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Alhambra Planning Commission President Rejects New Hearing on Sikh Gurdwara Issue

  • Members of the west San Gabriel Valley's Sikh community attend the Sunday service at Alhambra's Sikh Gurdwara. The Sikh Community will have to vacate this building to make way for a new development, which they say they weren't properly informed about. Photo by Phoenix Tso.

  • The Planning Commission notice posted on a tree on a sidewalk in front of the Sikh Gurdwara. Since worshippers use a back entrance, none of them saw the notice until after the hearing date had passed. Photo by Phoenix Tso.

Location

Alhambra , CA United States

Alhambra Planning Commission President Allan Sanchez directed staff not to add an agenda item to discuss holding a revocation hearing over a project that would mean the demolition of a Sikh temple in Alhambra, known as the Sikh Community Gurdwara.

Sanchez made this ruling at the commission meeting Monday night after asking Deputy City Attorney Greg Murphy what the powers of the Planning Commission president were in adding an agenda item on this issue or blocking such an action. Murphy said that since there was no agenda item for this discussion, the Planning Commission could not decide that night whether to hold a hearing. The president could ask staff to agendize the item, based on whether he hears consensus that the commission wants to discuss holding a revocation hearing. Murphy defined consensus as a “enough of a push by the commissioners to want to entertain the matter in a setting where you can talk about it.” Alhambra’s Department of Community Development staff could also add the item to the agenda if they think there’s consensus. If neither does so, however, the City Council could possibly direct staff to agendize the item.

The discussion started when Deputy Director of Community Development Vanessa Reynoso presented a report addressing concerns that the Planning Commission and members of the public had raised about the development and how it affects the gurdwara. She first addressed concerns about improper notice, saying that the city followed all state requirements, including giving notice to property owners within 300 feet of the proposed project and publishing an announcement in the Pasadena Star News. She said that the city also posted a notice on a parkway tree in front of the gurdwara of the June 17 Planning Commission hearing. She added that the city had added notice policies to address feedback about inadequate notice for projects like this one. These notices include mailed letters to tenants, in addition to property owners, and larger notice signs posted on the property in question.

Reynoso also addressed claims that the property owner misled the Planning Commission by saying that the Sikh gurdwara was vacant. He had actually corrected the record twice, she said, informing the Planning Commission that the Sikh community still worshipped at the temple. She added that the owner is not required to notify tenants that he wants to redevelop his property.

She then addressed the findings for the project, some of which said that the temple was vacant, saying that these did not “materially change the applicant’s request,” again because the property owner corrected the record. She added that the gurdwara will be demolished to make way for the mixed-use development, and will not result in any incompatible land use.

Reynoso finally addressed the question of revocation, saying that revocations are very serious and rare, and are usually initiated by staff based on well documented facts that legally justify such an action. Revocations would come into play if the project involves a use that’s contrary to its conditions of approval, and if the project is so detrimental to public health and safety that it qualifies as a nuisance. A revocation can occur if the an approval is obtained in a fraudulent manner, and should rise to the level of criminal deception. Reynoso said since this situation doesn’t rise to that level, revocation shouldn’t apply.

At least five members of the 10-person Planning Commission said they would support a revocation hearing, or a discussion to hold one even after hearing Reynoso’s report. They said it was important to clarify the conflicting information about the Sikh gurdwara that had come out during and since the June 17 hearing, and to hold project applicants accountable for any misleading information they present in front of the Planning Commission. “My biggest concern with what happened in the past was the explicit representation that these folks were informed of a development, which from what we heard today is not true,” said Commissioner Eric Garcia, before Sanchez announced his decision. “Now that could be corrected in a later hearing if we have that, but that is definitely material fact that calculated in my decision.”

Other commissioners, including Barbara Messina and Suzi Dunkel-Soto, said that while they respect the Sikh community, and wish that the property owner hadn’t presented misleading information, they agreed with staff that there wasn’t a legal basis for the Commission to hold a revocation hearing. “Had we been presented the truth, I would’ve urged that they worked with you in a relocation to find another place,” Dunkel-Soto said.

The Planning Commission voted to approve the development on June 17, after some commissioners asked whether the Sikh gurdwara, which is part of the land to be redeveloped, still had worshippers using the facility. While a staff report said that the gurdwara was vacant, the property owner Herald Lau said during the Planning Commission hearing that the Sikh community was still practicing there, but that they had been informed of his plans. A few weeks later, the president of the Sikh gurdwara, Santokh Singh, said that they had found out about the development after the Planning Commission hearing, and that Lau had never informed them of his plans.

Several members of the public spoke in support of reconsidering the project on Monday, claiming that Lau had misled the Sikh community and the Planning Commission, that the city’s notification procedures were inadequate in notifying the Sikh community about the project, and that the consequences of this meant interfering with the Sikh community’s ability to practice its own religion.

The speakers included Sikh gurdwara members, with one of them saying that even if the gurdwara had received a letter, the few worshippers who live there can’t read English, and would not understand the notice. Santokh Singh was one of the speakers, reiterating that Lau has still never discussed the project with them, despite interacting with him regularly. He also didn’t know how the gurdwara would be able to engage in activities like preparing meals for the homeless community in Los Angeles’ Skid Row without this building. In previous comments to the Alhambra Source, Singh said it would be difficult to find another building with an adequate kitchen to prepare meals for the congregation after services in addition to the meals they prepare for the homeless.

“So please consider all the elements, what you see, [and be] fair with us,” he said, adding that he would respect whatever decision the Planning Commission made.

Sanchez countered some of the public comments, saying that even if one couldn’t read an official notice, that person could make the effort to get it translated. Sanchez maintained that since the Sikh community had previously tried to buy the building from Lau, it meant to him that they could have looked for another building rather than stay in this one.

Sanchez concluded his comments by saying he didn’t hear consensus and asked that staff not agendize the item. Staff took no further action before Sanchez closed the Planning Commission meeting.

The city of Alhambra recently decided to change its notification process in light of complaints from residents over lack of communication over this development, and one at 801 E. Main Street, which the Planning Commission ultimately did not approve. The Sikh community said that the only notice of the project was a small piece of paper wrapped around a tree on a sidewalk in front of the Gurdwara, which nobody saw until it was too late, since worshippers mainly use a back entrance.

Among the changes in the notification process will be larger signs informing residents of upcoming projects. The city will also mail notices directly to tenants, and not just to property owners.

Commissioner Andrea Lofthouse-Quesada asked what recourse the rest of the Planning Commission had in light of Sanchez’s decision. Deputy Director Reynoso said that she didn’t have a specific answer, calling the possibility of revocation “uncharted territory” for the city of Alhambra.

Updated on October 14, 2019.

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10 thoughts on “Alhambra Planning Commission President Rejects New Hearing on Sikh Gurdwara Issue”

  1. With the recent development after learning through the Alhambra Source article, the process in which was decided to vote on a false pretense is simply shocking and unjust. There is a vibrant, activate, and welcoming community at this Gurdwara that practices our faith in Sikhi.

    I have been going to this Gurdwara since I was a child, I consider it my home. The Gurdwara is also the home to so many families, who practice our faith in Sikhi.

    I’m requesting the council members of Alhambra to hear the voice of the Sikh and Alhambra Community to reconsider this project. The Alhambra Gurdwara has been here for decades. The Gurdwara signifies that this is our Guru’s home of worship, and that the city of Alhambra has a Gurdwara that welcomes anyone regardless of race or religion.

    Help us keep our home of worship Alhambra Community Gurdwara, the information provided to push the vote forward is simply false. Basing a project on incorrect information is unjust, and a disservice to the community.

  2. I have been attending this temple for the past 28 years and I am saddened to hear that the city is planning on shutting it down. This place of worship is so dear to many people of the Sikh community. The Sikh temple is a safe haven for people of all communities to come and worship. In our religion we don’t not segregate people based on their religion, color, or gender. Here everyone is seen to be equal which in todays given time is very rare to see. So, I would like to request before taking any actions please consider our appeals.

  3. I have been attending this temple for the past 28 years and I am saddened to hear that the city is planning on shutting it down. This place of worship is so dear to many people of the Sikh community. The Sikh temple is a safe haven for people of all communities to come and worship. In our religion we don’t not segregate people based on their religion, color, or gender. Here everyone is seen to be equal which in todays given time is very rare to see. So, I would like to request before taking any actions please consider our appeals.
    Thank You

  4. I went to the meeting regarding this issue on the Sikh Gurdwara and what I saw was really shocking information after knowing the developer completely lied to the planning commission. On top of everything President Sanchez completely denied the request of recalling the plan and supported the developers plan especially when rest of the Planning Commissioners supported the revocation hearing to open once again. What kind of message is Mr. Sanchez sending out to the Citizens of Alhambra? Is he trying to send a message that it is absolutely okay to lie about a situation and get ones plans passed? He completely misused his power and decided to ignore the plea and did not want to reopen the plan that was passed on a false claim. This plan was only passed based on false claims by the owner Mr. Lau and the president Mr. Sanchez also supported this decision without any contesting.

  5. I have beening coming to this Sikh Temple every weeks for several years, it is placed to worship and receive the message to how to love all and live a peaceful life and remembering our God, We are all God’s children and God loves everyone independent of their race, color, gender and religions, Over hundreds of people of Sikh community people comes here on everyweekend. There is punjbi school where children are taught to how to read language and how to become better person in life. Having this holy place in Alhambra brings good vibration to people around nearby and educate Sikh community how to mediate on Lord’s name, self realization and how to live life with honesty, integrity and wholeheartedness.
    I would request Commission President Allan Sanchez and Deputy City Attorney Greg Murphy and all staff that we really your support so Sikh Gurdwara could continue to provide place for Worship. It is like demolishing a Church for people with Christian faith.

    May God bless us all and give us vision to live this wonderful life above selfishness.

  6. In the Bible,it is stated “love thy neighbor .” Sikh Community is not only just a neighbor but a family. People from all over LA county come together to the Sikh Gurdwara in Alhambra to worship. This Gurdwara is considered very special to everyone. How can we prevent people from having a place to worship that they are already very attached to?

  7. This breaks my heart to see that people will be willing to break down a place of worship without thinking twice. I have been coming to this Gurdwara since I was born, and to see it get thrown away like a piece of trash is the most disheartening thing. We need action towards this. We serve so many people through this Gurdwara, Sikh and Non-Sikhs. We serve food everyday and anyone of any race, ethnicity, color, gender is allowed to come and pray at a Sikh temple. Please help us get action, our faith is at stake here.

  8. I was really devastated when I heard this news.
    I have been going to this Alhambra gurdwara for the past 15 years.
    It’s not just any temple or religious place for me. It was like my second home. Whenever I needed anything I would come here and just pray and believe everything will be good.
    My whole family has been going here on a regular basis.
    My kids are at the Sunday school and they participate in the religious activities.
    This Gurdwara (temple) is a symbol of our religion.

    It hurts us how the landlord kept us in the dark and the city needs to help us.
    100’s of people go to this temple.

    Please help us and save this temple.
    It’s a must for us and our future kids.

  9. I listened to the audio and attending one of the meetings that the city held.

    I am shocked that the city is allowing such a thing to happen.
    The planning commissioner is knowing allowing the plan to go through.

    The tenants were never notified clearly about what is going on and now are being kicked out. This religious temple has been here for years.

    This is a very big injustice and right. City of Alhambra has enough of large buildings and Business.

    Everyone let’s join hands and take a closer look into this.

  10. I listened to the audio of this PC meeting and more than a majority of planning commissioners stated they were in favor of agendizing a new hearing to address this matter. Thus, the fact that PC President Sanchez claimed there was no consensus as his rationale for not agendizing the matter at a future meeting is dishonest and suggests personal and political motives. It also seems like an abuse of power that he would not allow a commission vote on whether to agendize the matter or not. This is not the first time developers have mislead and/or ignored promises to the planning commission. Revoking PC permits is uncharted territory only because the City has chosen to turn a blind eye to dishonest developer testimony and commitments. Time for the City to insert a process with repercussions to address such abuses in its municipal code. Otherwise, why would developers not continue to mislead the PC and City Hall?