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Alhambra residents express disappointment with city’s historic preservation efforts

Dozens of residents groaned Thursday during a presentation by the Alhambra Preservation Group (APG) when the advocacy organization displayed slides of historical homes being demolished in Alhambra. The APG, along with the Los Angeles Conservancy, hosted a presentation and discussion at The Alhambra about historical preservation in the city and the need for local governments to protect historically important sites.

L.A. Conservancy Director Adrian Scott Fine led the discussion, which was organized after the L.A. Conservancy gave Alhambra a failing grade in March in historic preservation. Fine stressed that establishing a historic preservation ordinance is the best way for Alhambra to improve local preservation efforts, raise property values, and create thriving communities. He also recommended surveying the city for historic sites, creating incentives to keep property additions in line with a neighborhood’s theme, and employing staff dedicated to the historic preservation of the city.

Alhambra does not have a historic preservation ordinance and the last historical site survey was conducted in 1984. The partial survey covered two neighborhoods and identified 25 sites of significance, according to Alhambra’s report card from the L.A. Conservancy.

Residents who attended Thursday's meeting expressed their concern over Alhambra's lack of a preservation ordinance, complete historic site survey, and homeowner incentive programs. During a question and answer segment after Fine’s presentation, one resident said she complained to City Council about what she feels is overdevelopment in Alhambra, but that she was "shot down." Another resident said that city officials are using Alhambra as a business and that those in power have "sold their soul to the highest bidder." Attendees asked how can they advocate for stricter preservation policies and called for a rally to raise awareness against demolition.

Resident Eric Sunada, a City Council candidate and Alhambra Source community contributor, said that Alhambra's city government has short-term goals. “Alhambra is investing too much in retail and sales and is not investing enough in making Alhambra a great place to live,” Sunada said, adding that APG is representing a long-term vision for the city.

Councilwoman Barbara Messina, who was the only council member to attend the presentation, responded to concerns by explaining that the city has not repeated the 1984 historic site survey because homeowners did not want historic designation for their homes 30 years go. “Many home owners did not want the designation due to restrictions that would be placed on their property," Messina said. "But what it would result in would have been totally worth it.”

Messina added that she is interested in bringing residents’ concerns as well as the L.A. Conservancy’s findings to the rest of the City Council members but that she would like to explore other preservation options before supporting an ordinance. “Ordinances are very complicated and binding,” Messina said. “There are other ways to get started, like with the Mills Act.”

The Mills Act, a homeowner incentive program, would encourage homeowners to preserve their homes and neighborhoods, according to Fine. While the APG recommends adopting the Mills Act or other incentive programs, Councilman Steven Placido told Alhambra Source in March that the city would have to re-allocate money away from police, fire, or other local services to provide some homeowners with property tax reductions. Placido added that Alhambra’s Design Review Board does provide homeowners with information and suggestions for identifying and preserving homes’ original architecture and style.

L.A. Conservancy’s historical preservation reports are published every four years, but the organization updates the grades regularly as cities make advancements in preservation, according to Fine. Alhambra has not made significant progress since the L.A. Conservancy’s first report card in 2003.

However, Fine said he left Thursday’s meeting hopeful. “This grade is meant to try and help the community improve,” Fine said. “I am encouraged by tonight and it’s time for Alhambra to do something. This is a good step forward.”

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15 thoughts on “Alhambra residents express disappointment with city’s historic preservation efforts”

  1. N. Louise Flores

    As an Alhambra homeowner and concerned citizen, I attended the meeting hosted by the Preservation Group and joined their group. We did not all “Groan” and, I for one, spoke up. I filed an Appeal with the city regarding the proposed construction of homes over 3 times the size of existing homes in my unique neighborhood. We were treated with disrespect by the current City Council. Interesting that an Commissioner has a vested interested in the project as well as a former City Council member.

    Our only hope is to vote out the status quo on City Council (and demand Commissioners that do not have financial interest in city projects) by voting for candidates that are concerned about our community, not just for now, but for future generations.

  2. As President of Alhambra Preservation Group, I read with both excitement and optimism, these many comments on the key issues of liveability and sustainability. Our situation in Alhambra is not hopeless. APG has been providing leadership, education and advocacy on historic preservation in our community for more than ten years. During that time, we have made some real progress in bringing this issue into the civic discourse at both the grassroots and leadership levels. This has been especially evident over the past few months. I believe the recent “F” grade on the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Preservation Report Card has captured the attention of Alhambrans, including at least some of our elected leadership. It is not beyond the realm of possibility to imagine a preservation ordinance in place here in 2015, one that will guide our city’s planning decisions and provide real incentives for the preservation of local landmarks. Alhambra Preservation Group will be happy to work with any current or future council members to make this happen.

    This vision of an historic preservation ordinance for our city is neither hopeless nor without precedent. Here’s some perspective: the movement for historic preservation in Alhambra began in 1984, with an historic resources survey commissioned by the City Council. Although the survey was limited to only two neighborhoods and a selection of at-large sites, it documented a rich trove of historic buildings , including several that were deemed potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Following this important first step, an urgency ordinance was put in place in 1986 to preserve these key sites from unnecessary demolition. This ordinance was renewed at periodic intervals until it was finally allowed to lapse in 1993, following the departure of City Manager Kevin Murphy.

    So this Fall, as we’re making our voting decisions for three open City Council seats — either for challengers OR incumbents — let’s make sure that historic preservation is an important part of their legislative agenda. We have the interest and the momentum. Let’s make it happen!

  3. Don’t like it? You have a week to put your name on the ballot for City Council – until Tuesday, June 24. See the City’s announcement.

    There are three City Council seats on the ballot – Districts 1, 2, and 5. Eric Sunada is running in district 1. Who will join him from districts 2 and 5?

    Replacing the city council is the only way to change things. And the only way we can begin to have a constructive conversation is for everyone to stop the whining and complaining and do something about it. That means either running for a council seat or going out of your way to get someone else elected who shares your view about stopping bad growth.


  4. For some time now, city leadership has been fixated on short-term gains through increasing retail sales and building high density developments to feed it.  Millions of dollars have been given to developers in incentives toward this end.  Other incentives have come in the form of relaxed development standards such as  reduced open space requirements and neglect for architectural and cultural significance.  The city rationalizes that it generates jobs, the large majority of which pay unlivable wages.


    Instead, we need to do a better job strategically by taking advantage of our rich cultural history and diversity.  Imagine a city with significant architecture that has stood the test of time, modern amenities like internet fiber to the home, and diverse cultures that promote everyone's awareness and education.  An architectural preservation ordinance will help and is much needed.  So would incentives given to homeowners to help with the cost of upgrades.  The pride of ownership will build upon itself, as would further investment in our youth who have done more to increase property values through good academic performance than all the new retail businesses combined.  Imagine what we can do with more resources.


    Let's focus less on making Alhambra a great place to shop and instead focus on making it a great place to live.  Current leadership has been betting on the business lobby through direct incentives to lure them.  Let's work on long-term goals that lure them with a great community instead.  In other words, I'm betting on our people– which is why I've decided to run for city council.

    1. I’m not too sure what you’re trying to say – are you for continued, dense development or are you for stopping future development? You’re starting to sound more like a politician who mince their words without saying anything.

      1. Richard,

        Apologies if my statements were unclear.  I am against the continued, dense development as defined as develpment which exceeds our current R1 through R3 standards.  This includes being against the CBD and CPD zones, which are essentially variances on our R3 standards.  All of the development near and along Main street are in exceedence of our standards.  Going further, we need to augment this with a preservation ordinance and give the design guidelines some teeth.  Toward this end, I propose to separate the city's Planning arm from the Development arm. The Planning arm is responsible for sound standards that help ensure residents' quality of life.  The Development arm is responsible for economic development, among other duties.  They should have a healthy, antagonistic relationship that results from the proper implementation of checks and balances.  But currently both operate under the Development Services department.  This is like the fox guarding the hen house.  They need to be directorates with equal authority.

        Of course, we do need economic development as well.  But what I am proposing is that we focus on making Alhambra a great place to live through increased open space, less density, walk-able, bike-able, inclusive housing, and great schools that lift all of our youth.  In other words, let's focus on long-term sustainability. This is in opposition to current city leadership's focus on businesses first.  The way I see it, by making Alhambra a place where people want live, we will have businesses coming to us on our terms, instead of the other way around.

        Eric Sunada

  5. Simple solution to this situation – THROW OUT THE PRESENT CITY COUNCIL AND SUPPORT CANDIDATES WILLING TO SAVE OUR NEIGHBORHOODS, because the present city council seems to be a puppet for developers. THROW THEM OUT!!!!

  6. It is beyond me how Alhambra council allows our neighborhoods to be ripped up. It lowers property values, creates an ugly environment and a density that compounds congestion and pollution. What a crock those comments from Placido and Messina are. The groans at the preservation meeting were loud. But city council has for years ignored such input. Come on, Alhambrans, vote those selfish so-and-so’s out!

  7. The same people have been cycling through our city council since I was a kid, and it shows – bringing big box retail into cities to boost revenue and create value is so 1980s. We need some fresh blood if Alhambra’s going to stay a nice place to live into the future.

    1. Linda Trevillian

      You are absolutely correct! I’ve lived in Alhambra since 1962, and it seems as if the City Council has changed very little since then. I hope that the Preservation Society will hold another meeting soon (I couldn’t attend the recent one), and we can brainstorm to come up with some candidates who will support preservation efforts.

  8. Alhambra needs an ordinance. We should not be selling our soul to foreign developers. The City should be ashamed of itself about where its interests lie. There should be a BALANCE between catering to business and maintaining our city’s heritage for future generations. I bought a home in Alhambra because of my historic area. It was built in 1927 and I don’t mind some rules and regulations to maintain consistency with the history of the area. Who wants to live next to a Mc Mansion anyway?

  9. There is a fine line to walk when your talking about people’s personal property.

    Some of these older homes probably SHOULD be torn down due to safety concerns. Many have bad piping, wiring and riddled with termites to name just a few problems.

    That said, we have some amazing older homes here and I agree that there could/should be some incentives for the owners to keep them as they are in terms of how they look from the street.

    I know that every article regarding real estate ends up in a discussion about what’s happening on Main Street. Maybe one of the reporters here can start a new article regarding the debate of how redevelopment is being handled.

  10. Two issues regarding this article…

    1. The image of Main Street to depict “preservation” is a non-issue. Little, if any of Main Street’s original structures remain and what does has been hopelessly altered beyond any worthwhile restoration efforts.

    2. While I commend Councilperson Messina for attending, Placido’s comment that the Mills Act would “…re-allocate money away from police, fire, or other local services…” —is a crock o’ __ . One that has repeatedly been used through the years as a scare tactic—much like Messina’s comment that residents did not support it due to “restrictions that would be placed on their property.” Another historical fallacy.

    If you talk to anyone present at the city meetings when the 1984 Alhambra Historic Resources Survey was presented to council—City Hall was PACKED with supporters that spilled out into the hallway. Then council-member/Mayor Talmadge Burke had security strong-arm preservation advocates and immediately closed down the public meeting as he (and other financially-entrenched politicos) had a lot to lose if these measures took hold.

    What these politicos fail to understand is that keeping aesthetically-attractive neighborhoods (and not Condomania) intact serves our business community as well as keeping our property values high. Having streets filled with cars (both in traffic and overnight, overflow parking) only downgrades our city. But I don’t think they care. They can’t make money off of single-family neighborhoods.

  11. I was around during the first survey that Councilwoman Messina refers to in her comment. The city did little or nothing to educate the residents and clarify their concerns about restrictions. The city must buy in to the idea of preservation and help make this happen. Once the residents understand how this is a plus for their property values they will be on board. Every neighborhood in the SGV like Bungalow Heaven in Pasadena has found the property values going up after a historic ordinance is put in place. Preserving our neighborhoods is a good thing for Alhambra.