LocationAlhambra , CA United States
The Alhambra City Council upheld a planning commission decision to grant a permit for a five-story mixed-use project featuring 62 residential units, despite an appeal from activists who said the project should only go forward if it included affordable housing.
In a four to one vote, the City Council affirmed the planning commission’s decision, on the condition that the project developer, Pacific Plaza Premier Development Group, meet with city staff to discuss selling some of its residential units to the city at a below-market rate to turn into affordable housing.
As California’s housing shortage worsens, the state’s new governor, Gavin Newsom is cracking down on cities that do not plan for enough affordable housing. Late last week, the state sued the city of Huntington Beach for this reason.
Local non-profit Grassroots Alhambra filed the appeal on Nov. 28, on the grounds that the project was inconsistent with Alhambra’s general plan, because it did not provide any affordable units in a city with a large share of low and moderate-income residents.
“Smart development serves the community,” said Grassroots Alhambra President Eric Sunada.* “The project in its current form ignores the lived reality of our residents.” The median income of Alhambra is $55,401, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. Around 15 percent of Alhambra residents live below the poverty line.
Ken Lee, vice president of development at Pacific Plaza Premier, said that affordable housing was a policy issue outside the scope of this development. “Our concern is that this project is being used as leverage to ultimately get to a policy discussion for the council,” he said, mentioning his past experience as an affordable housing developer.
The Grassroots Alhambra appeal concerned the development of the land at 100 S. Monterey St. and 201 E. Bay State St. as a five-story mixed-use project, combining condominiums, retail and restaurants. The project would be called Monterey Bay Square and also include a six-story parking garage. It would generate an estimated 2,600 car trips per day.
In their appeal, Grassroots Alhambra asked the City Council to rescind this permit on the grounds that the project violated the general plan, since it did not include affordable housing. The group also said that the project’s environmental and traffic impacts were improperly measured. They asked the developer to scrap plans to allow restaurants as part of their project and to include affordable housing in its place instead.
The hearing took place in front of a lively crowd of around 70 people, several of whom testified in support of the project, saying that it would add much-needed housing to Alhambra, make Main Street more walkable and revitalize the eastern business district in Alhambra.
“The proposed new mixed-use development in the eastern corridor of Main Street will make a good connection to Alhambra Place across the street,” said Pinki Chen, who planned Alhambra’s Lunar New Year celebration for many years. “It will help the existing and future local businesses.”
Others spoke against the project, saying this project would increase traffic and pollution in Alhambra. Emmanuel Barragan testified that developments like this one were making the city unaffordable for people like him, a young professional who grew up in Alhambra.
“I hear a lot of people say that this project would complement Alhambra Place, and that’s fine,” he said. “But one thing we should always remember that we need developments that not only complement buildings, but complement the residents of Alhambra.”
Katherine Lee was the lone council member to vote to deny a permit for the project. She did not mention affordable housing as the reason for her opposition. Instead, she cited concerns about the traffic the project would generate, endangering pedestrian safety.
“A few of you addressed this project as being pedestrian friendly,” she said. “However, I talked to a few senior citizens who live in that area. One was hit on Chapel [Avenue], and there’s many senior housing [units] around there.”
Lee also expressed concern about the height of the project, which includes a five-story commercial building and a six-story parking structure.
Councilmember Adele Andrade-Stadler supported the project, but pronounced the city’s lack of affordable housing options as “embarrassing.” “I would not discount our governor just yet on challenging a number of cities on affordable housing,” she said, referring to the lawsuit against Huntington Beach. Andrade-Stadler’s colleagues, David Mejia and Ross Maza, as well as Mayor Jeff Maloney, expressed agreement that while Alhambra needs more affordable housing units, they couldn’t place the blame entirely on this project.
As a compromise, Maza suggested that Alhambra use money received from the sale of properties owned through the city’s former redevelopment agency to acquire some of Monterey Bay Square’s units and then offering them to residents for affordable housing. Maloney took it a step further by asking for discussions to buy some of Monterey Bay Square’s properties at below-market rate, which became a condition of the City Council denying the appeal against the project’s permit.
An additional condition would allow city staff to clarify how much parking would be included in the project, with the developer alluding to the possibility that they would only have to build four out of six stories for their parking structure to accommodate customers.
Watch the entire appeal here.
*Full disclosure: Eric Sunada is a member of the Alhambra Source advisory board. Advisory board members have no editorial control or access to stories before publication.
Updated on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019 at 4:59 p.m.