ALBANY -- The city's long-delayed Housing Element is going to the City Council after a 4-0 Planning and Zoning Commission vote (commissioner David Arkin was absent) Feb. 12. The City Council will probably consider the state-mandated element at a meeting in March.
Under state law, each city, county or other governing body must identify potential sites for housing at all income levels. Housing Elements are due for submission in cycles, with the current cycle running 2007-14. According to city consultant Barry Miller, who put together the plan along with city staff, most government bodies get the plan in place in the first couple of years of the cycle.
The next planning cycle runs 2015-23, meaning work on the next Housing Element will begin almost as soon as the City Council approves the current one.
The Housing Element does not require cities to actually construct housing, just to identify and zone for potential construction. The city's report compiled for the current cycle states that Albany could construct 117 units for people with above moderate income, 52 units for people with moderate income, 43 units for people with low income and 64 for people with very low income.
Delays in adopting the element have been for various reasons, many centered on concerns by various residents about zoning changes that might alter the character of neighborhoods.
The debate in the past year also tied into the controversy the homeless encampment at the Albany Bulb on the waterfront and whether the city is providing adequate housing alternatives for the people living there. The city is attempting to remove the residents of the Bulb so it can turn the land over to the East Bay Regional Parks District as part of the Sylvia McLaughlin Eastshore State Park.
At last week's meeting the commission also approved an application for new cellular phone antennas to replace an old installation on a pole located at 423 San Pablo Ave. Crown Castle, a Bay Area firm that owns and operates cell phone sites, made the application for antennas to be used by Verizon.
A previous application to upgrade the antennas was rejected by the commission in 2011, a decision upheld in an appeal to the City Council.
Crown Castle then filed a lawsuit against the city that was settled in 2012. As part of the settlement, a new application was filed, with the city agreeing to follow federal law in its review.
Federal law prohibits local governments from rejecting wireless applications on the basis of health concerns and similar issues. Neighbors of the project have been adamant that they don't want new antennas at the site and have often expressed concerns about the safety of wireless antennas and the amount of radiation they emit.
"I have lived in Albany since 1960. I don't know if you'd like to live this close to those antennas," resident Thea Kynthea told the commission. "We have elected you to protect us, represent us. We are the people who live here. I live right across the street from this. I have lived here for 54 years. This is my town. It makes me really sad to think that our commissioners are going to be swayed by a whitewashed description of what this thing is."
Commissioners responded that their hands are tied.
"I don't think there's a person in this room that wants this tower where it is," said Commissioner Phillip Moss. "We are very limited here. All of the power really has been taken away from the city levels. We're handicapped with what we can do and what we can't do. And it bothers me. I don't like that pole. It would never have been allowed to go up (under current height limits).
"There's nothing this body can do about it. Unfortunately. As much as we'd like to, we're just handcuffed here. There's frustration up here about this."
The 65-foot pole containing the antennas was originally constructed in 1988 for GTE. It is considered "legal non-conforming," meaning the pole exceeds height limits enacted after its construction. It contains two sets of antennas, one 45 feet above ground that serve Metro PCS and the other 59 feet above ground which serve Verizon.