LocationAlhambra , CA United States
Suzi Dunkel-Soto is a lifelong Alhambra resident and has worked as a realtor in the area for eight years. She plans on bringing that experience, plus her time serving on Alhambra’s Planning Commission to her campaign for the 5th District seat on Alhambra’s City Council. As a City Council member, Dunkel-Soto wants to champion public safety, affordable housing and to make Alhambra a destination for eating, shopping and other activities, as well as allowing residents to enjoy a good quality of life. Read our interview with Dunkel-Soto and take our poll on which issues mean most to you in the upcoming City Council races.
Why are you running for City Council?
I’m running for City Council because I’m a lifetime resident of Alhambra. I genuinely care about my city. I’m dedicated to the city that raised me and continues to nurture me. My family roots are here and Alhambra is where I’ve raised my children and my heart is in Alhambra. I want every child to have access to the education and safety that they need to succeed. I’ve served on Planning Commission since 2013, and this has allowed me some great insight into making Alhambra the best city.
Are education and safety your pet issues?
My key issues are public safety, traffic, affordable housing and quality of life for all residents of Alhambra.
How does your profession as a realtor and your position on Planning Commission inform your campaign or what you want to do as a City Council member?
I think my experience on Planning Commission has allowed me to be part of a bigger picture and to have a voice with my city in Alhambra, from approving projects for a growing family for the additional space that they need to live, reviewing and approving development that’s come to Alhambra and allowing Alhambra to thrive the way it has. I’m [at City Hall] twice a month for my Planning Commission meetings, and then I attend the City Council meetings. I don’t just attend for a particular project, I’m there just to see what’s going on in my city. Projects that have come to Planning Commission then go to City Council, or vice versa, when they’ve gone to City Council then they come to Planning Commission, it allows me when I approve a project to do it with confidence and to have knowledge of the project, not just an issue that’s come up. And if there are any issues [with a project], we’ll add a condition to put a little more ease on it as it is approved in the city.
Do you have any specific examples of when that’s happened?
Yeah, when there’s been a project for a house, whether it’s changing windows or just adding something to help the neighbors. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Marengo project with the trees when that came to Planning Commission. The trees were a concern and that’s when we had approved the project subject to an arborist review. There are projects that have come in where a multi-unit has come in, the project itself is within the guidelines, but we’ll limit parking, because it affects the neighborhood, which is already over-crowded. So we’ll put in specific conditions. For Planning Commission, I don’t just receive the project and come to the meeting and vote, I’m involved in research and drive the neighborhoods to be involved as well.
Affordable housing is one of your pet issues. Can you explain more about that?
There have been projects that have come up at Planning Commission, some of the newer development. And a question I ask — as a realtor, I’m quite aware of the housing prices in Alhambra — when a project comes, I’ll ask what percentage is put aside for senior housing or for affordable housing. And that has not been something that had been considered. I have family, friends, clients that want to live here and it’s a concern when I can’t help them find a home in the city they grew up in, because of the price of real estate. My own daughter lives in the Emery Park area and she has to rent because the pricing is too expensive. And affordable housing is a number that we need to look at. It’s not low-income housing, it’s affordable housing, and based on the median income for the city.
What do you think the city can do to help increase this housing?
I know that there’s a handful of individuals that are against development and additional housing. How do you handle one problem if you’re not gonna bring in additional housing? I think we need to look at that. I am all for affordable housing, housing for upcoming projects that we look at. We put a percentage aside for our first responders, our teachers and a percentage who live and work in Alhambra, and I hope that as we increase housing, that it doesn’t have a big impact on traffic.
What are your views on rent control?
It doesn’t benefit the tenant and it doesn’t benefit the property owner. I think rent control is more of an attempt to solve a problem that’s much bigger. The bigger problem is that the lack of housing has increased — it’s a simple supply and demand issue, and since we don’t have enough housing, affordable housing, that has increased the rents out there.
I don’t feel the property should have to subsidize the rent for one who’s not able to pay that. It doesn’t help those who are less fortunate, lower income, because it locks in everyone. So those that don’t have a need are taking advantage of the system as well. Rent control does not have a true means test for those that need it.
Would you be for rent control that was means tested?
I’m for a program for those that need it, whether that would be a voucher system for the seniors that are on a fixed income. I’m definitely open to discussing a way to help the problem. But blanket rent control doesn’t benefit anybody. We’re going to find that landlords are going to defer elective maintenance and only perform what’s necessary. Most of the landlords are Mom and Pops. For individual, self-employed people, [for which a rental property is] their retirement plan, it hurts them.
In general, what do you think of business development in Alhambra? There’s some vocal opposition to some projects and everything. What would you do as a City Council member to hear those concerns or to accommodate them if you think that’s needed. What is your stance on that in general?
I would support development that would allow the residents of the city to thrive and to live, shop, play in the community we live in. I would hear concerns of the residents and kind of weigh both sides.
Do you think we need more large businesses in Alhambra?
Personally, I prefer the privately owned, personal — the smaller businesses. It kind of is what makes Alhambra what it is. I’ve lived here my entire life and there are businesses I’ve seen come and go, and that’s part of the beauty of Alhambra. But there are the larger businesses that do bring in the revenue and commerce for the city. And some of them even help small businesses that are growing. They’ll bring someone to the city, and you shop around or dine at the neighborhood restaurant. So there needs to be a balance. But I would prefer smaller businesses, keeping it close.
In terms of campaign donations, how would you fund your campaign?
I’m looking to seek support from family, friends and the industry — my colleagues.
In real estate?
That’s my profession, yes. Not developers, real estate.
So would you take money from developers?
That is not my plan. I am doing local fundraising. I have had a committee formed since the end of last year. I have formed a committee and I have my kickoff fundraiser in a couple of weeks, and my campaign is off to a very strong beginning with overwhelming support.
I know the voting system is at large. What do you think of that system?
I personally think that it’s the best. And I know that there are different viewpoints on that. But I think if I’m making a decision on a project on East Main Street but I don’t live there, I think a resident in District 1 should be able to vote for me. Even though I’m representing [the 5th District], I will still be making decisions throughout the city. And I don’t think it’s fair to the residents of Alhambra if I’m only centered and focused on and have the support of those within my district, if I’m making decisions on behalf of the city. So I think it’s great that it’s by district to give representation of each part of Alhambra, but I think the full city should have a vote on who is making decisions on their behalf.
There’s been some activity around immigration [in the San Gabriel Valley]. I was wondering what your viewpoint is on immigration and what the City Council can do to support immigrants.
I think everybody should feel safe. I don’t think that having ICE brought into our cities and schools, especially, is acceptable at all.
Would you support a sanctuary city ordinance?
Yes, I would.
In terms of other issues you’re running on, like public safety. I’ve heard a lot of people talking about public safety and crime recently. Is there a perception of an increase in crime, and what can be done to combat that, if that’s the case?
Safety is something that’s very near and dear to my heart. I’m a certified national safety realtor instructor and that’s in self-defense, that’s in awareness, it’s in cyber safety, education, it’s providing — what I would do is take the tools and bring those to the neighbors. Right now I think the neighborhood watch programs are as a neighborhood wants it. I think bringing that program back to life in all the neighborhoods and offering solutions and increasing awareness, taking it not just into the neighborhoods, but providing the kids with the tools at school.
So more safety education and a more robust neighborhood watch.
Yes, and providing the tools. If we had more revenue to increase the number of police to have more patrolling or increase our volunteer patrolling, that’s a definite. I live in a little hidden pocket of Alhambra, and I hear that’s a major concern for a lot of neighbors in my community. We’ve got a little on-ramp. We’ve got Cal State LA traffic. We’re hit with a lot of crime. My car was broken into a couple of weeks ago. It hits home. I hear it from my neighbors — the alarm systems put in, the increase of dog ownership. We’re trying to take matters into our own hands.
Is there anything else you want to add?
One of the areas that I want to do is focus on the quality of life. And with that, that’s where all the decisions come from — the public safety, the traffic, the affordable housing, the parks, the events that take place, the shopping, it all ties in together. I hear from so many people that they love Alhambra, they love coming here. And then I hear from others who are just upset and complaining about the traffic and the restaurants that come in. Alhambra is such a diverse, beautiful city. I just want to make sure that there’s a good quality of life, and everybody can live in a city where they can shop, eat, play and enjoy.
This interview has been edited and condensed.