By Katta Hules
Though many changes were made to Arcadia’s Zoning Code at last week’s city council meeting, one issue was set aside for later deliberation: “underutilized” homes. “The city council pulled the item aside because they wanted to have a more deliberative, community process to raise awareness of this issue and how the city is reacting,” says Assistant City Manager/Development Services Director Jason Kruckeberg.
There are two main subsets of vacant homes. Recently purchased homes waiting for new owners to move in and “new homes that have been built through the City’s processes but are not lived in full-time. Many of these homes have been built and/or purchased by absentee or overseas owners as investments.”
In response to the recent rise in underutilized homes, the city has an ongoing policy requiring contact names for new houses from when “they go through Design Review, to when a building permit is issued and when a Certificate of Occupancy is issued.”
It also keeps tabs on houses identified as vacant or rarely used. “The primary effort is to track where these homes are, to have contact information for these homes in the event of problems (e.g. water line breaks, landscaping issues, safety concerns), and to ensure that they are maintained,” says Kruckeberg.
He cites the most immediate issues with these houses as “maintenance and upkeep (aesthetics) and safety. Not having full time residents means there are no ‘eyes on the street’ with regard to keeping watch over a neighborhood.” In the long-term, Kruckeberg is concerned about loss of “community feel” in an area. “Neighborhoods are made by the people living in them. When certain blocks or neighborhoods have a high number of these homes, it takes from the feeling of community and it is unnerving for residents.”
However, Arcadia is not considering regulating part-time residents. “There are significant property rights issues with these types of considerations,” Kruckeberg says. “Many of these homes are not 100 percent ‘vacant.’ … While this is very frustrating for residents, it is not against the law.”
“The biggest problem is when those houses [get] burglarized or [have a] sprinkler problem or something, people don’t know where to call,” says Councilmember Sho Tay, adding, “If the house is vacant … [it makes it an] easier target.” He suggests owners who only occupy their houses on an irregular basis install timers on the lights to turn them on at certain times to make it look occupied.
Kruckeberg anticipates a draft of the amendment for underutilized homes will be ready at the end of the year and will go before Planning Commission and city council. It will “codify a process of registering these homes, paying a fee for registration, and setting up administrative procedures and citations for not registering or for not providing timely contact info, and of course for violating codes. The council may consider additional regulations.”
Residents wishing to express concerns with or report a vacant home can call the city’s Code Enforcement Services at (626) 574-5432 or email them at dsd@arcadiaCA.gov.