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City council denies residents' appeal against the Lowe's development

The Alhambra City Council voted unanimously on Monday night to allow the Lowe's development on Fremont Avenue to move forward, despite an appeal mounted by concerned residents about the potential environmental and traffic impacts of the development.

The city council voted to deny the appeal, while adding the condition that the Charles Company, which is developing Lowe's and two office buildings at the site, help fund a shuttle service from the Gold Line to the office buildings that would be on the same site as the Lowe's store. This condition was put forth by third district councilmember Jeff Maloney.

In January, the planning commission approved a permit for the Lowe's development.

The Debate

Presenting on behalf of those who filed the appeal, Dr. Ron Sahu, an environmental engineer and longtime Alhambra resident, contended that this project would have major environmental and traffic consequences, and should therefore be subjected to a full environmental impact report, rather than a mitigated negative declaration.

Marc Blodgett, whose firm put together the Mitigated Negative Declaration, said that the Lowe's project did not need an EIR, because it would not have significant environmental impact, due to the mitigation measures that the Charles Company would put in place. Said measures would be taken to mitigate additional traffic caused by the project, while on the environmental side, an underground barrier would be constructed to prevent the vapor intrusion of chemicals from contaminated soil on the site, when it was occupied by a foundry.

In his presentation, Sahu said that the impacts were indeed significant, and that there were flaws in the documents used to portray them as avoidable. He said that the traffic report, put together by Kimley-Horn and Associates, erred in using traffic from the Lowe's in Poway, California to estimate traffic impacts in Alhambra. He criticized the firm for not using trip generation estimates from the International Transportation Engineers' guide, a standard that "everybody uses," and questioned why they didn't add their Poway estimates to the ITE data pool. A Kimley-Horn representative said that the ITE estimates were more in line for "home improvement superstore," like Home Depot, rather than a Lowe's, making the Poway estimates more accurate. 

The claim over whether Lowe's catered to a different customer than Home Depot was debated throughout the night. Sahu pointed out that both stores sold similar products and offered similar services, saying that they were about as different McDonald's and Jack in the Box.

George Ray, a represenative for the developer, claimed that the larger presence of day laborers at Home Depot showed that this chain was more for contractors than Lowe's is. There's currently a Home Depot one-mile from the Lowe's site in Alhambra. 

The Kimley-Horn representative also said that Poway was chosen because like the Lowe's in Alhambra. it wouldn't share its driveways with other stores, thus allowing them to generate more accurate estimates of traffic in and out of the development once it was built. Sahu said that such a factor was "less important" for estimating traffic. 

"It was done to underestimate traffic," Sahu said.

Sahu also claimed that a proposed vapor barrier would exacerbate vapor intrusion, by pushing the toxic volatile organic compounds from the soil and out into nearby neighborhoods, rather into the atmosphere. Derek Breed, an environmental engineer who was working on the vapor barrier, clarified that the site would also have a "passive venting system," or a network of pipes through which any toxic vapor would run alongside the buildings and get pushed out into the atmosphere, rather than into residential areas. 

Satellite photo of the proposed Meridian Avenue closure. Photo by Phoenix Tso

George Ray, who led the presentation for the Charles Company, also reiterated that it had agreed to close off part of Meridian Avenue, between Emery Park and the project site, as an additional measure to reduce traffic around the new Lowe's. The planning commission had made this measure a condition of approval. He said that the Charles Company would cooperate with any additional effort to assess the impact of closing Meridian Avenue. City Attorney Joseph Montes clarified that the developer would have to pay for such a process, and that the City Council had the ultimate say on the closure.

Ray also said that Lowe's would bring in jobs with good pay and health care benefits, as well as sales tax revenue for Alhambra.

Resident and City Council views

During public comment, residents spoke out about issues ranging from the potentially increasing traffic to what they characterized as a lack of transparency and public participation in how the City of Alhambra took the Lowe's development through the planning process. 

"When I heard there was a Lowe's coming into town, I was thrilled," said Alhambra resident Oscar Amaro. "What this is about is the feeling among the majority of residents that projects and developments–either as a result of poor planning, arrogance or deceit–are continuously rampant in communities throughout our city, destroying single-family neighborhoods, and creating the high density and horrendous traffic conditions that we find ourselves in today."

"The fact that they cleaned up the site and want to put a new development there is fantastic for the city," said another resident, Michael Placido, who also welcomed the competition for Home Depot, and the opportunity for increased sales tax revenue. 

Chamber of Commerce members Sharon Gibbs and Evike Chang also spoke in favor of the development.

Multiple city council members spoke out in support of the project before voting. Maloney said that the major issue with the development came down to traffic, and that the Charles Company partially funding a Gold Line shuttle would help with that. 

"If we can remove some of those additional bodies and maybe others from the neighborhood from Fremont on a daily basis, I think that's a very positive thing for this project to have," Maloney said.

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6 thoughts on “City council denies residents' appeal against the Lowe's development”

  1. Linda Trevillian

    It’s ironic that people talk about bringing jobs to our city, especially claiming that Lowe’s will provide jobs with good pay. I wonder what percentage of the jobs won’t be minimum wage. And I agree strongly with Dr. Sahu, who claims that Lowe’s and Home Depot are about as different as McDonald’s and Jack in the Box! To base claims on the fact that day workers wait outside Home Depot for jobs makes it different in concept from Lowe’s is almost too ridiculous to even mention. Since when don’t homeowners hire day workers? And, by the way, because our fair city’s council has seen fit to build way too many unaffordable condominiums over the past few years, instead of concentrating on affordable housing, which is desperately needed, I wonder where all of the Lowe’s employees plan to live. Certainly not in Alhambra because it is not affordable. But the saddest thing, to me, is the fact that, once again, the city council has favored the opinions of a developer over those of engineers who have expertise on the subjects at hand and has chosen not to require that the site be cleaned up before any construction can occur, but rather to wait until it’s finished and hope that the vapors that undoubtedly will be emitted won’t find their way into the neighborhoods – which, of course, they will.

    I for one will not ever even attempt to shop at Lowe’s because traveling from my home south of Hellman up Fremont (which I already avoid most times of the day) is a waste of time. I’ll go east on Hellman to Marengo to Home Depot and hope that the traffic on Fremont won’t cause too many others to take the same route and result in congestion on Marengo that is as bad as Fremont already is.

    Another big win for developers; another bigger loss for Alhambra.

  2. Mayor Mejias and councilman Maloney took $5000 each from the developer. Conflict of Interest? I attended the hearing and one speaker talked about the culture of campaign donations to city council members and conflict of interest. Am I just plain crazy but taking money from a developer like the Charles Company and then voting on their project sure seems like conflict of interest to me? This should be illegal.

    1. “Pay-to-Play—it’s the Alhambra Way!” should be the city slogan. And what’s with former, and long-time mayor/Councilman Mark Paulson being a consultant and advisor to the developer? And then you have Paulson’s son working inside City manager’s Office?

      Then there’s former councilman Steve Placido’s brother as well as Gary Yamauchi’s son also speaking up in favor of the project?

  3. “…either as a result of poor planning, arrogance or deceit–are continuously RAMMED THROUGH the communities throughout our city,”

    Just correcting your misquote. Thanks!

  4. Anonymous Hippopotamus

    Once again, money wins out over good governance and accountability in Alhambra.

    At what point do neighboring cities start getting involved? The traffic Alhambra continues to create affects all the surrounding cities. Despite what Councilwoman Messina would like everyone to believe, the traffic in Alhambra is not all created for lack of a 710 extension. Messina et al just use this as an excuse to continue to over-develop Alhambra. This is very convenient for Messina because she can then blame the traffic from over-development on the the lack of a 710 extension (her pet project). Political debauchery at its worst! Traffic from Home Depot, Khols, Target, ToysRUs, and now Lowes is not the product of the 710, it is the product of poor development practices by the City.

    The Alhambra City Council Monday night voted to down grade peoples’ way of life across the entire region for an increased bottom line. I don’t ever want to hear the City Council say they don’t have enough money for non-revenue making community projects from now on (parks, shuttles, homeless care, etc)!

  5. See, money is people.