San Leandro moves to reduce density on proposed 45-unit green building near transit

San Leandro developer Tom Silva after agreeing to work with the city in order to find a solution to keep the project at 1388 Bancroft Avenue from being scrapped.

At the same time acknowledging the need to diversify its mix of new housing, the San Leandro City Council, nonetheless, told the developer of a 45-unit green, multi-family apartment building on Bancroft Avenue that the project would not be approved unless he lowered its density from 45 units to 39 units or less, citing strong concerns from neighbors over traffic and parking.

Tom Silva, the developer of the project referred to by its address, 1388 Bancroft Avenue, accepted a 90-day continuance of his proposal. The original proposal included 73-units within a four-story building but was reduced to 45 units and three stories last year over the same concerns from the Estudillo Estates neighborhood.

“I’m very disappointed in the San Leandro City Council,” Silva said following the meeting. “Going against the staff recommendation is to put political expediency over the expert’s judgment.” Silva said he plans to work with the city in order to find a solution that meets the project’s goals and objectives.

With the project’s future in doubt, San Leandro’s decision Monday night runs the risk of underscoring the concerns of pro-housing factions in Sacramento who argue the inability of local governments to approve developments such as 1388 Bancroft Avenue continues to worsen the housing crisis.

Senate Bill 50, authored by San Francisco State Sen. Scott Wiener, would take away some local control of housing approval by prohibiting cities from blocking developments near transit. In addition to being a certified green building, the 1388 Bancroft Avenue project is three-fourths of a mile from the San Leandro BART station.

Silva referenced the potential firestorm that could follow San Leandro elected officials. After San Leandro Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter asked Silva if he could reduce the number of units in his proposal, he responded with a laugh, “They would love that in Sacramento.”

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An overflow crowd lined one wall inside council chambers while another group filled the adjacent Sister Cities Room.

For nearly a year, the Silva project has been a hot-button issue. Aside from parking and traffic, neighbors oppose an exemption to zoning code, established in 2016, that would allow Silva to add additional density to the project. Two modest medical offices currently reside at the location. Opponents of the project wore fluorescent orange stickers that read “Integrity Matters,” referring to the city’s previously zoning decision for the area.

In recent months the furor has only grown after the Planning Commission approved the project last November. Attendance at Monday night’s council meeting was the largest in years. Residents packed the council chambers in addition, to an adjacent room.

San Leandro councilmembers appeared nervous as residents derided the proposed zoning change, and denied estimates that the apartment building would actually reduce traffic.

“I’m disappointed in our community, but I take responsibility for not educating people on what changes are coming to San Leandro and the type of housing we’re going to need and where this leaves us,” said Cutter, before noting the more draconian restrictions the Legislature might soon prescribe. “I worry there will be a development there that is much more dense and not quite as well-built as this one is going to be.”

But like several councilmembers, Cutter acquiesced to resident’s concerns in questioning the project’s density. Councilmember Deborah Cox, who also works in Assemblymember Bill Quirk’s office, noted the blow back the city may face from leaders in Sacramento, suggesting the city’s objection to the project might be used as a reason for the Legislature to take away local control of housing issues.

But Cox then agreed with Cutter’s call to further reduce the number of units in the project. The sentiment was shared by Councilmembers Pete Ballew and Corina Lopez, who also questioned the lack of affordable housing within the development.

The outcome of Monday night’s vote was highly debated among San Leandro insiders, but few predicted just one councilmember would register full support for the project as presented.

“I know this is going to disappoint you,” Lee told the council audience, “but I’m going to be supporting this plan because it is the greenest plan. It is addressing the housing shortage, but also focusing on something that I said four years ago, we need housing diversity.”