Friday, May 15, 2015

John Harabedian and the 30,000 Square Foot Mystery

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We here at The Tattler like nothing better than a good mystery. Actually, the only thing we like better is solving those mysteries. Which we can do every once in a while. I mean, why not?

In this case, the mystery we're considering here is what exactly got into John Harabedian, and why was he so rackety adamant, and even passionate, about how the reduction in floor area ratios as recommended by the Planning Commission would affect very large properties. Particularly those lot sizes in excess of 30,000 sq. ft. You all may recall just how concerned John was about those poor lot owners who may only be able to build mere 6,000 square foot houses rather than perhaps 8,000 square foot houses.

Perhaps he was concerned about how bad they'd feel should those dreams be thwarted?

Now mind you, and according to Leticia Cardoso of the Planning Department, the number of those lots is around 20 for the entire city of Sierra Madre. Not that many. And yet, here was John Harabedian making quite a fuss for those relatively few lot owners. Many observers were left scratching their heads and asking how such a thing could be.

Well, let us be so bold as to throw out a possible theory. You know how we love theories.

Some of you may recall that when the Planning Commission was all set to approve their recommendations to reduce the floor area limits and protect against the mansionization of Sierra Madre, almost every one in attendance at those meetings spoke in favor of that happening. There was only one person who spoke against this effort and that was the new owner of 110 Rancho in Sierra Madre, Gina Felikian.

On October 31, 2014, the Felikians bought a home for $1,800,000 with a 40,616 square foot lot, and were hoping to demolish the existing casa not so grande and build something substantially larger. From what she said, Gina did not seem take too kindly to the Planning Commission trying to reduce the size of the quite large McMansionesque home she wished to build.

Chairman Desai quickly dismissed Gina's expressed concerns at that meeting by telling her that the size of the home she would be allowed to build under the Planning Commission's recommendations was still going to be a mighty big home. Just not quite as mighty as she'd hoped.

Here is the video containing that exchange of opinion.

To view this video please click here.

Now let's assume that Gina Felikian was probably not satisfied with that response, and later figured out that she could get another shot at the big dream when the Planning Commission's recommendations came before the City Council for final approval. Which is when John Harabedian appears to have jumped into the fray.

Here are a couple of clips of then Mayor Harabedian at the April 14th and April 28th City Council meetings where, in the opinion of The Tattler, it is possible John may have been trying to help Gina build that far bigger house she clearly wanted.

You can link to this video here.

Gina Felikian, perhaps not coincidentally, was the only large lot owner in Sierra Madre who, at that particular moment, owned a home so situated that was about to be demolished. So is it possible that she had reached out to John Harabedian for help? And, to speculate even further, maybe that could be the reason why the former Mayor was advocating in so forceful and lawyerly a manner? To make certain that large lot owners like Gina would not be constrained from building massive homes on their properties?

I doubt that anyone will ever forget how John Harabedian pulled out that piece of paper with his own eleventh hour changes to what the floor area ratios should be. It was a very dramatic, entirely unexpected and rather depressing moment.

Just to give you an idea of what John accomplished with these changes, under the Planning Commission's recommendations, Gina could have built a home on her 40,616 square foot lot that was a total of 6,462 square feet.

After former Mayor Harabedian managed to convince the other council members to accept his compromise, one that included a "fourth tier" for lot sizes over 30,000 square feet, Gina would then be able to build a home that is a total of 6,842 square feet. That, plus the extra 5% of a lot size that is over 30,000 square feet, would allow for a detached accessory building like a guest house. That would give the Felikians another 530 square feet.

To speculate even further, when the dust settled and the floor area limits were adjusted at the last moment in accordance with John Harabedian's proposal, the Felikans would then be permitted to add another 910 square feet on top of what the Planning Commission recommended. To put things in monetary terms, and assuming the value of a new property is about $500 per square foot, Ms. Felikian could have benefited from Mr. Harabedian's efforts to the tune of $455,000.

Without getting too complicated, part of John Harabedian's proposal reached into the lower 3rd tier, which he raised by 2%, which then gave the 4th tier a higher base from which to start any new calculations. This new 4th tier floor area ratio contributed to that total potential gain for the Felikians.

In possibly trying to please one constituent, former Mayor Harabedian, in our opinion anyway, appeared willing to disregard both the recommendations of the Planning Commission and the will of the majority of the residents of Sierra Madre. A small city filled with big hearted folks who could now be faced with the unhappy prospect of many much larger homes being built on 30,000 plus square foot lots than what was originally intended when the Planning Commission made its thoughtful recommendations.

So did John Harabedian change certain rules that will now apply to the entire City of Sierra Madre to accommodate the wishes of one solitary property owner? We will let The Tattler's many knowledgeable readers be the judge of that.

It will also be interesting to see if the Felikian's plans for their new home take advantage of that extra 5% of square footage for "accessory structures" that was first devised by our very own John Harabedian.

Like I said, we enjoy mysteries. And theories.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

103 comments:

  1. I think the Tattler may have cracked this mystery. Why was Harabedian suddenly so fixated on protecting those few owners in that higher tier. And the only one who was in that higher tier and showed up at most of the meetings was Gina Felikian. I don't blame Gina Felikian for reaching out to John Harabedian but, in accomodating her concerns, John changed the formulas hammered out by the Planning Commission such that the rules he changed dipped all the way down into lots that were over 11,000 sq. ft.

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    1. Unfortunately, when Harabedian tried to help Felikian, he watered down the formulas for the floor area ratios which ended up affecting many more lots than just the Felikian's. Its a rather selfish way of doing things. The Planning Commission had spent alot of time trying to get those formula's right only to have them changed because one property owner wanted to build a much bigger home. Something about that doesn't sit too well.

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    2. The Tattler is amazing. Nothing gets passed you. How do you do it? Thanks for trying to keep our politicians honest and calling them out when they need to be called out.

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    3. Two unsung heroes emerged out of all of this - Chairman Desai and Gina Frierman-Hunt of the Planning Commission who defended the commission's recommendations in the face of a barrage of criticism from Harabedian and Goss. They stood their ground and defended the small-town character of our village and for that they should be commended. The were really good at that one meeting. Unfortunately, what they told Goss and Harabedian fell on deaf ears because Gina Felikian had already gotten to them.

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    4. Harabedian's lack of character comes through again.

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    5. I guess we are now back to "special people government."

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    6. That would explain why the Falkians were at Tuesday night's City Council meeting, sittling right up front where they could keep an eye on Johnny. Shame on you, John Harabedian!

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    7. Freier-man Hunt has always been outstanding because of her obvious integrity and intelligence, and Desai has been hitting 'em out of the park, after that one unfortunate meeting. They are both the kind of commissioners who make us proud.
      Harabedian is a smooth talking embarrassment.

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    8. 6:08, how many lots are involved?

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    9. Its too bad that we had to change everything over one person's situation. Shame on you John Harabedian. You and every other member of the City Council needs to withstand the temtation of personal favors for friends. You need to put the entire city's interests first and foremost.

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    10. Desai and Frierman-Hunt are great members of the Planning Commission. Their recommendations will make a huge difference to the future of Sierra Madre and in fact may have saved Sierra Madre from turning into Arcadia despite what Harabedian did for Felikian.

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    11. In both videos, Desai was more than outstanding in defending our small town. He made complete sense when he talked about "compatability" with the neighborhood as being the main thrust of the provision that the Planning Commission had recommended. He's someone we need to keep on the Planning Commission.

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    12. Desai went up about 10 notches in my estimation because he not only contributed to the Planning Commission's recommendations but also defended them before the City Council in the face of somewhat hostile questioning by Harabedian and Goss.

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    13. Thanks to the Tattler for holding our elected officials accountable!

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    14. After reading this expose, it sure offers an explaination for the former Mayor's behavior and it might also explain where Goss was coming from also although Goss was almost unhinged in his attempt to keep things the way they were. I honestly believe that Harabedian does not want McMansions in Sierra Madre. Goss, on the other hand, doesn't care what people build or how it impact on their neighbors. Remember he's a tolerant person. He just is not tolerant towards the neighbors like the Chung's on 1135 E. Grandview who will be impacted by the likes of the develope of 1145 E. Grandview who is going to destroy their views and privacy.

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    15. I agree that Desai has acquitted himself very well. I sure hope he will stay on the Planning Commission.

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    16. Desai went mano a mano with Harabedian in that video and looked pretty good. Maybe he should run for the City Council.

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    17. Even with the changes made by Councilman Harabedian, the improvements made by the Planning Commssion go along way to insuring that Sierra Madre stays Sierra Madre. They really came through for the City on this and all those who want to preserve our samll town character should be grateful to the Planning Commission as well as the three City Council Members who made it a reality - Mayor Capoccia and Council Members Delmar and Arizmendi.

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  2. I think the Tattler connected the dots. This is the kind of back-room dealing that benefits one at the expense of the many. You can find many different permutations of this and its really hard for those in power to withstand the pressure exerted by friends who want something. This goes on in every city. Some can be more inocuous while some deals can be very destructive to a city.

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    1. I think that stuff belongs in the City of Industry and not in Sierra Madre.

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    2. I think the mafia got to him and made him a deal he couldn't refuse, oh yeah he'll be fitted was flooring for the rest of his life.

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    3. Only the Tattler could figure this out. Well done!

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    4. maybe he can sweep it all under the carpet!

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    5. This can be the only explanation for what Harabedian and Goss were trying to do. If anyone has any other explanation, I'd like to hear it.

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    6. Agreed 10:33.
      I don't like conspiracy theories on the face of it, but the Harabedian and Goss dog and pony show has to be explained somehow.

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    7. We also know that it was just a very few people who were trying to influence Harabedian and Goss for their own self-interest. That's why they were never able to get any speakers or emails that supported their position. Once Felikian reached out to them at the City Council level, she was pulling the strings behind the scenes and really didn't need to speak any more. Harabedian and Goss were doing her bidding for her.

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    8. That does explain the invisibility factor.
      And she sat there in those meetings not saying a thing.

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    9. She knew she had done her work behind the scenes 3:42 so at some point she didn't have to say anything.

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  3. Is THAT what this was all about? Damn. Can we impeach this guy?

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    1. For what? Arguing successfully for a friend?

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    2. For creating a class system of development criteria.

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    3. I understand he argued successfully for a friend 7:53. The problem is that in trying to give a gift to a friend, he could not carve out an exception just for her. He had to change the formulas for all lots above 11,000 square feet. So he undercut what the Planning Commission was trying to do.

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    4. I wouldn't be so upset if only Gina Felikian benefited from the gift. But it changed all the numbers and undermined, a little bit, what was trying to be accomplished. That's just wrong.

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    5. That's the whole problem 1:27, Councilman Harabedian changed all the rules to benefit only one person. There is something kind of slimy about that.

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  4. It appears that was what this was all about. Everybody knew that Harabedian and Goss didn't have all these people contacting them who were opposed to the Planning Commission's recommendations, there was just an interested few or perhaps an interested one i.e. Gina Felikian who was the only one at that very moment who had something at stake.

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    1. The lady must be very persuasive in private.
      In public she came across as whiny, hostile and entitled.

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    2. I was scratching my head about Harabedian's position but thanks to the Tattler, I have scratched by itch.

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    3. she sounded like petulant brat

      amazing how many people will buy into a community and immediately start demanding their way

      just another brat

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  5. If true, it is quite a compliment for Gina. It appears that John Harabedian believes she is entitled to the same level of entitlement as himself.

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  6. This is all very, very sad. John came on with grace and charm and a breath of fresh air to our city and seemed to have reached out to many people. He almost erased the horror of the the last mayor. He has not done himself or the city any favors by choosing to not follow the recommendations of the Planning Commission. It will not be a mystery when he does not climb the ladder of political success given his lack of long term thinking about the majority of people he has listened (?) to at the podium.

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    1. Now that we see it laid out like this, its almost obvious what was going on here. I mean Harabedian and Goss both came to those two meetings prepared to fight very hard for that "nebulous" force that now appears to have been Gina Felikian. I also saw her at the last City Council meeting too when both Harabedian and Goss again voted no. She probably wanted to make sure they didn't unexpectedly cave to the will of the majority.

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    2. I noticed her in the audience also, 6:58. I imagine that'll be the last meeting she attends. Doesn't strike me as caring much about the community, beyond her part of it.

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    3. Gina Felikian was there just to make sure nothing went sideways on her. Its rather remarkable that one person's problem could have that big of an impact on our city.

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    4. Why are the women always the spokesperson's. You had Gina Felikian, you had Judy Brown, you have those people who are suing the city about their basement and its always the wife doing the talking. Do I see a pattern here?

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    5. 11:26, you missed Mr. Brown's speech.
      As to the Felikians, I don't think it's uncommon for one half of a couple to take on the tasks they are more experienced with. She's the socializing speaker type. He might not be.

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  7. Can the city council undo this travesty and return it to what the Planning Commission wanted?

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    1. Sure, 7:25, with a majority vote.

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    2. The fact of the matter is that the damage done by Harabedian in trying to benefit Felikian was not that extensive. When he went from 10% of any lot size above 11,000 square feet to the 12%, that is not that big a jump. When he added the 5% extra kicker for lot sizes over 30,000 square feet that was directly aimed at the Felikian's concern, that is more significant but, because the number of lots over 30,000 square feet is fairly minimal, overall this won't have a huge impact on the great steps forward made by the Planning Commission. I think for alot of people, its more the idea that Felikian was able to influence Harabedian and by doing so, it impacted on alot more properties than just her own. That's what rubs people the wrong way. It was a backroom deal and we're all oblivious that had taken place....at least until the Tattler shined a spotlight on it.

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    3. This is where the general public has to be vigilant. You can imagine how the City of Bell and the City of Industry, Temple City and others have had problems. If no one is paying attention, alot of unsavory things can go on. That's why the Tattler has served such an important role. They have shined a spotlight on the corruption, hypocracy and double-dealing that occurs amongst elected respresentatives as well as those in City Government. Look at the embezzlement in Pasadena. You have to keep an eye on things.

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  8. So there is now a separate class of residents in town who have completely different rules from the rest of us?

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    1. A rich person who wants to build a castle? I'm shocked.

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    2. Equally shocking. Rich people who can find elected officials willing to sell out the town for them.

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    3. It is like Joe Mosca never left.

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    4. Agreed, 7:46 and sort of agreed 7:55. Harabedian is a smarter version of Joe than Joe was.

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    5. Same results though. You don't have to be especially bright to do things like this.

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    6. John is for sale, just ask Gina

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    7. I've come to think that politicians know nothing other than trying to sell.. sell whatever they think others might buy, and feed their egos in the process. As has been said here before, most self-respecting people whose self worth is based on being productive don't become politicians. Politics is gaming. I don't like this Harbedian situation but we're all just commenting on the game that is being played.

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    8. I don't think for one second that Harabedian was bought off by Felikian. But politicians do get bought off. When you have situations where the beneficiary of the decision makes close to a half-million dollars by the Council's decision, you can imagine how in corrupt cities somebody might pay a council member some cash to guarantee a favorable decision. Again, I don't think for a second that happened in this case, but you can see how easily that can happen particularly when you are dealing with a corrupt politician. Imagine if some developer wanted to build something and you were talking about a 20 million dollar project at stake. Trying to grease that through the decision makers by maybe contributing to their campaign if there was an election coming up to buy influence or the more overt method of handing over a sack of cash, its all the same thing. It can very quickly rise to the level of corruption and that's why we have to guard against it and why the Tattler has performed such an important public service here even though in this case, it was a much less egregious incident.

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    9. To a greater or lesser degree, this kind of double-dealing and backroom deals goes on all the time. Sometimes its a simple favor for a friend and sometimes it descends into big-time corruption. Its just a matter of degree.

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    10. I have liked the way Harabedian ran the meetings, and the way he was willing to make jokes at his own expense; that's far too rare a quality in the more pompous members of our city councils. But I knew from the moment the air-brushed election materials came out that he did not have a genuine commitment to ethical standards. As 11:43 says, it's just a matter of degree.

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  9. Harbedian was obviously grandstanding for something or somebody, and this fits. But how much impact is there? Are we still talking about 20 lots? I know his integrity has been hurt, but c'mon, the unethical use of photo shopped police on his mailers was enough of a tip in that regard.

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    1. He still owes Christopher Columbus an apology.

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    2. Its more than 20 lots because in trying to have a springboard from which to allow the larger homes for the 30,000 square foot lots and above which are in the 4th tier, he had to dip into the 3rd tier which starts at 11,000 square foot lots and raise those from 10% to 12%. Whether he did that to cover his tracks because it would have been just too obvious if he focused solely on the much bigger lots above 30,000 square feet which is where the Felikians fell into, nobody will know for sure.

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    3. Thanks for that explination 11:03. Is this what the percentages mean - now all the third tier lots (and I assume there's a lot more of them) get to build 12% bigger houses?

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    4. The formula is a bit more complicated but the third tier used to be I think 35 of the lot size plus 10% of the lot size over 11,000 square feet. Harabedian raised that to 10%. So an increase of 2% which means a few hundred or so additional square feet people get but it depends upon their lot size. The greater gift was to lot owners over 30,000 square feet who will now get this extra 5% for accessory structures. If they use that for a detached garage, then it allows them to have more square footage for the main house.

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  10. Harbedian's video is great for watching somebody work straw man arguments.
    No one said small is good, big is bad, Mr. Lawyer.

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  11. So Gina Felikian gets a special exception, and the Chungs on Grandview get shafted. Huh.

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    1. Everybody gave short shrift to those poor people on Grandview. I can assure you that if they would have raised a bigger fuss, what's happening next door at 1145 E. Grandview would not have happened. Unfortunately, they didn't know the right people and so now they get the shaft.

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  12. A house that is 6,500 isn't big enough for the Felikians. It's so small that they might have to see each other on a regular basis.

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  13. I don't know about all you haters, but I can't live without my gazebo.

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    1. I have an old toilet out in my front yard. When it rains it fills with water and the birds bathe in it.

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    2. For some people its never enough. For most people, sustainability is the focus. Bigger is not better. Advanced societies don't have anything to proof about their wealth. They don't need the bigger house as a status symbol to demonstrate their self-worth. Some people will make up for their insecurities with a big, brash house so that everyone can look at them and say, wow, they are successful. Some people really need those strokes.

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    3. Thorstein VeblenMay 15, 2015 at 3:35 PM

      Surely the motivation for such aggressive ostentation can be found among these descriptions:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conspicuous_consumption

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    4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  14. If many of those larger lots are in the hiilside zone then there are extra protections against this gargantuanizing of building on R-1 lots.

    When the Harabedian assisted Felikian home is built on that otherwise modest street you will see the public outrage that will come to address this 4th tier change and with any luck the expcetion will be rolled back. We have examples of this all across town--the downtown building that triggered the Measure V response, a hillside home that triggered the hillside zone updating, the canyon biggie that triggered the canyon zone. Just wait until you see the mega-mess that Felikian builds and hear all the astonished "why/how/ugh!"

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    1. The only good news is that the Felikians seem to intend to build a 1-story home like the one to the immediate right of them. If it was 2-story, that would have a much bigger impact on the neighbors.

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    2. I was told about a 1-story home that had such a pitched roof that it was the height of a 3-story home so don't be lulled into complacency just because its 1-story.

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    3. Is it going to be an IHOP?

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    4. It's going to please Harabedian with its "aesthetic"

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    5. Only if the roof is blue.

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    6. http://www.newenglandmetalroof.com/metal_roofing_prices/ihop-roof.jpg

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  15. Arcadia is a better fit for the Felikian's. No one will bat an eyelash at the gaudy display of look at me wealth.

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    1. You can only tear down so many homes in Arcadia. They are going to soon run out of homes to tear down. That leaves guess where as the next opportunity. Thank God we got the changes in just in time. Thank you Planning Commission and thanks to Mayor Capoccia, and Council Members Delmar and Arizmendi who have consistently voted in favor of preserving our small-town character.

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    2. There are plenty of one story ranch style homes for sale in the Highland Oaks area....

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    3. Every one of the 1-story ranch homes is in the on-deck circle for the wrecking ball. None of them will survive.

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    4. I'm not ready to count the Highland Oaks folks out for good.

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    5. Highland Oaks is gone unless they win their lawsuit against that corrupt city over there. If they lose, forget about it.

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  16. Nobody is really surprised that John Harabedian did something sleazy, right?

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  17. What was the size of the proposed house? A 6,842 sf home is huge.

    Wow. as one of the 20 or so owners of a large lot, I could tear down my 3700 sf house (still a big house!) build a house that would be 8812 square feet! Oh, too bad I'm in the Hillside zone, but hmmm maybe I could convince someone to make an exception for me.

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    1. That's the whole problem. If someone is only focused on helping you, they would have to change all the Hillside Zone restrictions. Sure you would benefit but it would gut what the Hilliside Ordinance was intended to prevent. Harabedian was willing to throw the entire city under the bus to benefit Gina Felikian.

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    2. Now let's see how much they contribute to his campaign. Maybe he is getting new floors?????

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    3. 12:14P Great question. You can ask that at one of the community budget committees or write Elaine for an always obscure reply. I think there is a meeting tomorrow.

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  18. I have a budget question. In 2007 we got a paramedic program for 500k. Previously we just had regular care rather than advanced care. We brought in our paramedic program based on the La Habra model. La Habra's paramedic program cost 190k and serves a city of 60,000. So why is ours so much more expensive?

    http://www.jems.com/articles/2007/06/all-cities-los-angeles-county-0.html

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  19. The Harabedian change for the Felikian gain seems to be an abuse of power if you ask me. Is there an official corruption inquiry that could be consulted?

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    1. There's very little difference here than what happened in Temple City where that developer bribed all those council members to support his project. They went to jail over that. In this case, I don't believe Harabedian received any financial benefit from granting that favor to Felikian but its a slipperly slope when you start doing favors for one constituent at the expense of the rest of the town.

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    2. True 1:40.
      But what proof do you have 12:24? Speculation won't be enough.

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    3. You don't have to take money to sell your town out.

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    4. These things are hard to prove and that's why politicians rarely get caught. In this case, the circumstantial evidence seems pretty strong.

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  20. OUR CITY NEEDS A PLAN. And concerning the city budget deficit our city council has one.

    The plan is for Council Member Harabedian and Mayor Pro-Tem Goss to do just what they did at the last city council meeting... ask the City Manager to calculate how much would be saved if we cut the library to the bare bones. Say one person two to three house a day. Apparently we can’t close the library without a vote by the citizens. They also asked how much would be saved if all of the Community Services activities were eliminated.

    The purpose for this plan is to scare everyone who loves the library and the Community Services, such as the Friday night movies, concerts in the park, senior excursions, etc., so much that we will all be lining up at city hall to beg them to raise our taxes. Either UUT or a parcel tax, which is just an increase to property taxes.

    NOW I HAVE A PLAN. Let them cut whatever they want to blackmail us into agreeing to tax increases, instead of cutting the wages, benefits, and retirement costs of the city workers, and we will replace them with people who know how to run a city, providing the services we have now and making do with the over $9,000,000.00 annual revenue.

    THE PROTECTOR

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  21. We have to make sure Harabedian does not get re-elected. We need to flush him down one of the 9 bathrooms Gina Felikian will probably build.

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    1. Agreed, and I think Gina Frierman-Hunt would be the perfect person to run against Harabedian. Someone should approach about this.

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    2. I'll be surprised if Harabedian wants to run again. Doesn't strike me as the type of guy who'd want to hang around doing the labor without any glory. He grabbed the mayor position in an unseemly way, and that's really the only prize to be had on the council. The rest is just work. He'll probably find something else to grab.

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