As housing crisis rages, Hayward aims to build only 74 homes on 37 acres of prime land

A 37-acre parcel of hillside land near Cal State East Bay in Hayward, long ago envisioned by CalTrans as part of a freeway extension, moved closer to development on Tuesday, but not without concerns the future neighborhood will cater to the rich at a time when housing displacement is becoming rampant in the city.

The Hayward City Council approved a master development plan that envisions up to 74 two-story, single-family homes nestled on an expansive 10,000 sq. ft. of land and sweeping views of the bay, according to a Request For Proposal (RFP) issued by the city for prospective developers. The future homes, likely to easily exceed $1 million each, may also be interspersed with eight affordable housing units, possibly in the form of granny flats, according to city staff.

Critics of the proposal said it squanders a large swath of land suitable for much-needed housing density and is ignoring the housing crisis in the city in order to build a development at the base of the Hayward Hills that will cater solely to the wealthy.

The property, also known as Parcel 5, roughly runs from the the base of Carlos Bee Boulevard that leads to the hilltop campus of Cal State East Bay to Harder Road in the south. The parcel is situated almost perpendicular to Mission Boulevard.

It is one of 10 acquired by the city from CalTrans, and the first to come before the City Council for discussion as a potential development. Each parcel is scattered along the 238 Freeway corridor, and is owned by the city of Hayward.

It’s on a hill and it has a huge lot. So, let’s not fool ourselves, we are making homes for very wealthy individuals.-Hayward Councilmember Aisha Wahab.

In the 1970s, a freeway extension was proposed to cut through Mission Boulevard in order to alleviate growing traffic congestion. Disparate parcels were snapped up by CalTrans for the project, but activists in Hayward balked at the plan and it was later dropped. The Hayward Loop that crisscrosses the downtown area with large one-way thoroughfares has its origins in the failed 238 freeway extension project.

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Bunker Hill, however, may have some inherent challenges for potential developers. The parcel was in a state of disrepair under CalTrans.  An estimated $6 million in new roads, sidewalks and electrical work is required by the developer, according to the RFP. In addition, the city wants a prospective developer to carve out 10.5 acres of open space and add 3,000 linear feet to the Hayward Foothill Trail, all paid for by developer. The open space would later be maintained by the Hayward Area Recreation District (HARD), city staff said. The selection of a preferred developer for the project is expected to come before the city council in December, Deputy City Manager Jennifer Ott, said.

The master development plan approved, 6-1, Tuesday night followed a concerted effort by the city to gather public input on the project. City staff said there was a clear consensus from Bunker Hill neighbors for maintaining the “rural character” of the area. Public outreach also elicited strong concerns over increased traffic in the neighborhood and issues with congestion at proposed exit points from Bunker Hill. A number of Hayward councilmember acquiesced with the views of neighbors.

“You’ve been heard,” Councilmember Al Mendall told a small gathering of neighbors at Tuesday night’s meeting. “The process has worked well. Not perfectly. You cannot satisfy everyone, but we’re trying.”

Every other project recently approved by the city council is more dense that what preceded it in the area, Mendall said. The same goes for the proposed Bunker Hill development, he added. Developers want to build town homes, he said, “but there is a balance that needs to be struck” for preserving the character of the existing neighborhood.

Councilmember Francisco Zermeño said ideas that include building condominiums and town homes at the site is not what the neighbors desire or what the area needs. “I think there would have been a revolution, for example, if we would have come in with something like that,” Zermeño said.

The sentiment was not unanimous. Councilmember Aisha Wahab blasted the proposal, calling it inappropriate and a missed opportunity for the city to combat growing displacement among Hayward residents. Her comments are not surprising. Housing instability and rising rents in Hayward have been Wahab’s signature issues, beginning with her successful city council campaign last year.

Wahab called the proposed average lot size of 10,000 sq. ft. “excessive, especially in a time when we have a housing crisis and a shortage of housing.” Anything above 7,000 sq. ft. is “inappropriate,” she added.

“The amount of homes is way too small. Seventy-four units is nothing. On 37 acres of land, that is a disservice to the community,” Wahab said, “it is a disservice to our future generations, and it is a disservice to the housing crisis, in itself. So, I would never support something like that.”

Despite city staff’s reluctance to provide an estimated price for one the homes proposed at Bunker Hill, Wahab said they will likely be in excess of $1 million. “It’s on a hill and it has a huge lot. So, let’s not fool ourselves, we are making homes for very wealthy individuals.”

Lacei Amodei, a Hayward resident and community activist told the council the proposed homes at Bunker Hill will be out of the reach of most Hayward residents. “It seems we are furthering a trend in the city where we have over-produced market-rate units, while under-producing units at affordable levels.” She added, “It’s a formula to exacerbate gentrification and displacement.”

Some Hayward councilmembers appeared cognizant of potential criticism over the low amount of affordable housing envisioned for the project. At one point, Councilmember Elisa Marquez prompted city staff to offer a rundown of affordable housing units recently approved by the council. Up to 10 percent of a development’s total number of units must qualify as affordable housing, according to a city ordinance. Ott said city staff believes every neighborhood in Hayward must do its part to “densify,” and the estimated number of new affordable housing units is roughly 17 percent, roughly double what the city ordinance prescribes. “We’re trying to go the extra mile on the 238 parcels to push affordable housing,” Ott said.

Later, Councilmember Sara Lamnin, who has increasingly voiced a more pointed stance in favor of developers and landlords in recent months, questioned whether the inclusion of affordable housing would pencil out financially for a prospective developer.  Given the challenges associated with the topography of the parcel and a requirement to pay for road improvements, Lamnin asked city staff, “Is that a reasonable expectation to have the majority of the homes be moderate to low-income to get them built?”

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