LAST ELECTION season, there were a smattering of yard signs reading, "Keep Measure A." My 7-year-old was curious: What is Measure A?
I explained that A is an Alameda law passed in 1973 in reaction to new construction that went forward without planning and regulation — in part to the tearing down of old homes, many of them Victorians, to build apartments. (My son knows about Victorians from a unit taught by his kindergarten teacher.) Measure A has since prohibited the construction of any residences with more than two units.
"Like that one?" my son asked. We were walking down Central Avenue, east of Broadway, where there are many boxy, lot-filling apartment houses.
"Like that one," I said. "Yuck!" he protested.
Removing a single-family dwelling and replacing it with 10 units, curb to back lot line, isn't good planning. Measure A put a stop to that 35 years ago.
My daughter's fourth-grade teacher, Randy Meader, a 30-year veteran of Alameda Unified School District schools, recently presented me with a book of quotations. Here's one from William Seward: "The circumstances of the world are so variable that an irrevocable purpose or opinion is almost synonymous with a foolish one."
On Central, the discussion continued. "That's sad for the old houses," my son said. His class had taken a tour of the neighborhood, sketching Victorians they found.
"Yes, it is," I said. "But you can make rules about construction that keep people from tearing down old houses willy-nilly but still allow them to build apartments or condos or triplexes in ways that make sense in that particular space."
From Woodrow Wilson: "If you want to make enemies, try to change something." I've been in Alameda nine years now, and nothing seems to touch a nerve more than the mention, to some, of Measure A.
"If there were no Measure A, there'd be high rises on Park Street," a preservation activist told me not so long ago. "They'll (who "they" is is always somewhat of a mystery) turn Alameda into Manhattan!"
Because Manhattan, home to a million and half people, is one of the world's more densely populated cities, while we're just a touch over 70,000. If Alameda had the population density of Manhattan, we could fit all of us on 1/23 of the Island.
Facts aside, a vocal portion of the population gets feverish when you bring up Measure A. They seem to think the sky might just fall if A were modified.
But, trust me on this, it will not.
And trust me on this, too: Most people, minding their business, working their jobs, raising their children, caring for elderly parents, enjoying their retirement, shopping, eating, watching TV, talking, reading, making their way through their days, are simply looking for a pleasant place to live. A safe, friendly and peaceful place to make their home, which includes, for many, stores to shop, nice places to drive or to walk, pleasant surroundings. And if that pleasant place includes, say, condos over storefronts at a San Francisco-facing promenade down at a redeveloped Alameda Point or live-work spaces in abandoned industrial buildings on the estuary, I think most people don't care about Measure A, an unsophisticated sledgehammer of a law, created in reaction to a crisis that has long since passed.
It is well within human ingenuity to craft laws that allow for the construction of apartments where it is appropriate and still protect handsome old houses. And it is folly to cling so tightly to a law passed out of fear and anger. It's time for Alameda to show that it can protect what is valuable about its past at the same time as it embraces the future.
Eve Pearlman also writes the Alameda Journal Blog, www.ibabuzz.com/alamedajournal.