Arcata Bottom annexation historic, but facing demands for reversal

The Creek Side Homes project area and, outlined in red, parcels originally designated for annexation by the City of Arcata. The parcels added by LAFCo are those to the west and south of the initial annexation area (below and to the right in the image). City of Arcata image

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – At its January 20 meeting, Humboldt’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) approved a historic westward expansion of the City of Arcata onto 76.7 acres located on the Arcata Bottom off Foster Avenue.

But over the last several days, the approval has been met with shock, suspicion, questions and demands for reversal by residents of the areas to be incorporated.

The annexation is intended to accommodate the Creek Side Homes housing development approved by the City Council last year. Long in the making, the DANCO project will add 32 single-family residences and 32 accessory dwelling units, a 100-bed memory care facility, and 25 senior-restricted neighborhood cottage units to the city’s housing stock. It will also allow expansion and improvement of Ennes Park.

But LAFCo’s action went beyond the 21.6 acres the City of Arcata had approved for annexation. The body, composed of representatives from various Humboldt County municipalities, OK’d a modified annexation boundary that includes five additional parcels for a total of 76.7 acres, comprising nine parcels.

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The expansion makes possible city management of Foster Avenue up to Janes Road, and protection of agricultural lands through the city’s ag policies. 

The added parcels are included in the Western Greenbelt zone, and makes no changes to land uses or developments incompatible with existing ag lands. 

The added lands are zoned Agriculture Exclusive and lie outside the city’s Urban Services Boundary, so they won’t conflict with current conservation plans. No development will be possible and, concluded LAFCo, impacts don’t exceed those described in the project’s 2019 EIR, or those in Arcata’s General Plan.

Approval automatically triggers a protest hearing, in which those which objections may have them considered by LAFCo. 

Opposition arises

Meanwhile, residents of Foster Avenue say they were given no notice of the imminent change in their status before their property was drawn into the City of Arcata, and they were made citizens of it.

Foster Avenue residents Carol McFarland and Don Nielsen say they found out only after the fact that they were to become citizens of Arcata. The news has undermined their sense of security and potentially blown up the plans they'd made to pass their property to their heirs, and to protect it as an agricultural asset.

"How can I understand the implications of your undisclosed actions in regard to taxes, insurance, utilities, fire and safety, and expenses of  rezoning and development from the county to the city?" he wrote in a letter to the City Council (see below). Added Nielsen, "it certainly feels unethical and extremely upsetting to me."

Longtime land use activist Lisa Brown, well-versed in the area's regulatory history after previous housing development battles there, said the annexation wasn't legal and demanded its reversal (see below).

"I see no other option to undo the harm done to the people of Arcata by the action taken by LAFCO, which was approved WITHOUT the formal consent and 'Resolution' of the City Council," Brown said.

She said the annexation puts the ag land at heightened risk of development.

Arcata Community Development Director David Loya called the annexation the culmination of decades of planning and said it will provide much-needed housing. 

Arcata supports the expanded annexation, Loya said. He pointed out that the newly added land to the west of Creek Side will be protected by a conservation easement, while others across Foster Avenue to the south are zoned ag exclusive, ensuring open space and ag use only.

During the LAFCo meeting, Loya said that his department felt that protection might be somewhat higher were the land to remain in the county. While Arcata's current planning documents and City Council wouldn't allow further ag land development, those policies and the council itself are always subject to change by Arcata voters.

Letter from Don Nielsen to the City Council

February 3, 2021  

TO​ The Arcata City Council
FROM​ Don Nielsen homeowner, Foster Avenue
RE Annexation

It is my understanding that my property on the Arcata Bottom --- which has had such interest due to its agricultural value  --- has been annexed to the City of Arcata from Humboldt County ---  with no notification to me or to our community.

Ever since citizens formed the General Plan more than 40 years ago, undisclosed meetings and action by individuals and entities reignite the possibility that annexation and rezoning will soon result in commercial development.  

The annexation and future development of the parcels on the Bottom which you have exchanged from County to City may or may not be legal –  but it certainly feels unethical and extremely upsetting to me.

My family has lived on this land since before 1920, emigrating to farm and raise their children. I have lived on it more than 80 years with a mind to pass it along to the community via a Land Trust, to keep a part of the community's agricultural heritage so that others may learn to farm and ranch and share that knowledge with the young.

But last week I heard that my property had been annexed, along with adjacent parcels – with no information other than within the entities planning this action!  

I had hoped to continue to live out my days on this land and pass it along to my heirs; but I now feel as if I am standing on quicksand.

How can the City, County, or Lafco annex my property without notifying me?

How will I be able to plan to pass this property along to my heirs?  

How can I understand the implications of your undisclosed actions in regard to taxes, insurance, utilities, fire and safety, and expenses of  rezoning and development from the county to the city?  

If this is the retirement I've earned from 43 years of teaching general and advanced mathematics, of volunteering for preservation and conservation projects, of coaching school teams ---- it doesn't add up!

As property owner and tax payer I want full disclosure: I want to know of the financial considerations to myself and my community, I want to know about future rezoning and development plans, I want to know how Agricultural Exclusive properties will be protected --- and I want to know the motivations of those individuals and entities who have kept plans for these properties to themselves.

Letter from Lisa Brown to the City Council

Dear Mayor Pereira and Council members of the City of Arcata,

I am writing to ask the Council to direct the Community Development Director to request LAFCO retract their Modified Annexation  Boundary approval of January 20th. I see no other option to undo the harm done to the people of Arcata by the action taken by LAFCO, which was approved WITHOUT the formal consent and "Resolution" of the City Council.

I have worked tirelessly for many years on the protection of the our prime agricultural resources both within City and especially west of the City limits.  First, as an activist helping to write many of the policies in the General Plan 2020 and LUC and then as the original chair of the Open Space Committee, of which I was a member of for almost 20-years. During that time the OSC furthered already stated goals of the City to protect these resources through the development of the Open Space Plan and the recently minted Greenbelt Plan.

All four of these documents were not considered in the evaluation of consistency of the Modified Annexation Boundary with City policies.

This annexation violates all policies protecting our agricultural resources.  Most notable, the annexation of prime agricultural land outside of the Urban Services Boundary. The Gilardoni parcel, the Armstrong parcels and the Nielsen parcel were all specifically left out of our Urban Services Boundary in order to prevent them from being annexed into the City.  It is as simple as that.  It was the most powerful protection strategy that we had available to us and it has been disregarded by this action.

Agricultural land is always at risk of development when brought into city limits unless the land has restrictions placed on it through covenants or easements. Arcata is no exception. Most of Arcata is built on prime agricultural land and the small amount left in the bottomland is west of the city, in a narrow swath that includes these parcels. These are precious resources. The further west you go, soil quality quickly diminishes to below prime characteristics. Generally it is better to leave these resources in the County where services are not available for development purposes, unless the City Council moves to purchase easements on the parcels.

Please find below Section 9.94.070 of General Plan which is in direct conflict with LAFCO's action. There are many more that I will provide you as we move along in this process.

Thank you.

Lisa Brown, Arcata

9.94.070 Criteria for Annexation of Undeveloped Land

Undeveloped land may be annexed to the City only if the proposed annexation will:

A.    Only include parcels within the Urban Services Boundary identified in Section 9.94.090, and adjacent to existing urban development;

B.    Not exceed the City’s capacity to provide services and infrastructure to accommodate the proposed development;

C.    Be timed so that the availability of services and infrastructure is concurrent with the anticipated need;

D.    Have either a positive or neutral fiscal impact, or other overriding public benefits;

E.    Comply with all applicable General Plan policies; and

F.    Not include prime agriculture land (Storie Index of 60 or higher) other than with a designation and prezoning of Agriculture Exclusive (A-E), Natural Resource (NR), or Public Facility (P-F).



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