Why we need new leadership in Alhambra

On November 8, 2016, the nation will elect a new president. At the same time, Alhambra residents will elect two new city council members and three school board members. There’s plenty to worry about, but nothing concerns me more than an uncontested election. Alhambra has had a string of these. In 2014, two of the three city council positions and both school board positions went uncontested. In 2012, half of the council field got a free pass. When asked for their opinion on the lack of challengers, the incumbent council publicly stated that it was simply due to a happy constituency. I disagree.

From my experience speaking with residents, the lack of candidates is hardly the result of bliss with the status quo. The policies and practices of the current council and previous city managers have resulted in a disenfranchised constituency that suffers from a lack of civic outreach. Those that have the time and resources to stay cognizant see serious issues affecting the people of the city. They also see an insurmountable wall of cash in the incumbents’ coffers along with the unethical campaign tactics that it buys—enough to discourage even the most Pollyannaish of do-gooders.

Of course, there are some residents who are very satisfied with the direction the city has gone in over the current council’s tenure, which will span the maximum twelve years. It’s no coincidence that these include many with the wherewithal to fund the type of campaign where money is deemed necessary for votes. 

The truth is that far too many of our residents are struggling and the trend is worsening. Take a look at Figure 1 for a general view of how our people have fared over the current council’s tenure.

Figure 1: shaded areas indicate census blocks where at least 51% of households are lower income in 2007 (left) and 2014 (right).

Why the downward spiral? The reasons are unsettling both for their brazenness and the lack of transparency that enabled them. Examples include an unethical redevelopment program that diverted tax revenues for itself, resulting in the loss of our ESL and adult education programs while at the same time encouraging a concentration of for-profit colleges within the city. Another is a discriminatory affordable housing program where over 95% of affordable units are restricted to a small sub-group comprised of only 13% of those in need, with the number of units stagnated: the city has built over a 1,000 new market-rate, unaffordable housing units through large incentives given to developers, yet we have gotten zero affordable units in return.

More examples? How about the fact that the city has taken a significant portion of federal grant money intended for our lower income groups and has given it to businesses and general infrastructure projects without proper coordination of livable wages. Considering that the amount of funding granted to Alhambra by the federal government is proportional to the number of our struggling households and is intended for them, such uses are equivalent to charging the working poor for living here. Let it also be known that our environment has been deemed a federal Superfund site for the past 30 years without a concerted effort by our city council to clean it up. In the meantime, it’s the people in Figure 1 – those who can least afford it – who are paying for the treatment of our contaminated water supply in perpetuity.

A constituency happy with the status quo? No, it’s more the case of the underlying status quo hidden from the constituency.

So who are those that are happy with the way things have been going, as referenced by our current council? It’s those who directly benefit financially from the council’s decisions, such as brokers who gain from repeated real-estate transactions and developers who are lured by the city with incentives. It’s also those who are doing well financially and enjoy the selection of restaurants and shops. But unless we are to be the shopping and service mecca for those living in more affluent areas, it’s our residents who are being called upon to support these businesses by serving as paying customers. And without disposable income and a conducive infrastructure toward upward mobility, it’s a shell game.

Ask yourself whether you’re satisfied with the direction of the city. If you would like to see a change, find a candidate who shares your vision and can work effectively toward the same goals. Better yet, consider running for city council yourself. It will require hours of uncompensated work and an insurmountable amount of cash backing the incumbent’s chosen successor. But know that you wouldn’t be alone. There are many volunteers out there looking for someone who can work for the people. Maybe it’s you!

How to run for office

The process to run for city council is not as complicated as many make it seem. Here’s what you need to do:

Determine whether you qualify to run. You must be:

  1. A U.S. citizen 18 years of age or older;
  2. A registered voter in the council district you wish to represent; 
  3. You must have resided in the city for at least thirty days prior to filing your declaration of intention to run for office

The city is divided into five districts with a councilmember elected from each district for a four-year term. Districts 3 and 4 are up for election this year. Check the map below to see if you are within District 3 or 4.

City council districts: http://www.cityofalhambra.org/imagesfile/file/201311/map_council.pdf

If you are interested in running for the Alhambra Unified School District Board of Education, District Zones 1, 2 and 3 are up for election and the same rules apply, although the district layouts are different since the AUSD reaches beyond just Alhambra and you must reside in the district for one month prior to your nomination.

Alhambra Board of Education districts: http://www.cityofalhambra.org/imagesfile/file/201311/map_education.pdf

If you meet the criteria above, go and visit the Alhambra City Clerk, Lauren Myles, at City Hall.  She will provide you with detailed information on the process to get your name on the ballot and brief you on the rules and regulations.  She is extremely helpful and can also help you with the required forms to file if you want to raise money for your campaign.Lauren will give you more details, but here are the minimum steps you need to follow to get your name on the ballot.

  1. File a Declaration of Intention between 8:00 a.m., Monday, June 20 and 5:00 p.m., Tuesday, June 28. The Declaration of Intention is a two-page form that Lauren will supply. It simply asks for your name, office being sought, residence, occupation, name of employer (if any), name and address under which you are a registered voter with the L.A. County Registrar Recorder/County Clerk’s office. Be sure to fill this form out in the presence of Lauren because she will need to sign-off as a witness.
  2. After filing the Declaration of Intention, your nomination papers will be available for pickup starting on July 18. Other than again signing off on your name, occupation and office being sought, your nomination papers involve getting the signatures of fifty registered voters (or seventy-five for School Board) within your district who nominate you to run for office. Those who sign for you are required to print their name as they are registered to vote, sign, and provide their residence address. Although they are not pledging to vote for you, they are not allowed to sign more than one candidate’s nomination papers. Nomination papers with at least fifty (seventy-five for School Board) valid signatures is required to be filed with Lauren’s office between Monday, July 18 and Friday, August 12. The names will be checked by the Alhambra City Clerk’s office using the County of L.A. voter registration records. It’s a good idea to have more signatures than needed in case some turn out to be invalid.

  3. File a Candidate’s Statement Form and Ballot Designation Worksheet. This is where you can provide a 200-word statement that will appear in the sample ballots that are mailed out to every registered voter by the L.A. County Registrar Recorder/County Clerk. Note that there is a fee for filing a statement. In 2014, it was $1,200 for city council and $1,900 for school board and included a Spanish translation. You can also decide not to file a statement to save funds, but you would still need to submit the Candidate’s Statement Form declaring that option.

So that’s basically it. Assuming you have the valid nominating signatures and filed these forms correctly, you are now a candidate for public office in the November 8 general election. Of course there is much more to be done such as communicating your vision with residents and listening to their concerns. But the main point is that you’re making the effort to effect change. Good luck!

16 thoughts on “Why we need new leadership in Alhambra”

  1. Richard M Nieto

    As much as I think the Alhambra City Council is best serving only the powerful, people with money and connections, developers, at the expense of the citizens…it’s almost impossible to win a seat on the city council without large amounts of money to win and only by agreeing to be bought by “big money” as the present councilmembers are, can one win.I would like a two-term limit imposed on city council members. This city council reminds me of a “small city special interest government” serving only the desires of their moneyed supporters.For example a few years ago an outsider served one term in the city council and when he ran against Barbara Messina I received last-minute political brochures accusing that candidate of “wanting to build Indian-type gambling casinos in the city (to scare voters).” First, those casinos can be built only on Indian properties and I don’t think Alhambra is one. I tried to find out who had sent that brochure, but I could trace it only to the UPS station on Main Street.Sometime later I read that Barbara Messina was being sued by the state agency that monitors election in California for sending out those untruthful brochures.Just one example of the dirty tricks sitting candidates are willing to do, supported by their big-moneyed interests to regain their seat in the city council. Is it any wonder there is sooo much voter disconnect, not only in local elections, but state and federal elections throughout the country.Case in point Alhambra City Council.

  2. Comments have been received that are against “subsidized” housing and the people presumed to be associated with it.  Such fears have been openly stoked by our city council through statements that conjure visions of a “Cabrini–Green” in Alhambra.  The fact is that Alhambra has no public housing program, which is the misconception being propogated when we talk about affordable housing.

    The people who qualify for affordable housing our our friends, neighbors, and children recently out of school.  Even for many of those long-time residents living a comfortable life in Alhambra, how many of you can afford to buy your own house today?

    The one group that continues to receive subsidies, however, are the developers and rent-seekers who are allowed to build more units with less green space and parking than our code would normally allow.  Such costs, which are being paid for by our nearby residents through adverse affects on their quality of life, must be compensated for by a return to the people. And having an affordable way to put a roof over one's head is at the core of our needs.  We must push back and demand that a set-aside of newly built units are reserved at afforadable prices.  Priority can go to first responders and new teachers working in our city, two groups that usually qualify for affordable housing (h/t Chris O.).

    But when our leaders cite fire codes and safety concerns to deny groups from assisting those in need, yet promote fireworks sales for the 4th when all other cities have abaondoned this practice–that's just disingenuous. This mentaility is a direct contributor to the trend in Figure 1.  Leaders want to keep a stigmatized population out of the city but they fail to realize that they are growing this population from within.  And they are our neighbors and friends.

    1. Eric,

      I agree. A common misconception is that affordable housing is only for those living below the poverty level, on food stamps, or of vagrant status. These people certainly need help as well, but most affordable housing is purchased and/or rented by people who work hard at respectable jobs that simply do not pay enough to live on anymore, such as primary school teachers, dental assistants, janitors, first responders, etc.

      And by the City reserving nearly all of its affordable housing units for seniors, it is excluding those most in need of affordable housing, which sends the message that families and non-seniors are somehow less desirable and/or worth of affordable housing.

  3. Eric,

    First off, thank you for providing some very valuable information. I would, however, contest a controversial statement you made…

    “So who are those that are happy with the way things have been going, as referenced by our current council? It’s those who directly benefit financially from the council’s decisions, such as brokers who gain from repeated real-estate transactions and developers who are lured by the city with incentives.”

    That’s a big, and foundationless statement to make. I am more content than not with the state of the city. I would say I’m happier than in years past. But I am not one of those who benefits financially from the council’s decisions. You leave out a huge segment of the population and make too many assumptions on this point. And, you also make assertions that you know why people won’t run for council. Me personally, I want as little subsidized housing in the city as possible.

    You made a good run during the last election, and I applaud you for it. It was great to see a grassroots movement such as yours go as far as it did against an entrenched incumbent. I think for disclosure purposes, you should have indicated you were a past candidate.

    1. Thanks for reading the article, Ernie.  There's no question that those who benefit financially from the council's decisions are some of those who are happy with the city.  Others might like it for the choice of eateries, shops, and services provided.  What are the things that make Alhambra a more than satisfactory place for you?  Can you also share why you want “as little subsidized housing in the city as possible”?

      1. Eric,

        Your original statement about persons happy with the council’s decisions benefitting financially was initially a blanket one.

        I’m not a candidate, so my opinions do not require explanation. To clarify my last point, though, but I will engage you and answer your question.

        I understand the intention of subsidized housing. In my opinion, the elderly, working class, military veterans, persons with disabilities, etc. should benefit from some form of government assistance. I find no issue with that.

        But, a responsible government will balance the needs of ALL its residents while trying to promote growth, stability, and safety. When I read your comments and Sean’s, I get the sense you are vilifying those who live comfortably, as if it’s a crime for us to have worked so hard for what we have. I will not apologize for my hard earned prosperity.

        Given your background with the planning commission and your recent run at council, I would suggest a more balanced approach when dealing with Alhambra residents.

      2. Well said Ernie! There is never a balanced approach with this author. Just look at all his articles bent on negativity, with only BRIEF glimpses of anything positive..

    2. Ernie,

      I respect your opinion, and I don’t begrudge you your happiness. However, I think it is also important to consider the costs of the way things are in Alhambra, or the bigger picture if you will.

      Perhaps we should consider the question of whether or not you or I or some are happy with the way things are in Alhambra as opposed to what they could or should be, as well as from the perspective of the majority of Alhambra residents (lower income households) whose lives have not improved, and, in many instances, worsened, because of City policies that favor business interests to the detriment of the poor and struggling middle-class. Would your life really be worse off if the city spent a proportionate amount of money on programs and projects that directly benefit the poor and middle-class residents?

      It is a moral issue more than it is an issue of personal happiness or contentment with the status quo. Everyone does better, the business class included, when a city has a robust, stable middle-class. There are policies that induce and sustain that type of demographic and there are policies that stunt and even reverse middle-class growth.

      The numbers do not lie. The number of lower-income households has increased under the current City Council’s tenure. We need to ask ourselves, even if we are happy, is this right? Is this just? And will I really have to sacrifice my happiness if the City engages in more equitable policies that benefit the majority of Alhambra residents? The answer is no.

      1. Sean,

        I think that number of lower income residents has increased across the state. To say it’s the doing of the Alhambra City Council seems far-fetched.

        I also don’t agree with your assessment the city’s policies have worsened the lives of its residents.

    3. Agree with you Ernie. Frankly, this article totally ignores the people who are content with what the city has done.

      Talking about the poor are always great ways to get votes out there. It’s ironic that low-income population is pointed out and yet somehow “subsidized” housing is going to address that. Heck, if I needed subsidized housing and Alhambra was offering it, expect people like me to come in droves!

  4. Mr. Sunada,

    Thanks for writing this article.

    I followed both of the past elections closely and reviewed the campaign expense statements available in City Hall. In the 2012 election Elizabeth Salinas spent less that $3000 on her campaign where current councilman Steven Placido spent over $30,000 to win the election. Elizabeth Salinas lost by less than 400 votes. In the 2014 election Mr. Sunada ran against current councilman Stephen Sham . In your run for election you spent around $14,000 against a well financed opponent who spent over $200,000. Again it was razor close with you losing by less that 500 votes. Both Placido and Sham benefited by large campaign war chests financed by the real estate lobby, city contractors and fellow council members. The donations are available for anyone to see by visiting the city clerk’s office and I encourage interested parties to see who was financing these campaigns.

    What do the campaign donations tell us? Although it seems that large campaign donations from lobby groups wins elections, the figures also show a groundswell of dissatisfaction growing in Alhambra to politics as usual. An candidate not connected to the Chamber of Commerce power brokers can win against the real estate establishment so please take the step and change the direction of our city. Alhambra residents want a city that is focused on the quality of life and not outside developers.

    When deciding your vote in the upcoming election look to see who is backing each candidate. Are the current council members endorsing and supporting the candidate? That is usually a good indication that he or she is continuing business as usual. Are the city contractors donating large sums to the candidate? Are you being bombarded by endless and expensive campaign brochures?

    With a new city manager and new councilmembers we can change the direction of the city.

    Gale Rubin

    1. Well said, Gale. Follow the money and you will likely find out who really runs Alhambra: moneyed interests with connections to the Chamber of Commerce. The current City Council has subsidized Alhambra businesses and contractors to the disenfranchisement of the majority of its residents. This needs to stop. The only way that will happen is if residents replace the current City Council with a majority that will work for the people, not moneyed interests.

      Those of you considering running for City Council, please do so if you are passionate about positive change in Alhambra and prepared to take on the well-oiled establishment. We do not need another “yes-man” or “yes-woman” on the City Council. The people will support you!

  5. A slight nuance, but the treatment plant you’re referring to wasn’t entirely rate-payer financed; just the O&M portion. The capital portion was partially grant funded. There was a bunch more info in the article on Alhambra Source regarding the treatment plant (http://www.alhambrasource.org/stories/alhambras-water-toxic).

    1. The costs that go on in perpetuity are the operation and maintenance (O&M) costs. In 2002, I helped to free up $4M in grant funding and zero interest loans while on the district water board to build the plant (the rest of the money coming from the Water Quality Authority).  But we always knew that the real cost is the continued operation of it, which is why it's so important to get a clean-up program initiated.  I may not have mentioned it in the article you are referring to, but when I last checked, O&M costs are over $800K/year.

  6. Hi, Mark,

    Sorry for my error.  The City Clerk is the authority on this and my memory has failed me on that point.

    Good luck and thank you for stepping up to run,

    Eric

  7. Hi Eric,

    I am a Candidate in the Third District. I filed my Notice Of Intention on Monday, June 20th but was told by the City
    clerk that I would not receive my nominating papers until July 18th. That leaves me with only three weeks to get my signatures. Your article states I should have immediately received my nominating papers on Monday. Can you clarify for me? Thank you.

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