The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) issued a new regional planning document on August 30, 2016, suggesting the amount of housing needed in Alameda to meet state goals. MTC is requesting input from local jurisdictions.
Alameda City Planner Andrew Thomas slammed the commission’s recommendations as being woefully out of touch with Alameda’s existing land uses and its limited regional transit connections.
MTC’s forecast calls for adding roughly 10,000 new homes in Alameda by 2040, with the majority to be added in existing neighborhoods, outside of so-called Priority Development Areas (PDAs) like Alameda Point and the Northern Waterfront. This could only be accomplished if a host of improbable and unrealistic events were to occur, according to Thomas.
- “Some major nonresidential sites like South Shore Shopping Center would have to close,” said Thomas, “and the city council would have to agree that those major commercial sites should be redeveloped as huge residential sites with 400 to 500 units each.”
- “Bay Ship and Yacht goes away; state tidelands restrictions go away; and city council rezones this major maritime industrial site for residential, yielding 500 units,” said Thomas. “The Port of Oakland eliminates restrictive covenants on Harbor Bay Business Park, and city council approves 400-500 units in the business park.”
- “Many individual small business owners on Park Street or Webster Street get together, tear down their businesses, and the city council approves 400-500 units in four- to five-story buildings along these streets,” said Thomas.
- “Add that all up and we get about 2,000 unrealistic units,” said Thomas. “We need 5,000 more. So what other unrealistic thing needs to happen? We currently get about three second-unit requests and inquiries a year. It’s expensive to build a second unit in your back yard. Those requests would need to magically increase to about 200 per year.”
The MTC report seeks to downplay the affect of the suggested increase of housing quotas on communities by stating, “Plan Bay Area 2040 also does not establish new state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) numbers for each jurisdiction. RHNA operates on an eight-year cycle, with the next iteration not due until the 2021.” Alameda is currently on track to satisfy its regional housing requirement that was spelled out in 2013, which is to provide opportunity for construction of 1,723 new units.
Plan Bay Area is a nine-county strategy for meeting the goals of California Senate Bill No. 375. The bill requires metropolitan areas to adopt an integrated long-range regional transportation plan and a sustainable communities strategy that reduces per-capita greenhouse gas emissions, as well as providing housing opportunities for the region’s population at all income levels.
“The state and region have done very little when it comes to funding transportation and affordable housing to support PDA development and housing in Alameda,” said Thomas. “If the city is going to be expected to continue development…, we need concrete financial support from ABAG [Association of Bay Area Governments], MTC, and the state for needed transportation improvements and affordable housing.”
Counting on the state and region to “provide funding for major transportation improvements and affordable housing, if Alameda approves greater growth, is a leap of faith Alameda cannot be expected to make,” said Thomas.
Transit service was better when Alameda’s population was less.
Alameda launched its own citywide transportation and transit study in an effort to reduce traffic and enhance public transit options. The city hired a transportation firm to conduct the study at a cost of $400,000.
Frustrations over inadequate public transit funding continue to mount, even as pressure grows for more housing. The popular ferry service, and how it is funded, offers a case in point. The Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA), which operates the San Francisco Bay Ferry system, ended its fiscal year 2016 with $5 million unspent. Executive Director Nina Rannells told the board of directors in August that the extra funds are due to WETA’S own efficiencies and lower-than-expected fuel prices. But instead of being able to hold this money in reserve or dedicate it to projects on WETA’s drawing board, WETA was required to return the $5 million to MTC.
The return of ferry transit funds to MTC occurred just days after city staff received word from the federal government on July 29 that they would not be receiving a transportation funding grant for the Seaplane Lagoon passenger ferry terminal. The ferry terminal project is short about $8 million.
The feds also did not award Alameda any funding for other transit infrastructure projects related to Alameda Point development. The city applied for funding to create a special transit corridor along Appezzato Parkway from Alameda Point to Webster Street for bus rapid transit, bicycles and pedestrians. The grant application also requested funds for upgrades to Main Street and Stargell Avenue to facilitate faster bus service.
In contrast, MTC has been generous in funding development planning. Since 2012, MTC has given the city $450,000 for planning new residential and commercial construction next to Alameda Point’s Seaplane Lagoon and in the old Navy residential area known as the Main Street Neighborhood. Another $150,000 was given for transit planning at Alameda Point.
“My point is simple,” said Thomas. “It’s completely unrealistic to ‘plan’ for 7,000 units outside of the PDAs. That is not a plan. A good plan needs to be based in reality. The region deserves a good plan.”
“I am a planner,” said Thomas. “I believe in great plans. I hate unrealistic, pie in the sky plans that have no basis in reality. I have seen too many bad plans in my life,” Thomas continued. “Too much money is spent on them, and they sit on shelves where they are useless to anyone – except to the planners and consultants who got paid to prepare them.”
“Alameda needs to build housing,” said Thomas. “We have a good plan to build housing in our PDAs. The regional plan should support our housing plan, not ignore it.”
The planning board will consider the city’s response to the MTC housing forecast scenario at its Monday, October 10 meeting at City Hall.
A shorter version was published in the Alameda Sun.