Monday, August 22, 2016

New San Leandro Zoning Code Back At City Hall For Review

This Thursday, August 25th, at 7 pm in the City Council Chambers, the San Leandro Planning Commission will review and perhaps make recommendations to the City Council on the final San Leandro 2035 General Plan, final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and related Zoning Code and map changes (Zoning Update 2016). The City Council is set to review these documents on September 19th.

The Planning Commission agenda packet including staff reports are available on the City website at

Of interest to residents on the north end of town: City planners originally proposed re-zoning of properties between the fire station on Estudillo and Bancroft Avenues as Downtown Area 2 (or DA-2) properties from their present designation as Professional Office Buildings (or P).  

DA-2 zoning would have allowed 5-story mixed use multi-unit residential complexes (including one planned for the property on Bancroft Avenue opposite the middle school). The proposal reflected a lack of awareness of how many would view properties of such height and density next to and in a residential neighborhood.

Following strong objections from neighbors, Mayor Cutter set a work session in July for a discussion of the zoning of Estudillo and Bancroft Avenues as well as other zoning changes.

At the July work session, City staff did not to include the re-zoning of properties along Estudillo and Bancroft Avenues in their presentation.

When questioned by Council member Reed and Mayor Cutter as to why these properties were excluded from the presentation - which was myself and 20+ members of the community came to City Hall that evening - staff responded that the zoning map for these properties was not being changed as the code for these properties will remain P.

The statement itself was true but omitted critical information so as to make it false and misleading.

A zoning code in its most basic form consists of a map of properties and designations or codes (e.g. DA-2 or P) defining the land uses of the properties.  Change the designation of particular properties on the map OR alter the definitions of the designations or codes for the properties and you have changed the zoning code.

While the zoning map for Estudillo and Bancroft Avenues remains unchanged under the new staff recommendation, a significant alteration in the definition of P or Professional Office Building properties is now part of the staff proposal (which was not included previously)  Staff is asking for the Planning Commission and City Council to approve the change.

No longer are P properties largely to be office buildings.  Instead, the new definition allows for mixed-use, multi-family residential developments (though retaining the current maximum building height of 30 feet for properties zoned P).

Changes in the codes and their impact on nearby residential neighborhoods should have been part of staff's July presentation and discussion by the City Council.

Not including in presentations on development and land use issues that staff and the Council know are of significant concern to the community undermines the confidence and trust of the community in staff.  It also leads to confusion by community members as to what is being proposed and feeds suspicion that developers/landlords have inside access and special influence at City Hall.

I support greater density and development in our downtown area.  I also want the unique characteristics of our residential neighborhoods preserved.  I appreciate that compromises may have to occur to balance these interests in the present and the future.  This balancing act will only be successful, however, if City staff operates in a transparent manner and the community is given an opportunity to provide its feedback before significant decision are made.  Likewise, each and every member of the City Council must hold staff and themselves to this standard.

Finally, at the request of Mayor Cutter, City staff recently published a FAQ on the Professional Office Building area.  I have cut and pasted the text below.  I provides further details on what is being proposed.  I hope you have the opportunity to review this document and offer your views on it to the planning commission at the meeting on Thursday night.



What is the Professional Office (P) Zoning District?

The Professional Office (P) zoning designation accommodates business and professional offices as well as similar supporting businesses such as cafes, restaurants, neighborhood and specialty food markets, pharmacies, and other limited retail service businesses. The location of properties zoned Professional Office (P) are identified on the City’s Official Zoning Map.

Properties with the Professional Office (P) designation are primarily found along Estudillo Avenue
near Bancroft Avenue. Many of the properties currently zoned for Professional Office (P) are located adjacent to existing residential multi-family properties.

What types of uses are currently allowed in the P District?

Permitted Uses
Brewpubs Offices, Businesses
Business Services Pharmacies
Caf├ęs Restaurants, Full-Service
Financial Institutions, Retail Retail Services
Medical Supply Stores Travel Services
Neighborhood/Specialty Food Markets Utilities, Minor

Uses requiring Administrative Review (Staff Approval)
ATM Machines Parking Lots
Day Care Wireless Antennas, co-located & integrated with architecture

Conditional Uses – Requires approval from the Board of Zoning Adjustments
Bed & Breakfast Inns Hospitals
Commercial Parking Facility Laboratories
Convalescent Facilities Massage Therapy
Cultural Institutions Mortuaries
Emergency Health Care Public Safety Facilities
Farmers’ Market Schools, Public or Private
Group Housing New Telecommunications, Wireless Antenna Facilities & Towers
Health & Fitness Centers Utilities, Major

What additional uses are being proposed in the P District?

As part of the 2016 Zoning Code amendments, the City is proposing to add Multi-Family Residential and Mixed Use Residential for up to 24 dwelling units per acre as Conditional Uses in the Professional Office (P) Zoning District.

Any new Multi-Family Residential or Mixed Use Residential project would require review and approval at a public hearing by the Board of Zoning Adjustments which includes noticing of properties within 500 feet. All new multi-family residential developments will be required to provide adequate on-site parking, which is 1.5 spaces for each one-bedroom and studio unit, 2.25 spaces for each two-bedroom unit, and 2.5 spaces for each three-bedroom unit.

How do the proposed changes differ from what was originally recommended?

The previous proposal included a recommendation to rezone the approximately 20 Professional Office (P) zoned parcels on Estudillo Avenue and Bancroft Avenue to Downtown Area 2 (DA-2) which would have allowed residential development of up to 40 units per acre, increased the height limit to 50 feet and reduced the parking requirement. Based on community feedback, a rezone of these properties is no longer being recommended.

What are the development standards for the P District?

New development in the Professional Office (P) Zoning District is limited to 30’ feet in height and must be setback 10’ feet from the front and corner streets. New buildings are also subject to San Leandro’s Daylight Plane standards to reduce the impact of building massing when adjacent to other zoning districts.

Maximum Building Height: 30’

Setbacks: 10’ Front, 10’ Corner Side, Zero Setback at Side and Rear

Floor Area Ratio (FAR): 0.3 (The Floor Area Ratio is the ratio of a building's total floor area to the size of the piece of land upon which it is built). The Planning Commission or Board of Zoning Adjustments has the authority to approve an increased FAR of up to 0.2 for proposed projects with underground parking.

Maximum Lot Coverage: 50%

Minimum Site Landscaping: 5%, in accord with landscaping plans approved through Site Plan Approval

What is the Daylight Plane standard and how does it apply to the P District?

A Daylight Plane is an angled building height limitation that regulates the massing and design of taller buildings constructed next to residential properties. The Daylight Plane standard in the Professional Office Zoning District begins 8’ feet above grade at a side or rear property line and extends at an upward 45° degree angle, which limits the height and massing of buildings proposed next to residential properties.

Can a project that doesn’t conform to the above standards still be built?

The Zoning Code establishes precise development standards and limitations and also allows a public process to enable developers limited flexibility as long as they conform to the City’s established policies, such as those identified in the General Plan. A Planned Development is a process that could enable developers increased density, modifications to setbacks or parking requirements in recognition of unique features of the project, parcel or opportunities based on the size of the parcel.

Planned Developments require public vetting before the Planning Commission and City Council and include notification of all properties within 500 feet. As noted, any new multi-family housing development would require a Conditional Use Permit which includes a public hearing before the Board of Zoning Adjustments.

How can I find out more?

Additional information on Zoning Update 2016 and the proposed changes to the Professional Office (P) zoning designation is available on the City’s website at The website includes maps, and information on the allowable uses and development standards in each zoning district. This information can assist you in determining how these changes may affect your property. To speak with someone directly, contact Andrew Mogensen, Planning Manager, at (510) 577-3458 or or visit us at the City’s One Stop Permit Center which is open Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8am – 4pm and Wednesdays from 8am – 3pm.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

San Leandro's Electoral System: Time for Reform?

For those new to San Leandro, or voting for the first time this November, please vote on all city and school ballot measures. That way you will truly have an impact on our community. Races in San Leandro can be close - some seats and measures have been decided by 1 or less percent of the vote.

As background, the City of San Leandro is run by a Mayor and six City Council members. Together, they
 form the City Council.

The Mayor is the presiding officer of City Council meetings and serves as the spokesperson for the City. However, the Mayor has no more authority than a City Council member when it comes to voting on matters - the Mayor has one vote as does each Council member.

The Mayor and City Council members are limited two consecutive, four year terms. Unlike at the state level, the City's term limits are not a lifetime restriction. A person could serve two terms, leave the Council for four years, and then run again. 

For the upcoming election, there are four candidates for 3 council seats. In 2018, the Mayor's seat plus 3 council seats will be on the election ballot.

Even though 4 candidates are running for 3 council seats this November, there will not be contested races for 2 council seats because of San Leandro's unique district council system.

Councilmember Benny Lee has no opponent. He will automatically be re-elected to another four year term to represent Council District 4.

Peter Ballew, a candidate running for the seat held by Jim Prola (who is terming out), also has no opponent. He will walk onto the City Council and represent Council District 6.

The sole contested race is in District 2, the seat currently held by Council member Ursula Reed, who is terming out. Two City Commissioners are running for the seat - Bryan Acevedo and Ed Hernandez.

If all council seats in San Leandro were at large, all four candidates would have to compete in the upcoming election and seek the support of the voters. The top three voter getters would serve on the Council. This how many City Council elections occur in Alameda County and across the state.

San Leandro has a hybrid electoral system that is unique in California.  We all vote for the candidates regardless of the district we live in (as occurs in at large elections) but the candidate must reside in the district he or she is running to represent.

The purpose is to ensure neighborhood diversity on the Council, e.g. Council members reside across the City and can not live in one area. I don't deny this has value but it comes too often at the expense (in my opinion) of something far more important - a healthy local democracy.

Government (at any level) only works when the candidate must compete for office. That will not happen in 2 of 3 City Council races this November. And it has repeatedly occurred in past elections. 
Please feel free to share with me your opinions on the matter.  Should San Leandro 

(a) keep its current electoral system,
(b) scrap it and have all Council members elected at large, or
(c) keep district seats and have only voters within each district vote for their Council member (this is another possibility which would lower the cost of running for City Council and thereby may encourage more candidates)?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

San Leandro City Council Questionnaire

I have sent all candidates running for City Council in San Leandro (including the ones without an opponent) a series of questions. I wish to make an informed choice in deciding whom to support. I have told them that their answers will guide my endorsement decisions. I believe their answers will also be of interest to the community. 

Candidates for office regularly complete questionnaires from
 labor, business and issue groups. Their answers, however, are kept confidential. The public has no knowledge as to what the candidates stated or promises they made. We are only told what the candidates want to tell us - often in the form of short, simple statements that border on slogans, not solutions to the issues we face. I want to change this process for our city. We, the voters, should also be able to ask candidates questions and receive answers as part of our due diligence in evaluating them and deciding whom to support. 

I will post the answers to my questionnaire after I receive them. I requested responses by September 1, 2016. 

Here are the questions I sent to candidates running for the City Council for the first time: 

Policy Questions 
1. What is the most pressing issue facing San Leandro and how would you address it? 

2. What are three other significant issues facing San Leandro and how would you address each one? 

3. How do you intend to gather community input and involve the community in making decisions on significant matters? 

4. Over the preceding 12 months, how many City Council meetings and/or work sessions have you attended? 

5. The San Leandro school district has placed a $104 million construction bond on the November ballot to fund a wide range of modernization and renovation needs at school sites. Do you support or oppose the bond measure? 

6. The City of San Leandro has placed three taxes measures that will allocate funds to the City’s general fund to be spent, if adopted, as determined by the City Council in its budgeting process. Do you support or oppose these tax measures? How best should the City spend the revenues the new taxes will generate should they be adopted by the voters? 

7. Do you support the City’s business development objective of transforming San Leandro a new center of innovation in the San Francisco Bay Area? If yes, how would you advance this objective while ensuring our City maintains the unique qualities of its residential neighborhoods? 

8. How would you ensure San Leandro is a sustainable city and safeguards its environment, open spaces/parks, and natural resources? 

9. Do you support or oppose limitations on annual increases that landlord can impose on San Leandro residential tenants? Please explain your position. 

10. How would you keep San Leandro safe? 

11. How would you work to promote diversity and tolerance and combat racism and discrimination in San Leandro? 

Personal Background 
1. Are you retired or working? If working, what is present occupation and employer? If retired, what was your last occupation and employer? 

2. What skills and life experiences do you possess that make you uniquely qualified to serve on the City Council? 

3. Do you have a degree from a college or university? If yes, please state the degree(s), year of graduation, and educational institution from which you obtained the degree(s). 

4. Please list any elected offices you have held or City of San Leandro Boards or Commissions on which you have served. 

5. Please list any community, faith based, labor, business, or nonprofit service organizations of which you are a member and any leadership positions within these organizations that you have held. 

6. Please list any advocacy, professional or issue-based organizations of which you are a member and any leadership positions within these organizations that you have held. 

7. Have you ever been arrested? If yes, please describe the circumstances of the arrest(s) and outcome of the legal proceedings. 

8. Have you ever been a party (plaintiff or defendant) to a civil lawsuit? If yes, please describe the allegations of the complaint and outcome of the legal proceedings? 

9. Have you ever been accused of or investigated for defrauding others, financial misconduct, conflict of interest, taking bribes and/or accepting illegal gifts? If yes, please explain the allegations made and outcome of the investigation or proceedings.