One person sitting on a dais surrounded by others

      Alhambra City Council meeting on July 12, 2021 (File Photo – Ari G. Arambula)

      “The Villages” development project forced residents to worry about the future of Alhambra itself.

      By Ari Gutierrez Arambula

      For Alhambra residents “The Villages” posed a biblical “David and Goliath” match pitting residents against an international developer set on building a “city within a city”.  It started as a development of over 1,000 condo units making the project clearly too big, too tall, too crowded and it was at an unfortunate location as it would make a significant impact on traffic in an area already plagued with congestion.  Public interest and active engagement never waned – in fact; it grew stronger as the developers flexed their political ties.

      Residents organized and won

      It became clear to residents that it would be critical to increase public knowledge about the project.

      Residents leveraged their own skills to produce YouTube videos and publish editorials in the Pasadena Star News and Coloradooulevard.net and shared these through social media. Residents got the word out the old fashioned grassroots way: they printed fliers and canvased neighborhoods directly affected, and residents up and down Fremont put “Stop the Villages” lawn signs up in their front lawns. A website for the community was developed as a one-stop-shop for the public to get informed.  In short – residents got organized!

      Breaking out of geographic silos, residents crossed issue and district boundaries and found common ground in fighting this development project as it represents all that is wrong with development in Alhambra – political manipulation and self-serving greed at the expense of community and quality of life.

      “Engaging community members, keeping them informed and involved was one of the keys to the successful outcome,” explained Ms. Melissa Michelson.  “Collaborating with other community activist groups including Democratic Party leaders, Grass Roots Alhambra, the preservationists, the Old Town Alhambra neighbors, the college youth leaders, and so many more, really helped create a loud and unified voice on this issue,” she added. Neighbors from all parts of the city and neighboring cities chimed in with public comments and volunteered to get the word out.

      With the news of the highly toxic state of the development site, the City Council found “The Villages” project untenable.  On October 26, 2021, the City Council will meet again on this topic and put the last nail in its coffin.  However, there remain plenty of concerns for residents of Alhambra on which to keep track and stay engaged.

      A path toward an equitable Housing Plan

      Specifically, what are the next steps for the city’s inclusive housing ordinance, environmental and climate sustainability policies, zoning and the community informed General Plan? Will those continue to be politically manipulated to favor developer profits over preservation of community character and quality of life?  The answer, sadly, is yes.  It is clear that for the City Manager and her team, kowtowing to developer driven projects in Alhambra takes priority over clean sidewalks and first-time home owner support programs and revitalizing retail commerce on its Main Street.

      Why so many empty store fronts?

      “We are very concerned that East Main Street Commercial Corridor (EMCC) will be the next target for outsized high rise residential luxury condos that will cast a long dark shadow on the neighborhood,” states Marisol Grier, a lifelong resident of the San Gabriel Valley and property owner in the Lindaraxa community in Northeast Alhambra.  “Based on community meetings and one-on-one canvassing, we know neighbors prefer the city instead focus on revitalizing the commercial aspect of Main Street from Chapel Avenue to the San Gabriel border with an “Old Town Alhambra” themed development or other forms of commercial development that will increase services to residents and provide tax revenue to the city,” she added.

      Affordable Housing through ADU’s and duplexes

      Increased revenue from revitalized commercial zones in the downtown, East Valley Boulevard and East Main Street corridors could fund a land trust to help first-time home owners, establish an actual Planning Department at the City of Alhambra to expedite and help fund ADU’s (Accessory Dwelling Units or Granny Flats) that would increase the value and utility of existing residential properties.

      With the Governor’s recent signature on Senate Bill 9, residential property owners may now more easily convert the garage, add a 2nd floor or, if the size of the property allows, could add a 2nd home to the property or up to a total of 4 units. This approach would sharply increase housing, increase affordability of rental units and, with good local oversight, maintain the character of the city.

      What now?

      For Alhambra, it’s back to its roots. Now it’s time for the city to “clean house” again of abusive politicking and focus on growing the city in ways that honor its history and build on its past leadership in commerce and as an entertainment, retail and jobs hub.  Alhambra’s suburban tracts of quaint homes, like its views of the San Gabriel Mountains, are a treasure worth preserving for generations to come.

      The new Historic Preservation Commission has lots of catching up to do to identify structures that should be saved, restored or rehabilitated. Documenting the architectural history of the area will inform new development and commercial ventures such as the Old Town Alhambra proposal. In the meantime, residents should stand ready to regroup as needed to replace elected officials who are too easily swayed by developers, political contributions and dreams of higher office.

      Residents are urged to provide input on the first step toward Preservation policies by contributing to the historical survey ,  by tracking activities of the council, and by signing up for email alerts on topics of interest at the City’s agenda web page.

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      1. Linda Trevillian says:

        Well-written, informative article.

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