Arcadia's planned anti-mansionization ballot initiative hits a wall

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A push by some Arcadia residents to stop the building of large homes in their city has run aground after the City Clerk's office found problems with the petition's paperwork.

Activists who oppose the trend called "mansionization" are upset over new residents tearing down Arcadia's older, ranch-style homes and replacing them with homes sometimes twice their size.

The activists had submitted more than 3,000 signatures in hopes of getting an initiative to limit the sizes of homes on the November ballot, or at least on the April 2018 ballot.

They sent the collected signatures to the county for review. But last week, city officials discovered mistakes in the paperwork and the gathering of the names.

“The date that they gathered the signatures was prior to the date that they were allowed to start gathering signatures," said Arcadia Deputy City Clerk Lisa Mussenden. "Or they didn’t complete it at all. Or they put the month only, but not the date.”

Mussenden said the signatures could only be gathered after Sept. 17. This and other problems disqualified roughly 66 signatures, leaving the proponents short of the required number, according to Mussenden.

The activists behind the ballot initiative say they're disappointed. 

“We’re going to look at the petitions to see exactly what the deficiencies were, and to see what our next option would be," said attorney April Verlato, an anti-mansionization proponent and candidate for the Arcadia City Council.

This could mean anything from starting over to seeking legal counsel and taking the matter to court, where a judge could determine if the signatures qualify, she said.

Mussenden said the city attorney has yet to review issues raised by the initiative but a staff report will go before the City Council at its next regularly scheduled meeting on April 19.

Meanwhile, city officials are weighing their own ordinance to address the mansionization complaints.

Last night, City Council members voted 3-2 to introduce a plan that would determine a "floor-area ratio" for home construction, meaning the square footage of a house would be limited to a certain percentage of the size of the lot. The idea is to prevent homes from being built so large that they take up the entire lot.

Council member Sho Tay voted against the plan last night. He said it had been amended to place limits on home sizes that are tighter than he agreed with. Tay said part of the mansionization controversy relates to a culture clash: many of the city's newer residents are Asian immigrants, he said, and they want larger homes to accommodate extended family.

"It all depends on personal preference," Tay said. "Asian culture has a tendency to have more extended family members. They take in the parents, everything. They need more room."

But for anti-mansionization activists, the city ordinance doesn't go far enough.

"I think the (square-footage) numbers should be smaller," said Verlato. The proposed ballot initiative would have set even tighter limits than proposed by the city.

The City Council is set to vote on the floor-area ratio ordinance at the April 19 meeting. 

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