Oakland’s Roadmap for Building 26,000 New Housing Units

The Housing Element of the General Plan has been passed by the City Council and, after required revisions, approved by the State Department of Housing and Community Development. That latter approval was required for the first time by newly enacted state law aimed at addressing the state-wide homeless crisis. Oakland is expected to construct over 26,000 new units by 2031.

The city’s website explains, “The Housing Element is part of Oakland’s General Plan that serves as a blueprint for housing the City’s residents, at all economic levels including low income and households with special needs. The Housing Element presents an inventory of sites suitable for residential development in Oakland; an assessment of financial and programmatic resources; and an analysis of constraints, both governmental and non-governmental, to housing production in Oakland. This data and systematic analysis provides the basis for policies and actions to meet Oakland’s housing needs for the future.”

The previous zoning was designed to “preserve and enhance” many neighborhoods and direct most of the denser housing to “grow and change” areas, primarily on the corridors, like Broadway in our area. Under the new Housing Element, the Rockridge and Piedmont Avenue neighborhoods were specifically designated as “high resource” areas that should absorb more housing for a broader economic range of residents. There was an effort to identify city-owned properties in all districts that could be built on, and the merchant’s parking lot behind the 4000 block of Piedmont Ave was designated on this inventory as an “opportunity site” for affordable housing.* All areas of the Piedmont Avenue neighborhood would allow more density, and smaller lots in the proposed zoning changes. State laws require cities to allow higher density near transit corridors; this will impact most of the Piedmont Avenue neighborhood, because of proximity to the 51A, 57, and 12 bus lines.

While there were public hearings before the Planning Commission, the City Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee and, on January 31, the City Council, city planning staff told those bodies that they could not change anything in the proposal without missing the statutory deadline for adopting the plan. So, most of the public input had been through the Town Halls held earlier in the process at various locations. PANIL did not comment on the Housing Element, as there were not enough neighbors participating to make a representative sample of opinions, and the few who did had topics of significant disagreement.

At the hearings, Oakland Heritage Alliance argued that the city’s claim that adoption of the Housing Element is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is inappropriate. Allowing denser development will result in a variety of substantial adverse impacts as defined by CEQA, including but not limited to, conversion of previous to impervious surfaces (increasing stormwater runoff and straining the capacity of the City’s already overtaxed storm sewer system), the architectural integrity of CEQA–defined historical resources (including historic districts and neighborhoods), and reductions in the urban tree canopy, impairing air quality and wildlife habitat.

The culvert carrying Glen Echo Creek recently demonstrated expected impacts of greater water runoff. The creek had been at capacity during the atmospheric river storms on January 31, with a number of blocks along the creek barely escaping flooding before the rain slowed and the water level went down.

A more normal water level, a few days after the rains had stopped

Possible environmental impacts of more development at greater density: the culvert carrying Glen Echo Creek under Monte Vista Ave was at capacity and very close to flooding on January 31

The specifics of the zoning proposals will be codified in legislation in the coming months. Public review of the draft zoning code amendments to implement the Housing Element actions is expected in mid-March. PANIL will again ask neighbors to weigh in on the city’s proposals. Please share this issue of PANIL’s newsletter with your block and encourage your neighbors to sign up for the newsletter and meeting notices.A list of issues and programs the zoning must address is included in the state’s approval letter for the Housing Element here:

These include reducing constraints to building a number of different kinds of housing, increasing protections for renters, revising parking standards and open space requirements, etc.

* The specific housing proposal on the merchant’s parking lot that was discussed at the July 2021 PANIL meeting has been withdrawn and the project proponents have deleted their website.

By Valerie Winemiller