Development of “The Villages” raises serious questions about Alhambra – from our history of improper political influence, to the way we see our future.
By Chris Olson
Don’t be fooled into thinking this project will be approved with or without your involvement. There is a lot at stake here; it’s time you learn more and get involved with the future of our community. In particular, this project touches upon the issues of traffic and mobility, housing needs, dealing with pollution and its legacy – all of which affect the health and wellbeing of future generations.
A very large residential development is proposed for Fremont and Mission, on land that for several decades was restricted to industrial use. To gain permission for this land to be used for housing, the owner convinced Alhambra City Council in 2007 to rezone it (from industrial and office use) to include residential uses.
A second zoning change tripled the density of housing permitted on this parcel. In turn, this deal also tripled the value of the land for the owner. The act of building housing at this location will lead to many millions of dollars in profit for its owners and investors. This project is called “The Villages.”
It’s really tough to get clarity about what should happen with this land. Like so many other land use decisions, it represents a number of overlapping and sometimes competing needs. They include:
- Vehicle Traffic and Air Pollution
- Serious Health Risks Caused by Site Contamination
- Housing Density and Access to Affordable Housing
- Community Benefits Provided by the Property Owners to Offset Negative Impacts
Let’s break these down:
Traffic and Air Pollution
- If each of the units developed here has a single vehicle, a minimum of 775 vehicles will be added to one of the most congested and hazardous intersections in the city.
- This is not just a conversation about traffic jams, or the inability of nearby residents to exit their driveways during twice-daily rush hours — although that is a very real concern.
- This is also a conversation about air pollution, which sickens children with brake dust and causes asthma in humans of all ages.
Serious Health Risk to Residents
- Chemicals dumped into the soil at this site and other industrial and manufacturing sites throughout the SGV region have become part of the groundwater plume moving beneath this land.
- These toxic chemicals have worked their way to the soil surface by way of toxic vapors. Indoor spaces trap these gasses – and that means human beings breathe them in.
- The groundwater contamination and resulting toxic vapors are why the Environmental Protection Agency has designated this as part of the San Gabriel Valley Area 3 Superfund Site.
Housing Density and Access to Affordable Housing
- Unless new housing is developed in ways that are proportionate with community income levels, the problem will only get worse. Building luxury housing at The Villages doesn’t address the affordable housing crisis.
- The Villages fails to meet Alhambra’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, by providing at least 15% low-income housing or an in-lieu fee to build them elsewhere in the city.
Community Benefits Provided by the Property Owners to Offset Negative Impacts
- Balance and sustainability. Increasing density is both a blessing and a curse. Parks and green space improve the health of residents, young and old – and of our planet, as well. They are not a luxury, but a necessity for survival in a rapidly warming world.
- Let’s ensure our city leaders show Alhambrans that our access to healthy spaces is important. Let’s ensure developers don’t get deals while Alhambrans get an afterthought.
A decision on The Villages development will be made very soon by the City Council. A lot depends on your input. The outcome can be one of healthy buildings and people, efficient transportation, and meeting the true need for housing.
There’s a Zoom meeting scheduled for Tuesday night, April 13th at 6:00 pm. It’s a special meeting of the Alhambra City Council dedicated solely to this project. I’ve spoken out and submitted my comments on The Villages many times. I’m asking you to do the same. Sign up now to speak on Tuesday night or send your written comments to the City Clerk (before 5:00 pm on 4/13/21), so that they can be read into the record.
Here’s a link to Tuesday night’s agenda, which provides all the details you need on how sign up to speak on Item 1, how to submit your written comments, and how to watch and listen to the meeting on Zoom.
Chris Olson is a longtime resident of Alhambra, a member of the Alhambra Planning Commission, and a former candidate for City Council. She is employed as a fund development consultant and grant writer.
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