Thursday, December 4, 2014

It's No Coincidence - Arcadia Has Both "Private Property Rights" and McMansions

An Arcadia Nouveau Riche Rube Ranch
In yesterday's edition of the Los Angeles Times there was a very important article called How Arcadia Is Remaking Itself As A Magnet For Chinese Money, which you can link to here. Preserve Sierra Madre sent out this email to their members:

An important article appeared in the Los Angeles Times today by Architectural Critic Christopher Hawthorne discussing the rapid changes taking place in Arcadia. If we want to be preserve the village-like character of Sierra Madre, we will need to put in place rules and regulations to prevent these same kinds of architectural changes from happening to our neighborhoods.  Make no mistake, it will be a challenge.

I'm not going to go into the L.A. Times article too much here because I'm sure most of you have already read it. The word got around pretty quickly. And if not, maybe it's because you didn't feel like reading it. Which is your business. I wouldn't want to be pushy or a noodge or anything.

But there is one little part of this article that particularly intrigued me, and I thought I ought to write about it for today's post. Because this one really does point to a rather extreme cash driven ideological agenda that seems to hold Peacock Town in its thrall. Check this big packa wacky out:

Regulating the new houses has meant striking a balance between supporting new construction and protecting the existing character of its residential streets. Arcadia established a design-review process in 2006 that calls on developers, in the name of aesthetic coherence, to choose "a single architecture style as a starting point in the design process."

Even so, developers are not required to appear before a citizens commission as they are in neighboring cities. Once builders figure out how to navigate the system, they can turn out one multimillion-dollar house after another. "Our city is very much supportive of private property rights," said Jason Kruckeberg, Arcadia's assistant city manager.

I highlighted that last sentence because it expresses a theme that runs through a lot of the on-line info describing Arcadia's money driven development agenda. "Private property rights" is a noble enough sounding agenda, I guess. But in this particular case that is obviously determined by just how much dough Arcadia City Hall and its business allies can rake off of multi-million dollar home projects.

It seems obvious to me that the "Private Property Rights" meme is being used to cynically justify an out of control foreign capital fueled McMansion boom there.

This skewed and highly suspect usage of "private property rights" is found often in Arcadia related business documents and government literature. Here are some of the examples I found by doing a fairly brief Google search. I suspect there is more.

Proposed RV Storage Ban Strikes Up Controversy (link): A proposal to ban storage of RVs on front lawns drew a standing room-only crowd at Tuesday's City Council meeting … Councilman Gary Kovacic expressed mixed feelings on the proposed amendment. "I'm truly on the fence on this one," he said.

Mayor Bob Harbicht said he felt reluctant to restrict property rights. "I don't want to restrict private property rights without good reason," Harbicht said, citing property values as an example of such a reason. And property values "are impacted by having an RV parked in your (neighbor's) front yard." Harbicht also noted that no one came to the meeting to express their support for the proposed amendment, before concluding "the impact on RV owners is greater than the impact on their neighbors."

In Gassner's case, the amendment's passage would give her no choice but to sell her RV. Frustrated, Gassner had just three words for neighbors who might complain about the RV parked on her property. "Get over it," she said, as supporters broke into cheers and applause.

This next from the City of Arcadia website (link):

The foothills are an integral part of Arcadia's identity; they provide environmental, wildlife habitat, aesthetic and recreational value. The undeveloped hillside areas create a scenic backdrop to the City. Arcadia's Wilderness Park provides a place where residents can enjoy local wildlife habitat, hike into the Angeles National Forest, or enjoy the view of the San Gabriel Valley below. The neighborhoods nestled into the hillsides create quiet refuge for the people who live there. With regard to public properties, Arcadia's objective is to preserve natural lands for the enjoyment and use by people and wildlife. On private hillside properties, Arcadia will continue to use zoning and other Municipal Code regulations to ensure sensitive residential development practices, and will support the efforts of homeowner associations to provide compatible and respectful development.

Goal #1:  Balanced use of hillside properties that respects the natural environment and private property rights.

Here is a screenshot pulled from the website of the locally influential Arcadia Association of Realtors. "Private property rights" is used here twice in a two inch tall space. Just so you know how heroic they are.


Is there anyone here who doesn't think the Arcadia Association of Realtor's brave stand on private property rights is actually driven by the money they're making off of out of control development in that town? If there is I have a Saturn Ion I'd like to sell you. Trust me, it runs like a champ.

Then there is this from LA Curbed (link). Apparently in Arcadia your private property rights mean you can cut down all of the trees you like.

Bad News For Trees as Arcadia HOAs Consolidate Standards Last week, the Arcadia city council approved a resolution that consolidates the development standards, design guidelines, and design review procedures for the five homeowner associations in the city, reports the Pasadena Star News (link). The results: it's a lot easier for property owners to remove trees (except, of course, for oaks, which are protected citywide) and harder for them to change their driveways. They'll also have to notify more neighbors of any major construction. 

Prior to the adoption of the new standards, four out of the five HOAs protected liquid ambers, sycamores, magnolias, and pines that had a diameter of at least six inches. Of course, regulations involving both private property and the lives of trees are never without controversy. Mary Dougherty, president of Santa Anita Oaks Homeowners' Association, for instance, tells the PSN that the Arcadia City Council's decision to end protection for trees shows the council is in the pocket of developers: 

"The council members who objected to the protection of the trees were perhaps more interested in protecting the rights of the builders and developers than the rights of people that live in the neighborhood." Arcadia Councilmember Bob Harbicht argues that if a property owner wants to cut down a tree, they should be able to cut down a tree (without asking): "Whether you planted it or didn't, it's your tree...You paid for that property and you have certain property rights that go with that."

Nothing gets in the way of 6,000 thumping square feet of luxury lumpen housing more than all of those damn trees, right? Just ask CETT

I think you get the point. My take on "private property rights" is this. Slow growth advocates and those who wish to preserve their communities are also the owners of property. Therefore they should have rights as well, correct? If enough people want to restrict the building of McMansions in their community, it is often because as property owners they want the right to protect the most important investment they have, which is their home. 

And what could devalue their property more than things like having some two story 6,000 square foot humpty dumpty go up next door? Blocking their view, sunlight and privacy?

Look at it this way. Isn't it a contradiction to say that a community's citizens can vote to decide how much in city taxes they wish to pay, but can expect to have no voice in how their community is to be planned? So they should just shut up about it and be grateful for having property rights, even though they can't protect them anytime a developer decides he wants to take them away? 

All done, of course, in the name of protecting property rights?

Allowing greedy foreign investors and those who kowtow to them to do as they wish on as many lots as they want is less about property rights and a whole lot more about exploitation. A profitable process that any cynical and enabling City Hall would see considerable financial gain in sanctioning. 

Which is, of course, the real point. It is always all about the dough. No matter what Bob Harbicht, the Arcadia Association of Realtors or Jason Kruckeberg have to say about it.

Trust me, it's all about the money

Here is another example. This from The Philadelphia Inquirer (link):

Chinese investors sign up to fund I-95-Pa. Turnpike link Chinese investors have begun signing up to spend $500,000 each to help pay for a long-awaited connection between the Pennsylvania Turnpike and I-95. In exchange, the investors hope to get permanent residency in the United States for themselves and their families.

Agents for the novel financing plan have been pitching the proposal in China since September, touting the project's financial stability and showcasing photos of Gov. Corbett and Turnpike Commission officials breaking ground for the construction in Bucks County.

"Guaranteed by U.S. Government, Class A+ Repayment Credit!" proclaimed the Chinese-language website promoting the investment last month. "A key expressway-connecting hub project in U.S.A.!"

More than 100 investors have applied so far to invest in the I-95/turnpike connection. The Turnpike Commission is counting on 400 wealthy foreign investors, mostly from China, to provide $200 million for the $420 million project. The rest of the money will come from federal and turnpike funds.

The heavily indebted Turnpike Commission is borrowing the $200 million from foreign investors under the federal Immigrant Investor Program that grants "EB-5" immigration visas to foreigners who provide at least $500,000 to U.S. projects that create 10 or more American jobs.

The deal offers something for everyone: The turnpike will get cheap money, saving about $35 million over traditional borrowing costs over five years. The turnpike will pay a 2 percent annual interest rate, about half the current rate for municipal-bond borrowing.

The foreign investors and their families will get a quick path to legal residence in the United States, though they may lose money on their investment.

Other government agencies, be they just down the hill or way back east, may be doing backflips for foreign cash. Apparently there is little they won't sell or do to get it. Whether it is peddling McMansion development property rights or interstate highways. 

We can only hope the City of Sierra Madre will not number among them anytime soon.

http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

40 comments:

  1. Hooray for Arcadia. they are free to knock down trees and build Homes property line to property line. but Sierra Madre is not Arcadia so we should be free to limit what can be built and what trees if any, can be taken down. If you want sterile McMansions, go live in Arcadia. If you want an actual town, live in Sierra Madre. It's time to put some real muscle into our building ordinances before it's too late.

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    1. While the Arcadia mentality can spill over into Sierra Madre, in some ways its nice to have them so close as an example of what we don't want for Sierra Madre.

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    2. Let me try to briefly explain what we see happening in Arcadia vs the mentality of those in Sierra Madre and elsewhere. The United States has always been the richest country on the planet. But society's will evolve. Sure we have our share of gaudy, obnoxious rich people, but overall the direction is now towards smaller homes, homes that are more "green" and sustainable. We really don't have anything to prove and we're quite happy to keep things the way they are. China, on the other hand, used to be a very backward country until we shifted our entire manufacturing base over to China which helped to create all this new-found wealth. Because its new money, they tend to be a bit insecure about it and thus the need to build gigantic homes that are status symbols and practically, scream out, "Look at me. I'm wealthy and I'm important". Often times, the newly rich can be particularly insufferable. That's my analyis of the psychological nature of all of this.

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    3. Thank you, Dr. Freud.

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    4. I think Dr. Freud may be on to something here.

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    5. I am from NY and these McMansions remind me of the houses Mafia bosses used to build for themselves.

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    6. I saw firsthand who was making money and who wasn't, what worked and what didn't, what people wanted that wasn't available and what was to easy to find but wasn't wanted. Anytime you are considering changing your landscape, you must also thing about the structures that already stand on your property. This is particularly useful if your backyard is not fenced in.

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  2. Why do the MacMansion owner property rights trump ther neighbors' property rights?

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    1. Money. All that stuff about property rights is just researched marketing blather designed to sucker in the gullible.

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    2. Private property rights cuts two ways. Someone may think they can do whatever they want with their property under the guise of 'private property rights". But what if, in the exercise of those "private property rights", they do something or build something on their property that devalues the property of their neighbors nearby. In other words, why should one person's private property rights trump someones else's? Is that fair? You build a McMansion next door to me so that you can tell everyone how wealthy you are or how important you are but you block my views, my privacy and my light. It seem's to me that the neighbors who bought their property based upon a certain view, and privacy and light - their private property rights, should trump that of the person who want to turn the nighborhood on its head by building some McMansion for their own selfish interests.

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    3. Great post. That is why the Arcadia Realtor's version of property rights is not true. They only care about the side that lines their pockets. For homeowners their position is a hostile one.

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    4. Couldn't agree more, 8:54.
      It's ironic that a supposedly desirable behemoth like a MacMansion can actually decrease their neighbors values just as much as some kind of crack house can - both make the people around them put up with really bad impacts.

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    5. This would destroy our community.

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    6. I am sorry but the Mansion next door will increace your property value , look at all ine increase in Arcadia if you were right 10:58 arcadia property should be worth almost nothing

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    7. You are wrong. It is not the McMansions but the foreign capital fueling the building of these things. That money could dry up soon, leaving these immense eyesores empty and useless.

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    8. It is not the McMansions that are fueling increases in real estate values, it is the foreign capital being pumped in from Asia. Capital that could dry up as the anti-corruption drives in China starts to shut down the illegal export of that money. When that happens the value of your McMansion will drop like a rock.

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    9. 12:55, the Mansion next door will only increase your property value if you sell and move out, so your house can be torn down and mansionized too.

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    10. Your property value might go up if you sell but if you don't sell, you have to then live with the looming McMansion right next door that just took away your views, privacy and light. Some people don't want to be forced to have to move from the family home. The value on retaining your quality of life is priceless.

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  3. Arcadia dances to the tune of the Arcadia Association of Realtors. The reason all that gibberish about private property rights is used so much at that city hall is because AAR put it there.

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  4. There are all kinds of restrictions on what people can and cannot do on their property. Zoning, municipal codes exist to control that. Why should the Build 'Em Big crowd get a free pass?
    (Thanks Tattler for "packa wacky")

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  5. During Sierra Madre City Council elections the Arcadia Realtors send questionnaires to our candidates asking them about their feelings on the property rights question. Those who say they think it is bull are attacked by their political people. Those who are for it get an endorsement, cash and advertising. I have never voted for anyone they have endorsed. To me that is the kiss of death.

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  6. I personally do not want my neighbor parking their RV in the front yard. The owners usually just let them sit there and fall apart. If you can afford an RV and go traveling, you can afford to store it at the storage yard.

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  7. It is all about the money. The realtors in this town will sell us out in a heartbeat to make their commissions. The only problem them is that their won't be any repeat sales. That's what's happening in Arcadia. Go look at whose selling the real estate in Arcadia and San Marino. The pool of potential clients for realtors is shrinking rapidly because Chinese owners and buyers use Chinese agents.

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    1. I would use a real estate agent who spoke my language, too.

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    2. For the people who want to cash out and leave Arcadia never to come back, for the City employees who want more money in the City's coffers to pay for increased salaries and pensions and for the real estate agents who will make their commissions.....at least for a while until the changing demography means they won't get any more business, then all the McMansions are a good thing. For those people who like the home they live in, like their views and privacy, like going to Mary's Market and other funky places around town and chatting with the locals, and who want to be able to read the signs of the business establishments because they are in the English language and not a foreign language, then the newcomers and their McMansions may not be such a good thing.

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  8. That's right about the realtors. How many of them are actively trying to preserve this town and want to stop development. You can count them on one hand.

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  9. I noticed too the comment in that article about from the Asst. City Manager of Arcadia talking about "private property rights". All he cares about is destroying the town with ugly McMansion so that the city has more money in the coffers for his bloated salary and fat pension. That's all he cares about. Again, it comes down to the money.

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  10. It seems like everybody want to sell out to the money interests from China. Why don't we just sell them the whole country? Was it Lenin or Marx who said that capitalists will sell the rope that hangs themselves.

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    1. When the Red Army arrives on our shores the Arcadia Realtors will greet them with little red flags and exciting new home listings.

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    2. The way the moneyed Chinese are getting out of the mainland and flaunting their money here, I figure they are 100% capitalist.

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    3. Running dog lackeys of the imperialist aggressor.

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    4. If I were the powers that be in China, I would be a little bit concerned about the brain drain and capital flight from the mainland. The fact is that you have probably 200 million Chinese who would like to leave China and come to the United Stated. Out of that 200 million, let's say 50 million want to live in Arcadia which has about 50,000 residents. Obviously there is not enough room for everybody in Arcadia, so, hello Sierra Madre.

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    5. There is also the issue of scapegoating. The housing buibble in China is losing air fast. Somebody is going to have to take the blame. Easiest target is rich people trying to get out of the country with their money.

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    6. Arcadia succumbed to great developers, a complicit City Hall, and apathetic residents and council members. That train has left the station. For those who grew up in Arcadia and saw the family home razed to the ground, its too late. Arcadia is lost. Now you have Arcadia's neighbors like Monrovia and Sierra Madre trying to stem the tide. That may end up being a futile effort when you have such a massive and sudden demographic change in a relatively small area. Coming with that are completely different architectural tasts as well as people who have a complete regard for the native heritage. If this all doesn't sound familier, talk to some of the Native American tribes about what happened to their way of life that was turned on its head in only about 30 years.

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    7. I have always felt badly regarding the treatment of American Indians. Maybe this is payback. I do what I can, as one person, to support Indian charities, it will never be enough. That being said, there is all the more reason to protect the land we have. I understand Carter may be a burial ground, we should make sure before we allow building there. It is a small way to give respect to the local Indian tribes. We also should be responsible for saving what's left of the hillsides. There is so much to learn from American Indians about treasuring the land and its inhabitants and elements. If the Chinese are willing to put money into this country then let them build houses on the reservations. Let them invest in the real America, not what they perceive as America. I remember being in Paris many years ago and watching the tour buses filled with Asian shoppers going to Hermes, Vuitton, Ralph lauren, Chanel, etc. they all came out with bags of stuff they bought. I could never afford to go to any of those places. We, as citizens, have been forced by our government to pay for their goods. I gave up trying to find anything that isn't made in China. The government is offering Chinese citizens special perks that we don't get as citizens. What we get is taxes, joblessness, mc mansions and fundamental changes to our way of life. If we can gather together as a group and try to save a little bit of that American Dream, what's wrong with that?

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    8. In this case the Gabrielino tribe and the residents of Sierra Madre have a big issue in common. Stop the McMansions at One carter!

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  11. Don't forget the Arcadia Realtors Assocation's role in the No on Measure V campaign. I forget how many 1000s of $ they donated to the NO vote!

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    1. The fact that they flushed all of that money down the drain like that warms my heart.

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  12. Remember this fool? Went on a hunger strike for development.

    Arcadia developer on 'hunger strike' to raise awareness of candidates
    http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/general-news/20100406/arcadia-developer-on-hunger-strike-to-raise-awareness-of-candidates

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