• a street with shops on both sides

      The City of Alhambra, through its draft Housing Element, recommends the Downtown Business District extend east to Granada Ave to accommodate high-rise condominiums (Photo – AEGE production studios)

      At its August City Council meeting concerned residents expressed concerns on rumored high-rise condo development projects for the East Main Street Commercial Corridor.

      By Ari Gutierrez Arambula

      Residents have consistently recommended an economic development plan for East Main Street that features an Old Town Alhambra theme. Developers seem to be planning projects that are not in compliance with the existing land use zoning ordinance that limits development to commercial only for East Main Street from Chapel Avenue to Champion Place– specifically no hotels, motels or residential developments are allowed.

      Subsequently, the City of Alhambra posted on its website a draft Housing Element to the City’s Community Plan. It recommends the Downtown Business District extend east to Granada Avenue:

      Alhambra residents have requested a moratorium for at least 45 days so that the study’s public engagement process may be formally conducted and the study completed so that it can be used as a guide for development of the area and of the specific projects.

      Alhambra’s Council will open discussion on both these issues, Item 2 and Item 4 respectively, on Monday, September 13, 2021 at 6:00 pm via Zoom. Members of the public who wish to submit brief public comments on these topics to be read aloud during the Council meeting should do so by emailing the City Clerk at LMyles@cityofalhambra.org by 4:00 pm Monday.

      There are a number of reasons Alhambra residents have requested a moratorium on development including:

      1. Commissioned Studies are Incomplete
        The staff recommendations and plans have not been presented in a properly noticed public hearing setting and are therefore incomplete.
      2. A Specific (Development and Design) Plan is still needed
        To leverage the history and role of Alhambra in the economic development of the region and buoy the downtown business district the community’s residents have suggested development of a themed commercial district on the East Main Street Commercial Corridor through a “specific plan” to develop an Old Town Alhambra businesses district, as the cities of South Pasadena, Monrovia, Pomona, Temecula and so many others have done.
      3. The Housing Element component of the Community General Plan is Incomplete
        As per Item 2 on today’s agenda, the Housing Element study was noticed and presented for tonight’s meeting for the first time – its public comment period should actually begin today.  As per the website posting, the 30-day comment period has not yet concluded and residents’ feedback has not yet been incorporated into the plan.
      4. There are too many limitations on the public engagement process
        The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the public engagement process significantly for all aspects of governing.
        As a result, residents are left out or have a diminished voice in the “public hearing” process.  For example, at the recent Zoom “public meeting” presented by the consultant – out of 30 attendees, the majority were city employees, developers, brokers or paid consultants with only a handful of non-conflicted members of the public.
      5. Historically informed design elements for new and updated buildings are missing
        That staff report included as part of today’s agenda acknowledges a need for determination of design plan for the East Main Street Commercial Corridor, which extends from Chapel Avenue to Champion Place. Critically, the East Main Commercial Corridor is naturally bounded by the San Pasqual Wash and Alhambra Wash. Besides the need to preserve and/or refurbish historic buildings in this area, it is critical also to preserve and leverage the natural resources inclusive of the historic zone including actual use of the Wash on each end for water storage and natural green space.
      6. Prioritize Preservation of Natural Resources
        The majestic view of the San Gabriel Mountains is an important part of the Alhambra landscape that brings value and quality of life to the community. As residents have frequently cited, preserving views of the mountains must be an articulated priority of the Housing Element and a specific development plan for the East Main Street Commercial Corridor.  Buildings in the historic East Main Street Commercial Corridor, with the exemption of existing church and historic structures, should not exceed two stories in height 25’.  Building designs should value shade, breeze and heat control as historic buildings, such as the funeral chapel at Main and S. Almansor does.  Likewise, preservation and use of the natural water reservoir that made Alhambra famous and independent and makes the soil rich with moisture and nutrients must be articulated as a protected natural resource.
      7. Climate Change Considerations
        The weather extremes that California and the United States have experienced require the City of Alhambra to incorporate environmental considerations. This is the opportune time to incorporate climate change considerations in the Housing Element including the East Main Street Commercial Corridor specific plans including requirement of “green” building elements and features.  These may include heat reducing white or garden roofs, solar panels, water conservation devices, plug-in stations for electric and hybrid vehicles, car and bike sharing programs, convenient access to public or shared transportation and pedestrian friendly structures that include safe passage, shade and seating.
      8. Plan to Keep Shopping Dollars Local
        Residents have expressed concerns on the overabundance of vacant storefronts in Downtown Alhambra and the East Main Street Corridor.
        The economic development plan for downtown Alhambra, the East Main Street Commercial Corridor and other commercial centers should be pedestrian and public transportation friendly and incentivize visitors to shop, eat and entertain themselves and their family and friends in Alhambra, residents have called for a more intentional curation of shops, restaurants and shops for the East Main Street Commercial Corridor and regularly scheduled evening and special event activities that will draw local and regional neighbors.  These ideas offered by residents have not yet been communicated formally to city staff and consultants
      9. Local Hiring, Living Wages and Affordable Housing
        These concepts are interrelated and should be a cornerstone of the Housing Element update and inform building and economic development in the Downtown, East Main Street Commercial Corridor, East Valley and other commercial and housing developments. Specifically, just as the inclusive housing ordinance has been established, so should requirements for local hiring and living wages.  These policies for new development should be base requirements for all development projects.

      Affordable housing development should be equally distributed among city council districts and sufficiently supported with human and economic infrastructure.

      Old Town Alhambra is a grassroots, resident-led movement to recapture Alhambra’s quaint small town feel, re-energize its shopping district, and develop new gathering spaces for neighbors near and far. For more information call 626-487-6849. For a complete text of this abbreviated article, go to: facebook.com/OldTownAlhambra.

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