By Melissa Michelson

A special city council meeting will be held Jan. 27 to deliberate The Villages, one of Alhambra’s largest and most controversial developments to date.

It would increase the traffic that is already on Fremont at Mission by close to 7,752 vehicles in and out of the property every day. The environmental impact report (EIR) states the only proposed configuration that won’t yield significant traffic and environmental hazards is 60 condos and 60 apartments. However, to yield desired profit, the developers have proposed 839 units, with only 84 of them “affordable” and reserved for moderate-income households.

On Jan. 11, The Villages’ developers presented to the city council at the 2:28 mark on the meeting’s stream. It can be accessed through cityofalhambra.org.

The public can email their comments to lmyles@cityofalhambra.org ahead of the Jan. 27 special meeting.

I am writing an open letter to the Alhambra City Council about this.

Dear city council of Alhambra,

I’m a resident of Alhambra and I, along with the hundreds of residents in the Emery Park Community Group (emerypark.wordpress.com), am opposed to The Villages development proposed by the foreign investment firm Elite International Investment and The Ratkovich Co. Even with the reduced number of 839 units packed into five stories, it’s an ill-conceived project.

It’s in the middle of industrial land, not mixed-use center of town, and thus isn’t walkable. The thousands of new residents will still jump in their cars (parked in 4,347 parking spaces) to get to their destinations, not walk or bike to Costco four blocks up or the Home Depot five blocks away.

The site is not on a public transportation corridor. There’s one bus line that goes up Fremont, along with Alhambra’s local shuttle, but it stops in the evening. There are no buses going east/west on Mission, and no metro stop nearby. Fremont is considered the alternate 710 freeway. Add the future development on the 13 acres of empty land across the street, and you’re causing a traffic catastrophe in our city.

It’s on superfund contaminated land that requires thorough studies and clean up. In a map presented during agenda item No. 3 at your Jan. 11 meeting, the Environmental Protection Agency shows Alhambra’s heaviest contamination is centered where the thousands of residents would live at The Villages.

The majority of people cannot afford to rent or buy these units, and it does nothing for the current and increasing housing crisis. At a recent planning commission meeting, the developers cited, for example, a full-time Costco manager being a potential resident, but s/he would need to have a second job. The lack of abundant affordable housing is one of the reasons the commission rejected the development. Condos—124 of them—are being built nine blocks away at Woodhaven, where, in 2018, developers razed over 200 mature shade-bearing trees, that sparked much community outrage (concernedalhambrans.wordpress.com). There, 1,598-square-foot condos are advertised for sale for $788,000, and $362-plus a month for HOA fees. New luxury apartments in Alhambra start at $2,800/month, which is unaffordable to low- and moderate-income residents.

There’s no clear evidence provided in the EIR that says those working next door in the Alhambra complex can actually afford or will want to live there. The developers’ claim that they are creating a walkable environment doesn’t hold water. 

More than 550 people have signed a moratorium petition calling for an improved traffic study at emerypark.wordpress.com. Some of the issues with the current one are:

• the bogus trip credits awarded, claiming the development is on a transportation corridor

• the evening hours used for calculating the projected vehicle ins and outs is from 4 to 5:45 p.m., when rush hour goes until at least 7 p.m.

• it looked at the comparable ins and outs of nine arbitrary other locations, and that is from 3-year-old data

• it doesn’t take into account the 710 freeway stub a mile and a half away, which is in the process of being revamped, or the 13-acre empty lot across the street awaiting development

• not all the 27 affected intersections are analyzed consistently

• the stated end result is that there is no way to mitigate the traffic, and it’ll go from bad to worse

The applicant developers have claimed to follow city procedures, have pressured that they’ve been waiting for a long time, may threaten a lawsuit. 

I hope, however, that Alhambra is turning a new leaf with leaders who will finally listen to their resident constituents over a multimillionaire developer that doesn’t live in Alhambra, and a foreign investment firm that owns the majority stake in the development.

Finally, I am calling on Councilmember Ross Maza to do the right thing and recuse himself from voting so that he can freely practice his real estate profession without concern for conflicts of interest and without violating Section 9 on Alhambra’s code of ethics. n

Melissa Michelson is a resident of Alhambra and a community organizer with Marengo Avenue Water Brigade and Emery Park Community Group. She is a California Democratic Party delegate and was elected in 2020 by Democrats in Assembly District 49 to represent them in the LA County Democratic Party. She was also a 2016 Bernie Sanders national delegate for Congressional District 27.