• guys social distancing sitting on grass with signs

      A protest outside Alhambra City Hall on July 20, 2020 (Photo – Melissa Michelson)

      At its July 16 meeting, the Alhambra Planning Commission considered how the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, once adopted, would apply to The Villages, a 1,061 market-rate condo and apartment development at Fremont/Mission.

      By Melissa Michelson

      The issue is which one will be approved first. The Commissioners asked City staff to provide a summary of the affordable housing discussion for another meeting, including analysis of the nature of the set-aside and whether the ordinance should apply to both apartments and purchased property.

      On July 21, The Villages was on the agenda.  The Villages would be built on part of the 38 acres of a  Superfund-designated site of the former C.F. Braun industrial plant and would  potentially bring over 7,000 more cars daily to the neighboring streets, according to the Environmental Impact Report. The Report states that “the Project would result in significant and unavoidable impacts related to Air Quality… and Transportation” unless reduced to a total of 120 units.

      The developers have submitted a separate agreement to be negotiated with the City Council, suggesting a 55 of the 545 rental units be set aside for inclusionary housing.

      Not good enough – Protests and controversy

      Prior to the meeting, about 40 members of the public protested in front of City Hall, despite the meeting being virtual and City Hall being closed. They demonstrated against what they say is a conflict of interest in that Commissioner Suzi Dunkel-Soto, a realtor, could profit from the development if approved. They also called for postponing The Villages until the City finalizes its Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, rather than bypassing the City governance process with a side-agreement decided on by the five members of the City Council.

      Over 400 people have signed a community petition calling for a temporary hold on large scale developments in Alhambra, such as The Villages.

      Members of the public also expressed concern that the Planning Commission did not read all of the letters submitted by the public about the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, but instead read one to represent the rest. An Alhambra non-profit community group, Grassroots Alhambra, has filed a formal complaint with the Los Angeles County District attorney for potential Brown Act violations of the public’s due process rights.

      Two people holding a sign that says: No Side Deal

      Protesters outside of Alhambra City Hall (Photo – Melissa Michelson)

      Chipping away at public participation

      At the July 20 meeting, 158 people were present, including nine Commissioners and a dozen spokespeople for The Villages.

      Chair Allan Garcia suggested that the meeting end promptly at 10:30pm and that the public comment time be reduced from five to three minutes each. Commissioner Ron Sahu moved to change the order of the agenda so that the members of the public on hold waiting to speak could do so before deliberations and questions from the Commission to the developer, which would likely take the bulk of the meeting.

      118 letters had been submitted, in addition to the 133 letters from individuals and organizations previously submitted in connection with the Environmental Impact Report.  37 members of the public waited 3 ½ hours online to speak.

      Several Commissioners, including Ms. Dunkel-Soto and Mr. Antonio Gardea, suggested putting the letters in the record and not reading them aloud, but Commissioners Eric Garcia and Ron Sahu stated that they should be read aloud in order to replicate the process of an in person at City Hall where everyone could hear each other’s comments.  Midway through public comment, Commissioner Danny Tang suggested extending the amount of time back to five minutes; Chair Garcia did not make the adjustment.

      After the City staff introduced the topic, the Ratkovich developers presented a Powerpoint and video. Members of the public could watch the presentation from their own devices at home. The rest of the time was set aside for the public comment. The recorded meeting is available on the City’s website. The Villages is taking Alhambra by storm, according to the video produced by Emery Park Community Group.

      What’s next?

      Originally set for two meetings, there will be an extra meeting on August 17 for the oral reading of the 118 emails submitted as public comment for the July 20 meeting. The public again will have a chance to comment if new information is presented to the Commission. It is unclear if the meeting will be held virtually or in person.

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      1. Melissa says:

        The City considers it Superfund, as seen in this response to a resident’s concerns “…We highly recommend a MM/modification of MM for a HMCP in the event that previously unidentified contamination is discovered, as the site is included in a superfund and site conditions could change between now and when the project is implemented”

        Here’s information about the site being Superfund-designated: https://emerypark.wordpress.com/ground-water-contamination/

      2. Dominic says:

        This article is quite biased only shows one side and I would like to see the designation of this site as a superfund site because the list of sites does not have the property with the Ratkovich project. Try and do more holistic journalism please it looks better.

        • Robert Contreras says:

          Dominic – Melissa always writes biased articles for this publication. You will never see a positive article from her.

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