Supporters of Proposed Voter Initiative Respond to Critics
By Joe Taglieri
A coalition of Arcadia residents has been gathering signatures for a petition that seeks to qualify for the upcoming election a voter initiative, which if passed would significantly revise guidelines for building new homes.
The group, Saving Arcadia, is comprised of more than 100 homeowner association members and other residents from neighborhoods throughout the city who hope to quell what they claim is rampant mansionization that has progressively increased throughout the last two decades.
Feeling let down by what they see as city officials’ unwillingness to check land developers’ push to build bigger houses that command an increasingly inflated sale price, residents decided to attempt putting the issue to a popular vote in April.
Documents provided by Saving Arcadia and the city explain the proposed changes to square footage and height limits for new single-family homes.
A summary of the ballot measure by City Attorney Stephen Deitsch explains how the proposed initiative seeks to change the zoning code:
“Limit building size in [single-family] zones to a maximum gross floor area of 35 percent of lot square footage for lots up to 10,000 square feet, plus an additional 15 percent, of lot square footage over 10,000 square feet, plus an additional 5 percent, of gross square footage calculated on lot square footage for a dwelling unit that is a single story;
“Redefine ‘gross floor area’ to mean ‘the total square footage of a dwelling unit including the sum of the total surface area enclosed by the walls of the first and second floor, including any storage, covered patio, covered porch, carport, accessory dwelling unit and garage excluding 400 square feet of any attached garage on a lot less than 19,999 square feet and 600 square feet on any detached garage on a lot over 20,000 square feet’;
“Provide that square footage with ceilings over 15 feet tall counts as double towards gross floor area;
“Provide that basements shall not exceed 30 percent of the first floor footprint or 1,500 square feet, whichever is less, and provide that 50 percent of basement square footage counts towards gross floor area;
“Require that single family residences of 5,000 or more square feet of gross floor area have a three car garage;
“Limit maximum building height in [single family] zones to the following: If lot width is less than 75 feet – 25 feet; If it is 75-84 feet – 26 feet; If it is 85-94 feet – 27 feet; If it is 95-104 feet – 28 feet; If it is 105-114 feet – 29 feet; If it is 115 feet or greater – 30 feet;
“Redefine ‘building height’ to mean ‘the vertical distance measured from the top point of the proposed building to the lowest point of any proposed exterior wall of the structure, including any exposed basement walls.'”
Arcadia’s existing regulations limit lot coverage to 45 percent for single-story homes and 35 percent for the first floor of two-story homes. Existing law grants city officials leeway to modify these requirements on a per-project basis.
Basements, covered patios, porches, carports and garages currently do not count toward a home’s overall lot coverage.
Homes with up to four bedrooms must have a minimum two-car garage, and homes with more than five bedrooms must have at least a three-car garage.
Existing height limits are 25 feet for houses with up to a 75-foot front facade, and a 30-foot height maximum for facades more than 75 feet.
The current code defines building height as “the average of the lowest and highest existing grade elevation points of that portion of the site to be covered by a building, to the highest portion of the roof (excluding chimneys).”
The proposed initiative has drawn a steady stream of criticism from the city council, residents and members of the local real estate community.
Denunciations of the measure include: stringently limiting square footage on newly built residential structures will lead to a citywide decline in property value; the initiative’s language is confusing, overly complex and misleadingly worded; and unlike employees of the city’s planning department, developers and realtors, the group of residents behind the measure are not real estate professionals and do not have the proper expertise to draft a credible revision of building regulations.
“Every page of the petition has to have [Deitsch’s] title and summary on it,” said April Verlato, chairwoman of the Arcadia Highlands Homeowners Association’s Architectural Review Board, who along with 13 other residents authored the proposed ballot initiative.
Verlato’s Huntington Drive law office serves as the petition effort’s central location, where she said there is a cache of summaries by Deitsch printed on blue sheets of paper.
“I encourage our volunteers to hand that to anybody who signs so that they know what they’ve signed,” Verlato said.
“I don’t believe anybody feels mislead because I’ve asked the city clerk for any withdrawals of signatures, and so far to date there have been none,” Verlato added.
Chief Deputy City Clerk Lisa Mussenden confirmed Tuesday that the city “has not received any requests from residents to have their signatures removed from the residential zoning code ballot initiative.”
Verlato urged anyone who felt misled to heed the instructions of the city attorney, who recently at the behest of Council Member Sho Tay directed residents to send letters to the city clerk’s office indicating their desire to remove signatures from the petition.
Brett Mitulski, a south Arcadia resident who helped draft the ballot measure, took issue with assertions that limiting square footage significantly reduces property value.
“There’s no data to back those numbers up,” Mitulski said in response to assertions by Mayor Pro Tem Roger Chandler that a 40 percent drop in land value citywide could happen as a result of Saving Arcadia’s proposed code revamp.
“Cities like San Marino that already have historic preservation and stricter codes for remodels and rebuilds, they’re not seeing any sort of decline from the lack of building,” Mitulski said. “They’re doing just fine. In fact, most information that we have shows San Marino increasing at a steadier rate than Arcadia.”
Zillow.com, a website that tracks real estate data nationwide, shows San Marino’s median home value to be $2.3 million, compared with Arcadia’s $1.1 million average.
Mitulski also noted the group’s thorough research and hefty time investment in formulating the proposed policy revision that he said was on par with the process city planners would pursue.
In addition to San Marino, Saving Arcadia’s ballot measure committee analyzed the residential building regulations of several of other cities including Sierra Madre, Pasadena and Monrovia, Verlato said.
“This has been a very extensive effort,” Mitulski said, adding that most of those involved with creating the ballot measure have years of experience considering proposed construction projects and working with developers via homeowner association review boards.
State law requires the petition garner about 3,000 signatures of voters registered in Arcadia, reflecting 10 percent of the local electorate.
Ballot initiative supporters hope to submit their petition for signature verification by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder before the end of the year, Verlato said, adding that so far volunteers have gathered approximately 2,000 signatures.
If the city receives a verified petition, Arcadia officials will study potential impacts of the proposed residential zoning code revision. When the study concludes, the council will then vote on whether or not to place the measure on the April 12 ballot.