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Alhambra Delays Planning Commission “Fraud” Ruling as Gurdwara Fights Eviction

  • The Sikh Gurdwara on Chapel Street in Alhambra. Photo by Helen Arase

  • Herald Lau, the owner of the Sikh Gurdwara, turns to speak to members of the religious community during his testimony before the Planning Commission in December. Photo by Bryan Y. Kim.

  • A priest leads the prayer at Alhambra's Sikh Gurdwara. Photo by Phoenix Tso.

Location

Alhambra , CA

 Alhambra’s first Planning Commission meeting of the year didn’t have a packed agenda but there were plenty of fireworks at the end of the session after representatives of the Sikh community asked when the issue of their Gurdwara would be back on the commission’s agenda.  The answer they got was not what they expected.

The date of March 16 offered by Vanessa Reynosa, Alhambra’s deputy director of community development,  brought gasps from Linda Paquette, the Sikh’s lawyer who expressed dismay and a bit of outrage in addressing the commissioners saying, in effect, that the city was dragging its heals in finalizing the commission’s December ruling on the permit process to replace the Gurdwara, which is now fighting a 30-day eviction notice.

Reynosa’s initial explanation for the extended time frame was that city staff was backed up in work from the lengthy and contentious December meeting along with other items of business before the commission.

But after some questions from the commission she said that the delay was brought about after a request by the owner of the Gurdwara site, Herald Lau, to continue the process of returning the final city documents codifying the December ruling to the commission.

Citing the fact that the item was not on the Planning Commission’s agenda that evening, Reynosa was hesitant to say more about the negotiations with the the property owner  who  had  applied for the permits and won approval for the project until it became apparent that assertions that building the building was empty were incorrect.

 At the December 2nd meeting the commission voted 5-4 that an “element of fraud” existed in the permit approval process for the mixed-used development partially on the Gurdwara site at 101 S. Chapel Ave. The status of the permits was not altered by that ruling.

Before that vote, the city staff  had recommended the following course of action in the meeting agenda for the commission in determining next steps in this matter.

1.) Conduct the public hearing, take testimony from the Applicant and the public and then discuss the matter at issue:

2.) Determine whether the Planning Commission’s approval of Resolution No. 19-30 and Tentative Tract Map TT 82148, Conditional Use Permit CU-18-11, Commercial Planned Development Permit CP-18-8, and Residential Planned Development Permit RP-18-12 was obtained by fraud and

3.) Direct staff to bring back an appropriate resolution at the next meeting, documenting the Planning Commission’s reasons for or against revocation.

The commission’s Dec. 2 steps had fulfilled all of the recommended action. The next meeting, referred to in item three, was originally scheduled for Jan. 6 but that meeting was cancelled. The meeting was held Tuesday night.

 Some of the commissioners at the Tuesday meeting, which was held in makeshift space in  the Alhambra City Hall lobby because work was being done in the city council meeting room, spoke about the extended time frame to return this matter to the commission and urged that it be handled with a degree of urgency.

 Commissioner Ron Sahu, for one, expressed concerns about appearances of  “transparency and due process” if this item isn’t dealt with quickly.

  “The will of the commission in its vote on this issue is lost without a sense of urgency,” said Commissioner Andrea Lofthouse-Quesada.

 Several members of the Gurdwara community were in attendance and voiced their concerns as well. Paquette, a member of the Sikh community who also handles some legal issues for the Gurdwara was clearly shocked by the city’s answer on timing and the ultimate explanation. She expressed frustration saying that this delay made it difficult to seek a legal remedy to the eviction notice that the owner of the property served on the temple following the Planning Commission’s December vote.

 She told Alhambra Source in an interview that on Dec. 5, three-days after the commission vote, leaders of the Gurdwara got a 30-day notice to quit the space which is governed by a commercial agreement.  Temple leaders have secured the legal services of Dennis P. Block and Associates, a  tenant-landlord attorney, to oppose the eviction.  They maintain that the timing of the notice to quit makes it apparent that it was retaliatory for engaging in protected activity, in this case the decision by the temple leadership to go before the Planning Commission and declare that the permits had been obtained untruthfully.

But key here, according to Paquette, is the minute order prepared by city staff which is the official document that confirms the Planning Commission’s December vote and establishes the fraud on the record. Time is of the essence in fighting eviction so the Gurdwara’s attorneys feel they need it as soon as possible.

On Wednesday, it was announced that the scheduled Planning Commission meeting on Feb. 3 has been cancelled. The next planned meeting is Tuesday, Feb. 18.

 As of now, March 16 is the date the issue will be brought back to the commission on the consent agenda.

  The latest Gurdwara revelations brought an end of a rather routine meeting.

 After some discussion regarding the size of the facility and parking, the  Commission approved a plan for a Senior Daycare center at 24 & 28 East Valley Blvd.. The vote was 8-0. Commission Vice President Suzy Dunkel-Soto and  Commissioner Debra Moreno-Garcia were absent Tuesday night.

 And  the commission voted on two projects on Stoneman Ave. The first would approve a one-year time extension for a residential planned development permit at 747 and 749 South Stoneman
Ave.  The second was to continue discussion of a residential planned development permit at 720 South Stoneman Ave. until the Feb. 18 commission meeting. The council approved both requests.

The Stoneman projects were the subject of comment from public speakers who voiced the view that parking in the area has already become difficult for existing area residents.

 Commissioners explained that they were not approving the projects merely extending the time frame for consideration and urged those residents with legitimate concerns about the parking to come back to future meetings to express their feelings.

 Public comment and language translation became an issue during the session when one resident wanted to address the commission on the issue of the Adult Day Care Center.  The resident spoke only Mandarin, however, and there was no translator present in an official capacity

 Only one person in the audience had the proficiency to handle the translation but he was the architect for the proposed development.  And while he was asked to translate and presented the resident’s comments, some of them critical of the area and the project, it was clear that this was not the best practice.

 Commissioner Scott Chan, a former community organizer who has expressed the need to improve translation services at city meetings, said this was a prime example of his concerns.. He said  translation services could be obtained through sign-up forms on the city web site in advance of meetings for those wanting specific help or through engaging translators at public meetings. 

 He said this issue would only become more acute as residents with little English continue to engage in the democratic process. 

     

       

The Alhambra Source’s coverage of the Alhambra Sikh Gurdwara story was named one of the best local investigative stories of the year by the Institute for Nonprofit News. Read all about it here.

Independent journalism is a bedrock of democracy--and it's in crisis. Here at the Alhambra Source, we're committed to covering the local stories that matter most to you. We don’t have advertisers and we don’t have pay walls, but we do have bills. You read to the end of this story. That's great. But this kind of journalism will end without public support. Join us! Support the work and the democratic values it serves. Donate now!

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