The proposed development of the Edwards Palace Theater into a large county building with 650 workers was the focus of intense scrutiny at an Alhambra Redevelopment Agency and City Council meeting Tuesday evening. The property at 700 Main Street is for sale and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has voted to allow the Community Development Commission to purchase the property and consolidate three district offices in one location. The L.A. CDC consists of the county’s housing authority, community development department, and redevelpment agency. Among other duties, it is responsible for administering their affordable housing services such as the federally funded Section 8 program, and county based community development block grant program. The CDC would use the existing parking structure and construct a three-story, 130,000-square-foot office building.
Speaking on behalf of the Los Angeles CDC, Doug Cohen noted the many reasons the city of Alhambra was chosen for this project, namely the close proximity of the city to more than 80% of the current CDC employees’ residences and downtown L.A. The available parking in the existing parking structure, as well as being centrally located and with easy access to many different Metro bus lines, were key to the site being selected from many other possible locations. In addition, Cohen cited the reputation, appearance, low crime rate and maintenance of the city, as well as the business friendly reputation and the development of Main Street. He also made a point of declaring that the County of Los Angeles will not be seeking any financial assistance from Alhambra for this project, which will be funded through Build America bonds, part of the Federal Reinvestment Act.
Councilwoman Barbara Messina expressed her support for the project calling it a “win/win”: the L.A. CDC gets a good home, and the businesses along Main Street benefit from 650 employees who become potential customers. Messina stated that the Los Angeles County Public Works building and the many people employed there, “have been a great asset to our community”.
Councilmember Luis Ayala voiced his concern for the likelihood of increased traffic along Alhambra’s streets, given the fact that there will be more than 500 people employed there. He inquired about the energy efficiency of the proposed new building and said he would like to see a courtyard of some kind since currently there is a green space there on the property that has become part of the view of that corner.
Discussion related to including a retail site of 3000 to 3700 square feet where the current green space generated much discussion between Councilmember Steven Placido and CDC’s Doug Cohen. Even the proposed layout of the building did not go over well with Mr. Placido, who said, “[retail] is not part of the vision I had. It hides the building and takes away from the project.” He suggested a green space remain, with the addition of trees and/or park benches since the residents are used to seeing it as such. Mr. Placido also voiced concerns for the parking structure at nights and on weekends, and the likelihood that phone antennas will also be included on site, as they almost always are.
Mayor Steven Sham said he was not opposed to the project, but wanted to mention that the city would not be getting the full benefit of property taxes from this arrangement due to the county’s exemption. Mr. Cohen countered by saying that much of this would be offset by the increase in sales tax to nearby businesses.
City Manager Julio Fuentes asked the Council to agree to continue in the process of developing an agreement between the City of Alhambra and the Los Angeles Community Development Commission, to which they unanimously agreed. The development will now go before the Planning Commission, with the City Council and Redevelopment Agency Board being apprised of the progress and requested changes to the development.
City Manager Julio Fuentes cautioned the council to not let this opportunity with the L.A. CDC to pass. Among his reasons were the current lease on the theater is about to expire and it would be difficult to find another tenant for this facility due to restrictions on having another theater operate at this location. And the option of developing the entire site for retail, although it would generate more property tax, would be difficult to support because of all the other nearby retail establishments.