• A sign advertising a meeting next to a gate

      Proposed site of The Villages (Photo – Melissa Michelson)

      At the April 13 Alhambra City Council meeting, there were close to three hours of public comments, with most of the 53 comments expressing severe disapproval of The Villages development.

      By Melissa Michelson

      Then the councilmembers shared their concerns with the revised iteration of the Ratkovich Company’s hoped-for development. Rather than vote, they sent it back to negotiations to be presented on May 18, 2021.

      The initial negotiations sessions with a Council sub-group of Councilman Ross Maza and Councilwoman Adele Andrade-Stadler, in whose district the development would be located, took five meetings over six weeks between February 10 and March 16. The second round of negotiations since the last city council meeting took two more meetings, but the developer’s latest proposal to be discussed on May 18 has no significant changes.

      More cars on Fremont

      According to the traffic study the developers submitted in the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which Alhambra’s Planning Commission rejected in November 2020, the original 1,061 units would have added close to 7800 more cars a day to the street. The document stated the traffic and environmental impacts would be “significant and unmitigatable.” To date, there has not been a comparable traffic study with a reduced number of units.

      Instead, for the negotiated proposal, the developers are choosing to report the traffic predictions using Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) reporting instead of Level of Service (LOS), which is what Alhambra’s General Plan uses. This new way of looking at the traffic statistics now claims that “No significant impacts can be identified.”  Srikanth Chakravarth, Traffic Consultant for The Villages, told the city council on April 13 that to “provide a conservative analysis,” they went with the [VMT] modeling route, taking regional SCAG modelling to arrive at that VMT result.

      Council’s concerns about The Villages, Alhambra’s largest most controversial development proposal to date

      At the April 13 meeting, Councilwoman Katherine Lee, Councilman Jeff Maloney and Mayor Sasha Renee Perez explained why the development changes outlined in the first revised proposal were still not acceptable, while Councilwoman Adele Adrade-Stadler and Councilman Ross Maza again summarized their negotiations sessions. Maza seemed pleased with the negotiations that he had participated in leading up to April 13, and praised the efforts of the developer.

      The following table is best viewed online:

       First revise, presented to City Council April 13Concerns about the April 13 reviseWhat’s new in the second revise, to be presented May 18
      Number of units and parking spacesOn 16 acres of the existing 33 acres:

      230 luxury for-purchase townhouses

      545 for-rent apartments

      Total: 774 units (down from 836, which the developers reduced it to after the 1061 units was rejected by the Planning Commission)

      4,347 new parking spaces

      Councilman Maloney called the development “massive.”

      Councilwoman Lee expressed concern that every renter has access to car ports and not be forced to share with the existing office portion of the development.

       

       

      No change.
      Affordable Housing75 of 545 rental units reserved for tenants at Moderate Area Median Income level, which is about $65,000 a year.

      $1.5 million blank check to the city for any purpose.

      Councilwoman Lee The few units they are setting aside are at the ‘moderate’ income level and only the rentals, not the for-sale units. “Lifetime renters don’t have opportunities to purchase homes.”

      Councilman Maloney: “At the very minimum, their development should comply with the City’s affordable housing ordinance that was passed this year, which is 15% not 10% of the units.

       

      Mayor Sasha Rene Perez sees this development as “a rare opportunity.” She wants low-income affordable units to be included in this densely-populated development “to create diversity.” “There’s not going to be another development like this in Alhambra.” She said the developer should pay in lieu fees if they don’t provide enough affordable housing.

      Rather than an in-lieu fee, the developers are offering $1.5 million more, for a total of $3 million for the City to use at its discretion for any purpose in the future.

       

       

      Traffic

       

      The developer’s started to refer to VMT numbers instead of LOS, in order to provide a ‘conservative’ analysis. Without new data, their results changed from “significant and unmitigatable” impacts to “No significant impacts can be identified.”

      Two traffic lights proposed on the east side of the development with painted cross walks.

      Councilwoman Lee referred to Alhambra’s General Plan, which has been in the works for the last 3+ years and is a plan for the city for the next 20 years. She said in it, the Circulation System Performance uses LOS methodology, which needs to be no worse than a D, not E or F.  Thus, their development is inconsistent with Alhambra’s General Plan standards.

      Councilman Maloney wants a more in-depth traffic analysis for the number of units being proposed and how those numbers were arrived at, explained in a lay person’s language, not necessarily a VMT discussion.

      Mayor Perez also had concerns with the vagueness of the VMT traffic analysis, so suggested having a separate information session on VMT

      VMT calculations for 775 units, which a third-party City consultant (“Dudek”) will discuss it at May 18 meeting. This new Analysis Memo is not included in the Council’s packet nor is it available to the public prior to the meeting, which may constitute a Brown Act violation.
      Labor forceNothing mentioned.Mayor Perez wants to see 30% of the workers hired from local labor force, presumably referring to the construction phase but possibly also permanent employees on-site.The Villages developers will consider this. Nothing specified in the revised proposal.
      Open SpaceNo change from original 16 acres of ‘open space’ proposed in the original proposal.

      Open or ‘green’ space does not refer to contiguous park-settings. It can refer to bushes, decomposed granite walkways or landscaping.

      Councilwoman Lee “Green” space locations are unclear in the proposal – “Where is the 16-acre green space exactly?”

      Councilman Maloney What type of ‘open space’ is used within the now-proposed 16 acres of ‘green’ space? He tried to differentiate park space vs. open space and find out if the bulk of the 16 acres would be considered ‘outdoor green space’

      Community CenterCommunity room available to Alhambra residents through a reservation system; unclear at what hourly cost for rental or parkingCouncilwoman Lee: Where would it be, how large and how would the public reserve it? Answer: It will be in the North lot. No exact square footage, and reservation privileges haven’t been figured out yet.Not present in the sub-committee’s summary
      Shuttle to local rail transportationNot presentMayor Perez Councilman Maloney and Councilwoman Lee want the developer to provide a shuttle to local rail transportation (Metrolink and Gold Line)

       

      Developer is not willing to address this.
      Lack of Walkability

       

      Not present despite the public bringing up the issue that there’s nothing to walk or bike to in the industrial area where The Villages would be located. Furthermore, based on comps in the area, people that work on-site won’t be able to afford to live in the units, adding more cars to the streets. To date, the developer has not presented data supporting the walkability claim that the local workforce will want to or can live on-site and thus leave their cars behindCouncilwoman Lee: The developer’s walkability’ argument is weak, in particular about tenants taking public transportation. People won’t walk to CVS or Albertsons, the area isn’t conducive to walking with the train tracks right there, etc, and people will inevitably use their cars, she said.

      Councilman Maloney wants more walkability demonstrated and supported in their proposal

      Not addressed in the sub-committee’s summary
      Soil contaminationThe developer will install a vapor barrier at one corner of the property, a concrete cap under a parking structure and air quality testing before residents move in.Not discussed.Not addressed in the sub-committee’s summary

      Other un-addressed concerns and suggestions from the Council

      Councilmember Jeffrey Maloney wanted to know how this project would interface with the industrial area that it is located in. The Ratkovich and its partner Elite International Investment intend to build the units on the eastern side of the historic Braun factory, bordered by sunken train tracks to the south and Alhambra’s industrial district to the east.

      Also at the April 13 meeting, Mayor Perez suggested something never before brought up: a phased-in construction. She suggested starting with 350 units, do a traffic study once built, then address whatever traffic is there before it gets worse.

      What to expect on May 18?

      It is unlikely, given the many expressed concerns about the development, that the City Council will support this latest revision.

      The claim for walkability hasn’t been addressed, and a VMT Analysis Memo is not the same as a thorough traffic study. Referring to VMT methodology rather than to LOS is inconsistent with Alhambra’s General Plan.  As for a shuttle to rail transportation, there is currently only one bus line that runs north-south at the property, which is about three miles from the nearest Metro shuttle, and the ACT shuttle runs within city lines only. Alhambra doesn’t have any high-transit corridors.

      The most tangible change in the proposal is the added $1.5 million, which does not constitute an in-lieu payment for affordable housing. $3 million amounts to about two and a half months’ rent that would be collected from the rental units, using a low-ball amount of $2100 a month.

      The public is encouraged to review the City Council’s packet, and either email in their comments by 5pm May 18 to the City Clerk (lmyles@cityofalhambra.org) to be read aloud, or sign up to speak live during the meeting.

      > The full revised proposal and participation instructions.


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