LocationAlhambra , CA United States
A local non-profit has filed a lawsuit against the city of Alhambra to block the Lowe’s development on South Fremont Avenue, claiming that its environmental and traffic impacts have not been properly studied by its developer, the Charles Company.
Grassroots Alhambra* filed the suit Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, claiming that the city violated the California Environmental Quality Act, the state’s planning and zoning laws, and the plaintiffs’ due process rights in approving the project.
The suit asks the court to overturn the city’s approval of the development until it provides more extensive documentation of the project’s impact.
Chris Paulson, the City of Alhambra’s spokesperson, confirmed that the city received notice of the lawsuit, but declined to comment further on the litigation or on the Lowe’s development.
“The City Council’s actions speak for themselves,” Paulson said, referring to residents’ February appeal to the City Council to overturn approval of a permit for the development.
Gene Detchemendy, the leasing consultant on this project for the Charles Company, also pointed to the city council’s decision as proof of the project’s legitimacy. “We’re very disappointed, considering that we received a 5-0 vote from the city council, which is a unanimous decision, and a culmination of working four year with the city manager to finalize this project,” he said. “These individuals–we don’t understand their motivation.”
In January, Alhambra’s planning commission approved a permit for the Charles Company to build the Lowe’s store, as well as two office buildings and a six-story parking structure on the Fremont Avenue site, which was owned by the International Extrusion Corp. until 2009.
In its permit application, the Charles Company outlined the measures that it would put in place to guard against any traffic increase and environmental risks the construction and operation of the store might cause.
The lawsuit contends that the developer and the city of Alhambra must compile an environmental impact report, a more extensive document that will inform the public of “significant environmental impacts,” and ways to minimize these effects or propose alternatives to the Lowe’s project.
The suit alleges that “the administrative record is replete with evidence that the project will have significant environmental impacts related to greenhouse gases, land use and planning, air quality, hazardous materials, traffic, parking, noise, hydrology/water quality, and public services…”
Ron Sahu, an environmental engineer and Alhambra resident, said the goal was not to oppose development, but to encourage the city to be responsible about it.
“We’re not against development in general, nor against Lowe’s,” he said. “It just has to do with the manner in which this specific project is approved.”
In an appeal to the City Council to reject the Lowe’s development, several residents sent a letter outlining the problems they saw with the Lowe’s project. Not all of the signees are associated with the lawsuit, but their letter discusses similar issues. The letter specifically claims that project documents failed to provide a consistent plan for implementing measures to reduce negative impacts and that several of these were not finalized before the city approved the project.
The letter also claimed that the project’s traffic study is based on flawed data and underestimates the impact on traffic. Representatives of the Charles Company presented site designs they said would mitigate any traffic increase. The developer also agreed to close part of Meridian Avenue, behind the site, to decrease traffic in the adjacent Emery Park neighborhood.
The letter argues that this closure and other measures should have been studied before the project was voted on.
For environmental concerns, the developer extracting soil that was contaminated by International Extrusion, and installing a vapor barrier to prevent toxic chemicals from entering the air in a process known as vapor intrusion.
At the city council appeal, there was debate over whether these measures did enough to address vapor intrusion.
In addition, the residents’ letter claims that project documents don’t address the Land-Use Element of Alhambra’s General Plan, which guides planning in the city, and requires officials to “minimize incompatibility” when it comes to activity on commercial or industrial zones that are next to residential ones. The letter claims that the risk of pollution from Lowe’s construction and operation constitutes this incompatibility.
George Ray, a consultant for the Lowe’s development, said that their traffic study had been scrutinized by the city’s engineers, and that the city had not required a zone change or a variance for the project. “We’re gonna proceed with construction,” he said.
Mark Paulson, a former City Council member who advised the Charles Company on bringing the Lowe’s project to Alhambra, said the development’s planners had been responsive to environmental needs, citing the company’s offer to help pay for a shuttle from the site to the Gold Line station in South Pasadena as an example. During the city council appeal, a representative of the Charles Company said that it would contribute once the development’s office buildings were built.
“I’m trying to be helpful to [the Lowe’s development], because I think it’s a very positive addition to the city,” Paulson said.
This article was updated on April 6, 2017 with comments from Charles Company representatives Gene Detchemendy and George Ray.
Read below the letter that a group of Alhambra residents sent to the city council to appeal the Lowe’s development approval, as well as the full lawsuit.
* The founder of Grassroots Alhambra, Eric Sunada, has contributed to the Alhambra Source and is an advisory board member.