Overdevelopment, transporation and environmental sustainability were the big issues of the night at the second candidate forum for the Alhambra City Council's candidates.
Around 80 people attended the forum, which the Alhambra Preservation Group organized and Yvonne Pine of the Pasadena Area League of Women Voters moderated. All four candidates — Jeff Maloney, Mark Nisall, David Mejia and Ken Toh — participated.
The legacy of the current city council loomed large over the proceedings, with Mark Nisall and Ken Toh taking portraying themselves as outsider candidates with no ties to the current city government. "I'm very unhappy with the decisions and actions of the council," Nisall explained. "That is the main reason why I decided to run." Toh called himself a "community candidate," who did not have any special relationship with the current city councilmembers, and that he also had no ties to Alhambra's Chamber of Commerce.
Mejia and Maloney, who are both endorsed by the current city council, and have served on various volunteer commissions, defended these relationships. "I think we need people who have proven experience, a proven record, and have shown that they have the ability and the know-how to get things done, to show that we're fighting for all Alhambrans," Maloney said.
For his part, Mejia called himself a "blue collar guy" who is connected to Alhambra's neighborhoods and values accountability. "Don't expect to say 'Hey Dave, you're gonna get a free pass for 12 years,' " he said. "It doesn't work that way for me."
Residents submitted questions that Pine grouped into topics for the candidates to speak on. Here are the key issues that the candidates addressed:
All candidates supported a preservation ordinance to protect Alhambra’s historic homes from getting demolished. Maloney and Toh both mentioned the Mills Act, a state law that allows local governments to provide tax abatements for property owners to restore and preserve historic homes. Maloney and Mejia also suggested taking a survey of historic homes in Alhambra, and educating residents about them.
Including Asian and Latino immigrants in the political process
Toh spoke about his ability to speak Malay, Cantonese, Mandarian and Taiwanese, and therefore his unique position to connect with the Asian community, which makes up over half of Alhambra's population. Maloney and Nisall both spoke about a need for more interpreters in the city government, and Mejia suggested more multicultural events, such as this past summer's Asian movie night, to bring the community together. He also talked about providing citizenship education and bringing back adult ESL classes.
When it comes to decreasing income inequality among different cultural groups and seniors, Mejia proposed finding a way for businesses to offer jobs to people who are on a fixed income. Toh said that while government agencies provide jobs with good pay and benefits in Alhambra, the vast majority of jobs in the city are lower paid service jobs. He proposed requiring businesses to provide better paid jobs with benefits, and to encourage companies to engage in "direct profit-sharing." Maloney spoke of the importance of educating residents about city services, particularly recent immigrants and those who don't speak English. Maloney also wanted to promote the growth of small local businesses.
Sustainability during the drought
Both Mejia and Maloney spoke about the need to encourage residents to build drought-friendly yards, with Toh proposing tax breaks to incentivize residents to install "weather-tolerant grass," and cut down on using water for landscaping. In keeping with the theme of overdevelopment, Nisall said that new developments were potentially using up a lot of Alhambra's water and that containing overdevelopment would go a long way in making Alhambra more environmentally sustainable. When Pine pressed the candidates to propose solutions beyond sustainable yards, Maloney said that the mentioned low-flush toilets and other solutions, and that the city should lead by example before asking residents to reduce water consumption. Nisall suggested instituting a water recycling program for landscaping and other "general-purpose use." Mejia said that the city should look into grants to fund initiatives like these.
The city council candidates agreed that Alhambra didn't have a lot of space to build another large park, suggesting finding the space to build pocket parks instead to increase green space in "park poor" Alhambra.
In order to increase transparency in the city government, Mejia suggested posting notices to certain neighborhoods in local newspapers, so that everybody would know about them, as well as on social media. Toh wanted staff reports to be included in meeting agendas, as well as live broadcasts of the meetings. Maloney spoke of the importance of holding more stakeholder meetings in the community, and Nisall spoke about publicizing these meetings better through newspaper ads.
The 710 Tunnel
Both Toh and Nisall opposed building the 710 tunnel, with Toh favoring a rapid bus lane and a light rail as alternatives. Nisall spoke specifically about favoring the Beyond the 710 proposals, including building an above-ground street where the 710 currently ends in Alhambra to South Pasadena and Pasadena, as well as adding alternative public transportation. Both Maloney and Mejia said that they would support a freeway tunnel if Metro and Caltrans officially recommend it, with Maloney saying that Alhambra needs to be included in the discussions that Pasadena and South Pasadena are having about the 710 freeway. He claimed that Alhambra previously had no say in alternative proposals like Beyond the 710.
All four candidates support the L.A. County's Measure M, which would raise sales tax by half a cent for public transportation, and provide Alhambra with $1.2 million in revenue, and elaborated by saying that the money should go towards improving roads, and providing more public transit within the city. Mejia and Toh both proposed using the money to build bicycle lanes, with Mejia also suggesting traffic synchronization methods.
Transportation alternatives for development on the west side of Fremont Street
One question specifically asked what the candidates would use to mitigate traffic congestion on the west side of Fremont Street if more development were to occur. Mejia called the transportation problem there "a joke," and proposed changes with the traffic lights in that area, some kind of traffic enforcement or even putting a bus route there. Toh said that development in that area would have to include businesses like grocery stores so that people would stop to shop for groceries there and contribute less to traffic flow. Maloney said that businesses have to figure out to mitigate their traffic impacts, and the city must work with developers to do that and also proposed a shuttle and street car to help with traffic in that area.
The city council's relationship with the Alhambra Unified School District
All the candidates thought that developing this relationship was important. Maloney wanted to institute an internship program for AUSD students in city government, and expand on programs like the city speakers day to educate students about civic opportunities available to them. Mejia spoke about emphasizing technical education in the schools for students who aren't as academically inclined, as well as promoting AUSD students getting internships for their college resumes and future success. Nisall spoke about city involvement in bringing back the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.
Managing the city budget
When asked about how to make sure the city budget addresses all community needs, Maloney said that the budget should go to encourage the growth of small local businesses, invest in road and water infrastructure in the long term to avoid disasters like a recent sewage spill. Nisall said that the local police and fire departments were understaffed and underfunded, and that the budget should go towards solving those problems, as well as infrastructure improvements. Mejia also emphasized investing in public safety, public works and in planning events like Dine Alhambra so that the tax revenue generated from that increased business comes back to Alhambra. Toh talked about investing in Alhambra's neighborhoods, and to target public safety spending in a smarter manner.