Climate, housing, restaffing, Valley West are big priorities
Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – $4.4 million is a lot of money, especially when that princely sum – Arcata’s share of the $350 billion American Rescue Act – lands in your lap. But in allocating the multi-million dollar groundscore last week, the City Council found out how quickly worthy projects and functions can use up even a seven-figure pool of money.
Staff presented the council with a menu of the most urgent projects and programs, from which councilmembers could mix and match selections. The list was based, said a staff report, “on recovery, improving city operations for the long- term and providing financial assistance to those in the community impacted by the pandemic.”
Councilmembers initially listed their top picks for funding, then got down to specifics. An initial $1 million was set aside for climate change-related projects, with specifics to be determined later. Initial common areas of emphasis among the councilmembers were support for public safety (if not necessarily police), homeless sheltering, Valley West improvements and restoring staff positions cut during as part of pandemic response.
As they worked their way through the line items, running totals maintained by Mayor Brett Watson and City Manager Karen Diemer became desynchronized, requiring a real-time audit to reconcile the two lists. As the two tried to track down the glitch between their running counts, meeting viewers enjoyed a rare look at the sausage-making nature of local governance with its excruciating arithmetic. That ended when audio of the Watson-Diemer sidebar was cut, depriving viewers of hearing the ultimate reconciliation.
In the end, the council allocated the funds as follows:
• $570,000 to fund the Mobile Intervention Services Team (MIST), in keeping with a recommendation of the Public Safety Committee in its annual report, delivered earlier in the meeting. Presently grant funded at 32 hours per week, the MIST mental health and social workers have been riding along with Arcata Police four days per week, offering non-law enforcement assistance with the goal of avoiding criminalizing individuals where services are a more appropriate solution. The new funding will support 40 hours of MIST assistance for one year, including a behavioral health specialist.
• $685,000 for the Safe Parking Program, which provides those using their vehicles for shelter safe places with utilities to park overnight while working towards a transition to permanent housing. Presently, residential vehicles park in numerous locations around town, creating neighborhood safety, litter and hygiene problems and leaving the vehicle campers vulnerable. The initial program will provide space for up to 30 vehicles, plus porta-potties, mobile showers, electricity, food service, a case worker to transition residents to permanent solutions, and other infrastructure. A location has yet to be selected, and vehicles will be added 10 at a time as the program ramps up.
• $519,000 for restoring staff positions. These include a street maintenance crew leader; parks maintenance worker; recreation coordinator; community development specialist, and a police officer. While two officers were initially proposed for the understaffed APD and supported by Watson, Councilmember Emily Grace Goldstein favored directing resources toward non-enforcement needs, and as part of the horse-trading between councilmembers, one officer was traded for another maintenance worker.
• $217,500 for Valley West. Comunidad Unida del Norte de Arcata (CUNA) has taken the lead on community health, business support and neighborhood park events in Arcata’s northernmost neighborhood, along with community space/facility development projects, and Valley West is listed among the City Council’s priority projects. City staff will create a scope of work for council approval.
• $500,000 for climate action, including electrification of the City Hall’s antiquated heating and ventilation system; purchase of electric vehicles and phase-out of natural gas in favor of electric utilities in new construction.
• $200,000 for beautification, including $25,000 to focus on dressing up the G and H street corridor connecting HSU to the Plaza; plus $40,000 for Arcata Arts and Cultural Plan Implementation, improving utility and key dilapidated visual areas with murals, sculptures and art.
• $180,000 to install broadband conduit and fiber between City Hall and the Corporation Yard, which presently relies on an erratic radio link.
The council also set aside $408,000 for housing, including assistance for Arcata House, with specifics to be determined following upcoming presentations.
The City’s total ARPA allocation is $4,409,087. The first distribution of $2,204,543 has been deposited. The City expects the second chunk of money to be delivered in June of 2022.