|An Arcadia Nouveau Riche Rube Ranch|
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.