Festival vs. town hall: Dual city efforts to engage Alhambra residents

The City of Alhambra hosted two overlapping — yet very different — events last Saturday morning to obtain community input regarding the city’s land use and development. Scores of people attended Envision Alhambra 2035, an open house at Almansor Park, where they spoke with various city department representatives in a festival-like atmosphere. Halfway through that event, just three blocks away, a town hall meeting at the Alhambra Civic Center Library was the site of a heated discussion among approximately 40 concerned citizens that primarily focused on the Front Porch project, a proposed 93-unit housing development on the 2400 block of South Fremont.

A member of the West SGV Bicycle Coalition suggests new bike paths on boardThe aim of Envision Alhambra 2035, which is the first of its kind, was to gather recommendations from the community about how they “envision Alhambra” in the future. “City Hall has been brought out today to Almansor Park,” said Wendy Grant, a senior planner at The Planning Center, a consultant firm hired to help the city update its General Plan. California State law requires each city to have a blueprint for its growth and development from which city administrators may use as a basis to make their land use decisions. The updated Plan, as well as a Community Profile and Vision Report, are expected to be completed and available to the public by early next year.

Booths representing various city departments, such as recycling, housing, police and fire, answered questions and gave away fliers and free key chains. Agencies provided details on programs such as the Housing Division, which is now offering the First Time Homebuyer (FTHB) Down Payment Assistance Program and the Homeowner Rehabilitation Program. Many residents expressed surprise to learn that Almansor Park’s Open Play Schedule — which offers table tennis, volleyball, badminton and an adult basketball league — is free.

The Planning Group facilitated interactive boards for people to write feedback on. Members of the West San Gabriel Valley Bicycle Coalition rolled up to the open house on their bikes and suggested adding bike paths to various areas of the city, including Commonwealth Ave., and extending hours of the ACT bus. Other residents recommended maintaining the R1 zones, which are areas with single-family houses, in order to minimize density. At the arts and crafts tables, kids “played major for a day” by drawing out their version of a model Alhambra and molded Play-Doh to make their ideal houses.

Midway through Envision Alhambra, just three streets down in the Ruth C. Reese Hall at the library, Councilman Gary Yamauchi asked residents for their questions about the city in a more solemn setting.

Town hall meetingAfter staff members set up an extra row of chairs to accommodate a packed house, Yamauchi opened the meeting by saying that the Summer Jubilee did not happen this year due to budget adjustments. Edward Ruiz, an Alhambra resident for 40 years, encouraged the city to still try for the Jubilee despite budget adjustments. Suggestions included hosting more lower-level performances, obtaining funds from Main St. businesses and gathering donations from residents.

“The Council has given that some thought,” Yamauchi responded. “However, we don’t want to bill anybody additional. You folks pay enough taxes.” He said that hosting the Summer Jubilee is much more costly than most believe.

Two other topics that generated discussion were plans for a more bike-friendly infrastructure and improving pedestrian safety. Wes Reutimann, a member of the West San Gabriel Valley Bicycle Coalition, noted that Alhambra is statistically one of the most dangerous cities in California for pedestrians. “When you combine streets with high traffic and signals which don’t provide enough time for people to get across, it’s a recipe for disaster,” said Reutimann. In response, Yamauchi urged those concerned to attend the Traffic Commission meetings. He also noted that the city is planning to implement a number of new traffic signals to improve pedestrian safety.

The most passionate topic of discussion, however, was about the Front Porch project. Developer City Ventures has joined with the owners of the former Front Porch Retirement Community to propose a mega-development in the Midwick Tract Neighborhood. Still in its conceptual stage, the project would install 93 units consisting of townhomes, single family houses and nine luxury suites.

“All the issues today are about urban and city planning,” Reutimann said, advocating that certain zoning laws need to be changed in Alhambra and to pay attention to the General Plan. “I encourage everyone to get involved.”

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