LocationAlhambra , CA
In the first full City Council session called to order by new Mayor Ross Maza, the subjects at hand were building codes, housing funding and priorities, taxes and schools but the first order of business was honoring and thanking a retiring Alhambra Police Department officer.
Maza introduced and congratulated Eugene Ramirez, a senior APD officer with 25 years on the job and presented him with a certificate of service plaque from the council for his years of service.
Ramirez, clearly moved by the occasion, was emotional in noting that being a police officer hasn’t always been easy but in the end “each call has made me a better man.” After some group photographs with Police Chief Timothy Vu and the full city council, Ramirez headed off into retirement.
The council then proceeded with the agenda which featured the adoption of the LA County Electrical Building Codes for 2020 as well as adoption of new LA County Fire Codes, which were presented briefly by Fire Chief Thomas M. Phelps. The adoption of the building and fire codes was a quick and unanimous process.
Item four on the agenda, Direction on CDBG and Home Funding Priorities and Activities was more complex and, in the end, inconclusive. This item was to serve as a joint meeting with the 10-member HCDA Citizen Advisory Committee to discuss, according to the council agenda, the “direction of CDBFG and home funding priorities and activities.”
But of the ten member committee, only three were present so a quorum of that advisory body was not available to conduct business. Nevertheless, city staff presented a detailed overview explaining how the city had been thinking about and using the Housing and Urban Development Funds and Consolidated Plan Priorities. This detailed presentation went on through 18 power point slides shown to the council and the attendees.
Eric Sunada*, a member of the HCDA Advisory Committee from District 5, addressed the city council following the presentation and voiced frustration over the lack of HCDA meetings during the year. He noted that fewer than a handful had been scheduled and that only two had actually attracted a quorum. According to the city web site, the meetings are supposed to occur the first Tuesday of each month at City Hall. Sunada maintained that city staff had cancelled many of these planned meetings for reasons other than lack of quorum but it was not immediately clear why.
He also explained that it was virtually impossible for the committee to fulfill its advisory mandate on this subject, which is meaty and complex, and to provide direction to the council if it never meets and never discusses HCDA issues, regulations and implementation.
In public comment, resident Chris Olson pointed to a study published that day by the Southern California News Group, which includes the Pasadena Star News, grading each city in California on fulfilling housing needs. While Olson applauded the council for progress that Alhambra has made in the last couple of years on this issue, she noted that the city was given a grade of D in this assessment. She also said that in the state housing crisis most cities received unsatisfactory grades.
Other speakers, including 40-year resident Cliff Bender, questioned whether the allocation of CDBG funding for some infrastructure improvements and code enforcement expenses, while acceptable under the guidelines, was in keeping with the true spirit of “how the funding was intended to be used.”
Resident Michael Lawrence echoed many of Bender’s points and voiced concern over the seeming lack of input by Alhambra residents in how the money was being allocated.
During council comment, Katherine Lee expressed surprise over the lack of HCDA Citizen Advisory Committee meetings and mused that it might be helpful going forward for the council to monitor progress by receiving minutes of HCDA meetings as it does other commissions and committees.
While voicing support for Alhambra’s work with the HCDA process, council member Jeff Maloney said he would contact those members of the Advisory Committee that he had appointed and urge them to be more engaged in the meeting and deliberation process. He encouraged his council colleagues to do the same thing with their appointees.
Vice Mayor David Mejia also said he thought the city had been doing a good job with the funding implementation but agreed that the council was not ready to go forward with a declaration on the direction of CDBG priorities and activities. He urged that HCDA committee meet between now and January and offer some thoughts that the Council might consider at a meeting early in 2020.
The next item in the agenda was consideration of the Schools and Communities First Initiative, a measure gaining signatures and traction for the November, 2020 ballot. This initiative would revise some of the provisions of Prop. 13 as they relate to levels of taxation for non-residential, non-agricultural commercial properties.
In presenting briefly to the council, city staff offered the bare outlines of the initiative and said the League of California Cities has said it would not make a recommendation on the measure until the spring of 2020 when the full language of the initiative and its financial impact will be known. The League was also urging cities to hold off on their decisions until that time.
According to other sources, including the League of Women Voters of California website, this measure would increase property tax rolls by an estimated $11-12 billion a year. Homeowners, small businesses, residential renters and agricultural land would continue to be protected. The money would be divided 40% to K-12 and community college education grants, 29% to cities and 24% to counties and 7% to special districts.
In public comment, Alhambra High School teacher Javier Guitierrez and Terry Skotnes, executive director of the Alhambra Teachers Association, spoke of the struggles that public education have faced since the passage of Prop. 13 in 1978.
Skotnes said that, at the time, Prop. 13 provided necessary relief for a property tax structure that was breaking the backs of middle-class homeowners in the state. However, the unintended consequences of the passage of Prop. 13 have resulted in a marked decline in per-student funding in the state and, until recently, a continued drop in California’s place in national rankings.
In detailing the importance of the initiative, he pointed out that Prop. 13 impacted the valuation formula for all real estate, not just homes, and that this measure would adjust that formula in a way that would allow businesses to pay “their fair share.” He also noted, that many other states have this kind of tax structure.
Council member Adele Andrade-Stadler voiced her readiness to support the measure and cited the fact that Disneyland is still being governed under the same property tax assessment formula as it was when Prop. 13 was voted in almost 42 years ago. The land value has increased multiple times but the tax rate has not kept pace, she said.
Maloney said that as a private citizen he signed a petition to get the initiative on the ballot but as a council member he needed to see the actual and final initiative language before he can make a decision on endorsing. Mejia and Lee voiced similar reservations about seeing the final initiative language and the issue was continued.
One issue on the consent agenda, the authorization of an Request for Proposal for the Development of a Bicycle and Transportation Plan, led to some public comment and was voted on separately.
Cliff Bender and Michael Lawrence voiced support for the RFP plan while resident Lola Armendariz again expressed skepticism that a bike plan is a pressing need for a community with funding shortfalls in other areas and traffic safety considerations. She also questioned whether the RFP with the inclusion of pedestrian transportation was an expansion of the directive given city staff by the council at the Nov. 12 meeting.
Council members voiced support for the RFP and indicated it was not an expansion of the directive before voting 5-0 for the item.
Another consent agenda of interest was the approval of a parking enforcement services contract with Inter-Con security services for an 18-month period effective January 6, 2020 to June 30, 2021 for an amount not to exceed $782,487. This content item directed staff to undertake steps to finalize council’s actions.
*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 or after publication.