“The Villages” at Fremont/Mission

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Watch the video

Developer’s modifications for the City Council’s Jan. 11, 2021 meeting

  • 839 total units
    • 294 luxury units for sale
    • 545 luxury apartments for rent
  • 4,347 parking spaces
  • 10% (84) affordable rental units at moderate income
    • 80-120% of AMI, or $61,840 to $92,760 

Jan. 11, 2021 city council agenda and documentation

Jan 11, 2021 Some submitted public comments to City Council

According to the original Environmental Impact Report (EIR) 

  • 1,061 units
  • 4,347 parking spaces
  • at least 7,752 more cars a day in and out of the property
  • Location:
  • What would stay:
    • LA Fitness
    • 902,001 sq.ft of the Braun office area
  • What would go:
    • 10,145 sq ft of existing office space would be ‘repurposed’
    • existing surface parking areas, warehouse/storage buildings and a vacant office building
  • “Significant impacts to Air Quality and traffic/transportation”
  • 8-12 years of construction

Sign the petition – 550 have signed so far, as of Jan. 10, 2021!

Add your name to the petition for a Moratorium on Large Developments of over 100 units in Alhambra, in particular Ratkovich and Elite International Investment’s proposal of “The Villages” at Fremont and Mission, the single largest residential development in modern Alhambra history
 
 
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A typical day during at evening Rush Hour (Oct. 2019) Traffic BEFORE anything gets built across the street for “The Villages” or in this empty lot

Myths and Facts about The Villages

The developers (foreign investment firm Elite International Wealth Mgt. and Ratkovich Company  – scroll down for more about them) claim the development will be ‘walkable’ and provide ‘housing’. They claim that the average Alhambran (whose median income according to US Census reports, is $57,000/year), can afford to live in their luxury units.  Read myths and facts about The Villages.

Why this project is preposterous

1. The name “Villages” is a misnomer.

The developers are calling this “The Villages.” A village implies that it’s a “community” but this fortress-like development is in the middle of the industrial zone in Alhambra.

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2. Where will people ‘walk’ to?  Not a “walking community.”

It’s in the middle of Alhambra’s industrial land, so there’s no where to walk to, unless it’s on the far west-side of the owner’s property across Fremont a 15 min. walk across the 38-acre property, where a Starbucks, Subway and cell phone shop are in a commercial food court strip of land.

The developer’s renderings show myriads of people lost in the scale of the 38-acres of luxury ghetto with no where to go; people walking ‘out’ of the development at different places, but where are they ‘going’ – Home Depot? Costco? The sunken train tracks across the street and industrial area make it preferable to drive, not accessible or desirable to walk or bike. The term ‘open space’ was mentioned by the developers, but not defined.  “Open space” for whom?  

In the official documentation (EIR), there is no data that the current employees or students of The Alhambra can afford to or even want to live there, or how many job prospects there are in The Alhambra to make it an actual live-work community. 

Finally, the dawn of the COVID19 era shows we need to live apart, not on top of each other in 5-story packed buildings.

3. Contamination won’t be contained – vapor intrusion ignored.

poison skeleton

This area is a known EPA Superfund site. Historically, the property used to be an industrial plant for airplane parts.

Vapor intrusion is a problem the developers don’t want to deal with. In 2016, Lenny Siegel, a leading expert on vapor intrusion, held a public presentation in Alhambra (Powerpoint: Soil gas contaminants near residences) and wrote a report about the south-west region of Alhambra titled “Tales of Alhambra: Vapor Intrusion”

“…protecting building occupants against vapor intrusion is largely the responsibility of building developers.”  – Lenny Siegel, an EPA funded consultant

Historically speaking…

Located at the corner of Fremont Avenue and Mission Road, C F Braun & Company was one of the most formidable petrochemical engineering companies in the world during the post World War II period….   Braun’s products were used in office buildings, power plants, oil refineries, and ships at a time when the world saw Industrial America on the march.   CF Braun, An Alhambra Institution, by Gary Freuholz at Dilbeck Realty

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More on the history of the site

4. The traffic is already horrendous on Fremont.

When all done after the 8-12 years of construction, the 839 to 1,061 units will bring nearly 7,752 more cars onto this street per day to what is already there, and according to the Environmental Impact Review, the traffic cannot be mitigated if this project goes in.  Read the Traffic Study on the F-EIR document,  and refer to the Appendices to see what data they used to compose the traffic study.  (Do a search for “traffic.”)

Based on the analysis included in the FEIR [ Final draft of the Environmental Impact Review], the Project would result in significant and unavoidable impacts related to Air Quality… and Transportation [aka: traffic]

The fate of the 710 freeway 10 blocks away has not been addressed, the General Plan for the City, that hasn’t been updated in 30 years, hasn’t been finalized, the 12-acre huge empty lot across the street is still a big question mark, and the actual (not projected) traffic effects of the 124-condo complex still in construction nine blocks away at Valley/Marengo (“Woodhaven”, another misnomer) should be taken into account in the “Villages” outdated (from Feb. 2018) traffic studies.  

These nine projects arbitrarily chosen for The Villages’ own traffic data. Note: PM peak hours are here considered from 4-5:54pm.

Related projects trip generation table

5. Luxury units don’t do anything for local housing needs. Supply for whom? 

At the July 20 Planning Commission meeting, developers touted they would be providing housing to teachers and first responders. Reality check: they will never be able to afford to live here. They also used a full-time Costco manager as an example of someone who could potentially live there — but only if that person also had a second job!

COVID19 has put a lot of people out of work. Who (other than investors) can afford a $800,000-850,000 condo, plus monthly Home Owners Association (HOA) fees? In mid-2020, Alhambra adopted an inclusionary housing ordinance. As of Jan. 11, 2021, the developers are only proposing 84 rental units as moderate income units ($64,000+ year).

New condo comps at “Woodhaven”, 9 blocks away, as of June 2020

woodhaven_prices_June10_2020

New apartment comps in Alhambra: 88 Alhambra Place

Monthly rent at Shea construction 88 Alhambra Place (behind the Sprouts in downtown Alhambra), as of July 2020:

  • studio and one bedroom apartments start in the low $2,100 range depending on the amenities in the apartment and duration of the lease. Everything is driven by the terms of the lease.
  • two bedroom start in the mid $2,800 range and can go up to the $6,000-7,000 if the person signs a short term lease
  • 3 bedroom apartments start around $3,800- $4,200/month

 

How Developers Spin it on their Website

Will they be importing the ‘birds’?

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What does the Public have to say?

Realtor Conflict of Interest and violation of Alhambra Code of Ethics

Suzi-Dunkel Soto on the Planning Commission (and also President of the Alhambra Chamber of Commerce) and Ross Maza on the City Council are both practicing real estate agents that could financially benefit from the sales of units in the future Villages. 

They should recuse themselves from deliberating on and voting on this project or sign a binding agreement not to represent individuals trying to buy or sell property on site. Their continued participation violates Alhambra Code of Ethics (Resolution No. R2M2-45), which states that elected official in Alhambra need to 

9. Avoid even the appearance of conflict between public duties and personal interests and activities. If elected or appointed officials have personal or financial interests in matters coming before them, they shall disqualify themselves from making, participating in the making of, or seeking to influence any decision respecting such matter.

On Oct. 5, 2020, the Planning Commission discussed the issue. More here

Documents from City Hall

If the above links do not work because the City of Alhambra changed the location of the links or took them down, please contact the City of Alhambra records dept.

Resources

 

City Process for Approval or Denial

  1. Done: Initial developer meetings and public interaction, see here
  2. Done: Draft EIR was created. Print copies of the D-EIR and Appendices were available for review until  Nov 1. 2019.
  3. Done: The developers presented the project to the Design Review Board of the City for approval vote.  This is completed.
  4. Done: FEIR The Villages at the Alhambra which includes Mitigation Monitoring and Report Plan as well as responses to the public’s comments, concerns and questions on the D-EIR.
    • Any changes it makes in the F-EIR will be considered “mitigation.” The public will have 30 days to comment.

“This project is massive. I’m embarrassed we’re even discussing this. Why hasn’t City staff given us better recommendations before letting this come to us. ” – Commissioner Danny Tang, October 19, 2020

  1. Planning Commission Meetings: Public hearing: July 20, 2020, August 17, 2020, August 31, 2020, September 8,  September 21 were for the 300+ public comments that came in. Oct. 5, 2020 and Oct. 16, 2020 is for the developer’s ‘rebuttal’, comments or questions from the planning commissioners, and possibly a vote.
    1. On July 20, The developers presented the project and the F-EIR to the City’s Planning Commission for a vote. Because there were 118 submitted written comments to be read aloud and 37 people waiting to speak. Even limited to 3 minutes, the meeting went 3 1/2 hours as the Commission heard the people waiting on the phone to speak, and voted to continue on August 17 to hear the 118 comments.  
    2. On August 17, 2020, the Commission decided to have a Special Meeting on August 31, 2020 to continue the hearing the public’s thoughts on The Villages before deliberation, because also on the August 17th agenda was the continuation of the discussion of an Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, another controversial topic that has been getting a lot of public attention.
    3. On August 31, the only agenda item would be The Villages. (Agenda and information packet for August 31, 1000+ pages). Two more meetings (Sept. 8 and 21) had to be scheduled to finish hearing the public’s comments.
    4. Oct. 5, 2020, the developers gave its presentation and the commissioners deliberated and asked questions.
    5. On Oct 19, 2020 the majority of the Commission rejected the proposal in a straw poll. Thereafter they told the Developers what they expected. Here’s a Play by Play of that meeting and what the Commissioners were requesting, as well as links to watch the video.   Did they listen to the Commission and make the significant changes? Not really.
    6. Planning Commission REJECTS the project: On Nov. 2, 2020 the developer brought a few paltry changes to the table (84 apartments for moderate income affordable housing, or 10% of the apts, 839 units instead of 1,061, and no significant suggestions for cleaning up the toxic site or mitigating the 1000’s of cars per day that it would generate onto Fremont.) Commissioners Lucy Banuelos, Suzi Dunkel Soto and Barbara Messina all supported the project and developer. Banuelos went so far as to say the City should ‘trust’ the developers. Chan, D. Garcia, Sahu, Tang, Wang, Eric Garcia, Gardea all voted in support of Commissioner Wang’s motion to DENY the project brought forward that night.
      • Eventually, if the Planning Commission rejects the project, the developer applicant can file an appeal to the City Council, then the City Council will hear it and could vote on it then and there. (If the Planning Commission had approved the project, then the project would move on to the City Council anyway.)
  2. City Council may have two meetings to hear from the public in person and in writing, and to hear from the developer during the “Certification” phase. Before the Project can be “permitted” or specific plans approved, the F-EIR must be reviewed and certified by the City Council as “Complete and Adequate” and the City Council will deem whether the mitigation has reduced the negative impacts to “less than significant” and/or draft a “Statement of Overriding Consideration”
    1. Jan. 11, 2021: City Council public hearing on The Villages – Agenda and City Council Packet: Jan 11, 2021 Packet for the City Council
  3. If desired, the public can file a lawsuit within 30 days after certification / approval vote by the City Council

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Media – – Press

November 4, 2020: Alhambra Planning Commission Rejects the Villages, Proposal Headed to City Council,  ColoradoBlvd.net

November 3, 2020: Planning Commission Votes to Recommend Rejection of The Villages Project, Alhambra Source

October 20, 2020: Planning Commission Wants Significant Changes to the Villages, Alhambra Source

October 18, 2020: Alhambra’s Villages Developers Have the Floor for the Second Time, ColoradoBlvd.net

387 individual members of the public had either sent in a comment to be read into the public record or called in to speak at the meetings. Because there were so many comments, the City implemented a robo-reader to read the comments at the September 8 and September 21 meetings instead of city staff, who had been previously been reading them aloud. The public’s comments were limited to 3 minutes each.

October 6, 2020: The Villages Cannot Meet IHO but Open to Negotiations, Alhambra Source

Moloughney said the project, as currently designed, would not be financially viable if 15 percent of the units were set aside for middle- and low-income households as the new ordinance requires.

Short of a redesign, however, what The Ratkovich Company could do to meet requirements of the city’s new Inclusionary Housing Ordinance when it goes into effect in November with its mandate for rental and sales units for middle- and low-income households was unclear. …

September 22, 2020: Planning Commission to Hear Defense of the Villages at the Next Meeting, Alhambra Source

This week there were 42 emailed comments and one phone comment, the majority of them against the project. Although the oral portion of the public comment is now closed, anyone wishing to submit a written comment for the record can email it to the city for inclusion in the commission’s review.

The public comment volume was so high it created a filibuster of sorts, drawing out the hearing for weeks. Now, the item will move to commission debate.

September 9, 2020: None is Happy with The Villages Consideration Progress,  Alhambra Source

Technical difficulties with Zoom – the phone lines were down – caused the commission to push their consideration of a second, smaller item on the agenda to the next meeting, saying they did not want to censor the public by not giving them the chance to comment on any of the agenda items.

Comment began Tuesday night with 147 letters about The Villages. After sitting through a second night of automated reading of comments, there are 44 remaining emailed comments staff members must read themselves since the city’s computer system cannot to transcribe them for oral reading.

August 18, 2020: Alhambra Residents Protest New Development; Planning Commission Puts Issue Off Again“, Pasadena Star News

“This is reckless and leaves out a large majority of families who are in dire need of housing and on the brink of homelessness,” Ramirez’s comment read.

August 16, 2020:Alhambra Planning Commission to Consider Affordable Housing, The Alhambra Development,” Alhambra Source. *Please see the comments under the article to clarify some misinformation in the article. Cross reference with the links on this page to the F-EIR documentation. 

August 12, 2020: “Why Alhambrans Are Protesting Against “The Villages”, Coloradoblvd.net

The protesters have called for Alhambra Planning Commissioner Suzi Dunkel-Soto and Councilmember Ross Maza to recuse themselves from the decision to allow the housing units to be constructed as they are real estate agents themselves and have conflicts of interest on the issue.

August 4, 2020:More housing for the Rich?? Alhambra, CA Residents Protest development of “The Villages”

July 22, 2020: The Villages Deliberations Extended by Planning Commission, Protested by Public, Alhambra Source

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.

July 21, 2020: “Alhambra Residents Protest Largest Proposed Home Development in City History”, Pasadena Star News

But Alhambra residents who called in to the online meeting voiced doubts about the development’s commercial interests. Several protesters and speakers asked planning commissioner and real estate agent Suzi Dunkel-Soto to recuse herself from the vote due to a conflict of interest. “Business is not a representation of investment in people,” resident and protester Kevin Garcia said during his public comment.

July 20, 2020:Twenty Acre Development Faces Alhambra Planning Commission”  (Urbanize, Los Angeles) – website for developers and real estate industry. The comments are worth a read.

July 15, 2020:  Alhambra Residents Deceived by Disingenuous Developers  (ColoradoBlvd.net)

In effect, the condos and apartments would be built in the heart of Alhambra’s industrial zone. Within walking distance are businesses such as Costco, Home Depot, the Southern California Edison plant, warehouses and a window tint place for cars. Residents will be relying on one of their cars, parked in the 4,347 parking spaces (to drive to destinations farther afield and outside of the industrial zone).

June 11, 2020: A Recent Look at Alhambra’s Corporate Favoritism (ColoradoBlvd.net)

Alhambra has been plagued for years with the status quo establishment courting and being funded by the corporate class who have much to gain and little to lose by attempting to shape political outcomes in Alhambra.

June 17, 2020: City Strategic Planning Talks Small Business, Housing, Sustainability (Alhambra Source)

He was the only council member willing to address head on the Emery Park group’s petition on a large-scale building moratorium. “I’m hesitant to say we stop building, given what we face in the housing crisis, homelessness, statues with the state. If we lead our constituents down that path we may be doing a disservice to them.” But he also said that every project must be mitigated in terms of open space impacts and affordability adding that he was “uncomfortable telling the public we will take care of this through a moratorium.”

“A blanket moratorium in a city like Alhambra is just not realistic,” Maloney said.

Jan. 15, 2020: The Future of Alhambra Hinges on One Question  (ColoradoBlvd.net)

Take for example the Villages at the Alhambra, by far the largest residential development planned for the city in recent times with about 1,100 new dwelling units on the northeast corner of Fremont Avenue and Mission Road.  The developers behind this project received a tremendous boost in their property value when the city approved a zoning change that lifted the restriction of professional office buildings only and allowed high density residential at three times that of the standard multi-family unit.

The zoning change, although general in the sense that it applies to any such parcel greater than 30 acres, was clearly targeted to this specific developer since it is the only site that qualifies in the city.

The city council voted on this change under the premise of a much smaller development with no discussion on the wider implications for the rights being granted (ref. 1a, ref. 1b).

It allows them to build 100% market-rate with no affordable units, would be located in the most congested area of the city, is not located near any transit-oriented districts, and sits atop the most contaminated area of our Superfund site.

Oct. 21, 2019: Comments on Controversial Large Development in Alhambra Extended, (ColoradoBlvd.net)

Upon completion of the environmental review process, the project would be presented to Alhambra’s Planning Commission. If the Planning Commission denies the project, the applicant can appeal to the City Council. If the Planning Commission does not object to the project, it would move on to the City Council. Before permits are issued or specific plans for the project are approved, the City Council must certify the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) as “Complete and Adequate,” meaning that impacts have been reduced to “less than significant” by mitigation of environmental problems. The public would then have 30 days to file a lawsuit.

Sep. 26, 2019: Alhambra Developers Urge Public to Lobby City on Their Behalf (ColoradoBlvd.net)

Never in my life have I heard of private developers appealing to the general public to “urge the city to approve” their multi-million (billion?) dollar project. This is just what owners of The Alhambra, at the corner of Fremont and Mission in Alhambra, are attempting to do.

Sep. 25, 2019: The Alhambra: A Bridge to the City’s Past… (Alhambra Source)

The accommodate some of that the Ratkovich Company is planning to develop part of The Alhambra complex for residential use with 545 rental units and 516 residential units for sale, according to the web site. The plan also includes adding 400 trees to the project site,  This long-term project, which may take much of the next decade, will be called The Villages at The Alhambra. There is a detailed site plan with mockups of what the structures will look as well as a draft environmental impact report on The Alhambra website. 

Sep. 5,  2019: Largest Residential Development Coming to Alhambra (ColoradoBlvd.Net)

The closest metro stop is South Pasadena Mission, almost 3 miles away, and the area is served by a single bus route (Metro line #258), which runs north and south on Fremont. With 4347 parking spaces at Fremont and Mission, the majority of transportation to and from the property will occur by car, increasing the traffic in the area.

May 15, 2019: The RealDeal.com: Ratkovich Scores $150M recap for sprawling office campus, the Alhambra

The property is 90 percent leased, and last year it earned $24.4 million in rent, with $10.6 million in expenses, according to the Commercial Observer report. USC is the largest tenant with 137,500 square feet. Other leases include the nonprofit Eastern Los Angeles Regional Center, and agencies for Los Angeles County including its parks and recreation department.

Ratkovich bought The Alhambra complex in 1999 and has controlled an equity stake in it ever since. The company previously secured a $130 million loan from Goldman Sachs in 2006, and sold a majority stake to China-based ELITE International Investment Fund in 2017.

April 3, 2018: The Real Deal.com: https://therealdeal.com/la/2018/04/03/firms-line-up-to-manage-the-bloc-mega-complex-as-ratkovich-exits/

But Ratkovich has also had problems with the Alhambra development, a 45-acre mixed-use office campus. A $130 million loan attached to the complex was transferred to special servicing in August 2016. Following reports that the project had been slow to fill, a partnership led by Ratkovich and American International Group sold their majority stake in the project in February 2017. Ratkovich remains a minority partner, and oversees day-to-day operations.

Oct. 25, 2017: Ratkovich Company to Build over 1000 Residential Units in Alhambra (Alhambra Source)

“The Ratkovich Company is partnering with the Elite International Investment Fund and Future Land Holdings to build 1,061 housing units in a project that they’re calling the Villages at the The Alhambra. …Community member Michael Lawrence questioned how much outreach project planners were doing. Representatives of the Ratkovich Company said that they had informed a large number of residents and would hold additional meetings to solicit feedback. Lawrence also brought up the fact that the Ratkovich Company had sought a planning amendment to build high-density residential units at the Alhambra in 2006, which is zoned for professional office use. City Council had granted this amendment, allowing 75 units per acre on sites that were a minimum of 30 acres. The Ratkovich company originally planned to build 351 residential units, but scrapped those plans after the housing market crashed.”

Feb. 3, 2017: The Real Deal.com: https://therealdeal.com/la/2017/02/03/chinese-investment-funds-nab-majority-stake-in-ratkovichs-alhambra-complex/

The Ratkovich Company Is the minority stake holder representing the majority owners, ELITE International Investment Fund, a privately-owned real estate investment management company with offices in Beijing, Los Angeles, and New York, and Shanghai.-based Future Land Holdings Inc.

ELITE International Investment Fund, a privately-owned real estate investment management company with offices in Beijing, Los Angeles, and New York, and Shanghai-based Future Land Holdings have acquired an undisclosed majority stake in the project, according to sources close to the deal.

Ratkovich retains a minority stake in the project and will remain on as the general partner, overseeing day to day operations. AIG has exited the deal.

This recapitalization paves the way for new opportunities for the Alhambra and its role as an important mixed-use hub in the local community,” said Bill Zhou, managing partner at ELITE. “As part of this newly formed ownership venture, we’re excited to begin this new chapter and have high hopes for the future successes of the property.”

Zhou declined to comment on the value of the investment or on the specific size of the new partners’ stake in the complex, but AIG paid $198 million for its stake in the project in 2006, records show.

Zhou told TRD that the new partners plan to bring a new multifamily complex to a parking lot on the site, pending entitlements. The parcel was previously approved for 600 units or 700 units, he said.

(For wealthy family investment!)
 
 

About the Developer Stakeholders

 

1. Elite International Investment

Elite owns a majority stake in The Villages. It’s a foreign investment firm: http://www.shineasset.com/english/worktwo4s.html
 
Elite International Investment Fund was founded by Shine Asset and US-China Investment Center. Elite provides global asset management and investment services to Chinese enterprises and individuals.
 
“Elite Fund Series” provides Chinese wealth class with overseas asset allocation services, with the Opportunities Fund as a platform, GP fund the lead, and project funds the floor, selecting quality products from the global investment market for its customers from a professional view. “Elite Fund Series” has supplied the emerging East international class a private enjoy of overseas asset management services, covering family wealth management, wealth inheritance, high-quality life and boutique in [?]

 

2. Ratkovich – investor and owner of the Alhambra

Ratkovich Cos. partnership secures $30M for sprawling San Pedro market project The $150M waterfront development will include 300K sf of commercial space( March 26, 2019, The RealDeal.com)

The San Pedro Public Market is being developed on land owned by the Port of L.A. and has been in the works for over a decade. It’s been contentious in the harborside community because it will replace the Ports O’ Call Village, a restaurant and shopping center built in the 1960s that became a local mainstay. In 2017, more than a dozen Ports O’ Call Village shop owners filed claims with the city against the Port of L.A. to block their eviction.

Letter from the Developers’ lawyer

On August 6, 2020, the developers’ attorneys sent this letter to the City of Alhambra, pressuring them not to listen to all the public comments and claiming their development should be limited to just 5 City Hall meetings.

Developer’s Corporate Activism

image

Who are they kidding? “creating a walkable campus”– where is the data of how many employees or students can *actually* afford to live in the residential housing on site, or *actually* want to? Because everything around there is industrial warehouses and it’s on a Superfund pollution site!

The developers promised the public dinner if they send a letter of support to the Planning Commission!

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