Almost five years since Mervyn’s department store and most of the other stores at Alhambra Place shut their doors, Alhambra City Council approved Monday, May 12 a plan for a new mixed-used development at the plaza on Garfield Avenue and Main Street.
With a 4-1 vote, Alhambra City Council approved a proposal for a residential and commercial center from real estate developer Shea Properties. The project includes a four-story residential complex with 260 luxury apartment units and 140,000 square feet of retail and restaurants. There will be surface parking for the commercial area and a five-story parking lot dedicated for residents.
Mayor Stephen Sham and councilmembers Gary Yamauchi, Barbara Messina, and Luis Ayala approved the project, while Councilman Steven Placido voted against it, citing a lack of communication between the councilmembers regarding the current proposal.
Placido’s biggest concern is the impact the project could have on traffic on the two northbound lanes of Garfield Avenue. The plan does not include a designated right turn lane for patrons entering Alhambra Place. He explained that the right lane gets clogged up when drivers wait for pedestrians to cross before making a right turn on Main Street.
“Right now, there’s two lanes going north. And right now, there’s seven entrances to the parking and for access. But if this is the main entrance," Placido said, "someone making a right hand turn is going to block up 50 percent of that flow.”
Bob Matson, vice president of Transportation Planning at RBF Consulting, was contracted by Shea Properties to conduct a traffic analysis and simulation of the cars driving around Main and Garfield. His studies show that between 5 pm to 5:30 pm, which is considered the peak hours of traffic on that street, there will only be a slight increase of traffic at the intersection. As a result, he did not see the need for a designated right-turn lane into the plaza.
“We did do the analysis and if that was required to get a good level of service, then that would have been a mitigation measure for the project, but it’s not showing that that’s required,” Matson said.
Placido continued to ask questions about traffic at the council meeting, asking the developer if they are willing to add a designated right-turn lane in the event that traffic does get worse.
“I know that when I travel during rush hour to get to Bank of America, I have to wait, and I noticed that none of the cars have to wait two signals, but I have to wait two signals and that’s with an empty, dead shopping center. But they haven’t done that to your computer program,” Placido said. “So if it gets worse than that, I’m wondering how residents are going to feel when they have to wait two cycles, three cycles to get to their intersection.”
Representatives from Shea Properties said that while the lanes will encroach on the sidewalk and affect some structural elements of the buildings, they cannot make the necessary changes unless the data from the traffic analysis indicates a need for one.
Placido also had additional concerns about the lack of a private entrance for the residents, possibly on Monterey or Bay streets, in order to alleviate traffic at the main entrance on Garfield.
“This tonight is the first time we’ve had to look at everything as a group, all of us. And there’s a lot to discuss,” Placido said.
Other councilmembers disagreed about the need for more discussion.
“Enough. Stop it,” Messina told Placido, in the middle of his questioning Matson about the traffic study. “We have already talked about this several times.”
Sham shared Placido’s concerns, but proposed a half lane on Main and Garfield to ease traffic. “I really have a concern because I travel that intersection daily. Northbound, at that corner, I’m looking at Google Maps, we have a half lane there but it’s not enough for a car to make it a right turn lane,” Sham said. He voted “Yes” under the condition that the developers work with the city to address the issue of northbound traffic along Main Street. “I hope that the developers will work with our city and try to mitigate that right turn situation,” Sham said. “It’s very important.”
Ayala, who approved the current plan without the addition of the right turn lanes, explained his decision.
“In terms of the traffic flows and the whole bit, I actually spoke to our city engineer about the traffic impact to this community and this specific project and our own city engineer was in agreement with all the studies that are being presented before us today. So, I think at some point, you kind of have to trust the process and again, it’s not the first time that I’ve seen it,” Ayala said. “And so, I’m comfortable with the project as is.”
Watch the full meeting here: http://spectrumstream.com/streaming/alhambra/meeting_2014_05_12.cfm