Ratkovich files major builder’s remedy application in Alhambra

LA developer tests new strategy after pushing Villages project for years

A photo illustration of Ratkovich president Brian Saenger and renderings of the major residential project in Alhambra (Getty, Ratkovich)
A photo illustration of Ratkovich president Brian Saenger and renderings of the major residential project in Alhambra (Getty, Ratkovich)

After years of delays on a major residential project in Alhambra, The Ratkovich Company has switched strategies to pursue the project through builder’s remedy, the controversial legal provision that allows developers to bypass local zoning in cities that are failing to plan for enough housing. 

Ratkovich, an L.A.-based developer, filed its 790-unit builder’s remedy application in Alhambra, a city located in the San Gabriel Valley, earlier this month, a representative said. 

In a statement, Ratkovich President Brian Saenger blasted the city’s “anti-housing policies,” citing its low permitting numbers, especially for units geared for low and moderate income earners, and the city’s rising median home price. 

“The city’s failure to properly plan for new housing over this eight-year period and its noncompliant housing element is why the builder’s remedy exists,” he said.

For its latest Housing Element — the document that outlines housing planning in all California jurisdictions — state authorities determined that Alhambra, a city with a population of roughly 80,000, had to plan for an additional 6,825 units over eight years, including nearly 1,800 units for very low income residents. 

Along with most of Southern California, the city faced an October 2021 deadline for the Housing Element update. Like dozens of cities around the state, however, Alhambra has yet to secure a state sign-off on its update, which leaves the city vulnerable to builder’s remedy and other penalties. Alhambra submitted its most recent update last month, according to a state database, and that version is still under review. 

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Ratkovich has pursued its project in the city, called Villages at the Alhambra, since 2017. An early version of the proposal called for 1,000 units, a total that was later shifted to 775 units, among numerous other revisions. 

But in 2021 the Alhambra City Council still rejected it, citing environmental, labor and affordable housing concerns, which prompted the developer to sue the city in early 2022. A judge later ruled in favor of the city. 

The builder’s remedy application calls for 230 townhomes and 560 apartment units, for a total of 790 units, spread among three separate buildings. The plan includes 158 affordable units, in line with a 20 percent affordable requirement for builder’s remedy projects. 

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It was unclear how the City of Alhambra intends to respond to the developer’s new application. Under the intent of the legal provision, cities that are subject to builder’s remedy must process the applications, but several cities around the state — including nearby La Cañada

Flintridge — have instead pushed back against the projects, setting up clashes with state authority. A representative for the City of Alhambra did not respond to an inquiry. 

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