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Op-ed: Maintaining Alhambra’s sense of community in Emery Park

  • Left: Russell is an Emery Park homeowner and "white suiter" Tournament of Roses volunteer. Right: Joseph, whose father owns a building for tenants and small businesses, knows first hand how pro-large business Alhambra can be. All photos by Melissa Michelson.

  • Ava is Russell’s 11 year old daughter. She plays soccer, takes Spanish and instrumental sax classes at High Point private school. She doesn't get why Emery Park Elementary doesn’t offer those.

Location

Alhambra , CA United States

I’ve been living in Alhambra for almost a decade, but do I really know my neighbors? I see them taking out the trash or walking their dogs, but other than a wave and a smile, I’ve realized that I don’t know them at all. After seven years of living in Emery Park, Alhambra’s western-most historic tract, I formed the Emery Park Community Group to get to know them.

Over a few weeks in the summer of 2015, I went door-to-door and up and down as many streets as I could to introduce myself. The rest is history. The Emery Park Community Group, which is open to anyone who lives in Emery Park, meets several times a year and talks shop about the neighborhood and Alhambra. Last weekend, we had another such gathering.

What was made clear to me at the last gathering was the sense of community is strong amongst us. For example, Pablo, a native from the Philippines who knows everyone on his block, offered to watch another neighbor’s house next time she goes on vacation. But at the same time, we discussed the lack of community in Alhambra, as a whole, with the increasing number of chain stores in town, outside investors buying up the new developments and an overall lack of representation by our city council.

A Glimpse into the Conversation

After getting settled, Sarah (name changed because she preferred anonymity) started off the conversation. Her business had been shut down in Alhambra before the city took over the land to build a movie theater, now known as the Edwards Alhambra Renaissance Stadium.

“Good thing they aren’t building that 710 tunnel, huh?” she said. At last month’s Metro board meeting, Los Angeles Metro voted 12-0 to spend $105 million to alleviate traffic on local streets along the 710 corridor rather than to use it toward a $3-5 billion freeway tunnel.

Jodi disagreed, “I would have liked to see the tunnel built.”

I chimed in, “I’m glad they have decided to use that money wisely, because otherwise to recuperate from the construction costs, a toll charge would have been imposed, and people just wouldn’t use it.”

As usual, the 710 is a hot button topic that brings out differences of opinion, but then we moved on to a more current topic on everyone’s mind: the community’s lawsuit against the City of Alhambra for approving a Lowe’s development that would go up at the southern edge of Emery Park.

Many at the gathering are supportive of the lawsuit. One neighbor reminded us the site used to be foundry so the ground is heavily polluted, and another told the group that the traffic survey compared Alhambra’s Lowe’s to a rural Lowe’s, so that the prediction of 8000 additional trips a day was a low-ball estimate. We seemed to agree: we expect the city to conduct a comprehensive Environmental Impact Report before building this massive project.

What’s in the “Gateway to Alhambra” for Alhambrans?

We then talked about what we do in Alhambra. It turns out, not much.

Russell, who came with his 11-year old daughter Ava, used to shop at the Fresh and Easy. Now that it’s gone, he admitted he doesn’t do anything in Alhambra.

Sandra is a native of Sierra Madre who moved with her husband Joseph to Alhambra two years ago to live closer to her parents. She often goes to Old Town Pasadena or Downtown LA. “We haven’t gone to Main Street in Alhambra since they closed the lively Cuban restaurant – but we do go to Fosselman’s,” she said.

I spend most of my time (and money) off of the dense conglomeration on Main Street because the corporate aesthetic doesn’t appeal to me. I try to support local businesses and not chain stores like Burlington Coat Factory or the Habit. Like my Emery Park neighbors, we prefer the charm that neighboring cities like South Pasadena and Downtown Los Angeles offer instead.

Another reason we don’t spend time in Alhambra is the lack of community events in the city.

“What happened to the Summer Jubilee concerts?” wondered Joseph. He reminisced how Joan Jett, Pat Benatar and the Beach Boys headlined over the years at this free street concert that had been organized by the City. He shared that a former council member had told him the concert series was terminated because of the recession.

“But they found the funds to buy the Arc de Triomphe!” said Russell.

This sparked our next discussion topic: the “Gateway to Alhambra” arch on the corner of Fremont and Valley.

“Stupidest thing,” said Jodi, a native of Alhambra who went to Emery Park Elementary as well as Alhambra High School. “Who in the world would go to a park on Valley and Fremont? I’ve never seen one person spending time there.”

“Terrible waste!” exclaimed Joseph. “They took down a florist shop to widen Fremont but then 10 years ago, since they suddenly didn’t need to widen it, they put that rose park in instead.”

This knee-jerk lack of overall planning seems to continue in Alhambra, even as new city council members take office. Currently the City is following the 1986 General Plan, but it continues to make spot-zone changes and exceptions for developers, without implementing a thorough environmental review of its larger scale projects. This is the case with the Lowe’s, and this is currently the case with another approved project at 1428 S. Marengo to demolish a historic chapel and chop down 229 established trees, many that are 80-100 years old, in order to to construct 126 town houses. Read more about the Marengo development and other issues it inspires here.

“A colossal boondoggle,” summed up Russell about the Gateway arch.

All in all, the residents present agreed that Alhambra needs to do more to maintain the community in Alhambra.

Melissa Michelson is a native of the San Fernando Valley and is a first time homebuyer and settled in Alhambra from the Hollywood area. Alhambra appealed to her because it’s close to her work in the San Gabriel Valley, and she appreciated the historical neighborhoods that are unique and quaint.

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For more information about Emery Park Community Group, please contact [email protected] and https://emerypark.wordpress.com/alhambra-court-dev-aka-lowes-on-fremont/

Read the City’s “current” General Plan from 1986 here.

Read about the latest community meeting where the city discussed the new General Plan (2017).

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2 thoughts on “Op-ed: Maintaining Alhambra’s sense of community in Emery Park”

  1. I appreciate this summation of some of our activities in the Community. In case you didn’t notice our city council has little regard for the residents and homeowners here in Emery Park and throughout the city. As a resident since 1974 and a homeowner since 1982 I can contest to the City Council and School district’s myopic and out of date form of governance and public service.

  2. Very good article. Nice to hear what Alhambrans think of their city and its government. There are more active and engaged people in and around Alhambra than people realize.

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