•  council members listening to a virtual presentation

      Alhambra Councilmembers are briefed by the California Regional Quality Control Board regarding sample tests on The Villages work site, July 12, 21 (Photo – Ari G Arambula)

      Making good on threats to the city council, Wayne Ratkovich and his development partners are suing the City of Alhambra over the denial of its building permit application for The Villages of Alhambra (“The Villages”) market rate condominiums and rental apartments. Although the developer for years circumvented the city’s affordable housing mandate, it is now using the State’s Housing Accountability Act (“HAA”) in its complaint against the City of Alhambra.

      By Ari Gutierrez Arambula

      The lawsuit contends the city’s denial was inappropriate because The Villages included affordable housing. To buttress the lawsuit claims, the developer redesigned The Villages website and issued a press release stating the project was intended as affordable housing all along.

      Inclusionary Housing Ordinance

      In September 2020, the City of Alhambra adopted an “Inclusionary Housing Ordinance” that requires 15% affordable housing set-aside for developments of seven or more units with 9% to be set aside for low-income households and 6% for moderate-income households. This measure became necessary to comply with the State of California’s RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) mandated housing goals. Under 10-year planning cycles, each municipality is responsible to add housing based on a formula set regionally by SCAG (Southern California Association of Governments). Each of the 191 municipalities in the SCAG region struggles to meet the state mandated goals.

      The Villages Application Excluded Affordable Units

      However, “The Villages” filed its permit application in May 2017, before Alhambra’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance was adopted and did not include affordable housing in its application to build 1,061 residential units. It was not until the project was denied by the city’s planning commission in 2020 and 2021 that the city council subsequently formed one and then a second task force that finally secured some concessions from the developer including a 15% affordable housing allotment but for rentals only. Pressured by the RHNA numbers, it is clear city staff and council actually went over and above the call of duty for “The Villages” project.

      EPA Superfund Site

      The developer’s lawsuit makes little reference to the primary reason for the denial – the environmental hazards from the toxic ground contamination. The lawsuit calls governmental studies “…scientifically-unsound theories…” downplaying their significance and the critical role they had in the council’s final decision.

      The building site is part of an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Superfund Site, which means it has been designated by the federal government as a contaminated site that requires environmental cleanup of toxic waste. Based on the EPA measures set by the Biden Administration, the contamination levels of “The Villages” building site exceeded safety standards. The project is on land where 1920’s engineer C. F. Braun built the global headquarters for his post WWII oil refinery and petrochemical fuel development plants and melded giant lead pipes for large infrastructure projects.

      Public Opposition

      In its lawsuit, the developer states the city’s change of heart and eventual denial was prompted by public opposition about the project on issues such as sharp increases in traffic in an already highly traffic congested area and noncompliance of parking requirements. The developer claims the public’s concerns were “manufactured” and the City’s noncompliance rulings “fabricated”.

      Now What?

      The City of Alhambra was very thorough in its consideration of “The Villages” permit application. Clearly, it would have been beneficial to the city had it been able to count “The Villages” 790 units toward its new housing inventory. While there are many concerns with the project that the developer could address if it opts to try again, the most critical is the environmental cleanup.

      This legal filing by the Ratkovich group does not include a plan for clean-up of the site.  It does not include an affordable housing plan that is compliant with Alhambra’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance. It is nothing more than an extension of the Ratkovich group’s tactics to capitalize on Alhambra, no matter the costs to the taxpayers.

      The public is urged to keep track of government actions that may adversely affect their community through the public comment process. In Alhambra, keep track of public actions on this and other issues by signing up for email notifications of council and commission agendas agendas here.





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