduced and we are now in compliance and it is not an issue for Crown Beach property. The Beltline was voted by the people to be a park and should not be considered available for development as anything else.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Wed, Jun 4, 2014

Hey Keith - The city has indeed removed the federal property from the list of "housing opportunity sites" in its draft housing element (to be considered by the Planning Board this coming Monday) as the amount of housing Alameda is expected to provide land to accommodate is lower for the next seven years than for this current seven-year period.

To deconstruct that a bit and (hopefully) put it in English: State law seeks to encourage the development of housing - and specifically, affordable housing - so the state requires local governments to show that they've zoned enough land in their jurisdiction to allow the amount of housing that the state, by way of regional quasi-governmental agencies like the Association of Bay Area Governments, determines each will need to accommodate expected population growth.

The process requires cities to demonstrate that they have enough land zoned to allow the housing they're expected to provide space for. Typically, these "housing blueprints" are updated once every seven years.

Alameda didn't have a state approved blueprint for 20 years, so the amount of housing they were allowed to accommodate in this recent one was higher than it otherwise would have been. The city won't be required to provide land for as much housing this time around.

Given that the amount of land that will be needed for homes is less for this plan than the last one, City Planner Andrew Thomas has said that the city took controversial sites off the housing list. The federal property is the subject of a lawsuit that could invalidate the city's housing blueprint and with it, the city's decision to permit multifamily housing in spite of Measure A; the old Island High site has been taken off the list as well, even though the housing authority is getting it and will presumably seek to build homes there.

Submitted by Steve Gerstle on Wed, Jun 4, 2014

Why were hot button properties placed on the initial list of sites available for housing development when other sites that would have met the requirement were sufficient? Who drew up the list and who approved it?

Submitted by Laura DiDonato (not verified) on Thu, Jun 5, 2014

Hi Steve,
Regarding your question on "hot button properties".... On June 11, 2012 the City's Planning Board Agenda reads:

"9-A. Draft General Plan Housing Element, Land Use Diagram, accompanying Zoning Ordinance Amendments and Addendum. - A public hearing to consider draft amendments to the General Plan and Alameda Municipal Code to comply with State of California Government Code requirements related to the provision and regulation of housing."

The agenda item was to be "considered" by the PBoard, yet the City's actual presentation reflects a very different emphasis...After receiving the proposal to amend City's General Plan, which included a list of available properties for housing development, a Board member asked what the consequences would be for not passing the item that evening and was told by Staff:

"Mr. Thomas replied that if the City Council does not approve the amendments, there will not be a certified Housing Element, which means the General Plan is incomplete. If the General Plan is incomplete then the City is not eligible for state funding, the City can be sued, and potentially all decisions and permit approval authority can be taken away until the General Plan is complete."

The City Council, of course, finalized the plan at their next meeting (July 3rd, 2012).

Unfortunately for Alameda residents, the City's current preferences and process swiped locally and federally owned public land parcels (AUSD's Eagle/Everett campus and USMarine Corps' Neptune Point) out of the hands of citizens and left zero room for public discourse. A few brave souls made public pleas that asked to keep historically public/open space exactly that, open (similar to Measure D's intent) but all were unfairly accused of NIMBYism or classism when it couldn't be further from the truth...the oligarchs won.

More terrible, is that when complying to the new state housing law (Schwartzenegger, 2006), our current leaders and local housing advocates/lobbyists seem to have no problem in taking publicly-owned parcels on the quick/quiet/dirty method in order to be State compliant/supply housing, rather than choosing to buy from a selection of readily available/properly zoned/privately-owned parcels at fair market price while keeping our publicly owned lands just that, a space that serves the public! Our city has become as if We, The People, didn't exist or care!

Submitted by MJ (not verified) on Fri, Jun 6, 2014

I completely agree with Laura. A prime example of this non-representational government is ABAG. Essentially, what citizens may desire is not possible because a group officials who no voters ever voted for says so. Citizens, like confused children, can have their little votes but if the adults at ABAG want something else... too bad.

Michele, great insights and history, but what is "quasi-governmental" about ABAG? It is fully governmental (and the worst kind) if it is governing the outcomes of the citizenry.

Submitted by TO (not verified) on Sun, Jun 8, 2014

Seems like Marie Gilmore is a Marie Antoinette and Tam is Benedict Arnold. : (