The future of Alhambra's city manager — and Alhambra Place
After more than 20 years at Alhambra’s top job, City Manager Julio Fuentes will be leaving to take the same position in Santa Clara. Fuentes’s job is similar to a CEO, rather instead of managing a corporation he considers how to bring in revenue for the city and oversees all of Alhambra’s departments, from police and fire to the library and community services. Fuentes sat down with Alhambra Source at City Hall last month and told us about the accomplishments that have made him proudest over the decades, including developing Main Street and the new public library. He also answered the question many of our readers have asked: “What’s going on with Alhambra Place?,” and shared why he will miss this city and its residents.
What are the three accomplishments of which you’re most proud during your time as city manager?
Probably number one is economic development, specifically a lot of the work in the Downtown. We’ve done some retail, restaurant, and entertainment work, as well as housing development. The Downtown has to a certain degree been revitalized.
Number two would have to be the library project next door. We’ve had well over a million people visit the library so far. The patron use and educational opportunities offered to the community are just incredible. We’re really proud of that project.
And finally, we built a water treatment facility a few years ago. We run most of our well water through the facility and the water gets treated. It gives us more than a level of assurance that the water quality that we’re sending out to the customers —residents and the business people in Alhambra — is very outstanding.
Alhambra Place has been almost empty since 2009, when Mervyn’s closed in the plaza on Main Street and Garfield Avenue. Many of our readers have complained about the vacancies and called the area a “eye sore” in Alhambra. What’s next for Alhambra Place?
I wish I knew at this point. The issue right now is that the property is for sale, but what the owners want in terms of property value is much different than what the retail development communities are willing to pay.
It isn’t because the city hasn’t done anything to move the project forward. I can’t tell you how many phone calls, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dealt with the brokers, and now I’m dealing with the owner himself. I was on a call this morning with a very well known developer in California who’s trying to buy the property. The city was even looking at contributing some money towards the sale and we have not been able to curb that gap. It may be a little too significant at this point. So I don’t know what will happen. Something has to give.
In the old days we had redevelopment. Let’s say the property owner wanted $200 a foot for his property and the market would only pay $150 a foot for the property. The Redevelopment Agency would make up that $50 difference. Well the agency doesn’t exist anymore. You’re going to start to see a reduction in development opportunities just because of that. And we’re facing that right now with Alhambra Place.
What are you looking forward to accomplishing in Santa Clara?
Santa Clara is an incredible community. They’re very strong in their development and they’re very business friendly and proactive. I think I was attracted to it because the way they do business and operate is very consistent with what Alhambra has done for many years. I always said if I were going to leave Alhambra, it would have to be for something that was equally good or possibly better. I’m lucky to have worked in Alhambra and be leaving for another community that is very conscientious about their residents and businesses.
You are receiving a significant pay raise at your new job and will be earning a base salary of $290,000 a year, making you one of the top 10 paid city managers in the country. What do you think is an appropriate salary for a city manager and why?
A lot of it is based on the market, level of experience, and level of accomplishment. I’ve been a city manager for 25 years. My background and accomplishments — the fiscal balance of this city, economic development, and capital work that we’ve done not only here but also in the other cities I’ve managed, Pomona and Azusa — basically set what I am ultimately going to receive at my next opportunity.
What Santa Clara has offered me is in line with what the former manager was earning. She was outstanding and achieved a lot for the community.
There have been a lot of retirements in our industry. A lot of people with a lot of experience have decided to go fishing, play tennis, golf, and relax because they’ve worked hard and they’ve earned it. But I have elected not to do that. So I’m probably one of the more experienced managers in California. That puts me into a higher salary category.
I’m thankful for what I earned in Alhambra and I’m grateful for what Santa Clara is going to pay me. But I guarantee you, they’re going to expect me to be successful and deliver. That’s ok, that’s exactly how I work. I don’t go anywhere and watch the grass grow. I am very proactive.
What is your favorite place in Alhambra and what will you miss the most?
I love everything about this city. Where do I begin?
I like going down to the Downtown on a Friday night and watching people who come into the city. I see a lot of my neighbors or people I know. My wife and I were down at Charlie’s Trio on a recent Friday for dinner and I could just feel the energy and the vibe. People were walking around and they were having a great time.
When I first came here in 1992, I went to the corner for lunch. There was a little restaurant called Rosa’s. You could buy a homemade hamburger, bag of potato chips, and soft drink for I don’t know, two bucks. I bought the burger, sat down, and looked out the window.
Across the street, where Starbucks is now, was an abandoned hardware store. I looked over to the right and I saw this vacant household finance building. Then I looked over to the left a bit and I could see two or three buildings, and there was no one in those buildings. It was like a ghost town. I kind of scratched my head and wondered, “Wow, I really have my work cut out for me.”
Twenty years later, as I’m sitting there with my wife, I look around and see all of these wonderful people having a great time. It’s come alive. And I’d like to think that we’ve had a big part of that.
Is there anything else you’d like to add or tell the residents of Alhambra?
I would say to the residents that they are going to be in excellent hands. The staff here is outstanding and they’re going to continue the good work that the city has been doing. Sometimes not everyone agrees with what City Hall does. But in the end, everything is for the benefit of the community.
I would like to thank the residents for giving me an opportunity. Twenty years is a long time. I’m really thankful. When I came here, my children were very little. They were raised in the community. They were in Little League, participated in everything around here. We were very involved in a lot of the different things in the city. But the residents gave me an opportunity. I’ll always be grateful for that.
This interview has been edited and condensed.