Katherine Lee wants growth and city policies to benefit all Alhambra residents

Photo courtesy of Katherine Lee.

Location

Alhambra , CA United States

Katherine Lee immigrated to Alhambra from Taiwan as a child and has never left since. She teaches at Repetto Elementary School in Monterey Park for the Alhambra Unified School District and until recently served as the bargaining chair for the Alhambra Teachers Association. She wants to bring that experience to the Alhambra City Council, running for the 1st District seat. Her main campaign issues are balanced growth and more green space in Alhambra, as well as more outreach from the City Council to residents. Read on for Lee’s complete interview with the Alhambra Source.

What kind of issues are you running on for City Council?

I have quite a few. My campaign slogan is about “a voice for you and fair share for all.” The first issue I care about a lot is the representation of all Alhambra residents and fair share for all residents. And using my professional experience as a negotiation chair for the [Alhambra Teachers Association], I’d like to use the same process for the Alhambra people. I feel that the Alhambra City Council should regularly and systematically gather the input from the residents, review them and make important decisions based on the input of the people.

Is that something you feel like the Council is doing right now?

I’m not saying they are or they’re not, but it’s not evident to me. So I would have to say that certainly there should be some changes made in terms of that process. I believe that all Alhambra residents should have direct access to Alhambra City Council members, whether through email or phone calls or some other websites. I think there might be a website, but it’s not very evident to me.

Are there any specific issues that are important to you that you would like to address if you were elected?

Yes. First of all, Alhambra needs balanced growth at this point. As we look around, we see a lot of high-density development. I am not against development, but I need to see that there’s a significant reduction of high-density development at this point. And also, I’d like to see more green space at the same time for recreation. These two go hand-in-hand to me. With high-density development, you’re going to have increase in population, obviously. That means we need more green space for recreation, for family to spend time together and exercise and so on.

Now I also feel that, along with this issue, Alhambra residents should have easy access to the city’s master plan. I know there is one, that the people need to get input on how much more and where green space is needed. The master plan should be placed in different locations in the city for public viewing. For example, it could be different parks or the public library, City Hall itself and other places. So in terms of high-density development, I’m talking about — it’s very common to see multiple units built on double lots and then you have single-family homes sandwiched between them.

Currently there are [at least] three major high-density developments pending in Alhambra — Marengo Avenue, as you’re aware and one near Alhambra Road and Stoneman [Avenue] and the one that I’m really looking at is at 1000 S Fremont Ave where The Alhambra is. The project on Fremont is right across from Kohl’s and they’re proposing to build 908 units. 516 of them will be sold and 392 will be rental units.

So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is going to create more traffic on Fremont as well as major streets that are leading to the freeway during commuting hours. This to me is a personal experience. Earlier this year, I drove on Fremont Avenue about 4 p.m. one weekday afternoon. I was shocked that it took 17 minutes from Commonwealth to Valley Boulevard. I can’t imagine what a thousand additional units would do to the traffic on Fremont Avenue. I want to make this statement. Do we want to keep on building for the sake of revenues? Or do we want a peaceful Alhambra?

So are you opposed to the 1,000 units?

I’m not necessarily opposed to it, because I’m not an elected official at this point. It’s beyond my control. But if residents are concerned about it, they need to show up at various meetings along the way to give their input. And to me, enough is enough. We need more green space to relax, not a concrete jungle.

A lot of people are moving into southern California. Even without the high-density development, there are people moving in. What do you think about — in terms of — what if units were more affordable or something like that? You say you’re not opposed to growth per se, but is there a type of growth that you want to see?

I’d like to see — my first concern of course is affordable rental units at this point. And the median income for Alhambra residents is about $53,138. And so whatever development the city wants to bring in or invite, it needs to match that median income. So I would like to see more choices for renters that are affordable. I’m not necessarily talking about low-income units, I’m talking about affordable rental units for all renters, based on that median income of $53,138. And now rents range from $1,550 to $1,825 a month for a one-bedroom, while a two-bedroom rents for $1,650 to $2,100 per month. 

And I’d also like to point out that I’m not necessarily against growth, development. But I’m rather concerned that at the Alhambra Place development, rents start at $2,199 for a studio and $2,279 for a one-bedroom, when I last checked. So that does not match the needs of Alhambra renters. That’s why I am concerned about that. The solution I’d like to propose is look for developers that will build affordable housing for our renters, give the renters more choices to choose from.

As a teacher, I see that a lot of teachers are commuting from other cities and I’d like to see that there be choices of affordable rent for teachers, policemen, firefighters and other first responders with this city, to cut down commute time.

Shifting gears a little bit, in terms of your campaign donations, where do you plan on getting those? Do you plan on getting those from developers, from city contractors and stuff like that?

Actually, I’m trying to fund the campaign by myself mostly. Whoever donates to me, I’d like to cap it at no more than $300. So whoever feels that I am a qualified candidate for the City Council, I would definitely like their donations but it’s going to be capped at a very reasonable $300.

And would you accept a donation from [a business] like The Alhambra, somebody like that?

If I’m elected as a city councilperson, I represent all people, businesses, families. I’m not gonna really lock out everybody. Representation of all.

Everybody in Alhambra can vote in any district for these elections. What do you think of those types of elections?

I’m very supportive of that campaign reform. First of all, voting at-large is limiting the choices of candidates, because it’s very costly. A mailer across the city is about a few thousand dollars at least. So what it does is candidates will have to have a large fund in order to have exposure. It’s very difficult as a candidate to reach out to all Alhambra residents… And so most voters do not really know the candidates. Therefore it’s doing a disservice to voters, because we are limiting the choice of candidates by voting at-large.

Going back to business development, like the Lowe’s that was supposed to come in, what do you think about that in general?

As a resident, I know we already have Home Depot nearby. This is really something that I wish that the city would have taken input from the residents, especially residents around the neighborhood and see if they need a Lowe’s, a large business like that. It’s really up to the people of Alhambra. And I do not know how the decision was made, but I know that some people were against it, because the traffic impact. So in terms of large business like that, there should be a balance in the city — large businesses as well as mom-and-pop businesses. That’s what usually what a city has and gives the residents choices of where to shop.

But I do want the city, again, to let the residents know about the master plan of the city, so people have input to it.

You mean the general plan?

Yeah, there’s a master plan I was told, and it was passed a long time ago. But I as a resident am not aware of it. It needs to be visible to all residents.

You mean where the zoning is?

The master plan of the city, maybe how they want to develop certain sections and things like that. I know that it’s online somewhere, but not too many people know about it. That’s why I wanted to propose that the master plan be posted in different places. For example, when Alhambra schools — when we had the bond money, and they were building new buildings on the school site, we see the master plan in the office. And parents and teachers and staff members all have — all can have input. That’s the way things should be done in the city.

I think they’re coming out with an update this year.

Right, and that’s a time when people’s input really should be collected. So people have a voice.

I just wanted to ask about another specific issue, immigration. In fact, San Gabriel [passed] a sanctuary city [resolution]. I was wondering if you’ve given any thought to that and if you’d like to see something like that in Alhambra and in general, what are your views on immigration?

We have a lot of immigrants in this city and Alhambra school district has already declared itself a safe haven for undocumented students. And as a candidate, I believe that Alhambra should be a sanctuary city, going with the state mandates. But at the same time, a sanctuary city can have its own policy in terms of when to report to the federal authorities. So Alhambra City Council needs to work with Police Chief Vu to look at our city’s specific policy and procedure, but at the same time, not allowing fear [to come] in to the city. So that’s my position.

Are there any other specific issues that you want to talk about?

I’d like to talk about public safety, which is another priority.

First of all, I believe that Alhambra police and the other first responders in the city should be adequately equipped to protect their residents and maintain peace. In order to recruit and retain highly-qualified responders, we need to offer competitive salaries and benefits.

Now as a teacher, school safety is extremely important, also as parents as well, I’m sure, in light of the recent campus shootings.

Around the Alhambra schools, we have lockdown procedures in place. Students are fearful at times and the teachers’ job is to make sure they feel safe at school. And we already had training recently by the Alhambra Police Department to train the teachers and the other staff members in terms of crisis situations. I’d like to see more of that ongoing training for us, for the teachers. So public safety is a priority for me.

What do you think of crime in Alhambra? Do you think overall it’s a safe city? Is there something that can be done in terms of that?

I’ve lived in District 1 since 1997. And it’s relatively peaceful. At one point, we organized a neighborhood watch. And I really want to encourage that more neighborhoods have more neighborhood watch. I noticed that in the Alhambra Police crime report, there were 31 residential burglaries in January 2018 alone, compared to 17 in 2017. I noticed that and that’s my concern. And so I believe that Alhambra in general is still a very peaceful community. But I’m sure there are crimes that if residents are closely monitoring their neighborhood, that should be helpful in terms of preventing more crimes from coming in.

Have you served on any city commissions? Have you had any interactions with the City Council?

No, not at all. I want to do something for the city. I wasn’t intending to be a politician, but in my heart, I feel like I can contribute to the city as a City Council member.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Leave a Reply