Controversy and conflict of interest charges swirl around Alhambra car wash proposal

A+building+selling+burgers+to+people.

Anne To/UT

Ernie’s Burger with the graffitied public planning notice standing next to the building

Anne To, Community News Reporter

The Alhambra city council held a special meeting last month, after a potential conflict of interest related to a development permit to build a car wash on West Valley Boulevard and Cabrillo Avenue.

Richard A. McDonald, an attorney for appellant Malcolm Arakelian, who owns the car wash, said at the council meeting that the conflict involved two council members, which explained their absence at the meeting.

One lived too close to the property and one took a position in opposition to the project on social media before the vote,” said Mcdonald.

The two council members were Council Member Sasha Renee Perez, who apparently took a position on the project on social media before the proposal was discussed at a meeting, and Council Member Adele Andrade-Stadler, who lived near the property.

“While a council member has ‘the right to state views or concerns on matters of community without having his vote impeached’…Under California Law, if a member of the city council or planning commission shows an unacceptable probability of bias (Woody’s Group, 233 Cal. App. 4th at 1022), he or she violates the applicant’s due process rights,” McDonald wrote in a letter to the city.

He added that Perez’s statements on social media showed an “unacceptable probability of actual bias.”

“The appellant took a photo of a social media posting where Council Member Sasha Perez and a resident were communicating. The appellant claimed that the council member was already stating her position on the project prior to the very first public meeting,” Council Member Katherine Lee said in an interview with UT Community News.

Despite emails, Perez and Andrade-Stadler could not be reached for comment.

Arakelian’s project involved demolishing the two restaurants, Ernie’s Burger and Aloha Food Factory, which has been there since 1994. That sparked public outcry from neighborhood residents.

Aloha Food Factory and Ernie’s Burger have already had their rent increased by Arakelian, making it difficult to stay in that location, Aaron Luong, owner of Aloha Food Factory, told UT Community News in an interview.

Luong alleged that since the planning commission denied the proposal “the landlord and his lawyers and his team of experts have been trying to find any and every way possible to build a car wash and go around the city” in terms of finding other ways to make it happen. 

“He went and doubled our rent, legally that is all he can do,” Luong said. 

Meanwhile, the buildings are near the 710 freeway, so local residents worry about the added traffic.

“The car wash is going to bring even more cars to the neighborhood and it’s no longer going to be a safe space to even ride a bike… it would become so much less pedestrian friendly, and with all the kids and families, ” Edward Escarsega, an Alhambra resident, said in an interview with UT Community News.

McDonald said Arakelian’s car wash would be different from the ones some residents are referring to.

“A lot of people thought it would be like the mega car washes that are further east on Valley Boulevard, and [that] involves quite a bit more land, quite a bit more cars, quite a bit and more noise,” McDonald added, addressing residents’ concerns. “This is the type of car wash that many parents use after they drop off kids while running errands…The typical time for a car to go through this type of car wash is 5-10 minutes at most, which has a great level of convenience.”

The appeal ended with the plan being denied again by a vote of 3-0.

Whether or not Arakelian will continue to push the project is unknown.

“There will be a draft resolution proposed by the city council. We will object to it because we object to them denying the process, and then we will decide whether to file suit or pursue a different project,” Mcdonald said.

Community News produces stories about under-covered neighborhoods and small cities on the Eastside and South Los Angeles. Please email feedback, corrections and story tips to [email protected]