Town Hall Meeting Lays out Options for Rockridge's Housing

Panel of Experts Discusses What Rockridge Can Do about Oakland's Housing Crisis
Friday, April 21, 2017

A capacity crowd of more than fifty filled the Rockridge Library's meeting room to hear about and discuss the future of Rockridge's housing, as the RCPC Land Use Committee presented an interim report on preparing a Rockridge Housing Policy for the RCPC Board of Directors.   The Town Hall presentation was part of RCPC's annual membership meeting, where RCPC's members (everyone over the age of 18 living within RCPC's boundaries) also voted on the election of five members to the Board of Directors.

RCPC's Land Use Committee chair, Stuart Flashman, began by presenting some background information on housing and sketching out three possible future scenarios for how Rockridge might respond to Oakland's current housing crunch.  A copy of that presentation can be accessed here.  Following the presentation, Four panelists discussed, from their different perspectives, some of the factors affecting the possibilities and limitations on how Rockridge might respond to the need for more housing in Oakland.  The panel members were:

  • Jeffrey Levin - Policy Director for East Bay Housing Organizations, a local nonprofit representing a coalition of more than a hundred organizations and local governments involved in advocating for and building affordable housing in the East Bay.
  • Glen Jarvis - Long-time Rockridge resident and architect and principal of Jarvis Architects, a firm that has built, renovated, or remodeled many Rockridge homes.  Glen also served on Oakland's General Plan Congress and Planning Commission and on the RCPC Board of Directors.  He was part of the group of Rockridge residents that wrote and helped enact Rockridge's current residential and commercial zoning regulations.
  • Greg Pasquali - also Rockridge resident and former RCPC Board member who has worked as a planner on both affordable and market-rate housing projects in the East Bay and owns a number of Rockridge rental properties.
  • Dan Kalb - Rockridge resident and Oakland City Council Member representing District One - the council district that includes Rockridge.  Dan has been extensively involved in addressing issues around displacement, gentrification, and tenant protection in Oakland.

Jeffrey's presentation emphasized the difficulties in trying to build more affordable housing in Oakland, especially the amount of time and effort needed to assemble the financing needed to make affordable housing projects happen.  He also commented how the liberal height and density  provisions in Oakland's zoning ordinance provide little incentive for private developers to include affordable units in their housing proposals, and, perhaps as a consequence, how little of Oakland's recent residential construction has been affordable.

Glen reviewed the history of planning efforts in Rockridge, and emphasized that Rockridge's current zoning has produced one of the most successful and desirable neighborhoods in the East Bay.  He noted that the attractiveness of Rockridge has, ironically, made it difficult to maintain affordability in the face of market demand.  He also commented, as had Jeffrey, on how Proposition 13 had distorted the housing market by keeping "empty nester" homeowners in homes far bigger than their current space needs justified.

Greg noted that while Rockridge's current zoning along College Ave. had produced a successful commercial district, its height and density limitations gave property owners and developers little incentive to provide more housing by building beyond the current building envelope.  He noted that while there were a few large parcels that might become available for redevelopment, without an increase in height and density limits, Rockridge could not expect much additional housing to be built, whether market-rate or affordable.

Finally, Dan Kalb commented that the Legislature had become very active and interested in promoting housing development.  He said that this session alone, the Legislature was considering more than a hundred pieces of housing legislation. While many of those bills would not be enacted, he thought that we could expected the legislative foundation for housing development to continue to change rapidly.  He also noted that the City had recently passed increased tenant protections, and that both Oakland and Alameda County voters had recently approved additional financial resources for developing affordable housing.

After this, there were lively comments and questions from the audience.  While three scenarios had been presented, the audience consensus was that much more discussion was needed before people could make informed choices about what made the most sense for Rockridge's housing future.  Specifically, people wondered about the pluses and minuses of different choices and whether there needed to be more choices and a wider range of options.  People also felt they wanted more expert evaluation of the different options.

The RCPC Land Use Committee will be continuing to work on exploring housing policy options, including looking at additional options and gathering more public and expert opinions, both on this site, on RCPC's Facebook page, and through articles and polling in the Rockridge News and using on-line resources.  The Land Use Committee meets the fourth Wednesday of each month at 7:30 PM at the Rockridge Branch Library.  Meetings are open to the public and your participation is encouraged.