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.”