Union Q&A: City Council Candidate Brett Watson

Brett Watson. KLH | Union

Mad River Union

ARCATA – The Union gave all three Arcata City Council candidates some homework – a long list of questions, viewable here.

The following are Arcata City Council candidate Brett Watson's responses to the Mad River Union's Council Candidate Questionnaire. The responses have not been edited in any way. Any questions the candidate did not answer are listed at bottom. Some questions may have been inapplicable, or answered by a response to a related question.

Thanks to all the candidates for their responses.

Don't forget to vote Nov. 6!

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What sorts of public service have you conducted?

I’ve served on the Economic Development Committee for five years, including two as chair, I continue to volunteer weekly with Arcata seniors at the Arcata Community Center where I facilitate “Tech With Brett”, a program helping seniors use technology.  I’m a lifetime member and volunteer at Friends Of the Arcata Marsh, and I’m a Big Brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

If you’re an incumbent, what have you learned during your service?

I’ve learned it’s important to remember you represent everyone in the city, not just those you align with politically. I’ve also found it to be important to explain the reasoning behind my votes in detail before voting because the public and the media don’t always tune in to every meeting or remember everything you’ve said in previous meetings. I’ve also come to appreciate how dedicated and hard working our city staff is.

What if any council decisions would you revisit, and handle differently?

I wouldn’t revisit any of my votes, so far. I’ve learned a lot from some of the decisions we’ve made and I wouldn’t have gained that experience if I had voted differently.

If you’re a non-incumbent, what city committees or commissions have you attended, and why?

N/A

What are Arcata’s top five challenges?

Upgrading and protecting the waste water treatment plant, preparing for Sea level rise, establishing more affordable housing, finding solutions for homelessness, and ensuring everyone who visits Arcata feels welcome.

Has the city adequately addressed downtown public safety issues?

We’ve done a lot to improve the plaza during the daytime, with the addition of funding for officers to be there 7 days a week. I’d like to see us work to improve the nighttime atmosphere.

Plans have been aired for changing the Plaza – closing off streets, replacing parking spaces with greenspace and so on – do these ideas have merit?

I think they do have some merit but the decision is ultimately up to the community because it’s a public space and the heart of the city. It’s also dependant on the execution of the plans. People need a reason to go to the plaza. I don’t know that closing off all the streets and decreasing parking alone will entice many people to frequent it. We also need to make sure we’re being considerate of the businesses and their patrons, making the plaza as accessible as possible.

Should we reduce the number of bars on the Plaza and downtown, or disperse them, or what?

I believe we have plenty of establishments selling alcohol on the Plaza and it would be beneficial to the Plaza environment if those numbers decreased a little overtime. I would be open to disbursement and allowing for the same overall number of venues selling alcohol city wide. For example, we could probably shift some alcohol sales to other areas of the city and make it more convenient for citizens who’d like to walk to a nearby venue without traveling to the Plaza. This is already happening with a new tap room in the Creamery District and wine tasting room on 6th street due to open in the surrounding area within the next few months.

Does Arcata need a dedicated Animal Control officer?

Not in my opinion. If there are significant animal control issues, I’m not aware of them. If there are members of the public who feel differently, I encourage them to contact me and share their concerns.

We’ve had some problems with City Council meetings recently, in terms of people feeling welcome and even safe, jeering and other uncivil behavior.  How can we ensure comfort and equal treatment for all of our diverse citizens at City Council meetings, especially during contentious issues?

The mayor and the council must make our expectations of civil discourse clear. After recent events, we’ve taken steps to stabilize our meeting atmosphere. If we know certain issues will bring a large group of citizens to attend, we can change the venue to a larger space such as the Arcata Community Center. This helps to make people feel less intimidated by lots of people in a small space. If absolutely necessary, we can also have Arcata police officers in attendance to ensure the attendees have a safe environment to speak their minds. We’ve had many meetings without the need for a police presence and I hope to return to that standard.

What are your general thoughts on taking advice and testimony from non-Arcata citizens – residents of neighboring communities – on Arcata affairs? What kind of weight do we give their testimony?

Most importantly, our job as Arcata city council members is to represent the citizens of Arcata. That being said, it's also important to me that we consider the opinions of business owners who own a business in Arcata but don't always live here. We also care deeply about our neighboring community members throughout the county but we have to make sure we’re ultimately making decisions that lean towards representing the people who elect us to represent them: the people of Arcata. Arcata residents have a reasonable expectation that we will represent them and place their interests first.

Do you feel that all sides were allowed to be fairly heard at the Feb. 21 City Council meeting on the McKinley statue?

No. I heard from many community members who attempted to show up that evening to make public comment. They told me they felt threatened by the group in attendance so they left before the meeting started. This is very troubling to me and its our responsibility as their elected representatives to ensure they’re given a safe space to make public comment on issue they’re concerned about.

Are the advisory committees and commissions genuinely useful or just more bureaucracy?

They can be useful by serving as incubators for ideas and to help inform the council’s discussions.  Anything we can do to foster more community input, the better. We must make sure they feel valid and they know the council genuinely values their input. We also must make sure their thoughts and recommendations make it up to the council level and don’t get lost in the shuffle.

How will you vote on Measure M?

I’ve always argued to let the voters make the decision on the statue. I’m firm in supporting the voters’ decision to place this on the ballot and I will support whichever choice the voters make. My desire is to implement the November decision and move on from this issue.

Some councilmembers voted in favor of removing the statue on Feb. 21, but now extol the value of the voters deciding this issue. Any thoughts on the seeming inconsistency?

I do not believe this is inconsistent.  I’ve always said the voters should get to decide. When faced with a majority of the council voting to remove the statue, I did vote to relocate it, but I’ve never changed how I feel about letting the voters decide. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this meeting, my vote, and our decision. I feel strongly it is the citizens’ right to override this decision and I believe the way to give the issue a sense of finality is by having it be on the ballot.

What should replace the statue?

If the citizens vote to remove the statue, I’m in favor of leaving the space empty.  The Plaza really shines when we have community events like the Farmer’s Market and the North Country Fair. An open Plaza center would be conducive to our man community events. Perhaps we could place a tile mosaic mural at the center. Walt Pantiak has created a mockup of such a mural and I really like his depiction of this concept.

Protesters recently occupied Council Chambers. At one point, they blocked a news reporter from taking photographs of their activities, essentially halting reporting from our City Hall during a major news event. What are your thoughts on this?

This is unacceptable. The business of the people must go on and the media should absolutely never be barred from covering any public proceeding. Freedom of the press is an essential element of our democracy. If this becomes an ongoing concern, we need to take steps to ensure the media has adequate access to our proceedings.

How is the firearm storage necessary, enforceable and not putting citizens at risk by delaying their access to defensive firearms?

Firearm storage is an important part of gun safety. Without infringing on people's’ right to protect themselves within their homes, we should absolutely do everything we can to increase firearm safety within the city. However, I do not think the original ordinance presented to us would have actually accomplished this goal.  It would have required firearms out of storage to be on a person's body. This could backfire by causing more people to carry weapons in their homes.
State law already addresses situations with children, felons, and the mentally ill gaining access to weapons. This is why I successfully advocated to change the wording of our ordinance so that it would more closely reflect the existing state penal code. In its rewritten form, the local ordinance will implement additional language to require firearms be locked up when people are not home and when firearms are not in the control of the owner. I believe this is language parties on both sides of this issue agree on.

What are you doing about the lack of affordable housing in Arcata?

I’m actively working with our city staff and engaging with local and out of area developers to explore all options. I’m also serving on the Housing Trust Fund and Homelessness Services Committee to secure and award funding for future affordable housing projects.

Will you hold the next housing development proposed for the Craftsman’s Mall to the same criteria as the development that was rejected?

Of course.  Finding a balance between creating new housing and protecting our existing neighborhoods is essential. We must also ensure we aren’t creating new problems with no solutions e.g. increased traffic, increased calls for police and fire services, and strain on existing infrastructure such as the waste water treatment plant. Arcata does not have much developable land due to our proximity to Humboldt Bay and the community forest, so we have to be extremely selective about the developments we allow. I believe the council has a responsibility to ensure we get these projects right.

Does the successful influence of “dark money” in Arcata politics – unidentified developer contributions to ACRH, opponents of The Village – concern you?

Can you prove a developer gave financial support to the community group? If so, yes. It would concern me.

What is your evaluation of the present state of city and citizen relations with Humboldt State University, and the forecast?

I believe the current relationship is strong, overall. Humboldt State is a vital part of not only Arcata’s economy and culture, but also the entire county’s. The City of Arcata cannot control HSUs actions but we must persevere to build relationships with their leaders and do everything we can to let them know what the Arcata community wants and needs, e.g. increased transparency and flexibility to address student housing needs. In my opinion, building strong personal relationships are the most effective tools we can create for ourselves in working with the university.

One of the greatest assets HSU brings to our community is a diverse group of people from all genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds. The city of Arcata and HSU must continue the hard work of ensuring these members of our community feel welcome and included in all parts of city life.

HSU is well known for its natural resources programs, a major draw for many of the students who choose to attend HSU, and we must support the university in making sure those disciplines maintain their quality and reputation. The City has recently taken a major role in doing this by writing grants for the purchase and gifting of significant land holdings to HSU for management, education, and revenue generation through responsible harvesting.

Has the city and Humboldt State done enough to bring justice for David Josiah Lawson?

Until the case is solved, there is more to do. The City is continuing to dedicate resources and do everything we can to bring David Josiah Lawson’s killer to justice.

Have we made the city sufficiently welcoming to minority students?

Until we hear from all students that they feel welcome throughout the city, we still have work to do. Is Arcata a welcoming city with warm and friendly people? Yes. Is there more we can do to make the student experience better? Always.

Do you support creation of a safety corridor between Humboldt State and downtown?

Absolutely. When I served on the Economic Development Committee, we surveyed students using the footbridge over the freeway from northtown to campus. Many students, as well as HSU employees, shared their concerns about safety, mostly during the nighttime. There are some easy fixes we can implement such as improved lighting and creating direct shuttle service between the university, Valley West and downtown.

Is Valley West adequately served by city resources and mindshare?

I definitely think we as a city need to do more to adequately serve Valley West.  We’re getting ready to build a new basketball court for the community and we’re also getting ready to improve the new park space between Giuntoli and the Mad River. Also, we’re installing new bus furniture at the bus stops. We will continue to improve Valley West for the residents and visitors.

What can we do to improve access to and from Valley West?

I’d like to see a better bike route along West End road and also increased bus service.

Should Arcata do more to ensure food independence?

Yes.

Should Arcata do more to ensure energy independence?

Yes.

Does Arcata do enough for its senior citizens?

We do okay, right now. I’d like to create a day at the marsh for seniors so they can take their time on the trails and look at other ways we can make the city more senior friendly.

Does Arcata do enough for its youth – children and teenagers?

I believe we do an outstanding job providing spaces and activities for youth and children. If you visit our Parks and Recreation department you will find a long list of very affordable activities for youth.

Has Arcata done what it should to address homelessness?

We need to do more. For example, I’d like to see us work with local churches and maybe even HSU to create safe parking areas where homeless people living in vehicles can park for the night and access a handwashing station and a bathroom. This is a model thats been successful in other cities throughout the state.

Are we doing enough to address climate change?

Its impossible to truly know how severe the impacts of climate change will be on Arcata. There will be great challenges, but also its possible there will be some benefits.

The greatest opportunity may be the potential restoration of former baylands that would expand important estuarine habitat. Currently, the City of Arcata’s prevailing plan for much of our low-lying areas is to allow the bay to grow.  If done in addition to other actions, such as the removal of dikes, this would have the potential to substantially benefit salmon and other estuarian species.

The greatest threat by far is to Arcata’s wastewater treatment plant and sewer/stormwater system. Without significant preparation e.g. the creation of a living shoreline around crucial wastewater infrastructure, the City’s ability to treat its wastewater will be at great risk. The alternative would be to build a new wastewater treatment facility on higher ground, which would be very costly and logistically challenging.

Has Arcata found the right balance on cannabis cultivation and sales?

Yes.

What are your principal news sources (besides the Mad River Union)?

The citizens of Arcata, Times-Standard, LoCo, Google News feed, CNET, Android Authority, The Economist, NPR

Are the Arcata Chamber of Commerce and Arcata Main Street fulfilling their responsibilities?

Right now, I believe both groups are providing significant value to the community.

Is Arcata business friendly?

Yes.

Are Arcata citizens over- or under-taxed, and are their taxes being used wisely?

I think we have a good balance right now. I believe we’re fortunate to have an outstanding city manager and we've done a lot of work to balance the city budget as well as create reserves for unforseen circumstances.

For nature time, do you prefer the Arcata Marsh & Wildlife Sanctuary or the Arcata Community Forest?

I prefer the Forest. My degree is in Forestry and I’ve always found the forest to be the most relaxing and thought-provoking for me.

What do you like about your fellow candidates?

I think Valerie is a good person who cares about the community.  I enjoy working with Sofia and I look forward to continuing to work with her if we are both granted another term.

What are the last two books you read?

Meditations in an Emergency by Frank Ohara and The Marsh Builders by Sharon Levy.

Do you play any musical instruments?

I play saxophone, but I haven’t been in practice for a long time.

You can wave your magic wand over Arcata one time. Suddenly...

All of the original old growth forests, rivers, and other ecosystems would be completely restored.

Why are you running for public office in Arcata?

Arcata is my home and I love this community.  I’ve always been involved in community service. I served on a city committee for 5 years and I still fulfill my volunteer role with Arcata seniors. I believe it is my responsibility to give back through public service, and for me, serving as a city council member is the ultimate form of public service.

If elected, are you committed to completing your four-year term of office?

Yes. I plan to live Arcata for the rest of my life and I’m fully committed to my role as a city council member.

What are your long-term political aspirations?

To be an Arcata city council member. I really enjoy the work I do on the council and the ability local government affords me to retain a close relationship with my fellow Arcatans. 

Do you have any business entanglements that will prevent you from participating in a decision?

I own and operate two businesses I started after graduating from Humboldt State.  My primary business involves selling products online and for my second business I build websites and fix computers.  I haven’t had to recuse myself from any decisions and I don’t foresee having to in the future. If a conflict were to occur, I would confer with the city attorney and recuse myself as necessary.

How many hours per week do you/can you devote to City Council business?

It depends on the week. Currently I spend at least 20 hours a week, sometimes up to 30 hours a week, on city business. This includes city council meetings, committee meetings, research, preparation, responding to communications from constituents, and meeting with constituents. Providing timely constituent services is something I take very seriously. This can be anything from getting streets repaired, to helping residents navigate city departments. I really pride myself on responding to every phone call, email, or letter I receive, so naturally I’m dedicated to making a significant time commitment to the job.

If you’re a non-incumbent, what city committees or commissions have you attended, and why?

N/A






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