Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
VALLEY WEST – With new leadership and new law enforcement challenges in Valley West, the Arcata Police Department is reapproaching its enforcement priorities for Arcata’s northernmost neighbohrood.
Last Thursday at the Hampton Inn on Valley West Boulevard, APD hosted a community meeting to ask area businesses and residents what problems they would like police to focus on. The hotel’s Sequoia Room was filled to capacity with Valley Westers, many disgruntled over deteriorating working conditions there.
First up was Neighborhood Watch organizer Ginger Campbell, who pitched a possible Business Watch for Valley West – something which, despite meetings, she hasn’t been able to get downtown Arcata businesses to get behind. McKinleyville, however, benefits from an active Business Watch.
Campbell, dubbed “the Pro from Dover” by always-witty Officer David Miller, said businesses stand to benefit by knowing each other, sharing information and training their employees in how to respond to emergency situations.
“It really works,” Campbell said. “We need to build pride in our Valley West area.”
Mild-mannered Chief Brian Ahearn, who has been getting the lay of the land on his multi-neighborhood listening tour over the last few months, showed slightly sterner stuff in managing the crowd. He steered attendees away from the time-consuming twin temptations of storytelling and grievance litigation that often dominate such gatherings. He also kept a lid on politics in favor of scoping the wishes of ’Westers.
“Don’t regurgitate what you’ve already told me,” he said. “Today is about creating the plan, or at least starting one.”
He asked that attendees first enumerate the crime and quality of life issues they’re dealing with, and of those, there was no shortage.
Businesspeople mentioned loitering, trespassing, shoplifting, drinking, drug dealing, needle litter, encampments, shopping cart theft, human waste, serial offenders and more. The area’s empty fields tend to incubate encampments, which travelers use as bases of operation. Other sites dense with campers include the freeway overpasses and Wymore Road, which lies in the county just outside Arcata city limits.
Ahrean said he’d contact Caltrans about problems on the agency’s property. A Humboldt County Sheriff’s deputy in attendance said that a multi-agency cleanup effort will be mounted on Wymore Road next week, with the assistance of John Shelter’s New Directions organization.
Ahearn repeatedly stressed that APD has only 26 officers, so any crimebusting has got to be tightly focused. “That’s not an excuse, but you need to know that,” he said.
Valley West activist Lucy Salazar said efforts to organize an outdoor family movie night failed due to safety concerns, and that many residents are afraid to use Carlson Park for Mad River access because of sketchy individuals in the area.
Ahearn asked attendees to place dots on pieces of butcher paper at the rear of the room, each of which listed problems the attendees had mentioned.
Problems gaining the most dots were: loitering and panhandling, drug activity, empty lots and vacant businesses, and encampments.
Ahearn vowed to continue outreach and step up enforcement.
“We’re going to continue working shoulder to shoulder with you,” he said. “Don’t be patient.”
Added Ahearn, “It’d be great if Valley West could create the model for the rest of the county.”