Reflecting the residents we serve: A conversation with City Council candidate Stephen Sham

Councilman Stephen Sham has been a part of the Alhambra community for decades. A resident for 12 years and business owner for 20, Sham has served as president of the Alhambra Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club of Alhambra, and Chinese-American Elected Officials, among other positions. In November, he is running for another post: his third term on City Council.

Sham was elected to Council in 2006 and automatically re-elected in 2010 after the city canceled its elections for the first time due to a lack of challengers. This election, Sham will face off against Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Eric Sunada to represent Alhambra's 1st district.

Sham with his daughter Kristie (center) and wife Rebecca (right). | Photo courtesy of Stephen Sham.

We spoke to Sham, who lives in Alhambra with his wife Rebecca and 17-year-old daughter Kristie, about the upcoming election. In an email to Alhambra Source, Sham answered our questions about a historic preservation ordinance, bike plan, and dog park. Check out his answers below.

Why did you run for City Council in 2006? Were you involved in politics before becoming a councilman?

I immigrated to the U.S. at a young age, eventually attending Cal State LA, opening my printing business in Alhambra, and starting my family here. I ran for City Council because I wanted to give back to the community that gave me so much and to provide the same types of opportunities for others to succeed. Running for Alhambra City Council was my first time running for office, although I served on city commissions and worked with local government officials before then.

What issues are the most important to you?

Quality of life issues. My priorities are to make sure Alhambra is a safe community, where kids can get a quality public education and where businesses and families can succeed and thrive. I want to make sure businesses and families have access to the resources they need—well-maintained streets, utilities, and an environment conducive to business.

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?

Traffic congestion is getting worse and worse. The original plan decades ago for the regional transportation network was to connect the 710 to Pasadena. Since then, Alhambra has suffered negative impacts with the 710 Freeway ending on Valley Boulevard, placing an unfair burden on our community, including increased pollution and traffic.

We have to do something to enhance the regional transportation network, improve traffic flows, and make it easier to get around, especially as the population continues to grow in the region. I look forward to hearing what Metro and Caltrans have to say about potential solutions to the 710 gap as they prepare to release the environmental impact report.

Recent studies show that minority voters, especially Asian Americans and Latinos, have a lower turnout rate than other groups. How would you help increase civic engagement in your district?

I have made it a priority to engage the Asian American community since I was elected. I regularly convene the Asian press and have made it a priority to attend ethnic events and meetings in the area. I will continue to engage the Asian American community to discuss issues of concern and work with my fellow council members to make sure City Hall is reaching out to the larger community.

Sham (center) speaks to residents at the 2013 710 Day festival. | Photo by Alfred Dicioco

Do you think language accessibility is an issue for city programs and services?

Alhambra is a very diverse community and the city needs to be able to provide services to all residents. In my time on the City Council, I’ve pushed for more diversity with City Hall staff and with our police department to better reflect the community we serve.

What would you like to improve in Alhambra?

I would love to preserve the historical aspects of the city—the many homes and features that date back to the early years of the community.

READER QUESTION: Some residents are advocating for an official policy in the city that will preserve its historic and cultural resources. Do you support implementing a historic preservation ordinance in Alhambra?

The city has single-family residential design guidelines to preserve the charm, history, and aesthetics of our residential community. I am open to other steps to preserve Alhambra’s unique charm, including enacting a historic preservation ordinance. It’s important to preserve our past, especially our local historical treasures. But we have to craft it in a responsible way. I look forward to having a dialogue about the best way to move forward.

Many of our readers have said that they feel Alhambra, and especially Main Street, is overdeveloped. What is your stand on development in the city? Do you feel think Main Street is overdeveloped?

Development is necessary to keep the city vibrant. Bringing in new housing and retail is needed to upgrade infrastructure and keep our city revenue strong. Much of the development on Main Street is occurring as approved in the West Main Street Master Plan.

READER QUESTION: Are there any plans to ease traffic congestion on the city’s main streets?

We have traffic issues across the region, not just in the city. Our transportation network is utilized well beyond original capacities. Locally, I pushed for the construction of the Mosaic parking structure in downtown Alhambra to help alleviate traffic along Main Street. We need to continue to invest in maintaining our streets and improving them to allow for greater traffic flows—synchronizing traffic signals, adding right turn lanes, expanding streets where appropriate, and encouraging the use of public/alternative transportation.

Alhambra developed a Bike Master Plan in 2012, but the draft has not come up in City Council in over a year. What is your stand on adding biking infrastructure in Alhambra? Do you support implementing a bike master plan?

Biking is a great activity and can potentially reduce some of the vehicle traffic on our streets. A bike plan for the city would be great, but the benefits would only be realized if we work with our neighbors to create a truly regional bike network that connects areas of interest.

Alhambra Mayor Stephen Sham talks to Chinese press about Alhambra PD and Alhambra Source's outreach efforts.

READER QUESTION: City staff in February 2013 identified possible locations for a dog park, but said that more research needed to be conducted. Where do you stand on creating a dog park in Alhambra?

I think it would be great to have space for residents to play with their dogs, but we have to find the right spot for it, as well as funding. City staff are actively looking into the potential for developing a dog park.

Why should a resident vote for you?

I have worked hard the last eight years on City Council to deliver results—weathering the economic downturn, growing city reserves, alleviating traffic, bringing businesses and jobs to the city, and keeping the city safe. If given four more years, I will continue working to keep Alhambra moving forward.

I want to remind community members to register to vote and make sure to engage in local elections. There’s a lot of attention when people are voting for president, but local government has a more direct impact on our daily lives, and I hope readers will get educated and engaged on local issues.

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.

17 thoughts on “Reflecting the residents we serve: A conversation with City Council candidate Stephen Sham”

  1. Bottom line: Stephen Sham is OK. Not the worst, not the best. Sort of like the city of Alhambra. Slightly above-average. Gets the job done. He’s no young Obama. But who is?

    There’s probably 50 other Chinese guys in Alhambra who could do a better job, but they don’t want to deal with the whole mess of a bureaucracy that is modern American government (it USED TO work back in the day).

    So really – the talent pool is only people who WANT TO put in the effort. So yeah, I’ll take him.

  2. This interview is filled with election-year platitudes. Dog park, bike lanes, preservation ordinance — these have been on the council’s agenda for YEARS and have gone nowhere. If these are really so important to Sham, why hasn’t action already been taken? How much more study can possibly be necessary to fence in some area and put up a sign that says “dog park”? Two years after a bike plan that recommends only THREE MILES of bike lanes, and not even those three miles have been established? I’m voting Sunada — someone who might actually get something done on quality-of-life issues in the city.

  3. Sham says he is waiting to hear what Metro and Caltrans “have to say about potential solutions to the 710 gap as they prepare to release the environmental impact report.”
    Give me a break. He’s already put his stamp of approval on the 710 freeway – see the photo of him at the “Close the Gap” day hosted and paid for by the City of Alhambra, and paid hundreds of thousands of (OUR tax-)dollars to a lobbyist to promote the 710, and now there are ADVERTISEMENTS ABOVE FREMONT for the 710. How much more disingenuous can you be!? For him to say ‘let’s wait and see’ is IRRESPONSIBLE lip service and he should put his money where his mouth is.

  4. Mr. Sham’s 8 years in council run from 2006 to present and he should be thanked and applauded for his service. I just would like to hear more about what he thinks will be improved by him continuing to be on the council vs. his challengers.

    I’ve lived in Alhambra for the past 14 years and don’t understand why there is such a heavy push by the current city council and Mr. Sham for the 710 freeway completion.

    The last two years with the 7/10 celebration on Freemont and the obvious use of city employees for a very vocal support of the freeway completion struck me as really odd. I am not aware of a grass-roots coalition of Alhambra residents that WANT a freeway built at this point from Valley to North of California in Pasadena.

    Maybe I’m missing something but try to be engaged and I just don’t see anyone that supports this.

    1. adam, I support this (710 closing the gap) and so do many I know. So you’re off here, there are people who support this!

  5. Quality of life? Don’t make me laugh, with Councilman Sham as a member, this city council has done Nothing TO IMPROVE THE QUALITY OF LIFE IN ALHAMBRA, but indeed continues to tear down the quality of life in the city with the over development of the city, bringing in very expensive condos that are unaffordable to many residents, and what ever happened to the dog park and the by bicycle paths that neighboring cities are already developing, while Alhambra staff continues “studying(?)” these situations.Just another politician trying to hang on to his council seat…same old, same old.

    1. I wrote a letter to Mr Sham – 5 days and 23 hours ago -regarding Alhambra’s City Council unwilling to be part of the regional bicycle plan and the lack of imagination in developing a dog park but as usual I have not received a response. Now, in this interview he gives the usual political response to the regional bicycle path while other nearby cities have already taken steps to implement it, but Alhambra remains the “broken link” and the dog parks “still being studied” (which in political terms means “don’t bother me.”). Just another example of the lack of transparency by the city council and their lack of commitment to resident’s concerns, while allowing developers to maintain their control over the city council (for campaign donations).

  6. Mainly through the efforts of Bike San Gabriel Valley (BikeSGV), a non-profit volunteer citizen organization, the City of San Gabriel adopted its bike plan on September 16, 2014 on a unanimous vote. The plan is part of a Regional Bike Plan which includes the cities of Montery Park, El Monte, South El Monte and Baldwin Park. It was funded through the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Initiative of Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The City of Monterey Park will soon have an opportunity to adopt its own plan. Once adopted, almost all of Alhambra’s surrounding neighbors: South Pasadena, Pasadena, San Gabriel, Los Angeles and the County of Los Angeles (San Marino’s plan is currently under review) will have bike plans allowing for those cities to apply for Federal and State infrastructure funding to improve the community as a whole.

    Will Alhambra be moving forward soon? Or will it remain a black hole for the cycling community?

    Vincent Chang
    President, BikeSGV

  7. Are you having his opponent respond.?I want to hear what the other guy has to say. Sham’s positions seemed politically correct to me – not answering directly.

    1. Hi TK — we will be publishing a Q&A with Eric Sunada next week. Thank you for reading!

    2. Every politician’s response is politically correct. Who are you kidding?!

    3. The opponent, Eric Sunada’s, response is out, and he was yesterday endorsed by the Pasadena Star News. The Source put up a story about that and there’s a link to that article, too.

  8. What issues are the most important to you?

    Redevelop for Chinese tourism. http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/among-gathering-of-us-mayors-focu

  9. And to quote a famous song about politicians (and very apropos here)…”You Haven’t Done Nuthin.’

  10. “I would love to preserve the historical aspects of the city—the many homes and features that date back to the early years of the community.”

    All talk—and NO action for the 8 years he’s been on council. Typical for a politician running for re-election.

    I’m voting for CHANGE.

  11. I went to the public hearings on Main Street Plan- many years ago. Everyone (residents) there spoke against it. Did it make any differnce? Nope. Main is a mess and traffic with those buildings and Mr. Sham voted in those projects. He did not answer the question! Is main st overdeveloped? Lived here for 24 years and I think it is!

  12. Dear Mr. Sham,

    The City drafted a bike plan several years ago, and it has gone nowhere since then. Yet in less than a year your neighbors in the City of San Gabriel drafted and unanimously adopted their first bicycle master plan. Monterey Park is set to do so next month, as well as El Monte, South El Monte, and Baldwin Park. Oh, and the Cities of South Pasadena and Los Angeles are already in the process of implementing their bike plan.

    Have you seen the bike lanes on Huntington Drive that dead end in Alhambra? The City of South Pasadena already has plans to continue them along their stretch of Huntington Drive.

    The rest of the region is moving forward in making their streets safer for everyone, while Alhambra shows no progress. A disappointing record, to say the least.

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