LocationAlhambra , CA
Objections are swelling against the proposed Villages at The Alhambra, against the housing project’s size, its environmental impact and the limited number of units set aside for low-income housing. This week, the protests grew to include the process under which the city is considering the development and the lack of affordable housing.
Members from Emery Park Community Group, Grassroots Alhambra and other groups supporting affordable housing demonstrated outside City Hall July 20 prior to a Planning Commission meeting to discuss the project.
Melissa Michelson, the rally organizer, strongly objected to what she said was an undemocratic process and a violation of California’s Brown Act’s requirements for open meetings.
At a previous Planning Commission meeting, city staff had grouped similarly worded or themed emailed comments together so that they effectively became a single statement.
She said the commission’s use of Zoom meeting technology violated the Brown Act because there are connectivity issues and some residents do not have or know how to use the software.
“They’ve been waiting 14 years for this, they can wait another year,” Michelson said. “If they would only open the doors and we could go inside,” she said, but acknowledged the COVID-19 pandemic complicates the democratic process.
At its meet, the Planning Commission met for three and a half hours to hear the developers’ presentation of the Villages project and public comment, but took no action, voting to continue the discussion at its Aug. 17 meeting. As a result, the time for public comment is still open. The 118 emailed comments were not able to be read into the record due to time constraints.
Other speakers at the rally included Board of Education candidate Ken Tang and City Council candidate Sasha Renée Pérez.
Pérez, a renter in Alhambra, said she is offended that the Villages complex would not address the city’s housing crisis. She said the pandemic is only going to exacerbate the need for affordable housing. Tang called for transparency and accountability.
In public comment, the Villages has support from the Alhambra Chamber of Commerce, members of the business and real estate community and residents who wanted to see growth in Alhambra.
The protest group of about 30 had planned to listen to the commission meeting together, but in an ironic demonstration of the complaints about the commission’s use of Zoom meetings, had connectivity issues, and organizers asked everyone to participate in the meeting from home.
At the close of the meeting, commission member Debra Moreno Garcia the theme she heard throughout the comments was a lack of public trust in the process. She suggested the commission “value the peoples’ voice,” time and effort.
Commission member Eric Garcia agreed, saying, “We’re asking the public to work with us in the Zoom effort. It’s very difficult. They’ve already accommodated us in many ways.”
The proposed area for the housing project is the block on the northeast corner of South Fremont Avenue and Mission Road, bordered by Fremont, Mission, Date Avenue and Orange Street. The architectural plans for the Villages can be found here.
The Ratkovich Company bought the C.F Braun engineering complex in 1999 from Halliburton, preserved the 1920-1950s era buildings and renamed it to The Alhambra.