With less than a week to go before the final election voting date of April 12 and mail-in ballots for the Arcadia City Council election in the hands of voters (they must be postmarked by April 12 or delivered in person to City Hall by 8 p.m.), the issues and candidates are still as up in the air as ever.
- Fill-in Council Member / former Mayor Mickey Segal, termed-out Mayor Gary Kovacic, and Council Member Tom Beck successfully passed a long-sought revision last night (Tuesday, April 5) to the residential zoning ordinance to add floor area ratio as a determining factor in deciding the size of homes allowed to be built. The result is an average allowable home size of about six percent less than at present on a 20,000 square-foot lot with a 7,800 sf home, for example, or an average of 468 square feet smaller. (It was nearly a unanimous vote until Kovacic and Beck successfully convinced a conflicted Segal to go along “as a compromise” with a last-minute revision to allow for double-counting of “interior volume” space towards the overall square footage where ceiling heights are more than 14-feet in height, sparking Council Members Sho Tay and Roger Chandler to vote against it.)
- A petition spearheaded in large part by first-time candidate April Verlato and others asking voters to dictate very restrictive home development zoning codes has been submitted to the County for approval as a Measure on a future City election ballot. (City officials say that petition would result in homes with square footage limits as much as 34.2% less than current zoning allows — 2,682 less sf — using the same example size as above). Verlato told ArcadiasBest.com Wednesday that she is not the decision-maker on whether the initiative goes forward after Tuesday’s zoning code revision approved by the Council but said the vote “represents an historic step for the city of Arcadia.” She said the proposed FARs are a compromise with some thinking they should be tighter and others thinking they should be looser. More importantly, she says the vote demonstrated that the City Council will do their job in addressing these important issues.
- Multiple erroneous and political attack fliers are being distributed around town.
- Criticisms and insinuations are flying about tens of thousands of dollars in donations to the campaign of Bob Harbicht by a developer and others. Harbicht is typically the smallest-spender in his previous campaigns and also often gets the most votes.
- Many erroneous comments continue to be made about Measure A — Council Member Segal reacted strongly to most recent comments April 5.
- And current first-term City Council Member Sho Tay continues to get dragged into the cross-hairs by local media and current candidates targeting him for attacks even though he isn’t even running for anything.
Despite efforts to minimize the issue of so-called mansion-ization for 30 years and more intensely for more than the past year, the City adoption of the revised zoning code ordinance to address the development of large homes on April 5 was likely too little, too late since more than 6,000 voters already submitted their ballots as of April 6.
That means candidates who made this a primary, if not their single issue, especially newcomer Verlato, probably gained an edge over others – the Pasadena Star-News even cited this issue as the biggest in their endorsement of Verlato and former Mayor Peter Amundson for the two available seats being sought by six candidates.
(Amundson and Harbicht are endorsed by the police and firefighters associations.)
Five of the six candidates voiced general opposition to building larger houses than already exist in Arcadia at the Feb. 24 Candidates’ Forum sponsored by the Arcadia Chamber of Commerce and Arcadia Association of Realtors, with Harbicht noting that he is a supporter of property owner rights to do as they please within city codes.
It’s also unprecedented to have three candidates who are former Mayors. Two of the other three ran and lost in the last election in 2014.
And then there is Measure A, asking voters to repeal the Utility Users Tax (UUT) that provides about $7 million for basic City services such as police, fire, library, and street cleaning at an average cost to residents of about $10 per month. The City would not look the same without these funds but there are plenty of Vote Yes on Measure A signs around town that are making city officials and some residents very nervous about the outcome of that vote.
Arcadia’s Best is in strong opposition to Measure A — Just Vote NO on Measure A.
(The Arcadia Police Officers Association remains strongly opposed to candidate Burton Brink due to his signing of the UUT petition that led to Measure A being put on the ballot. APOA representatives told Arcadia’s Best recently that Burton’s subsequent explanation that he didn’t understand what he was signing only further lowered his standing with the organization since he admits to either not understanding or not taking the time to carefully read over something before he signs it.)
And then there are the strange attacks or promulgation of other people’s attacks on Sho Tay by everyone from fellow City Council Members and Council candidates Brink and Amundson to the local newspaper Arcadia Weekly.
Sho came under fire for not falling in line with Mayor Kovacic and Council members Mickey Segal and Tom Beck at a recent City Council meeting when it came time for a vote on whether to order a financial impact study on the development of new large homes. This was tied to the much-anticipated vote to adopt the recommendation of a community-wide Zoning Review Committee on new zoning regulations for buildings.
To many who commented publicly at City Council meetings, this seemed like a reasonable thing to do before deciding on a new ordinance that could impact property values, favorably or unfavorably.
The newspaper recently dredged up a concocted issue against Tay during his successful campaign of 2014 in which campaign volunteers went briefly door-to-door to offer free stamps and personal delivery of mail-in ballots to the post office, regardless of which candidate was marked on the ballot. It was the first time an entire election was held by mail ballot and return envelopes required a first class stamp. Despite an over-reaction to perhaps a naive effort at the time — volunteers were called in for questioning by police and young students were caught in the crossfire — it was determined that there was nothing nefarious about the effort. In fact, this year the City has included prepaid postage on the ballots being mailed out — apparently Tay’s effort was ultimately deemed a smart idea.
The Arcadia Weekly article headlined “Ugly Side of Politics,” on which Burton chimed in with added criticism and which Amundson forwarded via social media with his own additional comment, called into question Tay having the audacity to address Chinese-speaking residents who asked for a translation of a multi-page City document. That document explaining the complicated proposed new building zoning codes was handed out at a public hearing last month, in English only.
Although Tay could have, and probably should have, asked City staff to provide a Chinese translation or recruited someone else to be the point person in response to requests for help by his Chinese-speaking friends, he simply opted to be the responsible City Council representative he promised his constituents and provide them what he thought would be the most expedient and unbiased translation within a few days of the public hearing without costing the City and taxpayers the money to have Chinese language versions of the handout. After all that hubbub, it turns out that about half the audience reportedly wound up being Caucasian and/or English-speaking anyway.
On Tuesday Council Member Beck said at the Council meeting that it was important for the Chinese-speaking community to be better and more accurately informed (not that there aren’t plenty of misleading and erroneous campaign materials in English as well). He even said he was going to set up a WeChat (text-like cell phone App) account to communicate with Chinese residents, something he may or may not know that Sho Tay has already been doing for a couple years. Once again, I’m guessing that next time the City will wind up creating more of its own Chinese-language information sessions and outreach, as Sho has tried to do on his own.
While it’s fine to register concerns about how Sho handles some of these matters — I have certainly had many long discussions with him about his approach and even his sometimes head-scratching, risk-averse, idealistic positions — these expressions should first be fully-informed and not be insulting or antagonistic. Sho’s heart and efforts are in the right place and there is no one more passionate about trying to learn his job and do the right thing.
I can offer similar assessments about four of the six candidates I have come to know: Peter Amundson, Burton Brink, Bob Harbicht, and April Verlato are all running for the right reasons and intentions, Peter and Bob have spent many years dedicated to making and keeping Arcadia great. Burton and April are also longtime residents who love Arcadia and have more recently become very engaged in, and supportive of community activities.
I don’t know the other two candidates well enough to offer a similar opinion because neither has been actively engaged in local civic activities in recent years.
Arcadia’s campaign season hasn’t come close to resembling the trashy national Presidential campaign, and those who have good memories will recall similar or worse marketing smears and more questionable donations to candidates in Arcadia elections. Nonetheless, it’s more messy and antagonistic than befits the image and overall personality and spirit of Arcadia and Arcadians. Mayor Kovacic has often implored public speakers and his peers on the Council to keep the dialogue civil, with varying degrees of success. His shoes and those of Mickey Segal will be hard to fill.
Just be grateful that you have several solid choices for your next two City Council members who will need your support regardless of who wins and assumes their seats at the special Council meeting on April 26. And remember to JUST SAY NO on Measure A!
— By Scott Hettrick