Amid rising tension about alleged foreign influence on city politics and development, Arcadia officials have scrapped a proposal to visit China and Taiwan and said they would reject money from three corporate donors that would have paid for the trip.
Mayor John Wuo had proposed that a group of elected officials and department heads visit China and Taiwan to explore sister city relationships and observe Chinese government.
Three companies each had offered to donate $10,000 to the city's general fund with the unofficial purpose of paying for the trip: Macau-based Companhia de Comercial Dingyuan Limitada, China-based Sichuan Arrow Recovery Tech Co. Ltd. and Rowland Heights-based Perfect Brothers Development Corp.
But residents immediately cried foul. A February staff report describing the trip said "one or more" of the owners of the firms donating had potential business interests in the city. And two councilmen's wives, as well as relatives of the mayor, were included on the itinerary's attendee list.
"Either we're going on city business, or we're going to have some kind of party," said resident April Verlato. "Now it's sounding like a vacation."
Wuo did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Councilman Sho Tay said there was nothing illegal about the trip. City Manager Dominic Lazzaretto said the trip was being planned long before any donations were discussed, and city officials had intended to cover the costs themselves. Spouses were invited because the trip would have included ceremonial events that elected officials typically attend with their families, he said.
The trip was canceled Feb. 25, and the city plans to reject the donations, which haven't been transferred between bank accounts yet, Lazzaretto said.
"People started to say things, and that became a very bad vibe," Tay said. "So we decided that we would just cancel."
Some longtime residents took the proposed trip as another sign that wealthy Chinese newcomers are exercising too much influence in Arcadia. The suburban community of 57,000 is popular with Chinese investors, who buy homes and build large mansions that some residents say ruin the city's character.
A recent council decision to allow a Chinese architect to build two large homes in the Arcadia Highlands neighborhood — a project a homeowners group had rejected — has compounded those tensions.
After the trip was announced at a City Council meeting in January, locals began raising questions not only about how the trip was funded but why it was necessary. To some residents, it's Arcadia's culture that city officials need to educate themselves about.
"I'm all for trying to understand Chinese culture, but they better darn well try to understand mine as well," said resident Lael Blocker, 72. "This is Arcadia. This is America."
Blocker said she and other longtime residents are trying to embrace that their city is changing, but she felt the trip was "uncalled for."
Tay said it's common for city officials to visit other countries to cultivate sister city relationships, and council members have gone on trips to China in the past. But Arcadia's situation is especially "sensitive," Tay said.
"We still feel that residents don't quite understand why we were going," Tay said. "But we don't want to create a feeling of segregation."