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.
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.
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.
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.
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.