After hours of discussion over several meetings and hearings, the Arcadia City Council finally came to a final vote Tuesday (July 3, 2012) on two lightning-rod issues — McMansions and the number “4″ in a house address.
The Council allowed a 7,700 square-foot two-story home to be built by owner Houring Baghdadlian on San Carlos Road near Foothill Blvd in nothern Arcadia despite hours of comments by dozens of dissenting residents in the area over the previous two City Council meetings.
The 3-2 vote, including a very grudging vote to approve the building by Mayor Pro Tem Mickey Segal, came after the Planning Commission had recommended disallowing the home to be built based on the objections of the Santa Anita Oaks Homeowners Association and Architectural Review Board. The primary concern by all involved was that the home was too massive and did not blend in with the others in the area.
During the public hearing that covered two Council meetings it was revealed that all of the immediate neighbors to the proposed home approved the construction and that there are other two-story homes and houses of similar size on the same street and nearby streets, at least one of which was approved by the HOA and ARB within the past year, and others in recent years. The ARB said those approvals by their own organization were a mistake and that, while the ARB and HOA are not opposed to two-story homes in general, they are now opposed to structures of such a massive size.
Segal, who wound up being the swing vote, said that claiming previous approvals were a mistake was not reason enough to deny a current applicant, and certainly not a legally defensible position if the homeowner or any other applicant were to challenge the City’s denial. He said that having lived in several homes in the area, he was sympathetic with the opposing residents, but he did not want to put taxpayers in such a risky position of spending their money to defend such a tenuous rationale.
During both hearings, after the Council listened patiently for hours to comments from those opposed to the home, multiple disgruntled HOA residents in the area walked out after only a few minutes during responses by the three Councilmen who ultimately supported the construction — Segal, John Wuo, and Mayor Bob Harbicht — when the residents could see it was not going their way.
Later, at about 10 p.m., the Council addressed a topic first raised and discussed many months ago regarding then-Mayor Pro-Tem Harbicht’s request to allow homeowners to change the address of their residence as long as they paid the cost to do so. Harbicht, realtors, and homeowners had testified that residents of all ethnic backgrounds were unable to get anywhere close to the value of their homes if they had a “4″ in their home address, and especially if they had “44″ in the number on the home. Though not a true superstition like unlucky “13″ or the sign of the devil of “666,” when spoken in Chinese, the word “four” sounds like the word for “death,” causing Chinese buyers to stay away from homes with that address. Harbicht had recommended allowing limited changes as long as, and only if, the new number was still in numerical sequence on the street, and as long as applicants paid all possible costs related to the change now and in the future.
Although Harbicht had no strong supporters for the concept initially, Segal came to Tuesday’s Council meeting saying that following some personal investigation, he had been “converted” after learning of some local residents who lost a buyer during the escrow process when the buyer learned that the home had a “4″ in the address. He also learned of others who had to settle for selling their homes for hundreds of thousands of dollars less than the sale price of nearly identical homes with no “4″ in their house number.
But Segal’s support of Harbicht was immediately rendered moot when Harbicht himself announced that he had changed his mind and no longer favors allowing changes to addresses. He and Councilman Gary Kovacic endorsed concerns expressed by City staff that, even though each change would cost a minimum of $2,500 — considerably more than ordering a custom vanity license plate, allowing house numbers to be changed could open up a hornet’s nest of people wanting to change their house numbers to lucky numbers and to get rid of other numbers they don’t like (just as former President Reagan famously changed the 666 on his Bel Air home to 668).
With not a single person remaining in the audience to comment on the matter two hours before midnight on the eve of Independence Day, the Council voted unanimously not to change the policy revised in 2006 that no longer allows changes to house numbers. Segal also voted with the others, saying he had been “re-converted” in those few minutes.
– By Scott Hettrick