1. Stakes could be high for politicos
A three story, 45-unit market-rate apartment project in San Leandro’s Estudillo Estates may be modest, but the push back from neighbors has been significant for a year. And city officials are caught in a bind. Turning away the project located on Bancroft and Estudillo Avenues during an acute housing shortage will certainly elicit anger from neighboring officials in other East Bay cities. But San Leandro councilmembers are also cognizant that this same project may have had a hand in the surprise defeat of incumbent Councilmember Lee Thomas last November. He supported the plan, his opponent did not. In addition, nobody appears happy with the 1388 Bancroft Avenue project backed by San Leandro developer Tom Silva. Progressives demand more affordable units than the two included in the project and those urging to government accountability suspect the city is kowtowing to Silva, a long-time political insider, by rezoning the project for greater density.
2. Housing at any cost?
Where once developers were viewed as greedy capitalists in the eyes of the left, they are now seen as a necessary evil in order to get the region out of this housing crisis. This is the argument in favor of Silva’s project. However, progressives would prefer far more than two affordable housing units. But depending on your view of this controversy, the project is close to San Leandro BART. Opponents will disagree, believing its location is not within the downtown area but on the fringe of residential neighborhoods.
3. Cassidy is the ringleader
Former San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy, the pied piper of disaffected white folks (he campaigned as an employee pension reformer and won), stoked the furor over the Silva project starting last year when he decried the city staff’s support of what was then a four-story, 73-unit multi-family apartment building, because it included a zoning change. The 1.27 acre property is zoned for office buildings. “This is not a question of whether I, or any of my neighbors, wish for there to be housing,” he said. Rather than wade into the dispute over housing and parking, Cassidy has instead focused on zoning. “We’re in agreement there should be housing and we’re not absolutists. We can understand a compromise, but when you exceed the limits on density by 50 percent, that takes it too far.” Cassidy told the council Jan. 22. “Integrity matters,” he added. “We’re only as good as our word.” Cassidy, who served as mayor from 2010-2014, then suggested the council is out of step with the community and will become “clear-eyed,” when out of office like himself. “Simply say no and force the developer to come forward with a proposal that is more reasonable.”
4. Not about housing, but traffic
Cassidy’s political instincts to focus on the rezoning of the parcel and not a tug-of-war over housing, however, does not seem to be registering with his Estudillo Estates neighbors, at least recently. During a public meeting hosted by Silva at the San Leandro Library Jan. 24, the zoning issue was hardly mentioned by residents. Instead, the siren of NIMBYs was far more prevalent. Residents said increased traffic would ruin the character of the neighborhood. Worse, street parking will be gobbled up by the building’s tenants. The project includes 47 on-site parking spaces for its 45 units. Parking will be unbundled, meaning if you did not have a car, you could save money by omitting it from your rent and allowing another tenant with two cars to use the space for an additional fee. But Silva says his target demographic is high-earning millennials, who often eschew car ownership and utilize other types of transit like the bus, BART, electric scooters, bikes, and even Uber and Lyft. The project is about three-fourths of a mile from San Leandro BART. But many at the public meeting scoffed at this assertion, strongly disagreeing that future renters could possibly live sans car. They also believe unbundled parking will only allow renters to lower their rent while taking up street parking in front of their homes. One woman asked if she could put up a sign to ban people from parking in front of her house.
5. Post-fact San Leandro
The Jan. 24 public meeting also included numerous comments that flatly denied facts offered in the city’s staff report findings. When Silva rebutted assertions that street traffic would become worsened by the project, by saying resulting traffic from the proposed building would actually be less than that currently emanating from the pair of medical buildings at the property. Guffaws rained down. One resident charged Silva with rigging the results. Another lodged the same accusation when it came to an environmental study. Silva was not involved in either study. Even if the project is approved Monday night, don’t expect to get the keys to your new apartment anytime soon. Because of various unexpired leases, Silva says the building might not be finished for up to five years.