No end to redevelopment in Alhambra?

*Updated 1:17pm

Alhambra’s main agent to lure new businesses to the city officially dissolved on Wednesday, but it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

The state shut down more than 400 redevelopment agencies, including Alhambra's, but city officials plan to preserve at least some of its functions, which are responsible for bringing in a long list of national retailers including Starbucks, LA Fitness, Toys R’ Us, Costco, Taco Bell, Kohl’s, Volkswagen. Support has ranged from $136,000 to Starbucks in the 1990s, to $1.2 million to create the Renaissance Plaza at Garfield and Main, to free rent to Subway in exchange for renovations. Smaller restaurants and bars such as Havana House or 38 Degrees were among the recipients, as was the Lizard Theater and housing developments.

Critics, among them Governor Brown, questioned why tax dollars should go to billion-dollar retailers instead of funding cash-strapped education and public service initiatives. This lead to the state decision to shut them down on February 1. But Alhambra's City Manager, Julio Fuentes, who is president of the California Redevelopment Association and a leading advocate for the role the agencies play in fueling private investment, said that the city will find other ways to continue its functions.

Redevelopment projects on Main Street, Alhambra“Private sector is our lifeblood,” Fuentes said. “We are considering adopting an ordinance that would enable us to do economic development similar to what the agency did in its former life." Although he said there were challenges ahead, none of the agency staff will be laid off. Instead, they will now be paid through the city’s general fund.

If it plans to continue, the redevelopment agency will have to find new ways to support itself. Previously funds came primarily from tax increments on property taxes. Fuentes said it will be a challenge, but they should be able to find other sources. “We could use sales taxes, we could use property taxes from that individual project,” he said. “We could also probably use any type of grant money, in particular though HUD.” Other options include tapping into reserves, inter-agency loans, and creating special districts within downtown corridors. Because Alhambra is a charter city, and can make many of its own rules without approval of the state, Fuentes said he believes this should not be a problem.

But local state representatives, reflecting the decisions out of Sacramento, raised questions about the efficacy of redevelopment programs. “Redevelopment agencies definitely have a checkered past,” said Steve Veres, the district director for State Senator Kevin de Leon. As California starts making painful cuts to education and housing, he said, “It’s hard to defend redevelopment as it stands now.”

Veres cited projects in other cities where funds that were initially intended to alleviate urban blight instead went toward upscale development such as a luxury golf course upgrade in Palm Desert.

Assemblyman Mike Eng, whose office is in Alhambra, defended the redevelopment agencies, saying that they could be a powerful engine for affordable housing and economic development. "While I was and continue to be supportive of many of the Governor’s efforts to balance the state budget and eliminate our ongoing structural deficit, I did not support his proposal to completely eliminate our redevelopment agencies," he wrote in an e-mail. Instead, he supported legislation that would allow cities to voluntarily opt to remain in the program, which Alhambra had intended to do.

Without that option, Alhambra local officials maintain that the cuts will hurt the city, even if much of the agency operations go on. Fuentes said that he had just returned from speaking at the International Shopping Center’s Conference where a number of companies said they planned on bidding on the Alhambra Place mall. The former home to Mervyn’s it’s been vacant for a number of years. Fuentes maintains that redevelopment funds have gotten that space to a place where a major retailer could move in. “If that product doesn’t get developed,” Fuentes said, “it’s going to be if redevelopment is not there to fill the gap.”

*An original version of this story misrepresented Assemblyman Mike Eng's stance on redevelopment agencies. He supported a voluntary opt in program. The story has been corrected.

14 thoughts on “No end to redevelopment in Alhambra?”

  1. No doubt, planned SENSIBLE development is vital to a community, but city officials are crying “crocodile tears” with the recent ruling against development agencies that in many situations are merely tools for developers that get rich using OUR tax dollars. Development agencies have overstepped their usefulness & city officials have done little or nothing to reign them in & in the case of Alhambra, the city council gives ittself development authority & most development projects are kept hidden until it’s too late for citizen input.Sleezy comes to mind.

    1. Projects kept hidden?

      Do you even attend city council meetings or read the city paper?

      1. The “City paper”? You mean that development/political propaganda rag called the “Around Alhambra”? What a joke. Every article in the last 6-8 issues has been of whining regarding the governor’s actions of reigning in RDAs.

      2. Propaganda Rag?

        There are thousands of readers in the city who read that paper. Since you even now how many last issues have been whining about “RDAs”, you’ve obviously been reading them. Or at least pretend to be.

      3. I agree with South. “Around Alhambra” is a promotional piece for the Chamber of Commerce and the city. Not that that is bad, it’s just not a newspaper in any sense of the word.

        The annoying thing is the way they front their candidate by giving them the “person of the year” award and then someone takes out a full-page ad to congratulate them the month before the election.

        Funny, no one won an award during the last election…since all were running unopposed.

  2. If any member of the agency is reading this, I ask that you make sure to do ONE thing in regards to Main Street: Make sure that any new building is placed right up to the street. Meaning, I dont want to see any cars in a parking lot from the street.

    I love walking on Main Street and I like that urban city feel to it with tall buildings right up against the street.

    In regards to “afforable housing”. They are asking 500k for those townhomes in that Main Street Collection project. Not sure if I call that affordable housing, but I see your point South End.

    1. @ VinceF

      I agree about that “urban feel” you get when walking along Main St. Without large setbacks from the main street curb and vertical height limitations that allow taller structures, one does feel enclosure and identity. Perhaps it’s this sense of identity that makes some feel proud of Alhambra.

      The Super A market I believe will be closing down this summer. The new development site won’t have a large setback and the new building will be placed right up to the street (based on the project renderings). The Casita Zen project on Main/Third will share similar features. So what you are asking is already in the works…

      1. @John

        I think Super A may be, other than the Chinese restaurant next block east, the only major business on Main between Garfield and Atlantic with a large setback.

      2. @ Robert,

        I’m refering to Main St. in general. If VinceF was only refering to Main St. between Garfield and Atlantic it wasn’t explicitly mentioned. I like to look at Main St. as a whole and not just the West Main St. Corridor. There are still many strip mall type businesses along Main St. that have large setbacks, especially ones with large parking lots that entice cars instead of pedestrians. The Hollywood Video lot, CVS lot, and Ralphs Supermarket lot are some of them.

      3. @John

        You’ll have to rework the entire auto row as well. What I was referring to was that with the demise of Super A, that section of Main will all be devoid of large setbacks.

      4. Good point and Auto Row surely doesn’t fit in with that urban “feeling”. However, those businesses have been there for a very long time and is a good tax base for the city. I don’t see them moving out anytime soon. Who knows?

        Auto Row is everything about suburban driving right next to the West Main St. corridor, which is trying its best to promote walkability. That divide on Main/Atlantic is a big clash between promoting driving and walking.

        Yes, that section of Main will be devoid of large setbacks. So if that was your point, your point is understood. I’m just saying Main St. is more than just that section.

      5. Interesting perspective. I am not one of the Alhambrans who feels proud of downtown.

        I would feel proud if my neighbors didn’t move out looking for better schools or nicer neighborhoods. Many of the houses in my neighborhood are rentals now.

        I would be proud with cleaner streets and a more cohesive downtown.

        I would be proud if we weren’t one of the most densely populated cites in the SG Valley.

        I would be proud if the council members would respond to emails…even when we disagree with them.

        I would be proud if our city didn’t have its own chapter in the book: “500 places to see before they disappear.”

        While Alhambra still have some fine neighborhoods, great ethnic restaurants, quick graffiti removal along with other efficient city services, when guests come from out of town we head for Monrovia or Sierra Madre (great downtowns with character for walking, dining and relaxing), Pasadena..old town and Lake district (urban feel with class and charm)or San Marino (where strict code enforcement shows real pride in neighborhoods.)

  3. Quite frankly, and as an Alhambran, I’ve just about had it with so-called “affordable housing.”

    Alhambra was once known as a “City of Homes.” Now it can best be described as a City of Low Rent Apartments thanks to decades of city council members taking kickbacks from developers.

    So now we’re going to be taxed to not only enrich these developers but also [indirectly] pay for council campaigns? And when do I as a tax-paying city resident get a say as to whether or not to fund this newly-created agency within the City of Alhambra?

  4. Don’t forget to use spell check when writing your headlines!

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