As China's rich re­al­ize their dreams overseas, an in­flux of cash and im­mi­gra­tion has turned the Los An­ge­les sub­urb of Ar­ca­dia into the “Chi­nese Bev­erly Hills”—but as prop­erty val­ues rise along­side crime, some won­der about the fu­ture of this elite en­clave

It’s Memo­rial Day at Ar­ca­dia County Park, the Cal­i­for­nia city’s largest and ar­guably most pop­u­lar pub­lic park. Peo­ple of var­i­ous eth­nic­i­ties and ages have gath­ered with friends and fam­ily to en­joy the weather and the brassy pa­tri­otic dis­plays. On most other days, though, the park wouldn’t look out of place in Bei­jing or Shang­hai—filled with area Chi­nese res­i­dents, mostly el­derly, ex­er­cis­ing, med­i­tat­ing, or prac­tic­ing tai-chi.

In the park­ing lot, a Chi­nese fam­ily, grand­mother in tow, makes their way to a brown Porsche SUV, look­ing over sus­pi­ciously as TWOC takes pic­tures of the small icon of Mao Ze­dong dan­gling from their rearview mir­ror. Ar­ca­dia, of­fi­cially founded in 1903, had been around for a while by the time Mao es­tab­lished the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic in Oc­to­ber 1949, but it’s doubt­ful the Chair­man ever en­vis­aged end­ing up here.

Long a boom­town for builders and de­vel­op­ers, nes­tled in the cha­parral­cov­ered San Gabriel Val­ley, 13 miles north­east of Los An­ge­les, Ar­ca­dia is an ever-grow­ing des­ti­na­tion for main­land fam­i­lies. It’s where they can be as­sured their chil­dren will re­ceive a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion, where re­li­gion, land and gun own­er­ship can be en­joyed with­out in­ter­fer­ence, where the air is clean, the wa­ter’s drink­able, and the food is safe. But a spate of bur­glary and vi­o­lence in the area, along with ac­cu­sa­tions of cor­rup­tion and gen­tri­fi­ca­tion by the new ar­rivals, sug­gest that re­la­tions in this wealthy com­mu­nity may fall short of Ar­ca­dian prom­ises.

The long march from China to the San Gabriel Val­ley is a sto­ried one. The Chi­nese first ar­rived in San Gabriel in the mid-19th cen­tury, as farm and con­struc­tion work­ers. An ad hoc Chi­na­town was es­tab­lished in the area in the face of race ri­ots and the 1882 Chi­nese Ex­clu­sion Act. The 1965 Im­mi­gra­tion Act loos­ened quo­tas and the area saw its first larges­cale Chi­nese im­mi­gra­tion, ini­tially from Tai­wan.

By the late 1980s, Los An­ge­les County’s big­gest Chi­nese hub had es­tab­lished it­self in San Gabriel’s Mon­terey Park com­mu­nity, and its eco­nomic land­scape looked noth­ing like a cen­tury ago. The chief ar­chi­tect of this shift was Fred­eric Hsieh, a re­al­tor who start­ing sell­ing land to af­flu­ent Tai­wan and Hong Kong im­mi­grants, back when the small city’s area code had been 818 (eight is a near-homonym for the char­ac­ter “pros­per­ity,” and fre­quently as­so­ci­ated with wealth and sta­tus in Chi­nese cul­ture). It wasn’t long be­fore the area was nick­named “Lit­tle Taipei”— nowa­days it’s some­times re­ferred to as “Lit­tle Bei­jing.”

Many of the lat­est ar­rivals have set their sights on Ar­ca­dia, an 11.1-square-mile com­mu­nity with a pop­u­la­tion of roughly 60,000, which the Amer­i­can Com­mu­nity Sur­vey in­di­cates is around 46 per­cent Chi­nese. Though Cal­i­for­nia is fa­mous for its gold rushes, the scram­ble for Ar­ca­dia may be some­thing al­to­gether new. The lat­est im­mi­grants aren’t com­ing here to make their for­tunes— they’re look­ing for some­where to stash them.

In 1990, the Im­mi­gra­tion Act cre­ated a ve­hi­cle for wealthy for­eign­ers to eas­ily ob­tain US visas and a path to per­ma­nent res­i­dence— the fa­bled green card—by in­vest­ing be­tween 500,000 to 1 mil­lion USD in an en­ter­prise in­tended to cre­ate at least ten Amer­i­can jobs. The EB-5 Im­mi­grant In­vestor Visa Pro­gram has


be­come a boon to the thou­sands of Chi­nese seek­ing to park their wealth and fam­i­lies away from the main­land.

In 2005, Chi­nese cit­i­zens ob­tained 350 EB-5 visas; by 2015, that num­ber was 9,500, around 85 per­cent of the to­tal is­sued that year. The EB-5 process, long ac­cused of be­ing a cash cow for murky visa agents, has be­come even more con­tro­ver­sial re­cently. In Fe­bru­ary, Se­na­tor Dianne Fe­in­stein de­clared the pro­gram rife with fraud and abuse. An on­go­ing scan­dal in­volv­ing the Kush­ner Com­pany’s use of EB-5 visas to raise 150 mil­lion USD from Chi­nese in­vestors for a lux­ury apart­ment com­plex may yet prove the death knell for the pro­gram.

For a gen­er­a­tion of im­mi­grants driven by af­flu­ence rather than sur­vival, the free­doms of­fered by the fa­mously lib­eral Cal­i­for­nia are some­thing they can not only in­dulge in, but eas­ily af­ford. But the in­flux of wealth has had im­pacts on Ar­ca­dia that few could have pre­dicted.

Me­dia pro­fes­sional David Arvizu, who has lived in Ar­ca­dia most of his life and is mar­ried to a Chi­ne­seAmer­i­can, be­lieves the Chi­nese pres­ence is a net pos­i­tive. “I think what the Chi­nese bring to Ar­ca­dia is great. They bring a real good sense of fam­ily val­ues and they bring a re­ally strong cul­tural back­ground,” he tells TWOC. “The more ex­po­sure you have to cul­ture, the bet­ter you are as a per­son.”

Ar­ca­dia High School (AHS) is one of the clear ben­e­fi­cia­ries. Even though there is an on­go­ing teach­ing short­age in Cal­i­for­nia, and most pub­lic school salaries start at around 40,000 USD a year, it’s not un­com­mon for se­nior fac­ulty at AHS to earn six-fig­ure in­comes.

Ranked among the top pub­lic schools in Cal­i­for­nia, AHS is one of the sub­urb’s big­gest draws for im­mi­grants. It has a pre­dom­i­nantly Asian stu­dent body of 3,600, and even a Chi­nese Par­ents Booster Club that as­sists in­com­ing Chi­nese students and fam­i­lies.

Mei Zheng, a re­al­tor from Bei­jing, has lived in Ar­ca­dia since 1994. Her son re­cently grad­u­ated from AHS, but Zheng wor­ries about the ef­fect that ed­u­ca­tion mi­grants have on prop­erty val­ues: Be­cause pub­lic schools are typ­i­cally free for students in their at­ten­dance area, some par­ents pur­chase prop­erty solely for their child’s school years.

In 2012, Zheng sold 17 homes in LA County; in 2016, she sold eight. “What hap­pens when kids from a Chi­nese fam­ily grad­u­ate from Ar­ca­dia?” she asks. “Who’s go­ing to re­place those out­go­ing Chi­nese fam­i­lies?”

Ar­ca­dia has rid­den out pre­vi­ous hous­ing bub­bles. In 2008 when the mar­ket crashed and many sub-prime mort­gage own­ers found them­selves with­out a home, Chi­nese real­tors car­ried on, as they still had the best leads.

“The char­ac­ter of the city has changed,” says Ron­nie Sky, a re­al­tor in his mid-50s who first moved to the area in 1986. “The de­mo­graph­ics have gone from that of a mid­dlein­come com­mu­nity to an in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity with the main in­flu­ence be­ing Chi­nese.”

Sky names sev­eral rea­sons for the ex­clu­sion of non-chi­nese real­tors, in­clud­ing lan­guage and cul­tural is­sues, but thinks the real rea­son is the kick­back, known as the ‘red en­ve­lope.’” This is when a home­owner receives a per­cent­age of the re­al­tor’s sales com­mis­sion as a hir­ing in­cen­tive (real­tors gen­er­ally make 3 to 2.5 per­cent, and a red en­ve­lope is around one per­cent).

Kickbacks on prop­erty sales are il­le­gal in both the US and China, but those in the pro­fes­sion say that it hap­pens more of­ten than not, es­pe­cially among Chi­nese real­tors. This prac­tice is hard to prove, but if caught, a re­al­tor can lose their li­cense.

“We call these types of peo­ple ‘rats,’ and ev­ery com­pany has a few,” Zheng says. “There are peo­ple who don’t care

about dam­ag­ing rep­u­ta­tions by be­ing dis­hon­est.” Kick­back cul­ture has hurt her busi­ness too: “It’s dif­fi­cult to get list­ings when you are com­pet­ing with real­tors who agree to some form of kick­back con­di­tion.”

Some be­lieve Ar­ca­dia’s prop­erty mar­ket may have al­ready peaked, at least tem­po­rar­ily—home pur­chases in cash, as­so­ci­ated with Chi­nese buy­ers who pre­fer to pay in full, are down over­all, from 461 in 2014 to 344 in 2016, while cash sales in the San Gabriel Val­ley and LA County have de­clined 17 and 12 per­cent re­spec­tively in the same pe­riod.

The slow­down is blamed on tight­en­ing cap­i­tal con­trols back home. Chi­nese pol­i­cy­mak­ers, alarmed over the out­flow of their for­eign ex­change re­serves—down by 1 tril­lion USD in two years—had al­ready be­gun re­strict­ing cap­i­tal flight to 50,000 USD a year (a limit that most could none­the­less cir­cum­vent by us­ing con­nec­tions to cre­ate mul­ti­ple quo­tas, a process com­pared to “ants mov­ing rice” by one re­al­tor).

Since 2015, the screws have tight­ened con­sid­er­ably: cus­tomers at China’s State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of For­eign Ex­change must now pro­vide de­tails of how their funds will be used, and prom­ise not to in­vest in prop­erty overseas or con­vert cur­rency for oth­ers. These poli­cies have re­ver­ber­ated to the San Gabriel Val­ley, where much of this money was be­ing parked; even so, the pre­vi­ous years of boom are ev­i­dent in the phys­i­cal and eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion of Ar­ca­dia.

Ac­cord­ing to one city web­site, the av­er­age price of a fam­ily home in Ar­ca­dia in 2000 was 372,000 USD. In 2013 it was 802,400 USD. Right now, prices range any­where be­tween 500,000 to 12 mil­lion USD. But it wasn’t just the eco­nom­ics of the hous­ing boom that had some res­i­dents con­cerned.

Arvizu and his neigh­bor April Ver­lato, a lo­cal at­tor­ney who now sits on the city’s rul­ing five-mem­ber city coun­cil board started a coali­tion called Sav­ing Ar­ca­dia, which has about 20 core mem­bers, half of whom are Chi­nese.

The prob­lem, ac­cord­ing to the coali­tion, was that ma­jor con­struc­tion projects in the com­mu­nity were tear­ing down smaller homes and re­plac­ing them with larger, lav­ish “man­sions”—multi-story faux Euro­pean vil­las, re­plete with chan­de­liers, mar­ble floors, and gar­ish fit­tings. Re­port­edly, many of the city’s com­pact ranch-style homes, built in the 1940s, did not find fa­vor with new Chi­nese buy­ers.

In 2014, Ar­ca­dia re­ceived 165 re­quests for home de­vel­op­ment projects; neigh­bor­ing Mon­rovia, which pro­hibits tear­downs on homes built be­fore 1940, had only 20.

Two years ago in south Ar­ca­dia, the Neighbors of Hol­lis Lane, a 50-strong group, protested a Chi­nese in­vest­ment com­pany over plans to build an over­sized prop­erty on one of their lots; lo­cal me­dia re­ported the com­pany at­tempted to bribe res­i­dents to drop their ob­jec­tions.

The op­po­si­tion was not just about aes­thet­ics—many were con­cerned


that in­vest­ment prop­er­ties blight the com­mu­nity. “We ended up with a bunch of homes pur­chased with no one liv­ing in them,” Ar­ca­dia’s then­mayor Mickey Se­gal told the LA Times.

Block one de­vel­op­ment, though, and a cou­ple more spring up in their place: Two vast mixed-use projects are cur­rently un­der­way in Ar­ca­dia, both fi­nanced by Chi­nese money. Once com­pleted, Pa­cific Plaza Ar­ca­dia will fea­ture al­most 40 con­do­mini­ums, while 57 Wheeler, a four-story de­vel­op­ment, will of­fer about 40 liv­ing units. Both projects are within the AHS at­ten­dance zone.

It’s Thurs­day af­ter­noon at Ar­ca­dia Firearm and Safety, and busi­ness is good. The city’s only gun store is tucked away on the third floor of a strip mall filled with other Chi­nese-run busi­nesses, be­hind a pop­u­lar seafood res­tau­rant.

In­side, Jack (pseudonym), a 20-year old male Tai­wanese-amer­i­can col­lege stu­dent is tak­ing a test to qual­ify for le­gal gun own­er­ship. The store­owner, David Liu, is a tall, stocky man in his early 50s who has lived in the area since the mid-1980s. “Back then [AHS] only had about 700 peo­ple, and only about 12 Chi­nese, all from Tai­wan,” he re­calls.

Last year, Jack’s fam­ily home in Ar­ca­dia was robbed; no­body was home, but the brush with crime spurred an in­ter­est in gun own­er­ship.

Be­tween 2015 and 2016, res­i­den­tial bur­glar­ies in Ar­ca­dia in­creased by 57 per­cent, an uptick that lo­cal law en­force­ment blame on state prison re­forms aimed at re­duc­ing non-vi­o­lent and mis­de­meanor in­mate pop­u­la­tions. While this ar­ti­cle was be­ing writ­ten, Ar­ca­dia PD ar­rested five men in two sep­a­rate in­ci­dents on the same day on sus­pi­cion of bur­glary, and Ar­ca­dia’s Chief of Po­lice, Bob Guthrie, mailed a per­sonal let­ter to res­i­dents, in English and Chi­nese, ad­dress­ing the prob­lem.

China’s own gun laws were re­cently tight­ened to pe­nal­ize any­one caught with repli­cas, or even toy and air guns, with harsh prison sen­tences. As a re­sult, gun tourism has flour­ished in US lo­cales such as Florida, Las Ve­gas, and to a lesser ex­tent, Ar­ca­dia, which is sur­rounded by a hand­ful of in­door and out­door shoot­ing ranges.

Liu’s next cus­tomer is in his 40s and from Tian­jin. A fa­ther of three, he moved here for busi­ness and the lo­cal schools, but Cal­i­for­nia clearly of­fers other at­trac­tions. “Women love make- up,” he says, cradling a pis­tol. “Men love guns.”

He hands Liu his smart­phone to have his pic­ture taken hold­ing an AK-47. Main­lan­ders pre­fer the Sovi­et­de­signed weapon be­cause it fea­tured in movies they grew up watch­ing, Liu ex­plains. “We have prob­a­bly one of the rich­est [Chi­nese] de­mo­graph­ics, and when they spend money on a gun, they don’t care about price, they just want what’s best,” he tells TWOC.

Some Chi­nese buy guns sim­ply to scare off would-be in­trud­ers. But rather than home in­va­sions—a vi­o­lent felony where res­i­dents are some­times held at gun­point, and per­pe­tra­tors re­ceive jail time if caught—most bur­glar­ies are com­mit­ted by “flock­ing crews,” or “knock-knock bur­glars.”

“The ma­jor­ity are gang mem­bers from LA, to Colton, to San Ber­nadino and Long Beach,” says Ar­ca­dia PD’S Lieu­tenant Colleen Flores, who has worked in law en­force­ment for 22 years. “Some­one will knock on the door, if there’s no an­swer they go in the back, break in, and leave with stolen prop­erty. It’s in­creased over the last year or two, and it just keeps go­ing up.”

Flock­ing crews, so called be­cause they de­ploy mul­ti­ple peo­ple


(some­times even from ri­val gangs be­cause, says Lt. Flores, “com­mit­ting bur­glary is so lu­cra­tive”), use a lux­ury car, and some­times a fe­male driver so as not to arouse sus­pi­cion in the af­flu­ent neigh­bor­hoods they are tar­get­ing.

Lt. Flores ex­plains it’s about ease and ac­cess when it comes to res­i­den­tial bur­glary; eth­nic­ity is ir­rel­e­vant. “The draw [in Ar­ca­dia] is that they’re get­ting rich quick by hit­ting one house. One house was hit over the week­end and the sus­pects stole 30,000 dol­lars worth of prop­erty,” she says. “They’re so suc­cess­ful that they have a slush fund to bail the bur­glars out.”

De­spite these as­sur­ances, many Chi­nese be­lieve they are sin­gled out, por­trayed in pop­u­lar cul­ture as easy marks who of­ten carry cash. In 2016, af­ter the home in­va­sion of Fengzhu Chen, a Chi­nese-amer­i­can woman in Ge­or­gia who shot one in­truder dead, out­rage co­a­lesced around a pre­vi­ously ob­scure song from 2014, “Meet the Flock­ers,” in which rap­per YG (from Comp­ton, a city about 30 miles south of Ar­ca­dia) ad­vises: “First, you find a house and scope it out/ Find a Chi­nese neigh­bor­hood, cause they don’t be­lieve in bank ac­counts.”

Although Chi­nese im­mi­grants are stereo­typed as law-abid­ing, the Ar­ca­dia PD is used to deal­ing with non-vi­o­lent crime within the Chi­nese com­mu­nity—these in­clude il­licit gam­bling, scam­mers that prey on naïve fel­low im­mi­grants, and the con­tro­ver­sial is­sue of ma­ter­nity tourism. This is loosely de­fined as Chi­nese na­tion­als who come to the United States to give birth, so their chil­dren can ac­quire US cit­i­zen­ship.

These cases are in­ves­ti­gated by law en­force­ment, but De­tec­tive Steven Castillo, a ten-year vet­eran of Ar­ca­dia PD, ex­plains: “We never seek de­por­ta­tion when we con­duct these types of in­ves­ti­ga­tions.” Lo­cal law en­force­ment is also con­cerned with the covert use of sex work­ers, whose ser­vices are eas­ily fa­cil­i­tated by Wechat, the one-stop-shop Chi­nese app used for a mul­ti­tude of needs and ser­vices.

Wechat typ­i­cally pro­vides tastes of home: An un­taxed car­ton of Zhong­nan­hai 10 mil­ligram ci­garettes go for about 24 dol­lars, of­ten de­liv­ered in the park­ing lot of the near­est con­ve­nience store, where Amer­i­can brands re­tail around 100 dol­lars a car­ton. The Chi­nese, like many im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, also have un­of­fi­cial ride-hail­ing ser­vices: A jour­ney to the air­port costs a flat rate of 50 USD re­gard­less of time and num­ber of pas­sen­gers (“of­fi­cial” apps charge at least 75 to 120 USD, de­pend­ing on pick-up time, car model and pas­sen­gers).

Ap­point­ments for in-call pros­ti­tutes can be made via Wechat’s “Peo­ple Nearby” fea­ture with cash-only rates start­ing around 140 USD for 30 min­utes. But un­in­hib­ited plea­sure with strangers comes with its own set of risks. In 2016, po­lice raided a con­do­minium across the street from one of Ar­ca­dia’s many churches; it was sus­pected of har­bor­ing a brothel, and three Chi­nese re­ceived mis­de­meanor charges.

“See Some­thing, Say Some­thing,” says Ar­ca­dia PD’S new cit­i­zen-watch cam­paign. But what catches the eye this Memo­rial Day is the di­ver­sity of the crowd at this all-amer­i­can cel­e­bra­tion. One young Asian-amer­i­can rolls up in a flag-wav­ing, army-is­sue jeep that his un­cle brought back from his time as a “tun­nel rat” for US troops in Viet­nam. The driver, a vet­eran him­self, parks the vin­tage jeep next to a row of flags and quickly jumps out to take a few pho­tos. He then hops back in, and drives off with his girl­friend, Old Glory wav­ing in the wind.


Af­ter-school acad­e­mies have flour­ished in Ar­ca­dia, but many think the study sites are noth­ing more than a day­care for teens

Sprawl­ing “Mc­man­sions” used to sell quickly, but cap­i­tal con­trols have left some homes on the mar­ket for months

Gun­store owner David Liu shows an as­sault ri­fle to a Chi­nese cus­tomer

A lo­cal vet­eran flies the flag on an army-is­sue jeep on Memo­rial Day

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