LocationAlhambra , CA
The City of Alhambra’s upcoming planning commission meeting Monday night will include consideration of an affordable housing ordinance and The Villages at The Alhambra development near Fremont Avenue and Mission Road.
The proposed 1,061-unit development– consisting of studio, one-, two-, three-bedroom and townhome options to rent, lease or buy – finds itself in the middle of Alhambra’s hottest topic: housing and development.
The last housing project given the green light by the planning commission was held up by questions about its timeline and whether California’s latest low-income tenant protections law applies to the property. In a surprise ending, city lawyers determined the protections do apply to the 11-unit Curtis and Marguerita avenues development after learning new information mid-meeting – a win for affordable housing advocates.
In Monday night’s meeting, the planning commission will continue to work through the establishment of affordable housing ordinances. The latest inclusionary housing ordinance (IHO) draft came to the commission only after the city council compared local cities’ affordable housing ordinances and crafted it most closely to Pasadena’s IHO.
The planning commission ultimately has to adopt a resolution to amend zoning text and make a recommendation that the city council passes the ordinance, after going over four major elements: threshold of applicability to residential construction projects, “affordable” unit requirements, incentives for greater affordability and alternatives to providing inclusionary housing units on a proposed residential project.
The commission must also eventually recommend one of three options on The Villages: to recommend city council approve the proposed development as is planned, recommend city council approve the development with modifications or recommend city council reject the development in its entirety.
Almost all public comments at planning commission and city council meetings have urged the City of Alhambra to pass and apply some sort of an affordable housing ordinance on The Villages project. Recent protests have been organized by activist group members of Emery Park Community Group, San Gabriel Valley Progressive Alliance and Grassroots Alhambra in Action – ramping up their efforts by protesting every Wednesday throughout the city with a protest planned prior to the planning commission meeting on Aug. 17 at the location.
When The Ratkovich Company bought the city block-sized parcel of land in 1999, it restored the C.F. Braun engineering complex and renamed the property The Alhambra. The Ratkovich Company (TRC) began planning the housing development five years ago and submitted the application to the city on May 25, 2017. “City of Alhambra had no municipal mandate for set asides of affordable units, so our application did not include affordable units,” Ratkovich said in an emailed statement to Alhambra Source.
The old C.F. Braun business park complex at The Alhambra is now used as office spaces for tenants including USC Keck School of Medicine and various Los Angeles County departments. The remainder of the lot houses a L.A. Fitness, flattop parking lots, warehouses and an outdated office building. The C.F. Braun campus and L.A. Fitness would remain but most of the rest of the land would be for reconfigured parking and The Villages development.
Now that an affordable housing ordinance is on the table and Alhambra is fourth highest of 31 SGV cities in need of housing, according to the Southern California Association of Governments. TRC says it now plans to include an affordable component – 10% of rentable units reserved for moderate-income tenants – while pointing to State of California numbers saying the city is required to build a large number of above moderate-income-priced units.
Every city is required to have a housing element in its general plan, which is affected by the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA).
The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) conducts Alhambra’s RHNA every eight years to determine the city’s current and projected housing needs, based on household growth, job and transit accessibility, and in some cases, “residual” needs, such as extreme accessibility and social equity.
Based on the March RHNA projections for 2021-2029, Alhambra is expected to need 6,810 new housing units for all levels of income:
- Very low-income: 1,769 (26%)
- Low-income: 1,033 (15.2%)
- Moderate-income: 1,077 (15.8%)
- Above moderate-income: 2,931 (43%)
There are incentives for meeting RHNA numbers. Meeting the quota could qualify cities for grants and preferential consideration when applying for funding while failure to meet housing numbers could result in suspended ability to disapprove certain housing projects and ineligibility from grants.
In the Villages project, there are 516 for-sale or -lease and 545 rental units in the planned development. The project is proposing 55 of the 545 rental units to be designated “affordable” for moderate-income households.
Ratkovich senior development manager Megan Moloughney said it is too early to begin to price the units. “The market will determine prices, no one person can set market prices,” she said. Moloughney admitted there would initially be competition due to the severe lack of housing, but as the market eases with more housing options prices will drop. The complex would be completed in phases and projected for completion in 2028.
When Alhambra Source asked how much the development would cost Ratkovich, Moloughney was not at liberty to say due to confidentiality contracts. “But [construction] prices are firm – they are not easing – I can tell you that.”
Opponents to the project also have concerns about traffic, saying the Metro-funded Measure R 710/10 freeway traffic management projects were not considered in the traffic report and that 8,000 cars would be added. It’s true that the freeway projects were not considered – only projects with formal applications and those in construction phases can be considered – though the city is taking the first steps in the process by currently doing outreach to stakeholders in the region with intention to move forward.
In the environmental impact report’s traffic study, on page IV.N-18, the initial trips generated is close to the 8,000 number cited by the opposition – 7,752 – however, trips generated is the number of times cars enter or leave the campus, not individual cars. The report estimates of driving reduction by walking or public transit and projected residents who also work on the C.F. Braun campus, and Ratkovich maintains new trips generated is totaled at 6,088. It is not immediately clear that the 6,088 additional trips is a daily, weekly or yearly count.
Monday night’s planning commission meeting, again held on Zoom video conference, promises to be a lively one – advocacy groups have been working all week to get their various messages out and The Ratkovich Company has been encouraging supporters to participate. Thus far, groups who have voiced support for The Villages include Alhambra Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Business Association.
So, does Alhambra need housing? Yes.
It’s up to the planning commission to decide whether Alhambra needs The Villages.
Comments or requests to speak must be submitted to the city by 4:30 p.m. on Monday. While commenters generally have five minutes allotted, the commission has been reducing the time to three, due to the volume of comments in an effort to allow more people to speak.