Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – Local businessfolk enjoyed wild mushroom lasagna, salad and a summary of current events by Arcata leaders at the annual Arcata Main Street (AMS) luncheon in the Plaza View Room last Thursday afternoon.
Dan Tangney, tireless AMS volunteer (and as of last week, chair of Arcata’s Planning Commission), said volunteers are needed for the 28th Annual Oyster Festival on June 16. The event is AMS’s main fundraiser.
AMS Boardmember David Neyra also called for participation. Three seats on the AMS board are vacant, and Neyra said board service is an opportunity to help bring about the downtown business organization’s central goal – “a peaceful, nice downtown area for people to enjoy, do business, whatever they want to do.”
Humboldt State President Lisa Rossbacher outlined a number of ways the university is engaging with the community, from participation in the Equity Arcata effort to various town-centered student activities. “As a community, we’re working together in supporting our students,” she said.
City Manager Karen Diemer described city efforts to bring about “Plaza justice” which have emerged over the last six to nine months. These the include butcher paper-rich Plaza Study Session and previous town hall meetings.
The tale of the butcher paper wishes was distilled into some shared aspirations for “critical shifts” on the Plaza: no drugs, no aggressive dogs, no vandalism and trash, no alcohol-related offenses and women safe from verbal harassment and catcalls. “Those really were the things that resonated,” Diemer said.
City initiatives began more than a year ago with establishment of the Public Safety Task Force, which produced what Diemer called “an incredible report."
That done, the council will likely create a Plaza Task Force to identify strategies and resources for reform. That body will include representatives from many of the city’s 12 citizen-led committees plus AMS and the Arcata Chamber of Commerce.
APD, like many police departments, is understaffed and struggling with recruitment. A partnership with the county’s Mental Health Dept. will bring the Mobile Intervention Services Team and its county resources to bear on chronic abusers. The city is also working with courts to clear a huge backlog of violations and issue stay-away resources to frequent offenders, with two issued so far.
The City is eager to partner with AMS to “pack the Plaza with activities” that ward off bad actors.
Police Chief Tom Chapman said he often hears wistful wishes to the effect that, “if only the police were out there enforcing,” referring to the Plaza. In fact, they are. APD has issued hundreds if citations for alcohol abuse, smoking, loose dogs, blocking the sidewalks and other infractions.
The Plaza remains a “daunting” challenge, however, with the downtown area responsible for 40 percent of APD’s 32,000 annual calls for service.
But mainstreaming the Plaza with wholesome activities is what will really make the difference.
“We’ve got to really wrap our hands and heads around this other part,” he said, “and that’s where Main Street comes in.” Continued Chapman, “Our best strategy – let’s get the uses that we want instead of it being dictated to us... Let’s make it appropriate; let’s make it comfortable.”
City Councilmember Paul Pitino said that a new, seven-member Public Safety Committee is being formed to carry on the work of the Public Safety Task Force. It will meet the last Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m.
Discussions about installing cameras have indicated that privately-operated ones might be best. If the government runs them, they must legally retain all video for a year, which would pose a huge storage challenge. Humboldt State students are advocating for lighted, surveilled “safety corridors” linking the campus with the downtown.
Diemer also urged downtowners to express their preferences on retail cannabis regulation, presently being considered by the Planning Commission. “This is a local community decision,” she said.