Tag Archives: Housing

Let’s Have an East-Side City park in the Historic Benicia Arsenal !

Benicia moving to build apartment complexes on historic land in the Benicia Arsenal

Letter by Kathryn Reiss and Tom Strychacz of Benicia, July 20, 2022
[Editor: see additional supporting documentation below.  – R.S.]

We are 25-year residents of Jefferson Street, and we are extremely concerned about two large apartment complexes threatening Officer’s Row in the Historic Benicia Arsenal. The city intends to develop two sites on our street—yet both sites of these planned developments are on the National Historic Register of Places, and as such are not projects that should be part of SB35. The city has a charge to protect the Historic Arsenal and Officer’s Row, and NOT throw it under the bus in its quest to provide much-needed affordable housing. We request that the Historic Benicia Arsenal in its entirety be removed from Housing Element Opportunity listings, and we hope that other residents of Benicia will write to the city to make their views known. These protected lands of national historical significance should not be part of SB35 development, and the city has a duty to protect the area.

Please consider:

  • “1451 Park” is a project on the corner of Jefferson and Park that intends to build several large three-story apartment buildings on a lot where the army’s Officer’s Club once stood. The current plan is not in keeping with the scale and appearance of the existing homes on Jefferson Street. There is room for 4 or 5 cottages on the 1451 Park plot, if designed to be in scale and appearance with the existing homes. It would be excellent if homes on this lot truly were all affordable housing. Additionally, there must be a safety setback from Park, which is a busy road with truck traffic whizzing through the industrial park.

Why cottages, front porches and picket fences? Because this “Officers’ Row” is a beautiful street of carefully maintained and preserved historical homes from the mid-19th century and is a treasure for our city. The homes are frequently featured in the city’s Historical Homes tours. The street has been used in television commercials. It is considered a special street, and one that our City Conservation Plan vows to protect and conserve.

Therefore, ANY new construction must fit in appearance with the historic homes already on Jefferson Street—just as the new-builds constructed in the 1980s were designed to fit in seamlessly among the 19th century homes. Residents on Jefferson Street, whether living in a 19th or 20th century home, have been under the restrictions and guidelines of the Historic Preservation/ Historical District plan when making any changes or updates to our properties. The city has been quite strict in enforcing the guidelines—rightfully so—in order to preserve the integrity of this Historic district. So the city needs to be equally stringent in any new development.

Thus, any new development on 1451 Park must respect the integrity of our city’s Conservation Plan, while still providing several affordable homes in the beautiful historic Arsenal neighborhood. The new builds must fit in rather than stand out like the proverbial sore thumbs. The east side of town already has many townhouses, condos and apartment buildings — and other areas of Benicia need to absorb their fair share rather than transgress on historic Jefferson Street.

  • “Jefferson Ridge” is a project slated for the second block of Officer’s Row—Jefferson Street—on the undeveloped land adjoining and across from three 19th Century Mansions. These were the homes of the highest-ranking military officers and–continuing along the street–the impressive Commanding Officer’s Mansion. The Clock Tower at Johansson Square completes this collection of magnificent historic buildings.

This collection of buildings atop rolling hills and affording views over the Carquinez Strait is the only property of its kind in the state of California. It is considered of value to the entire United States—having earned its place on the National Register of Historic Places as a Civil War Era relic of national importance. Benicia has a responsibility to protect it. We urge the city to research and consider other spaces for the necessary affordable housing required by SB35 without ruining forever the historic lands already on the National Register. The protection of the Historic Benicia Arsenal is not only a city issue; it is a state and national issue.

Rather than build on this land with its sweeping views of the hills, the port, and the Carquinez Strait, we request that the city turn it into a much-needed east-side park. Its open spaces were once enjoyed by countless visitors and dignitaries—even President Ulysses S. Grant– and it should continue to be enjoyed that way by future generations. Families living on this under-served side of town deserve a beautiful park—one for all residents of our city to enjoy. What a draw such a park would be for out-of-town day-trippers as well, who would then stay to dine at First Street restaurants and shop at First Street shops.

Even without a proper city park on this side of town, the Benicia Arsenal land has already become a de facto park for the lower east side. Picnickers, dog-walkers, bike riders make daily use of the land. Wedding photographers are often seen staging shots with the imposing Clock Tower and elegant Commanding Officer’s mansion in the background. The Jefferson Street Mansion is a popular wedding venue that would be put out of business entirely if the land around it were to become a high-density apartment complex housing hundreds of residents.

Additionally, the ten-fold increase in traffic and parking will cause mayhem and safety concerns for the narrow streets in the area. And the water needed for such a high-density development draws on resources California simply does not have.

To conclude: There is a time and a place for affordable housing—and though the time is now, the place cannot be the Historic Benicia Arsenal. Other areas of town can and must be found for development, and there are many areas that would serve without ruining forever our city’s Civil War Era gem of national significance. The city of Benicia should stand as stewards for our historical treasures—not allow them to be lost forever.

Losing such an irreplaceable resource causes irreparable harm. There is no going back once historic lands are developed. Therefore, we fervently ask that 1451 Park be developed in keeping with the other houses on Jefferson Street, and we ask that Jefferson Ridge be preserved as an east-side park where our city’s heritage is honored and where all residents can enjoy the special beauty of a bygone era.


Kathryn Reiss and Tom Strychacz

Kathryn Reiss is a Benicia author.  See her online presence at https://www.kathrynreiss.net/

Tom Strychacz is a Benicia artist.  See his online presence at https://www.tomstrychaczart.com/

Documents opposing the development, by Marilyn Bardet
City of Benicia documents


Benicia Petition: STOP approval of 163 condos and apartments on Jefferson Street’s historic Officers’ Row

September 6, 2021

Benicia Arsenal Park Task Force petition would preserve Jefferson Street Officers’ Row

Hello Friends for Benicia,

Marilyn Bardet, Benicia

As a member of the Benicia Arsenal Park Task Force [BAPTF], I’m asking for your help to protect from density housing development the last precious open spaces along Jefferson Street’s Officers’ Row that date back to the Civil War era. These landscapes are central to the character and 19th century ambiance of the Arsenal Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On this Labor Day, I hope you can take a moment to read our petition and consider signing it to save these heritage sites from avoidable destruction.

>> Petition >> STOP approval of 163 condos and apartments on Jefferson Street’s historic Officers’ Row! · Change.org

The Benicia Arsenal is central to the history of the City of Benicia from its earliest days. We believe these former military grounds deserve to become Arsenal Park for the benefit of all, to honor Benicia’s unique place in state and U.S. history, and, not least, for sake of the beauty and calm these landscapes – maintained and gardened by the army for 104 years – still offer in the midst of our industrialized lower Arsenal area.

An Arsenal Park would protect our City’s unique heritage and represent our legacy for future generations: it would be a magnet within District C for the leisurely enjoyment of residents and tourists alike. It would be central to development of heritage tourism, as envisioned by the Benicia General Plan, to derive economic benefit from our historic resources.

While we strongly support creating affordable housing in Benicia, we know there are other available parcels in town that would provide suitable and feasible locations for infill density residential. We do not need to sacrifice the heart of the Arsenal Historic District for only a few affordable housing units within a massive “market rate” condo development!

For more about the Arsenal and District C, please visit our website <www.yesbeniciaarsenalpark.com>

If you sign the petition, thank you for your support of this good cause! You can help get the word out by circulating the petition to friends and neighbors, and by sharing the link to our website.

Let’s aim high, as always, together!

🙂 Marilyn

Click here to sign the petition!

Good explanation of requirements for coming expansion of housing stock in Benicia

The following article from SFWEEKLY gives an excellent background on recent steps toward dealing with the Bay Area housing shortage, but it doesn’t give any info about Benicia or Solano County.  I asked Benicia Mayor Steve Young for a brief statement on how this affects us.  I’ll start with the Mayor’s clarifying response.  [Note that this issue will come up at tomorrow’s Benicia City Council meeting, Agenda Item 14.C, TWO-STEP REQUEST TO CONSIDER CHANGES TO INCLUSIONARY HOUSING ORDINANCE.]

Mayor Young: What this means for Benicia

Benicia Mayor Steve Young
The State of California has determined that many cities, like Benicia, have lagged significantly in the approval and development of housing, particularly affordable housing.
While the City is not being required to develop the housing ourselves, we must (under new State Law) provide enough properly zoned land to allow for it.  We currently do not have enough such zoned land to meet the new increased expectations.
While our previous goals were in the low hundreds, we actually produced very few affordable units (less than a dozen), and the new RHNA expectations are now in the 7-800 unit range.  Failure to allow for the production of such housing could lead to financial penalties, including State transportation monies we use for street maintenance and repair.

Bay Area Takes Step Toward Major Housing Growth

A bureaucratic meeting of the Association of Bay Area Governments paves the way for S.F., Silicon Valley, and many exclusive suburbs to plan for…

More cranes where that came from. (Photo: Mark Schwettman/ Shutterstock)

It’s simple, really.  As part of the sixth RHNA cycle, the HCD gave a housing allocation to the MTC, which worked with the HMC to create a growth blueprint for ABAG — and the newly-strengthened HAA means said housing could actually get built.

Sorry… Did we lose you there?

For all the non-housing wonks in the audience, here’s a translation: the cities and counties of the Bay Area must change their zoning laws to allow for the construction of 441,000 new homes between 2023 and 2031. A Thursday night vote by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) made that result all but certain, although there will be some continued debate about where in the Bay Area all of those homes should go.

The Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), a recurring, bone-dry planning process, has quietly become the front line of the Bay Area’s housing wars. Its hyper-bureaucratic nature and its long time horizons, make it more difficult to understand than high-profile housing production efforts like Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 50, or the more modest housing production package that failed in the legislature last year. But over time, the RHNA process could be just as transformative as SB 50, thanks to a law Wiener shepherded through the legislature in 2018 with little fanfare. Far from being the “Sisyphus of housing legislation,” as he was recently described in CityLab, Wiener and his allies in the YIMBY movement are starting to look more like Zeus, raining policy lightning bolts on expensive coastal cities from their perch in the state capitol.

RHNA Grows Teeth

RHNA (pronounced ree-na), also known as the Housing Element, is the main lever the state government has to push cities to build enough housing to keep up with job and population growth. In eight-year cycles, the department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) allocates a certain number of homes to each major metropolitan area in California, organized into four affordability levels: very low income, low income, moderate income, and above moderate income.

Each metropolitan area has their own planning organization — in the nine-county Bay Area, it’s the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) working with planners from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) — that distributes the state’s housing allocation among the cities and counties in the region.

But this cycle was different, thanks to SB 828, the 2018 law Senator Wiener masterminded. The law beefs up the methodology used to determine each region’s housing allocation, accounting for previous under-production of housing, as well as areas where home prices are rising faster than wages, among other considerations. The result is that the upcoming cycle’s RHNA allocations are multiple times greater than the current cycle, which spans 2014-2022. The Southern California Association of Governments’ (SCAG) housing allocation more than tripled from about 400 thousand to about 1.3 million. ABAG’s allocation merely doubled, from 187,990 homes to 441,176.

Of the Bay Area’s allocation, 26 percent of new homes must be for very low income households, 15 percent for low income, 17 percent for moderate income, and 42 percent for above moderate income.

Plan Adopted

Since that allocation came down from the state in June, planners at the MTC have been working on distributing those planned new homes among cities and counties. In October, planners added an “equity adjustment” to the methodology intended to combat racial and economic segregation, combined with their existing mandate to plan for housing near jobs and transit.

On Thursday, that plan was “adopted” by the ABAG board, which is led by Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin, and includes elected officials from around the region, including San Francisco Supervisors Rafael Mandelman and Gordon Mar, by a vote of 29 to 1, with 3 abstentions. Before it is officially certified, the plan will be reviewed by the state, and individual cities will be allowed to appeal their allocations.

So here’s what the latest, not quite final, RHNA maps look like:

Increase in households by city over the 2023-2031 RHNA cycle. (Photo: MTC)  [Note symbol for Benicia Bnc]
Number of new units by city over the 2023-2031 RHNA cycle. (Photo: MTC)  [Note symbol for Benicia Bnc]

San Francisco needs to plan for a 22 percent increase in households, or 82 thousand more units, between 2023 and 2031. That’s up from an allocation of about 29 thousand homes during the 2014-22 cycle.

Other Bay Area cities slated to see significant household growth include Emeryville, Millbrae, Colma, Brisbane, Mountain View, Santa Clara, and Milpitas. However, the most dramatic changes could come in smaller, wealthier bedroom communities on the leafy fringes of major cities, many of them in Marin and Contra Costa counties. These communities were used to getting paltry RHNA allocations. Marin’s allocation of 14,285 is 21 times higher than the previous RHNA cycle.

Not only were many wealthy, politically powerful suburbs able to get away with minuscule housing goals from the state (last cycle, Beverly Hills’ allocation was 46, this time around it’s over 3,000), cities frequently refused to provide permits for homes the state said they were required to produce. No longer.

In September, the state released a memo outlining the effect of several recent laws including Wiener’s SB 35 and East Bay’s Sen. Nancy Skinner’s SB 167, that strengthen the decades old Housing Accountability Act (HAA). These laws will make it much harder for city governments to reject housing projects that comply with zoning — zoning that must be changed to allow for the amount of housing set forth in each jurisdiction’s RHNA allocation. Legal watchdog groups like CaRLa and YIMBY Law have emerged to make sure that cities follow these laws. Governor Newsom’s most recent budget proposal includes $4.3 million for a Housing Accountability Unit to do much the same thing.

All that is to say that even though there is no guarantee that all 441,000 homes in this RHNA allocation will get built — they probably won’t — there are measures in place to ensure every city does its best to try.


While RHNA receives little media attention, these changes have not been without controversy among those in the know.

Many leaders and planners in suburbs that have seen virtually no new housing construction in decades are not thrilled about what lies ahead. In practice, abiding by RHNA will require cities to make zoning changes similar to those proposed by state laws like Wiener’s SB 50. Except this way, local officials, not Wiener, will be poised to take the heat from change-averse residents.

This is the case in San Francisco, too. Short of allowing a couple dozen Salesforce-tower sized apartment buildings, it’s hard to imagine how the city can meet its RHNA goals without upzoning single family areas. If the hoopla following Heather Knight’s latest Chronicle column on this exact issue is any indication, that will be a politically fraught process.

At the Thursday meeting, many voiced concern that these housing goals would be impossible to achieve in the allotted time frame. Mayor Pat Eklund of Novato, the sole ABAG board member to vote no, brought up a controversial study by the Embarcadero Institute that questions the RHNA methodology and suggests the state is asking the Bay Area to produce far more homes than it needs. Many urban planning academics dispute the Embarcadero Institute’s data.

There are also concerns about the impacts that so much housing development could have on low income communities of color, especially in the Bay Area’s big cities. During public comment, Peter Papadopoulos with the Mission Economic Development Agency said, “This proposal will flood S.F. and other urban core communities with additional market rate housing burden, on top of preexisting harms already endured… This proposal currently doesn’t go past tinkering around the edges of equity and it will have grave harmful impacts if left unchanged.” (The Supervisors have the power to determine where new housing in the city is allowed to be built, whether in gentrifying or wealthy areas.)

San Francisco has historically met its RHNA goals for above moderate income housing production, while falling short in the other categories, especially moderate income, since there are more subsidies available for building low-income housing. However, the city’s RHNA goals in all income categories for the forthcoming cycle are now much higher.

Fernando Martí of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, another group that has historically been skeptical of increased market rate development in San Francisco, struck a different tone. “It is not perfect,” Martí said of the RHNA housing allocations with the equity adjustment, but “this is a baseline to begin to support racial and social equity across the region.”

This piece has been updated to correct an inaccurate transcription of Peter Papadopoulos’ comment at the ABAG meeting, and an inaccurate description of how much greater the new RHNA allocations are compared to current allocations.