Eric Sunada would like to see a change in Alhambra. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer has been an Alhambra resident for 20 years, and in that time has been involved in planning, development, and water contamination issues. This November, he is challenging Councilman Stephen Sham for the 1st District seat on Alhambra City Council.
Sunada lives with his wife Farida and dog Chaplin — named after Charlie Chaplin — and is the supervisor of the Thermal Technology and Fluid Systems Group at JPL. We spoke to the Alhambra Source community contributor about the upcoming election and what he would like to improve in the city, from increasing transparency at City Hall to implementing a bike plan. Read his answers below.
What would you like to improve in Alhambra?
It seems that the current leadership’s policies focus only on short-term gains. In fact, they focus mainly on increasing retail sales tax revenue at all costs. But with 42 percent of our citizens in lower-income groups, that’s not a sustainable strategy. Essentially, you’re not developing for the people.
I want to invest in our people, and one source of funding is the Community Block Grant Program, which can be in the millions of dollars. Let’s use that money with long-term growth in mind. Whether it’s job training programs, more parks, open space, repairing our Story Park swimming pool, creating incubators for start-ups that pay better wages, helping our education system establish adult school and ESL classes, or forging synergistic relationships with industry and our local colleges.
Have you been involved in local government before?
I have been involved in water contamination issues in Alhambra since 2003. I represented the city in the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District, which also serves Monterey Park, Sierra Madre, and Azusa.
I then served as an Alhambra Parks and Recreation commissioner and a Planning commissioner. During that time, I realized that some of the city’s policies weren’t serving Alhambra citizens. In 2006, I formed a small nonprofit called the San Gabriel Valley Oversight Group that focuses on environmental awareness and social justice.
If elected, how would you increase public engagement?
Our leadership does not readily make available the information behind the agenda items for City Council and commission meetings. Usually the public is only given a short description of items up for decisions. More information and documents should be put online, and the city should also explain them in ways residents can easily understand.
City Council also makes decisions over millions of dollars that affect thousands of lives with little discussion. We should be encouraging people to voice their opinions. Instead, we sometimes see the public treated in an uncivil manner by the current Council.
Back in 2006, when there were public hearings on the high-density housing plans along West Main Street, every speaker in attendance voiced their opposition to the project but the Council passed it regardless. So even when public participation was occasionally high, it was a demoralizing experience.
We have about 85,000 people in the city and only about 39,000 registered voters. We need to do a better job trying to get everyone involved. City leaders should encourage engagement by making information and documents more accessible and by holding more public forums and more discussions in simpler language so people understand.
Do you think language accessibility is an issue for city programs and services?
Whether it is the ability to read official documents or participate in the community, language accessibility is an issue. I realize there are limited resources, but the city should do more to translate key documents, provide outreach with multilingual staff, and offer ESL classes, which we sadly no longer have.
If elected, I would make a conscious effort to reach all people who live here. A city really can’t sustain itself unless it truly involves the community. An informed community makes better stakeholders and a better city.
READER QUESTION: Some residents are advocating for an ordinance that preserves historic and cultural resources. Do you support implementing a historic preservation ordinance in Alhambra?
Yes, I’m in favor of both historical and cultural preservation. It’s important to promote our cultural heritage, architecture, and uniqueness rather than simply tearing down character homes and buildings to make way for quickly built new development. Preserving the character of our neighborhoods grows property value and makes Alhambra a better place to live.
What is your stand on adding biking infrastructure in Alhambra? Do you support a bike plan?
San Gabriel City Council just approved a regional bike master plan, but voiced concerns that Alhambra has not voted to approve the plan nor have staff responded to requests from San Gabriel staff.
Biking as a mode of transportation is the future. The faster we embrace that the better. I would like to see Alhambra revisit its current plan and make it more robust, but the Council shows little interest in implementing the plan.
READER QUESTION: Alhambra officially supports closing the 710 gap, and is part of a decades-long debate about how and if to extend the freeway to the 210. How do you feel about this issue?
I’m waiting for the Environmental Impact Report due in February. I don’t think we have enough information now to make a truly responsible decision. It also depends on the cost. I’ve heard numbers anywhere from $5 billion to $15 billion.
According to information on Caltrans and Metro sites, it will be a toll tunnel and have no exits for local traffic except at either end. We have to ask whether a tunnel is the best option or are alternatives such as light rail, more buses, and more public transportation.
Why should residents vote for you?
Alhambrans have a choice in this election, an opportunity to vote for change. I will advocate for neighborhood preservation, more green space, safer streets for pedestrians and bicyclists, and government transparency. From a fiscal perspective, I will work for a more balanced plan that invests in our community as well as business. Most important, I will work hard to give our citizens a bigger voice in shaping the future of Alhambra. My goal is more collaboration and greater opportunity for our people. Vote for me Nov. 4, and together we can make Alhambra a better city for everyone.
Editor's note: This interview was edited and condensed. This piece does not represent the views or opinions of the editorial staff and is not an endorsement.