By Joe Taglieri
Arcadia City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to partially reconsider their moratorium on a citywide revamp of zoning regulations.
The panel scheduled a public hearing on the issue at its July 21 meeting, in which they will likely decide on whether or not to proceed with a zoning code update for commercial and industrial properties.
Council Member Tom Beck said he expects the lawsuit, which was filed by residents of the Highlands neighborhood in an attempt to block two council-approved residential construction projects, to drag on for several years. This prompted an appeal to his colleagues to reconsider the commercial property side of the zoning issue at the next council meeting.
“One time [Mayor Pro Tem Roger Chandler] said to me ‘we’ve got to help … Live Oak [Avenue], we’ve got to do some rezoning down there,'” Beck recalled. “I agreed with him, we have to help our commercial borders. … But right now we can’t, everything’s been put on hold.”
In May and again in June a divided council halted the zoning update process with 3-2 votes based primarily on the contention that the outcome of an ongoing lawsuit against the city could adversely affect new zoning rules.
“We don’t want to complicate things, so we stopped,” Council Member Sho Tay said last month.
“The problem hinges on this lawsuit,” Council Member John Wuo said Tuesday.
“Even though you say you don’t have anything to do with those things, your demands are totally involved in those things we are putting on hold,” Wuo said to Highlands residents in attendance, noting his lack of specificity was due to confidentiality obligations pertaining to the ongoing lawsuit.
At the June 16 council meeting Arcadia Chamber of Commerce CEO Scott Hettrick requested the council approve a zoning update for commercial properties.
Hettrick said the update is “critical to making some much needed changes” in areas such as downtown Arcadia, Live Oak Avenue, and Duarte Road, a sentiment Beck echoed on Tuesday.
Tay suggested adding industrial properties, which council members also agreed to address in two weeks.
Beck, who said he thinks the lawsuit will have no effect on the zoning revamp, additionally proposed the council reconsider a code update for multifamily properties, but only Mayor Gary Kovacic raised his hand in favor.
Chandler, Tay, and Councilmember John Wuo also rejected Beck’s proposal to reconsider the council’s cancellation of forming a residents committee tasked with making recommendations on zoning policy.
Beck’s suggestions followed yet another round of scathing public comments against Chandler, Wuo, and Tay from a number of residents who for most of this year have regularly attended and spoken at council meetings.
Former Council Member Mickey Segal noted his frustration with current panel’s recent actions that he said do not reflect the will of most residents.
“The idea that a council would … prohibit development in the city that doesn’t fit existing zoning, is outrageous,” said Segal, who lives in the Upper Rancho neighborhood.
He concluded his remarks with a warning to Chandler, Wuo, and Tay: “I am very sad to say that if in the next 120 days this lawsuit’s not gone, I will take my 6,000-person mailing list and I will begin a recall on those three council members. … Get in a room and fix this lawsuit related to the Highlands and unrestrict zoning changes as they become necessary, or we’re going to have a wild winter in the city of Arcadia.”
Charles Greene, a member of the Highlands Homeowners Association, said, “Suspending the zoning code updates and the suspension of the neighborhood impacts committee would further delay the orderly growth of Arcadia. Deciding to continue the historic preservation survey of Arcadia but excluding the Highlands is punitive, immature, and shows the community that they will be punished if they don’t bow to the dictates of the council.”
Chandler voiced his concern over the effect on property value that limiting square footage of Arcadia homes – a key point in the Highlands lawsuit – may have on local homeowners.
“The mantra has been ‘protect our property rights,'” he said. “That’s all well and good, but what it is they’re asking us to do is to basically take away significant value from everybody else’s property.”
Emotions in the Council Chamber reached a boiling point when Tay, echoing Beck from a previous council meeting, challenged Highlands plaintiffs “to publicly state their settlement demands. That’s one of your favorite city councilmen now, when he made that demand how come nothing has come out yet?”
From her seat in the gallery April Verlato shouted a response to what she said was Tay’s attempt to get her to violate a confidentiality agreement, prompting Mayor Kovacic to briefly recess the meeting and issue a warning about proper decorum.