• a man in a hat holding a sign quationing a development.

      Residents protest in front of The Alhambra office campus — the site for proposed “The Villages” comprised of several 5-story condo buildings on an EPA Superfund Area (Photo – Ari Gutierrez Arambula)

      An Equitable Housing Plan Requires a NO Vote on “The Villages” Project.

      By Ari Gutierrez Arambula

      Alhambra’s history includes a forward-thinking approach to housing development in the San Gabriel Valley. From innovative water delivery to leadership in industry and economic development from its early days of vineyards and orange groves, and on to its role in the early industrial era.  Alhambra still plays an important role in transportation, jobs, and housing.

      Through community engagement workshops, we hear of the quaint bedroom community Alhambra has represented over the years. Its shopping district of yesteryear is legendary and its community entertainment venues including vaudeville theatres are fondly remembered.  However, it feels like Alhambra is losing its way.

      A developer’s Shangri-La

      Alhambra is becoming known as a developer’s Shangri-La. That is, a place where real estate developers run the table on city priorities and where the city’s elected and administrative leaders hold open the door to un-planned and un-restrained profiteering at the expense of the City’s historic role in the regional development of community and commerce and disregard of the negative environmental impacts to residents and their quality of life.

      An example is “The Villages” project at Fremont and Mission at the 710 stub. This project has been on the agenda for the City of Alhambra for years. In fact, it has been on track since 1999 when Mr. Ratkovich purchased the historic Braun Engineering building to convert it into a grand vision of a village within a city. Alhambra City Councils have supported the renovation of the Braun office park in various ways including real estate tax relief and “spot” zoning.

      However, it is clear Mr. Ratkovich’s vision is not aligned with the needs of Alhambra in terms of historical preservation, maintaining the character of the city, limiting the height and mass of buildings, mitigating traffic, and prioritizing green space and park areas for residents. The developer abuses the approval process by intentionally excluding low-income and affordable housing units for sale as per state mandates, known as the Regional Housing Needs Assessment program (RHNA), despite the City’s efforts.

      Too toxic, too tall, too crowded, too big

      Over years of public hearings and even one more last chance to adjust its proposal, the developer insists on a plan that is too toxic for our city – besides being actually toxic as an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) designated Superfund Site without a plan for cleanup.

      Residents are concerned too about the historical buildings and want assurance that new buildings complement the historical nature, style, and integrity of the 1920’s buildings.  Regrettably, Alhambra does not yet have a Historic Preservation Ordinance or Commission. Its historical structures are at risk of standing in the way of developers who do not hesitate to raze its history to create profit for investors. They also raze trees, as the 400+ mature trees recently “accidentally” felled by another developer.

      In addition to the project still being too large with way too many units, the project is also too big in terms of mass. To accommodate over 800 units, the resulting encroachment of 5-story buildings will be too tall for the area and too crowded for Alhambra. The building height plans do not fit Alhambra’s community character where multi-family housing is zoned at a maximum of 25 feet, typically 2 stories.

      A city of suburban “homes”

      While the suburb of Alhambra may be a short drive from downtown Los Angeles, Alhambra is not in the business of mirroring the density and character of the urban center. It is a city of suburban “homes”. (Emphasis added.)  Despite preferential spot zoning by previous councilmembers who have since been voted out of office, these allowances must not overrun the character of the city and the directives of its residents, as provided in the City’s General Community Plan.

      More than 800 new condominium, townhome and apartments units are slated for the immediate area through other development projects, have already been approved. This area is a nightmare commuter crossroads with those driving to cities east and north using the I-10 and I-710 – among the most congested freeways in the United States!

      As per the city’s own survey, rentals now exceed owned housing – the city should strive to maintain a balance by supporting home ownership including subsiding affordable housing and fast tracking ADU’s.

      Congestion and traffic management

      The Villages project disregards the limitations of the location as it pertains to traffic management on Fremont/Mission and Valley at the 710 stub. We know that congestion in this region is likely the worst in the San Gabriel Valley and so severe that the city has taken several mitigation efforts for years that have alleviated long wait lines and traffic accidents, but there is still a significant problem that will be made much worse – and the developer and City leaders know it.

      Public activity spaces

      The park space on The Villages’ specs fails to show play areas for young children, there is no dog park and there is no public activity space such as a performance stage or community center. Residents will have to drive elsewhere for recreation, shopping, eating and public gathering activities thereby adding to the traffic congestion not just during rush hours but evenings and weekends too.

      A “village” ironically unsustainable…

      Finally, the token community benefits offered by the developer fall short for the project size and negative impact. A project marketed as a “village” is ironically designed as unsustainable and would require considerable support by the City of Alhambra to create the marketed ambiance, development projects should include design elements such as solar panels, electric charging stations for cars, a car-sharing and ride sharing program, grey water recycling, on-site sundry provider, shuttle services to large shopping and employment centers to name a few – none of which are offered here.

      > The Alhambra City Council will take up the Villages item next on September 30, 2021.  The public may submit public comments by emailing the City Clerk at LMyles@cityofalhambra.org by 4:00 pm the day of the meeting.

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      1. Linda Trevillian says:

        One of the best and most concise articles I’ve read about this disastrous proposal.

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