Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – The City of Arcata wouldn’t usually hold a meeting at the D Street Neighborhood Center to scope the legally required project alternative projects in an Environmental Impact Report. But this was not your usual project or a routine EIR – it’s the environmental document for the removal of the statue of William McKinley from the Plaza.
While moving a statue might not seem like an environmental issue in terms of birds, bees, fish and trees, it’s the historic environment that this EIR will focus on.
Arcata’s General Plan identifies the McKinley statue as a feature of the historic Plaza district. The California Environmental Quality Act says that an impact to a historic district is an environmental impact, thus the report.
Maybe. The city is hiring a consultant to make a study to verify whether the statue is a historic resource, removal of which substantially changes the Plaza’s historical significance.
But for now, the city is assuming it is, and is taking the initial steps to compose an EIR. Part of that is identifying project alternatives – from leaving the statue in place to banishing it from Arcata altogether.
On the east side of the hall was a line of chairs – not quite enough to accommodate the more than two dozen attendees. Along the opposite wall was a line of tables bearing sheets of butcher paper, each offering one of the project alternatives for public comment to be supplied with Post-It notes.
Alternatives offered included doing nothing (a CEQA-required option); remove the statue and store it offsite; relocate it to Redwood Park; relocate outside Arcata; and any other alternatives anyone might have.
By way of creating a substantive EIR, Community Development Director David Loya asked participants to focus on environmental impacts and feasible ways to minimize and mitigate them, and to offer the reasoning behind their suggestions – to say why.
Most relevant were comments on biological resources, historical resources and aesthetic impacts.
Some attendees wished to include comments on social justice aspects of the project, and Loya said all comments are welcome. Ideas not relevant to the environmental document were to be retained for the statue-related meetings of a more general nature to be held in coming months.
All of the comments will be included in the EIR, a public document, and will get an official response. The EIR is being composed in-house by Senior Planner Alyson Hunter, and is expected to take six to nine months.
The vast majority of Post-It comments supported removal of the statue.
The “no project” option drew condemnation on several counts, from being anti-peace to obstructing the view of the Plaza’s center to disrespecting the wishes of the Wiyot Tribe. “The no project option makes the City Council look like a bunch of confused bureaucrats who caved in to mob pressure of racists,’” said one note. The sole dissenting note advocated for retaining the statue but adding an interpretive plaque offering historical context.
The remove-and-store option was popular, being described as “one small reparative justice option” and a plus for open space. Opposition included concern about vandalism to the storage facility, creating the potential to the statue to be restored and unhappy gulls left with one less perching spot.
Relocating the statue to Redwood Park wasn’t very popular. Multiple comments criticized the intrusion of a controversial political figure into a natural setting, the negative environmental impacts that would have and the park’s status as “Wiyot territory.” One positive comment suggested that those who “flock” to see the statue would get some exercise if it were in the park.
Relocating the statue outside Arcata was a hit. Some saw it as the only justifiable option. “It is a blight on the city and should be moved out of the area, never to return,” said one note. Others advocated for it to be donated to the McKinley Birthplace Museum in Canton, Ohio. A couple of opposing notes noted the carbon footprint of moving the statue, and the possibility that objections would remain wherever it went.
The “other alternatives” option drew several comments advocating that the statue be melted down, broken into tiny pieces or buried. Several more commenters suggested contacting the McKinley Birthplace Museum, despite the museum’s publicly stated, explicit and vehement disinterest in Arcata’s statue.
One suggestion was to move the statue to the Humboldt County Historical Society, and another was to place it at the Arcata Veterans Memorial Building. But the American Legion has suspended discussion of adopting the statue until the outcome of the proposed ballot measure cancelling the City Council’s Feb. 21 decision to remove it is known.
Below, photos of the comments on the various project alternatives.