Case Study: City of Alhambra

From 2008 to 2012, the SGVOG took an in-depth look at the policies and practices of the city of Alhambra, which is located in the western portion of the San Gabriel Valley of California. The purpose of this indepedent study was to assess the extent to which the city was prepared to support its residents during the worst recession in over 70 years. Based on these findings, the goal is to identify root causes for the issues and offer paths to remediation.

Alhambra has a rich history of providing community services and quality educational programs. It has also provided family-oriented neighborhoods while at the same time doing their part to contribute to needed rental housing inventory. It attracted businesses such as Alhambra Foundry, C. F. Braun, and others that offered many good-paying, middle-class jobs.

And as middle-class jobs moved to other states or countries and the housing bubble burst, Alhambra was touted as being better prepared than most cities and with the wherewithal to not just weather the recession, but to grow. But upon closer examination, questionable policies and practices were found that resulted in unpublicized costs to residents, in stark contrast to the gilded press releases.

The city finds itself mirroring other parts of the nation with a significant income gap.  Possibly related, the achievement gap between students in our school districts is no less worrisome as it foreshadows a continuing economic divide for the next generation.


What was found was a city that is "ethically challenged" in its intense focus on business-based revenue sources. It continues to channel resources into a paradigm suitable during economic bubbles. The cost is largely levied on lower-income groups via unethical affordable housing practices, a lack of an adult education program, and a lack of good paying jobs being created. And long-time residents near gentrification areas also bear the burden of noise, traffic, and environmental impacts.  Conversely, the accommodation of businesses and developers is excessive and garners a disproportionate amount of the city’s resources in terms of grant funding, general funds, and staff and city government focus.

The source of these issues can generally be traced to the financial support provided by businesses and developers to back their candidates; the resulting pro-business city government majority; a pro-business city management office; and unethical practices within the city which often go unnoticed due to a proper lack of oversight. This last point is exasperated through city leadership's lack of public transparency and actual discouragement of open discussion through uncivil behavior.

See the Findings panel on this page for links to specific examples.