• A sign advertising a meeting next to a gate

      Proposed site of The Villages (Photo – Melissa Michelson)

      “Is this their best proposal?” Alhambra public tells City Hall what they think about The Ratkovich Company’s latest proposal on “The Villages”

      By Melissa Michelson

      At the Monday, March 22, 2021, Alhambra Citry Council meeting, Councilmembers Adele Andrade- Stadler and Ross Maza summarized what was discussed at their five meetings with the Ratkovich Company representatives and city staff.

      What had been on the table:

      • The City’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance
      • Density
      • Four new intersections
      • A park at former Lowe’s site (13 acres across the street from the site)
      • A dog park somewhere in the city
      • Reinforcing right of way over trucks
      • Future indemnifications to environmental liability
      • Electric Vehicle program and charging stations
      • Electric-for-lower build
      • LOS vs. VMT traffic methodology
      • Pedestrian safety
      • Community needs and compensation for the city

       What made it onto the negotiated proposal:

      • 775 total luxury units (230 for-sale; 545 rentals)
      • 10% (75 rental units) set aside for moderate income housing, rentals only
      • $1.5 million for the City of Alhambra to use as it wishes
      • A community center on their site for public and residents’ use
      • Two traffic lights with pedestrian crosswalks on the east side along Date Ave.
      • 16 acres of open space, open to the public, though unclear where.

      Not stated is:

      • where the open space would be located,
      • how much they would charge for the public to use the community center, and
      • how traffic would be mitigated, if at all.

      It is also unclear how the “Vehicle Miles Travelled” methodology to measure traffic yielded “no significant impacts” to traffic, when the full traffic study of the Environmental Impact Report identified “significant and unmitigable impacts.”

      Councilwoman Katherine Lee: “Is this their best proposal?”

      Before hearing from the public about their thoughts on the proposal, Ratkovich Company spokesperson Megan Moloughney, who is both Senior Development Manager for the Ratkovich Company and Vice President of the Alhambra Chamber of Commerce, presented a summary.

      In addition to breductions of total number of units and a reduction of set-aside affordable housing for moderate income residents, the developers offer to plant 600 trees on the 16-acre section of the new build, though it was unclear what kind of trees.

      Concern over what developers do with existing trees as they make way for luxury condos is nothing new to Alhambra. Nine blocks away, a similar promise was made to the City in 2017 by St. Clair developers when requesting permission to raze 265 mature trees on their 11-acre site at Valley/Marengo called “Woodhaven” to build 124 luxury units. Only palm trees have been planted

      The Ratkovich developers offered to deal with the soil contamination by installing a vapor barrier in the corner unit and test it once residents move in. Their approximately 33-acre development property sits on designated EPA Superfund area.

      Residents are not impressed, cite developer bullying

      Raul Barrera, who lives off of Fremont, decried the currently problematic traffic on Fremont and took issue with Malougney’s stating that $1.5 million would take care of the city’s needs. He said it’s laughable to believe that the two crosswalks on the east side of the development would be used at all, since the adjacent area is industrial and not a walkable area, and he blamed the Ratkovich Company for refusing to make reasonable concessions saying, “If the Ratkovich Company wants to be part of this community, they should respect our will.” He urged the City Council to “see through this partial agreement and reject the proposal.”

      Joe Soltero, long term resident, called The Villages “a potential monstrosity,” and warned the City Council not to be bullied by the developers. He said he’d move out of Alhambra if this development gets built.

      Karla Zombro, homeowner in Midwick Tract, echoed Soltero’s outrage at the developer, saying that “In the actual negotiations, they are bullying our town.” She felt the council have made a good-faith effort to negotiate, but that the developer “just isn’t budging”.  She raised concerns about many traffic accidents that have occurred in her neighborhood as frustrated drivers veer off of Fremont’s bumper to bumper traffic and speed through the side streets. “Traffic is a life and death issue on Fremont,” she said, having witnessed four accidents in the last year.

      Adam Bray-Ali, another Alhambra resident, didn’t agree that The Villages would be in what the developers tout a “walkable community.” He believed this development would require car traffic to and from the property, and hasn’t seen any proposed plan that would address getting cars off the street, saying the traffic signals and crosswalks on Date wouldn’t aid the Fremont traffic.

      Ari Gutierrez, resident, said “The profit-making vision [of the developers] is not aligned with the needs of Alhambra” in terms of density, traffic needs and historic character, and referred to the developer’s designs of 5-story buildings. Residents will have to drive elsewhere for work, for recreation and for shopping, she said, as she shared her disapproval of the mega-project, “marketed ironically as a village.”

      Michael Lawrence, another long-time Alhambra resident, said, “The EIR, using the LOS analysis confirms that there will be significant and unmitigable impacts at major intersections even at the revised 775 units. Thus, leaving out the Level of Service analysis out of this staff report is misleading,” because the city’s attorney has confirmed during the Planning Commission proceedings last year that both the VMT analysis and the City’s standard intersection-based Level of Service (LOS) analysis are required.

      “How can the council make important decisions when they are not given accurate information from staff?” – Resident Michael Lawrence

      Business community wants The Villages

      Only two members of the public spoke in favor:

      John Tilley, third generation owner of Shakey’s Pizza on Valley Boulevard, praised Wayne Ratkovich for renovating the Braun Facility, and supports the development because it would bring more diners to Shakey’s, saying he preferred the original project density of 1,061 units.

      Sharon Gibbs, president of Alhambra Chamber of Commerce, spoke in favor of the development, praising the Ratkovich Company as a “professional partner” for working with the city to make the ‘best possible design’ for the city.

      $1.5 million is “chump change”

      None of the residents who spoke were impressed with the developer’s offer to give the City a $1.5 million blank check.

      Lawrence called the $1.5 million “chump change” in light of this billion-dollar development.

      Bray-Ali called the $1.5 mil a “token number” and reminded the Council that The Ratkovich Company took a $400,0000 tax reduction every year, and over 4 years, they’ve reduced city income by $1.6 million. He likened that to the developers stealing money away from the city’s funding.

      $1.5 million is roughly equal to the amount of two of their for-sale units.

      “Deal” or Proposal?

      Whether the document was a deal or a proposal was a point of contention throughout the night.

      At the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Sasha Renee Perez assured the public that despite the proposal referring to “agreed-upon deal points,” which confused and may have disenfranchised the public from commenting, neither councilperson on the negotiations sub-committee had decided how they will vote on this item.

      During public comment, Alhambra resident Michael Lawrence complained about a mass-email sent out by the Ratkovich Company, and the language reference to ‘agreed upon deal points” that implied there was some kind of side deal. He demanded to know who was responsible for writing the proposal in that way.

      At the end of the meeting, Councilwoman Katherine Lee, was also not pleased that developer touted the document as a “deal,” and told Ms. Maloughny to correct the record in future promotions to use the more accurate term of a “proposal” rather than a “deal” – to which, the Ratkovich Company executive replied that they had put out their communications based on what the city staff had written.

      To be continued…

      The public hearing and deliberations will continue on April 13, 6:00 pm, with the sole item of The Villages on the agenda.  It is possible that the Council will vote on the proposal.

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