Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Bookmark and Share
File #: 2017-4756 (30 minutes)   
Type: Regular Agenda Item
Body: City Council
On agenda: 10/17/2017
Title: Public Hearing to Consider Introduction of Ordinance Amending the Alameda Municipal Code (AMC) to Add Section 30-18, Universal Residential Design. (Community Development 209)
Attachments: 1. Exhibit 1 - Letter to the Building Industry Association, 2. Ordinance, 3. Correspondence



Public Hearing to Consider Introduction of Ordinance Amending the Alameda Municipal Code (AMC) to Add Section 30-18, Universal Residential Design. (Community Development 209)




To: Honorable Mayor and Members of the City Council


From: Jill Keimach, City Manager


Re: Public Hearing to Consider Introduction of Ordinance Amending the Alameda Municipal Code (AMC) to Add Section 30-18, Universal Residential Design


Over the last five years, the Alameda City Council, Planning Board, and Commission on Disability Issues (CDI) have discussed the need to ensure that every new residential project in Alameda is designed to accommodate Alameda’s current and future residents with mobility issues, including seniors aging in place.    The draft Universal Design Ordinance that is the subject of this report is the product of five years of work by many Alameda citizens, a joint meeting of the Planning Board and CDI, at least three public meetings of the CDI,  three Planning Board study sessions, and countless hours of work and many meetings of a joint subcommittee composed of Commission on Disability Issues (CDI) members Beth Kenny, Susan Deutsch, Arnold Brillinger, Anto Aghapekian and former CDI member Audrey Lord-Housman and Planning Board members Sandy Sullivan and David Burton.  Important assistance was also provided by local architect and accessibility design expert Eric Mikiten.

During this same five year period, Alameda and the Bay Area have experienced an unprecedented housing affordability crisis.  Throughout the ordinance preparation process, Planning Board members and others emphasized the importance of developing an ordinance that would not have significant impacts on housing construction and development costs.  

Throughout the process, staff has been communicating with private and public housing developers and the Building Industry Association Bay Area (BIA).  Copies of past correspondence between the BIA and city staff are included as attachments to Planning Board and CDI staff reports.  Staff’s June 12, 2017 letter to the BIA explaining some of the aspects of the ordinance that are specifically designed to mitigate any potential impacts of the ordinance on housing costs is attached as Exhibit 1.


On June 26, 2017, the Planning Board recommended that the City Council adopt the draft Ordinance, and on July 25, 2017, the CDI unanimously recommended that the City Council adopt the draft Ordinance.



General Plan Housing Element Policy HE-4 Program 4.2 “Universal Design Ordinance” adopted in July 2012, requires that the City Council consider adoption of a Universal Design Ordinance to support housing opportunities for seniors, residents aging in place, and residents with disabilities. 

The proposed draft ordinance:

                     Establishes a uniform set of universal design requirements for new residential development in Alameda.

                     Sets clear and consistent standards to be uniformly applied to all new housing development and provides processes to adjust requirements as necessary to address site-specific conditions, project-specific conditions, or universal design standards that may cause an unintentional constraint on housing development or increase housing costs for a specific project. 

                     Balances the need to ensure accessible housing for current and future generations of Alameda residents with the need to mitigate further escalation in housing costs caused by local land use regulations, market conditions or other challenges to developing housing in the Bay Area. 


The draft Universal Design Ordinance would add a new section to the Alameda Municipal Code (AMC) Section 30-18 (Universal Residential Design) Ordinance, which is comprised of the following salient provisions: 


Subsection 18.1 Purpose describes the purposes for regulating housing design to accommodate the needs of people throughout their life cycle and people with mobility constraints. The draft ordinance includes additional findings to support these regulations and standards and enumerates the public benefits of these residential development regulations.


Subsection 18.2 Definitions provides definitions for specific terms that are unique to the Ordinance.  Any terms that are already defined in AMC 30-1 Definitions are not repeated in AMC Section 18.2. 


Subsection 18.3 Scope, Application and Exceptions states that the Ordinance applies to all new housing units developed in Alameda, with the following specific exceptions:


                     Additions or improvements to existing residential units;

                     Accessory dwelling units;

                     Reconstruction of an existing residential unit destroyed due to fire or natural disaster; 

                     Addition of five or fewer new residential units to or within an existing structure;

                     New “walk-up” residential units in projects of five units or less where the units are located directly above ground floor commercial space or a parking structure; and

                     New “walk-up” residential units located directly above a single accessible unit that meets the requirements of the ordinance.  


Section 18.4 New Construction Requirements establishes the uniform standards and requirements that apply to all new residential units governed by the Ordinance.


Visitability (the 100% Requirement) Section 18.4.a establishes standards to ensure that every new unit built in Alameda subject to the Ordinance can be visited by a person with mobility issues.  Section 18.4.a requires that a visitor with mobility issues be able to get to and into the residential unit.  Once in the unit, the visitor should be able to get to a room in which to visit with the unit occupants and a bathroom without having to negotiate stairs.   The other bedrooms and bathrooms, the kitchen, and all other spaces within the home may be on upper levels accessed by stairs.  The definition of "accessible entry" provides flexibility to allow use of an alternate entry into the accessible ground floor spaces if the design of the new home includes a "primary" entry accessed by a raised front porch, which is a common architectural feature in Alameda and recommended in the City of Alameda Residential Design Guidelines. 


Universal Design (the 30% Requirement) Section 18.4.b requires that any residential project with five or more units must ensure that 30% of the units include specific features to ensure that the units are “usable by the greatest number of people with the widest reasonable range of abilities or disabilities, to the greatest extent feasible.”    In other words, Section 18.4.b. requires that 30% of the units in projects that exceed the unit threshold be designed so that someone with a mobility issue can live in the unit. Specifically, 30% of the units with such a project should include an accessible route of travel from the front door to an accessible kitchen, bedroom, common area, bathroom, and laundry facility.   Additional bedrooms, bathrooms, and other spaces may be provided on an upper level accessed by stairs.


Optional Features  Section 18.4.c. requires that any residential project that includes an on-site sales office must provide a pre-approved “menu” of additional features that the buyer of the unit may choose to purchase to make his/her home more accommodating of a personal disability at their costs.   The “menu” shall be created and presented to the Planning Board as part of the approval process for the project.


Section 18.5 Waivers allows the Planning Board to adjust the ordinance requirements without a variance process and as necessary to address site-specific or project-specific conditions such as: site-specific design solutions, affordable housing costs, hardship caused by topographical conditions on the site, site size or configuration, conflicts with other adopted local, regional, state or federal policy objectives, and/or legal constraints. 


As described above, the central objective of this ordinance is to ensure that the Ordinance requirements do not become a constraint on housing development or an unintentional increase in housing costs.   Section 18.5 is specifically designed to allow the project developer to identify those aspects of the Ordinance that may be causing problems for his or her project, and request a waiver.  In addition, any project that qualifies for a State Density Bonus waiver will also qualify to request a waiver without a variance from the provisions of the ordinance.  For example, if those provisions cause a conflict in State regulations (e.g., State Density Bonus Law) by making  it physically difficult or impossible to fit the total number of units on the site or if the added requirements make it financially difficult to provide for affordable housing, the developer could seek a waiver.


Section 18.5 also includes a list optional features that applicants might consider incorporating, but that are not required by the Ordinance, which the Planning Board may consider as part of a request for a waiver.  If an applicant is requesting a waiver or reduction of one of the ordinance requirements, the applicant might offer to compensate for the waiver by installing items from this list of “optional features”. 


Section 18.6 Enforcement and Annual Reporting establishes an annual reporting process. The Community Development Department is required to report annually to the Planning Board and Commission on Disability Issues on implementation of this section as part of the Housing Element Annual Report, which is annually transmitted to the City Council.  The Annual Report process provides an annual opportunity for the Planning Board or Commission on Disability Issues to recommend changes or revisions to this ordinance to the City Council. 




Few cities in California have taken the steps to adopt universal design ordinances. Those that have adopted universal design ordinances have adopted the model ordinance prepared by the State Department of Housing and Community Development that was designed to work for all of California’s diverse cities with their diverse communities, economic conditions, and topographical conditions.   The limited research available on the impact of these ordinances is that they have resulted in very few universally designed new units.


The draft City of Alameda Universal Design Ordinance is designed for Alameda.  This ordinance is not meant to set a new standard for California, because Alameda is not a typical California city. It is an ordinance that was specifically designed by Alamedans for Alameda.  It is an ordinance that staff believes will work for Alameda, will not constrain housing development, and will serve the needs of Alameda’s evolving and aging community. This Ordinance is carefully tailored to work with Alameda’s uniquely flat topography, the construction methods and designs that are being employed by home builders in Alameda, and the planning and design review processes that are employed by the City of Alameda Planning Board and City Council.  It is also tailored so that each project meets the needs of the community, the property owner and the home builder. 


Finally, Community Development staff that will be primarily responsible for the implementation of the Ordinance are acutely aware of the need to ensure that new Alameda development standards do not increase housing costs nor constrain housing development, given the State’s and City of Alameda’s housing affordability crises.  Staff is confident that the waiver and annual reporting provisions in the Ordinance will ensure that the State’s and City’s need for housing and affordable housing will not be impacted or constrained by thoughtful implementation of the proposed ordinance.




The proposed amendment to the AMC adopting a Universal Design Ordinance does not impact the General Fund.  The proposed amendment establishes development standards as part of the City of Alameda project review processes that are fee-supported processes and are not financially supported by the General Fund.




General Plan Housing Element Policy HE-4 Program 4.2 “Universal Design Ordinance” adopted in July 2012, requires that the City Council consider adoption of a Universal Design Ordinance to support housing opportunities for seniors, residents aging in place, and residents with disabilities.




The Universal Design Ordinance will establish an administrative process to support and implement action programs of the City of Alameda General Plan Housing Element, which was approved by the City Council in July 2014.  Therefore, the adoption of the Ordinance is exempt from the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA Guidelines Section 15061(b) (3)). Additionally, the environmental impacts of adoption and implementation of the Housing Element, which included and envisioned adoption of a universal design ordinance at the time of the adoption of the Housing Element.  Accordingly, no further environmental review is required.     




Hold a public hearing to consider introduction of an ordinance adopting Section 30-18 Universal Residential Design of the Alameda Municipal Code.


Respectfully submitted,

Debbie Potter, Community Development Director



Andrew Thomas, Assistant Community Development Director


Financial Impact section reviewed,

Elena Adair, Finance Director



1.                      Letter to the Building Industry Association