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Alhambra City Council seeks broader range of input on general plan

Rendering of East Valley Boulevard with active, pedestrian-oriented nodes in general plan draft from fall 2018. The Alhambra City Council decided on Monday to get additional resident input on the general plan through more outreach. Courtesy of Alhambra Community Development Department.

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Alhambra , CA United States

The Alhambra City Council unanimously decided to direct staff to research additional outreach strategies for the general plan, in order to get more input from residents on the policy document.

Discussion over the general plan will remain on hold, while city staff will research and execute a plan for outreach that involves posting announcements in local newspapers, sending social media blasts, disseminating information through Alhambra’s schools and other options. They decided to go this route instead of conducting a sample-size survey of 400 households, a decision that the City Council had initially approved during their Jan. 28 meeting.

In a 40-minute discussion, several City Council members expressed a desire to obtain more comment from residents on the general plan through more concerted and creative outreach, while keeping costs reasonable.

Mayor Jeff Maloney suggested posting flyers extensively around town. “You can blanket the city,” he said. “It seems to me that the major cost there is the printing of flyers.”

The City Council embarked on this decision after City Council member Katherine Lee expressed concern that not enough resident input was gathered before the general plan was finalized. Her concerns echoed that of several planning commissioners during their recent meeting to discuss the plan.

Lee asked during the Jan. 28 city council meeting for city staff to look into what neighboring cities had done during their general plan outreach. Community Development Director Marc Castagnola reported that Pasadena sent surveys to 70,000 local households and got back only 2,893 surveys. South Pasadena made copies of their survey available in public places and got 353 responses, out of a population of a little over 10,000 households. Monterey Park has not started its general plan outreach so the city could offer no data.

In addition to the 400-household phone survey conducted in 2015, Alhambra conducted an online survey generating 309 responses and distributed printed surveys at City Hall, the library, the farmer’s market and special events, said Castagnola. The paper survey generated 51 responses. All of these surveys were conducted in English, Chinese and Spanish.

The general plan was also discussed during four City Council meetings, a joint City Council and Planning Commission hearing, four community workshops and 16 focus groups. The general plan process was advertised on 39 social media posts, through Department of Community Development and Chamber of Commerce email lists and in the Chamber’s newsletter “Around Alhambra.”

Maloney said that this was evidence that city staff did their due diligence in seeking input. “A lot of these boxes were checked,” he said. “But, look, there’s no harm in making another effort.”

Lee suggested making outreach more accessible by writing up a one-page summary of the major issues in the general plan that could be posted in even more public spaces in Alhambra, including markets and restaurants. She also asked city staff to look into distributing information through Alhambra’s schools.

“I just think that we could think outside the box,” she said.

Around 15 people attended Monday night’s proceedings, with three of them asking the City Council to delay the process until the housing element, which is not currently part of the draft general plan, is updated or additional outreach is conducted. One resident, Cliff Bender, suggested getting input from the city’s various commissions.

“In addition to an expanded survey of residents, it seems it would also be beneficial to seek input and comments from appropriate city boards and commissions before the updated general plan is approved,” he said.

City staff was directed to start outreach after the City Council meeting and to allow for enough time — although no time frame was set — to get significant feedback from residents before rescheduling two Planning Commission hearings that would be devoted to considering this plan.

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