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Are Alhambra leaders abusing their power and overdeveloping the city?


There is no question Alhambra is growing. High-density residential and commercial developments are breaking ground around Alhambra: the Zen Terrace on Olive and Commonwealth, Plaza on Main at Fourth and Main, and Casita de Zen at Third and Main, to name a few. Yet is this “smart growth"? We don’t think so. 

A planning tool little known to residents has created the loophole to enable many new developments to far exceed density recommendations in the city's zoning ordinance. All California cities are required to have a General Plan for development that outlines sound planning. Alhambra’s has policy guidelines for open space, parking, zoning regulations, and density. Unfortunately, in the last few years we have seen a disturbing trend: City leadership has been circumventing the General Plan to further irresponsible residential and commercial development projects by using Specific Plans — detailed land-use and development plans for individual projects in a defined area within the city.

Casita de Zen on 3rd and Main

While the city is technically not breaking the law, they are abusing policies by not using the Specific Plan in the way the state intended. According to state law, Specific Plans must be consistent with the General Plan. Specific Plans are created by city staff and developers and approved by City Council after recommendations from the Design Review Board and Planning Commission. Properly used, the Specific Plan is a tool for cities to develop a community and bridge the gap between bland, congested projects and livable, historical neighborhoods. A city could use a Specific Plan to specify architectural design features for a set of commercial developments that complement the city’s history, or to outline open-space requirements and sustainable landscaping features. 

An example of a properly used Specific Plan is the 1991 Sante Fe Specific Plan Area (SFSPA), the blueprint for what is now The Alhambra on Mission Road and Fremont Avenue. THE SFSPA specified that the five property owners were to create “a campus-like design motif” using brick pathways and brick buildings in a Classic Georgian design. The plan required that new buildings and structures be linked to existing ones with similar architecture, and it called for landscaped open areas to connect the various areas of the campus. The SFSPA is an example of a Specific Plan that is more in-line with what the state intended: giving a cohesive vision for development of a reasonably large area.

Unfortunately, in many recent cases Alhambra has not used the Specific Plan as a bridge between the General Plan’s outlines for thriving communities and individual developments (see Table 2). Developments like Alhambra Place, Pacific Plaza, Casita de Zen, Main Street Collection, and the Front Porch project in the Midwick Tract have Specific Plans that do not reflect the ideas of the General Plan and are grossly out of alignment with the idea of sound area planning. The city's over-stressed infrastructure, lack of open space, and lack of affordable units represents an irresponsible use of the Specific Plan tool.

The city has been enabling developers of Alhambra’s downtown area, already zoned for high-density development, to further increase density. Specific Plans have been used to build units at a rate more than double what is allowed elsewhere in the city (see Table 1). Alhambra's Central Business District, the area around Garfield Avenue and Main Street, allows for mixed-use developments to have 43 unites/acre, which is already higher than the 24 units/acre allowed for lots less than 20,000 square feet and 30 units/acre for larger lots zoned elsewhere in the city. But Specific Plans have exceeded even this. For example, on Main Street they have allowed up to 80 units per acre for Casita de Zen.    

Homes on Carlos Street set to be demolished in the Midwick Specific Plan

The city has also used Specific Plans to quietly rezone areas to fit developers’ needs. In the gated community development in Midwick Tract, developer City Ventures’ Specific Plan calls for rezoning a mixed-density street to high-density. General rezoning has wide implications and requires the city to notify all those affected prior to public hearings. Specific Plans, however, are more geographically focused and require only those living within 300 feet of the development to be notified, a much smaller group of residents and stakeholders. The Specific Plan allows the city to make these changes quietly without input from a wide group of residents who may not want another high-density development in their city. 

More troubling is the use of Specific Plans in other projects to reduce parking and open space requirements, which then creates a precedent for ongoing developments. In the staff analysis for the Alhambra Place Specific Plan, for example, reduced parking is compared to the Alhambra Pacific Plaza development that was approved at less than the required two spaces per unit. Staff use this as justification to continue this practice.  

Table 1.  General Plan zoning ordinance

General Plan Zoning Districts

Maximum Density


R-1, Single Family Residential

5 units/acre


R-2, Limited Multiple Family Residential

12 units/acre


R-3, Multiple Family Residential for lot sizes < 20,000 ft2

24 units/acre


R-3, Multiple Family Residential for lot sizes > 20,000 ft2

30 units/acre


CPD, Commercial Planned Development

30 units/acre

Generally applies to the lots on the north and south side of Main St.

CBD, Central Business District

43 units/acre

Overlay on the CPD bordered by 3rd St. on the west, by Almansor on the east, by Elgin St. on the north, and by Bay State St. on the south.

Table 2. Recent development densities permitted under a Specific Plan.   General Plan zoning restrictions are shown for comparison.

Specific Plans

Density permitted per the Specific Plan

Density restrictions per the Zoning Ordinance


Alhambra Place (old Mervyn's center)

65 units/acre

43 units/acre due to CBD re-zoning

Based on 260 units on a 2.924 acre residential building and its 1.085 acre parking structure

Fifth and Main (old library site)

41 units/acre

30 units/acre


Casita de Zen (NE corner of Third and Main)

80 units/acre

43 unit/acre due to CBD re-zoning

76 units/acre is what is being built.  The Specific Plan allowed for up to 80 units/acre.

Alhambra Pacific Plaza (old Super A market site)

66 units/acre

30 units/acre


Alhambra Walk (south side of Bay State St, east of Garfield, and north of Commonwealth)

48 units/acre

30 units/acre


Many residents including ourselves have expressed their frustration with the large-scale developments to City Council, but negative input from the residents is generally answered by “We are mandated by the state to do this." This is not accurate. Although the state requires the city to incorporate future housing needs in their housing elements and sets numbers of units the city should build each year, the state cannot mandate building, and has no say in the requirements set forth in the General Plan. Using the state housing requirements as an excuse to produce Specific Plans with reduced requirements is disingenuous. And to add insult to injury, the city isn’t addressing the affordable housing needs that are at the root of the state requirement.

Using the Specific Plan to bypass the General Plan results in uncoordinated efforts that seek short-term gains. The resulting hodgepodge, built without proper attention to residents and public infrastructure, means residents will suffer traffic congestion and live in communities that are not aesthetically appealing. Open space goes by the wayside for retail establishments du jour.

Park View Place at 200 North Chapel Avenue.

Quality growth includes public open space, provisions promoting walking and biking, inclusive housing stock, and sustainable businesses that offer valuable goods and services while paying livable wages. It should be based on a plan that is beneficial to all Alhambrans. Elected city officials, who swear to serve residents, are ignoring their constituents’ needs and catering to developers’ economic interests.

Alhambra city government must address the concerns of the residents by adhering to the General Plan and using the Specific Plan to enhance the quality of life for all Alhambrans.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Sunada is running for City Council, and Michael Lawrence is his campaign manager. They are also longtime Community Contributors to Alhambra Source. Alhambra Source opinion pieces do not represent the views or opinions of the editorial staff. Alhambra Source does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to share their opinions.


The Alhambra Source encourages comment on our stories. However, we do not vet comments for accuracy or endorse links to posts in the comment section. The thoughts and opinions expressed belong solely to the author of the comment.

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33 thoughts on “Are Alhambra leaders abusing their power and overdeveloping the city?”

  1. In a short answer – YES, Alhambra leaders have “sold out”.

    However, let’s remember that America is a DEMOCRACY and Alhambra residents really brought this on themselves.


    You can’t blindly hand over the wheel of your local infrastructure to anyone and then complain when they “take the wrong exit”. You were the one who gave up control in the first place!!!!

    1. I'm sorry, but this doesn't quite add up.  You seem to be saying that we should stick with our current leadership because we made a mistake and voted them in originally.  Please explain, because it seems you are saying two wrongs will make a right.  Looking forward to your continued dialogue.  This is great.

      1. If by “WE” you mean, the apathetic middle-class (with lower middle-class voting tendencies due to immigration pattern) citizens of Alhambra…then you’re still framing the wrong question.

        “WE” didn’t VOTE anyone in, we voted by omission (statistically speaking). Nobody votes in Alhambra because the vast majority of people don’t “get it” essentially.

        So you can rant and rave and make educated point after educated point – but in a blanket sense – you’re speaking an uneducated (at least in voting-terms) and apathetic audience.

        There is fundamental groundwork that is incredibly difficult to implement before a large audience will even begin to grasp the things you are pushing for Mr. Sunada. And to pretend like that doesn’t present itself as a foundational problem to your campaign – is to pretty more overlook the entire reason you’re unhappy with the current leadership.

        Being “aloof” is a systemic issue. One that I’m pretty sure as a multi-generational assimilated Asian American you probably are familiar with conceptually but do not fully grasp in a real-world “I live this” sense.

      2. “So you can rant and rave and make educated point after educated point – but in a blanket sense – you’re speaking [to] an uneducated (at least in voting-terms) and apathetic audience.”

        Maybe the lack of civic engagement in city matters is due to the fact that the current city council is civically unengaged with its citizens.

        Forward to 10:00 to see Steve Placido’s sarcastic, condescending, patronizing response and finally an angry rant directed at an elderly resident’s concerns at a city council meeting.


        Also, check out the smug smirks on the faces of Barbara Messina, Steven Sham and Luis Ayala. The behavior of these public servants is sadly lacking.

      3. Bottom line: People get the government they deserve.

        Alhambra has a pretty mediocre government – that’s because the CITIZENS THEMSELVES SIMPLY LACK THE EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION TO OPERATE AN “A+” PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE!

        It’s not Pasadena, it’s not San Marino, it’s not South Pasadena, hell – it’s not even Monrovia or Sierra Madre. But that’s life.

        Why don’t you move to an “educated city” where the % of college-graduates is much higher?

        Alhambra is middle-middle-class with an odd (but explainable) smattering of lower-middle-class habits! Voting = habit!

    2. History lesson 101. America is not a democracy its a republic big difference. As for Alhambra doing it on its self well that’s a yes and no. The board members already know that the majority of the population in Alhambra cannot vote. Green Card Holders so voting would be quite low which is becoming more common in many southern California cities. Bell Vernon Huntington Park yes mainly Hispanic yet Alhambra is mainly Asian and most have no intentions of becoming citizens. That’s the sad truth and unfortunately more Asians are quite use to dense lving conditions so its no concern to them.

  2. THANK YOU ALHAMBRA SOURCE FOR BRINGING UP THIS SUBJECT AND GIVING US – RESIDENTS – A “ROUND TABLE” IN WHICH TO DISCUSS THIS VERY IMPORTANT ISSUE. I plan to slowly read and digest all the comments submitted as this might help me better understand both sides of this issue. I feel, unfortunately that the city council has a mind-set only of tearing down and OVER DEVELOPMENT and frankly they seem not to care about what we, residents, think ; sure we have a planning commission, but they seem to be part of the problem put there by the city council, and if i”m right they serve only in an advisory capacity. What ever happened to the community meetings some council people use to organize to get input from us? How about the city council putting a survey asking for citizen’s input in this very important issue? I still say “throw the bums out!”(the present city council)

  3. Very good article, thank you for posting. While mixed-use development sounds good in theory because it “might” get people out of their cars, we can look at a concrete example that show it is currently counter-productive. Anyone driving through the heart of Glendale and the surrounding areas will soon figure out that there is too much development in the area. I am a resident of Alhambra and commute frequently to Glendale and I feel that this beautiful city I live in is headed in that direction when I see many new multi-story buildings going up fast. I do not know the solution and I am fully aware that development is inevitable, but our quality of life must be taken into account before approving and constructing these massive buildings.

    1. William, Thanks for your comment. Unfortuately without the transportaion infrastructure including bike lanes and connections to the gold line over building does not make good sense. There must be a balance between high density, transportation elements and the input of the residents.  That is why we think a more long term solution and vison that goes beyond just adding high density is necessary. Here is an excellent article in the Pasadena Star News that discusses this very issue of “smart growth”. 


  4. The next point in Mr. Gacis' original post dealt with the General Plan.  Our article clearly shows how it is not being followed.  Whether one likes it or not, there are standards that have been adopted for density that go way back and on which people have based their world.  They have invested in their homes and have certain expectations for their quality of life.  But the Specific Plan bypasses this without proper public input.  A truly strategic, cohesive plan for an area would have allowed the more global public hearing that it deserves and the proper community participation.  If the majority people of Alhambra were in favor of it (and there are obviously some who are in favor or higher density), then so be it.  But this isn't happening and it is a disservice to the community.

    At the ground level, during public hearings where those that live within 300 ft are being notified, the overwhelming majority of public input is not in favor of such developments.  The reasons they cite are valid:  increased density without the proper infrastructure and transportation options to support it.  Having very high density developments make a lot of sense near transporation hubs.  We don't have that here.  Nor do we have the types of businesses that support jobs that can afford these units or services such as affordable groceries that would preclude one from getting in a car to find them.  The increased traffic and lack of parking are hurting a lot of the small businesses.  This is the sentiment that I get from many business owners along Main St.  No conjecture, just facts.

    1. Linda Trevillian

      This article gives us depressing, but accurate information about the failure of our city leaders to plan intelligently (and legally) for the future of our city. Even time I drive down Main Street these days, between Atlantic and Garfield, I get a feeling of extreme claustrophobia because of the ugly new multistory residential projects being built. And I especially dislike the proximity of the front of these buildings to the street. There’s barely even an adequate sidewalk! There must be some way to force city officials to develop specific plans that “follow the rules,” i.e., are in agreement with the city’s general plan. See the picture of Carlos Street, which has beautiful homes, and knowing that the residents are being forced out, is even more depressing. We DO NOT NEED more high-density housing in that area. Something needs to be done, and done NOW, before they ruin our whole city.

  5. Very interesting piece. I wasn't familiar with the the recent development before, but it doesn't sound good… SGV has been gentrifying rapidly these past few years. Less open space and increased traffic congestion are clear warning signs.

  6. Yes, it may seem counter intuitive, but high density areas that combine business and residential may actually REDUCE car traffic.

    “Traffic congestion may actually be lessened with mixed-use development, as fewer households need to get in the car to reach local shops and recreation destinations.”

    “Mixed-use development also gives residents the opportunity to use their automobiles less frequently by making it possible to walk to shops and other services. This independence may be particularly attractive to older adults who wish to maintain an independent lifestyle when they are no longer able or interested in driving. When mixed-use districts are established near public transit centers – a strategy known as transit-oriented development – pedestrian access to these amenities is further improved.” from housingpolicy.org

    I’m a little sketchy on that one. Is our current bus system good enough? Should we be thinking about a better public transportation system that integrates with this mixed use concept?

    I think we need a future that reduces dependency on the automobile.

  7. Eric, your article is full of half-truths, conjecture, and biased to fit the anti-city agenda. Keep in mind I’m a city resident, not a developer, not running for a council seat, and in the SAME district as you. Good thing we’re not on the same jury, because with your crafted indictment against the city, I’d be making a hung jury. There is a large body of evidence out there of national and state policies reflecting the need to consider environmental constraints and limited resources within our urban planning policies (see links below). Alhambra’s Specific Plans embody these concerns as a tool for growth management in an era where sprawl has become a pressing problem, especially here in Southern California where we are essentially “built-out”. I find our city leadership NOT GUILTY of irresponsible development.

    So this is about flawed policies and not the city staff? How do you think these “flawed” policies come into fruition? By city staff who have nothing to do with it because they are just doing their jobs the best they can? Look, I work for the government too, but for the Feds. There might be some policies I might not agree with but even employees are given tools to offer suggestions, advice, and feedback. We are the frontline troops. Even more important, our inputs are used for data collection and analysis by upper management to determine policy effectiveness and future changes. City staff can be an important resource for our city leaders but basically what you’re saying is that there is no connection at all – they’re just cogs in a machine and doing the “best job they can”. Unbelievable…

    Eric, we seem to be going in circles here, but before I go on, let me tell you that I’m not for high-density all over Alhambra, and yes, I do support historic preservation and bike lanes. However, it will require the collaboration of various stakeholders, and not just the status quo. It requires understanding BOTH sides of the issue and accepting the fact that our city is diverse with different needs.

    As far as the big picture you mention is concerned, we need to expand this picture frame further…

    UNIT AFFORDABILITY – We’ve talked about this issue before on previous posts. You feel high-density developments have no positive impact on affordability? With increasing rents and limited new housing supply, you think the solution is lower-density? Look, I’m not asking for skyscrapers here but the developments along Main St. fit right in. From the California Department of Housing & Community Development (California Planning Roundtable):

    – To encourage housing affordability, California cities do need to promote higher densities.
    – Fewer auto trips occur in higher-density areas.
    – High-density housing can encourage retail development and ease walking & transit use. Mixing housing with commercial development is ever more crucial for traffic control, since non-work trips constitute the largest number of trips.
    – Compact development offers greater efficiency in use of public services and infrastructure. Higher-density residential development requires less extensive infrastructure networks than does sprawl. California developers must usually pay for sufficient infrastructure capacity to serve their own projects. When communities cannot take advantage of scale economies in providing infrastructure, extension costs rise. High-density housing helps provide scale economies both in trunk lines and in treatment plants. The lower costs per unit of housing can be passed on to new residents, and the smaller debt load can help ensure fiscal stability throughout the community.

    – Higher-density infill residential development can translate to higher retail sales.

    Link to this can be referenced here referenced here…


    COMMUNITY ENHANCEMENT: Yes, it can be an enhancement to the community. First of all, high-density, compared to low-density, certainly helps to maintain and protect our water resources. According to the Environmental Protection Agency…

    – The higher-density scenarios generate less storm water runoff per house at all scales — one acre, lot, and watershed — and time series build-out examples;
    – For the same amount of development, higher-density development produces less runoff and less impervious cover than low-density development; and
    – For a given amount of growth, lower-density development impacts more of the watershed.

    Here’s the link to the report as well as the analysis on this: http://www.epa.gov/dced/water_density.htm

    You also ask why our current leadership exceeds our normal R3 requirements. So do you really think they do this on purpose? Are they doing the exceeding? Or the developers based on market conditions and limited resources (ex. Land). If new land was actually still available, we’d be dancing like its 1950 and sprawling to our hearts content. You say it puts a strain on our infrastructure, resources, and exacerbates our dismal traffic situation. In the long run, no. Higher-density allows our current low-density to accommodate the infrastructural capacity for growth in the near future. In addition, placing new high-density projects to the existing utility network spreads the system’s capital costs over a larger customer base. You say I fail to point out the open spaces I mentioned and where it has actually been implemented? You’re totally being disingenuous here. I sat in with you on the planning commission meeting with Shea Properties. Where your eyes open and ears listening when the Shea reps discussed their open-space designs? Seriously Eric, do you even walk the CBD often? Or do you cringe and mostly close your eyes every time you have to look up at a building? The Alhambra Pacific Plaza and Casita de Zen isn’t even finished yet to give a reasonable judgment, but they will incorporate open space designs for the residents. Do these open spaces have to be the same concept of open spaces in the suburbs? I say no. So tell me, since you consider such projects “gated, inward facing, and isolating”, would you consider it fair that I say suburbs are “boring, anti-human, and full of car-lovers”? In addition, must setbacks be necessary for a vital thriving community, especially in downtown? Here in the CBD, I’ve noticed buildings with little or no setbacks engage more effectively with the public realm. The buildings pull it’s presence to the pedestrians and provides the convenience and invitation to hang around and come in. With so many shops, restaurants, and amenities in the CBD this is absolutely necessary – for the vitality of local businesses and the visual appeal and convenience (walkability) of pedestrians. This sure beats having to drive to a big-box retailer and walking a quarter of a mile across the parking lot to get to the front entrance. This type of engagement also adds to the sense of place-making, which helps give a sense of identity to our surroundings. I’m not advocating that all buildings have no setbacks but neither should every one of them be required to. As for your comment on a “glorified walk-in closet”, I’d rather be strolling in one than sitting in a tin-can coffin stuck in traffic.

    BUSINESSES THRIVING: So you’re complaining we have a revolving door of retail and restaurants that open one week and fail the next? Yes, I’ve seen them come and go but several have stayed too. The Red Hot Bus is doing quite well, along with Blockheads. Many businesses that will be opening from these mixed-uses will definitely diversify the choices available for residents. The real game changer will be the higher-density of residents within walking distance of all these amenities. Also, why do you continue to neglect the effects of our economic downturn since 2008? You think Alhambra businesses were the only ones who took the hit? Stop acting like the victim and start realizing we’re not impervious to all the things going on out there in this world…

    I talk with the residents, primarily where I live. Not everyone likes every single particular feature of these new projects (and that’s expected), but for the most part many residents in the local neighborhood (including me) SUPPORT them.

  8. A well written and thoroughly researched article written by knowledgeable authors that examines a complex issue directly impacting our quality of life.  This type of writing provides a public service by bringing topics such as this to the attention of the city’s residents, initiating a deeper discussion that might not otherwise occur. 

  9. This article is very MISLEADING in terms of ignoring other issues, painting high-density developments as (de-facto) ominous, and using one-sided appeals to chastise a city council (and staff) that have worked hard to give us the great city we have today. Sorry Eric and Michael, but the search for that “perfect” city will never be found.

    There are so many issues ignored in this article, it’s shameful they weren’t discussed. Let’s start dissecting this article for what’s it worth.

    The article first starts off by listing high-density developments and asking “…is this ‘smart growth’?” The authors don’t even define what smart growth is. Perhaps we can use a standard definition such as this one…


    Smart growth doesn’t necessarily preclude high-density mixed-use projects. The key is design and the spatial arrangements of mixed-uses that promote walkability and sustainability – facets that help define smart growth.

    Second, while a city General Plan (GP) is indeed a policy document, a city ISN’T A DOCUMENT. A city is a settlement of living, breathing, and dynamic human beings. While a GP must preserve character and protect what communities value, it must also accommodate growth (it doesn’t take a Cal-Tech Engineer to figure-out our population will most likely continue increasing). These plans span decades so Specific Plans (SP) help maintain the flexibility our city needs. You both chastise the city for “abusing policies by not using the Specific Plans in the way the state intended. Specific Plans must be consistent with the General Plan”. Perhaps its ironic then that even the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research has considered updating the state’s guidelines on General Plans; more specifically, to incorporate:

    – Greenhouse gas emissions reduction and climate adaptation
    – Renewable energy
    – Infill development
    – Public health
    – Regional planning

    Source: http://cpehn.org/sites/default/files/hbdoprbackgroundbrief.pdf

    The latest state GP guideline updates can be reviewed at: http://www.opr.ca.gov/s_generalplanguidelines.php

    Taking into account the state’s INTENT and ongoing views of the environment, growth accommodation, and public health/safety, I don’t see Alhambra’s Specific Plans (that incorporate many of these facets) as so far-fetched as you would want us to believe. Alhambra is preempting state GP guidelines in the direction our urban environments are already heading into, such as compact developments (http://uli.org/press-release/2014-emerging-trends-in-real-estate/). High-density mixed-use projects place more people within a given amount of land. It provides the aggregate density to make local businesses thrive. For example, from my empirical observations (I live in the CBD) I’ve seen many of the businesses on Main St. depend on outside commuters (people who drive in), local H.S. students, and senior citizens who live in the nearby complexes. Over the years as we have grown, I have seen many of these establishments get busier. Not only do we have more people driving in, but I’ve seen more folks arriving by just walking nearby. As a key point to this, just take a look at the City Ventures project that was recently completed. I see new faces here and people walking their dogs. With more people walking to nearby amenities, this reduces short-trip commutes by car, as non-work short-trips constitute a large portion of our travels.


    I regard this as a net positive for our city.

    There are two tables in this article that compares GP, SP, and Zoning density values (maximums, variances, and restrictions). What doesn’t get explained are the timeline implementations of these numbers and the context they were created under. The GP maximum density wasn’t created yesterday. The specific projects listed didn’t happen all at once. Many of these developments go back to the West Main St. Corridor Plan of 2006 and beyond. The Shea Properties residential portion won’t even break ground until next year. The missing elements here are the EVENTS and PROCESSES that have been occurring in our city over time. The SP density values reflect market demands, regional housing shortages, and compliance to meet RHNA guidelines under Alhambra’s Housing Element (which is also a PLAN). Let’s just admit it – not only are we running low on water, we are also RUNNING OUT OF LAND! In addition, did everyone just forget the financial crisis of 2008? These projects are being criticized now, but who was doing the criticizing in the doldrum days when the anti-city vernacular back then was “blight”, “huge empty parking lots”, vacant “eyesores”, and “distress”. Many of those complaints seem to stem from the same commenters here who are opposed to these projects now. It’s hard to tell who’s who though when folks don’t register on the Alhambra Source, don’t set up a short profile, and use ridiculous pseudonyms to talk crap about the city while hiding like a coward behind a computer screen. So is this the type of social media platform you’re going to use to run for city council, Eric?

    Moving on, this article also states that the city has used Specific Plans to “QUIETLY REZONE areas to FIT DEVELOPERS’ NEED”. Really? How about the communities’ needs? Developers make what people are willing to buy. They aren’t stupid – they will perform their due diligence of a financial feasibility study and a market analysis before forking out millions of dollars. Such an analysis is not within sole purview of Alhambra, but can encompass a much broader regional area. Markets can’t be delineated only within municipal borders – they transcend beyond our city and reflect the regional forces of supply and demand that characterize our communities. We don’t live on autonomous islands, do we? So to say that these specific plans only fit developer’s needs is just plain wrong – they reflect the local/regional market, compliance with our Housing Element, and changing demographics that affect not only Alhambra, but other cities as well.

    Eric, why are you bringing up the state MANDATES again? Wasn’t this discussed many times already?

    The chastising continues on with the city staff in regards to the Alhambra Pacific Plaza that was approved at less than the required two spaces per unit. Well, off-street parking requirement variances were also sought for the Alhambra Place (old Mervyn’s site). So are you saying the staff analyses for our projects are a joke? We have traffic engineers and city planners, do they not deserve credit? Aren’t they educated, trained, licensed/certified, and follow quantitative analysis and methodologies under the auspices of governing bodies such as the American Planning Association (APA), Institute of Traffic Engineers (ITE) and Urban Land Institute (ULI). When Shea Properties asked for their off-street parking variances, the Planning Commission also took into consideration reports by the ITE and ULI. I know because I asked. But this article sheds a different light on all of this – PROFESSIONALS DON’T MEAN ANYTHING! Perhaps Alhambra can be run just by the residents themselves; forget the planners and elected officials (just look at all the hate comments here). Los Angeles Land-Use Planner Reuben Duarte eloquently proves this point…


    The article states “Using the Specific Plan to bypass the General Plan results in uncoordinated efforts to seek short-term gains. The resulting hodgepodge…means residents will suffer…”. What fails to get mentioned is that there are a lot of stakeholders involved. Developers must not only seek city council approval, but undergo a public scoping process as well. Thus, when projects don’t materialize as planned (Midwick tract for example), the after-effects are COMPROMISED DILUTED projects that are pushed to pass through the public muster, but end up meeting the expectations of nobody. I see this as one of the root causes for such uncoordinated efforts and the reason why we have this perceived HODGEPODGE inventory of buildings.

    You say that quality growth “includes public open space, provisions promoting walking and biking, inclusive housing tock, and sustainable business…”. High-density neighborhoods can incorporate many of those things. For open spaces in dense areas we can have mezzanines, paseos, promenades, courtyards, and thoroughfares spatially arranged to promote walkability and provide foot traffic for local businesses. Perhaps you envision large park-like areas as open space. The problem is that although Alhambra has lots of open spaces, they are chopped up and compartmentalized as front yards, back yards, and setbacks from single family homes and other lower-density developments. The effect is a dispersal of non-public open spaces, while not anything like a large park, can actually become a huge park as an aggregate. Bike lanes also seem to work best in high-density environments when the spatial arrangements of primary (work, home, etc.) and secondary (coffee shop, store, etc.) uses entice more people to conduct their daily errands through these routes. I saw this quite clearly when I traveled to Amsterdam (Netherlands) back in 2007 when I deployed to Germany. Everyone from their aunt and uncle were using bikes. These bike lanes were viable thanks to highly-dense communities that allowed the aggregate mass of bikers to utilize so many amenities in close proximity to each other. This is in stark contrast to the bike lanes being pushed here in the SGV. Last month I was driving down Rosemead Blvd and admired the beautification projects that went on there near Rosemead and Temple City. I noticed the separated bike lanes but it was missing a very important element – bicyclists. Then I realized all the single family homes lined up along these bike lanes and certain sections devoid of amenities. So it’s not surprising these bike lanes seem dead and not capturing its full utility. When the infrastructure that surrounds bike lanes isn’t conducive to promote daily commutes between primary and secondary uses, the bicyclist primarily using these bike lanes are mostly professionals or recreationalists, not the general masses that bike advocates usually expound on to politically push their bike plan projects. In my opinion, high-density projects also benefit Historical Preservation efforts by appropriating future growth in areas away from designated historical properties. I see this as a two-way street: If people want preservation, then there needs to be collaboration as well to accommodate growth.

    I respect your efforts Eric Sunada in wanting to help create change. However, it’s hard to be a change agent when one does not want to embrace urban change himself. Effective change requires trust and collaboration. Fueling dissent with these kinds of myopic articles is anything but this (and you’ve written several on the Alhambra Source already). Alhambra is unique and can be so much more, if we collectively choose to…

    1. John, thanks for engaging.  Our article is truthful, accurate, and honest.  Your argument is specious, however, and each of your points (when considered in depth) only further confirms that our city leadership is guilty of irresponsible development.


      First let me start out by saying that the article does not question city staff who are just trying to do the best job they can with flawed policies.  It's the leadership that is in question.


      Let's begin with the big picture:  What are the residents getting out of these high-density developments?


      –It's not the increased housing stock.  The units are unaffordable.  Can even the established, job holding resident afford these units?  No.  So if we can't move upward, our sons and daughters aren't able to take advantage of other housing getting freed up.  Read:  it's not trickling down to the community.  It's a flawed attempt to get us moving upward.


      –It's not an enhancement to the community.  We are talking about extremely dense developments with little to no open space. Why would our current leadership exceed our normal R3 requirements?  It puts an extra strain on our infrastructure, resources, and exacerbates an already dismal traffic situation.  Designs are gated, inward facing, and isolating.  You mention the possibility of open space such as balconies, mezzanines, paseos, and courtyards, but you fail to point out where it has been actually implemented.  These are classic developer terms for what often amounts to a glorified walk-in closet without a ceiling (just look at their marketing brochures and websites–even when artistically enhanced, they are a dismal).  In reality, the units being built have no set-back for common plaza areas that are vital for a thriving community, the list goes on. And if they think they're helping the region with supplying more housing, see the point above:  it's not getting to the people that need it, our local residents.


      –Is it helping our businesses thrive?  Let's see, we have a revolving door of retail and restaurants that open one week and fail the next.  It hurts the business owner.  And it hurts the community because city leadership has been giving them our grant funding with no equitable return.  We need bring the focus back to our community.  Only then will we be able to have a sustainable environment and economy.  Yet our current leadership keeps doing what is obviously not working:  relying on large developers to lift the city.  Read:  it's not trickling down and is hurting the community by the price we pay in degraded quality of life.  Don't believe me?  Talk to the residents.

    2. John,

      Next, the very definition of smart growth given by the hyperlink you provdied only reinforces our points that what the city is doing is anything but smart.  It says:

      Smart growth is a better way to build and maintain our towns and cities. Smart growth means building urban, suburban and rural communities with housing and transportation choices near jobs, shops and schools. This approach supports local economies and protects the environment.”

      The key is transportation.  We are doing everyone a disservice by building high density developments where there is a lack of transportation services.  And what's worse is that the transportation options we do have are clogged.  Bus riders suffer even more.  And bicycles are even further behind.  We need to get better public transportation options, including a local shuttle that can help our residents get to the Gold Line and a real bike plan that actually makes a difference.

      The definition goes on to say:

      “At the heart of the American dream is the simple hope that each of us can choose to live in a neighborhood that is beautiful, safe, affordable and easy to get around. Smart growth does just that. Smart growth creates healthy communities with strong local businesses. Smart growth creates neighborhoods with schools and shops nearby and low-cost ways to get around for all our citizens. Smart growth creates jobs that pay well and reinforces the foundations of our economy. Americans want to make their neighborhoods great, and smart growth strategies help make that dream a reality.”

      Several points here:  “neighborhood that is beatiful, safe, and affordable”, “creates strong local businesses”; “creates jobs that pay well”.  Our current path is failing at all of these.  Monolithic, inward facing, high-density, unaffordable condos with little to no setback and open space is not helping the community (read:  not beautiful).  Businesses are suffering from the lack of strategic planning.  For every successful one, there's two to three times that many that fail and decimate their owners.  Again, better transportation and real parking options with a more open, less-dense design would help.  As far as creating jobs that pay well?  The city's focus on retail and food service has resulted in jobs that pay unlivable wages when compared to the rents being charged in our city.

      1. Eric, agree with the definition but it doesn’t preclude the implementation of compact, dense developments! Please tell me exactly where it says that mixed-use projects (as seen here in Alhambra) is bad. Everything you referenced can be had with where we are heading to now, but you’re channeling the highlights to stick with the status quo that doesn’t want no change at all. Our city, and just about the entire Los Angeles region, IS IN TRANSITION. Do you read up on developments in SoCal? Our Metro light/heavy rail lines are expanding, dense 5+ story in-fill developments are common now (Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena, San Gabriel, Los Angeles, etc.), and even SCAG is supporting this with their RTP reports and Blue Compass programs. I’m actually glad you are reading my links, but even more important read how urban planning policies (at the national and state levels) are addressing the needs for growth management in alignment with what we have now with our Specific Plans.

        Just admit it, we are running out of land available for new development. The key is to restructure how we management our growth by building a bit taller with mixed-uses so that people can walk instead of drive. This has been the norm in numerous cities around the world for hundreds of years. Seriously, is this too much to ask?!

      2. John,

        Please address each of Eric’s points. (His response begins with “John, thanks for engaging.”

        I haven’t seen you address any of them.

        Also, your tone of: “Just admit it,” “Seriously, is that too much to ask,” and “It doesn’t take a CalTech a CalTech engineer,” and condescending and snarky.

        BTW, has our city done anything to help Alhambrans get to the Gold Line?

      3. Greg, I was mostly out for the weekend and just arrived home from work. Are you that captivated that you must ask me to address EACH of Eric’s remarks according to your time schedule. Talk about specific orders…Are you his campaign manager now?

        So “GLORIFIED WALK-IN CLOSET” to describe areas where Alhambra residents (like me) live is not condescending and snarky? And this coming from a person running for the council?

        As for your last remark, blame whoever you wish. However, for more information on the Gold Line, may I suggest reading “Railtown: The Fight for the Los Angeles Metro Rail and the Future of the City” by Ethan N Elkind. Great book…

      4. John,

        — Specific orders? According to my time schedule? What are you talking about? I have no idea where you got any of that from my response to your last post.You responded to Eric and I was interested in your response to his response to you. I would ask him the same thing…to address the points you mentioned. I asked you POLITELY so I can put all of the pieces together and consider both sides.

        — You are the one who mentions the transportation issue. I asked you a specific question about the Gold Line. It seems you are very well versed on city issues. No need to refer me to a book. I’m very familiar with the transportation issues in L.A. and their history.

  10. YES, YES, YES – the Alhambra City Council has stopped representing the wishes of us, residents, and are now “in bed with wealthy developers” who care little about their high density over-development. As the old saying old saying in baseball “throw the bums out” (meaning vote out ALL THE PRESENT COUNCIL PEOPLE) and elect people who truly represent and speak for our concerns by STOPPING THIS OVER-DEVELOPMENT and trying “slow growth”. I believe comments by Eric Sunada who might be running for city council seem to indicate he is of the same mind as the present members by falling back on “technicalities” to “explain” over-development – nothing new here!

    1. You've got me pegged wrong, Richard.  You do realize that I was a co-author of the article and have comment prior to you that I am against this over-development.  But we need to be fair and stick with the facts.  I was simply stating them with regards to the state law.  I called them “technicalities” because I do not feel they were complying with the true spirit of the law.  Please feel free to contact me directly and I would be happy to discuss where I stand on things:  [email protected]

  11. This simple answer is YES, the City of Alhambra is being overdeveloped. At Garfield & Bay State that whole block is supposed to be another monsterous housing project. There is always a lot of traffic between Mission and Garfield and with the increase of population in that area it will only get worse. Our schools are busting at the seams and the added population will continue to crowd our schools. And lastly, WATER is another issue. I sent council a letter about my concern about the increase in water usage. They seem to forget there is a drought. Our water supply is supplemented by two other sources, but that does not mean keep increasing the population in Alhambra. Water rates will go up, as the population keeps increasing.

  12. I am sorry to see a quaint and safe community like Alhambra bend to special interest groups and other lobby efforts to push through demolition of neighborhoods and high developments with less than needed parking. Tunnel or no tunnel–not providing enough parking will congest this area even more. I hope Alhambra will remain beautiful and fun and non congested as it always has…a safe haven even for police officers to house their families but it looks like unfortunately this may not be the case in the near future. Housing prices are wonderful here…they keep the graffiti off the streets…I love this community but if they destroy it with a huge tunnel, construction, more pollution and dense commercial building on Main Street without enough parking for visitors and residents it will be a disaster and very difficult to fix once the developments have been pushed through and approved without space/parking consideration.

  13. The over-development has increased the amount of vehicles traveling in & out Alahmbra. More residences, more parking spaces more cars. The Santa Fe development plan prosed multi-level office buildings with approx.6 multi-level parking structures to accommodate 6,500 parking spaces.
    At the time the Santa Fe plan was in the works, the overland 710 Freeway was in the planning stages & there was a desire for a freeway off ramp on Alhambra Ave that would direct traffic to these new developments. in 1993 that plan a fell apart when Santa Fe International officials were convicted of ‘insider trading & other illegal practices'(documents available).

    I have a copy of the 1989 plan & can send a PDF file to your publication for verification of figures I have quoted here. With all this self inflicted out of control growth the City Council can no longer complain about all the traffic plaguing the city. The city Council uses this rationale to promote the 710 tunnel. The credibility of the Alhambra City Council is in question & highly suspect.

  14. Out with the old and in with the new. I love watching those old ugly buildings being torn down. This is going to be a place where people will want to live and spend money and of course will also pay taxes.

    Hey, I have not seen any job openings at the old Mervyns building lately, have you? That’s because it needs to be torn down so something better goes in its place. This city needs jobs so that we can have a walkable community.

    I get so excited as a walk down Main St and see what’s happening. SO many old eyesores are being torn down and will be replaced with the greatest invention I have seen in real estate. The mixed use building. There will be many people who will actually be living and working in the same building. All you traffic haters should celebrate that fact.

    1. Joseph,

      Do you have specific numbers or documentation as to how many people will live in the buildings and work there? You may be jumping to conclusions. I’ve seen mostly restaurants and a bank. I wonder if most of the employees can afford to buys condos there with what they are paid at those jobs.

      Are there parks, grocery and other stores that people can walk to?

      What is the average price of those condos? What is the average wage paid at the mixed-use establishments?

      Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. While I believe that a mixed-use building can be attractive, I don’t find the ones on Main Street attractive or interesting. The County building on the SE corner of Atlantic and Main is the only one, in my opinion, that adds a bit of style to the area. There is nothing that makes our Main Street look different from equivalent developments in other parts of SoCal.

      1. Completely agree. This kind of cheap development is going to age terribly, and I hate how it all pushes up to the sidewalk. So many of these mixed-use developments on Main are going to be the eyesores we talk about in 10, 30 years. We want Alhambra to be a nice place to live now and in the future, but the only way to guarantee that is to plan our development carefully now.

        Also totally agree that the county building on Atlantic & Main is the only one that looks appealing. I bet the city council was willing to hold the developer’s feet to the fire in terms of design/cost since it was a county project.

    2. “Out with the old and in with the new” is a philosophy Americans have endorsed for so long that we’re drowning in our own garbage. And it’s unwise to assume that new is always better than old, especially when you’re talking about the faux Tuscan and other slap-dash monstrosities going up in Alhambra. And safe to assume these condo dwellers WILL have cars and use them to go beyond Main Street. Ironic that city council bemoans traffic congestion in Alhambra but approves one development after another to make traffic worse. Mr. Sunada, I like the way you think.

  15. Jen,

    Technically, the General Plan is a policy document.  Although it will refer to density regulations and standards (such as those listed in the figures of this article), such implementation specifics are officially specified in the Zoning Ordinance.  The Zoning Ordinance is a separate document from the General Plan.  So technically the city is compliant with the law.


  16. Under California law, all specific plans must be consistent with the general plan. Cal. Gov’t Code 65454 (“No specific plan may be adopted or amended unless the proposed plan or amendment is consistent with the general plan.”). If the figures in this article are correct (along with the author’s characterization of the general plan’s requirements), it appears that some or all of the specific plans listed violated state law.