Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – How is Arcata doing? Depends on whom you talk to – or who has the microphone.
The civic temperature-taking took place the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 7. The “State of the City” event was hosted by the Minor Theatre and the Arcata Chamber of Commerce. After filling up on complimentary coffee and catered breakfast treats by Brett Shuler Fine Catering, attendees seated themselves in the main theatre for a briefing by an array of city, county and state officials.
State of the City
Chamber Executive Director Joellen Clark-Peterson welcomed the 50 or so people who showed up. She thanked proprietor Josh Neff and his staff for providing the venue. “I’m so excited and find it so fitting to have our first State of the City here at the oldest movie theatre in the United States,” she said. “This is what the State of the City is for – to give you the distillation, the summary, the one-stop update shop.”
City Manager Karen Diemer began with an upbeat set of statistical indicators. “The last couple of years have seen tremendously strong investment from the private sector,” she said. On the movie screen behind her, Diemer showed a number of development projects, some complete and others in progress. These include the Minor Theatre itself, the new Creamery Row housing and the Terrace Apartments on Foster Avenue, currently under construction, among other housing projects.
The Cannabis Innovation Zone has succeeded in spurring private investment of the dilapidated former mill site on West End Road. “We are really starting to see some real money going into those properties,” Diemer said. The overall benefit to the city is in jobs and increased property values.
In the last year, sales tax revenue is up 8 percent, property values are up 7 percent, Property taxes have risen 5 percent and the Transient Occupancy Tax (on motel and hotel stays) is up 5 percent. Median household sales for the 70 to 90 homes sold annually in Arcata average about $340,000, way up from the post-recession lows of 2012. “Signs overall in Arcata are trending upward,” Diemer said.
The $4.3 million Humboldt Bay Trail North is complete, and was constructed by Arcata-based McCullough Construction. About $400,000 came from Arcata’s Measure G sales tax increment; the rest was in grants.
Phase 3 of the Bay Trail is next, heading from the Arcata Skate Park toward St. Louis Road and West End Road to tie in to the Annie & Mary Trail. “We’re now looking at heading north,” Diemer said.
Civic renewal projects continue. Sunny Brae’s Buttermilk Lane is repaved at a cost of about $1 million. Greenview Park has been transformed into an all-inclusive park, and Diemer called for a round of applause for citizen Dan Bixler, who spearheaded the fundraising. The new campfire circle at the Arcata Marsh & Wildlife Sanctuary is seeing monthly use.
“The citizen volunteerism, folks like you and folks like Rotary, and all of our non-profit groups that come out to do projects is what makes our city go,” she said.
Diemer directed attendees to the butcher paper posters on a side wall that depicted different retail cannabis scenarios, urging them to indicate with green and red dots their preferences. The City Council is looking at passing an ordinance defining cannabis sales in Arcata within the next several months.
Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson talked about the county General Plan and its impacts on Arcata and its city services, including Mercer-Fraser’s cannabis project on the Mad River, the Local Coastal Plan and sea level rise.
Wilson called climate change “the issue of our lifetime” and stressed the importance of resiliency and reducing impacts via General Plan implementation. The Office of Emergency Services is incorporating climate change into its planning, he said.
One major issue is fire, with drought and fuel loads bringing the threat of massive blazes closer to Humboldt’s populated areas.
The county is hiring a new library director to oversee, among other things, the Arcata Branch Library. The Department of Health and Human Services is meeting monthly with the city and police to coordinate homeless intervention services. Previous butcher paper-intensive brainstorming sessions bearing tangible fruit with heightened cooperation. “There actually has been an outcome of that,” Wilson said.
The county’s budget is $377 million, while the General Fund is $141 million. Measure S taxes the cannabis industry, with revenue spent on social services plus planning and mitigation for industry impacts. Measure Z is supplementing fire services and sponsored community resource officers to reduce levels of young people on probation. Another big issue is federally mandated Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, a $25 million investment over the next nine years.
Rob Christensen, representative for State Sen. Mike McGuire, said the state is fiscally healthy and employment is rising as well. Employment is up and joblessness is down to a record low of 4.3 percent, leading to a labor shortage. California’s growth rate has been 12.2 percent over the past five years, and it leads in small business creation. If counted as a country, the state’s economy has risen from world’s eighth largest to fifth largest, passing Italy, Brazil, France and Russia. The county is to receive $8 million per year in road funding, with Arcata getting $400,000.
McGuire is committed to protecting the integrity of the vote, Christensen said, with new legislation ensuring all votes are counted. Another new bill would unify the emergency response system throughout the state.
Mayor Sofia Pereira discussed “hot topics coming down the pipeline” in Arcata and beyond. She mentioned retail cannabis, The Village student housing project now going through the Planning Commission, zero waste initiatives – including Straw-Free February. Ninety percent waste diversion is 10 years out, while Arcata’s rate is now around 70 percent. She extolled Arcata businesses who do what they can to reduce waste, from the straws to plastic water bottles to construction and composting.
Pereira outlined the Equity Arcata initiatives involving businesses, Humboldt State and the city, stating that “everyone is welcome in Arcata.” She said several different groups are working on changing the culture to improve inclusiveness under the name of OurCata.
Another new “media campaign” titled “We Are Your Community” highlights individual minority students. A flyer described the campaign as “designed to build bridges between students of color and community members.” Posters of students of color are available for posting in business windows. facebook.com/weareyourcommunity
Pereira’s presentation was interrupted by activist/blogger/journalist Tina Sampay, who spoke from the back of the audience. She pointed out that Pereira had failed to mention the unsolved homicide of David Josiah Lawson. Sampay said the lack of progress on solving Lawson’s killing renders useless the rest of the inclusivity work.
“Until you guys start solving these murders, students will be let known that their lives do not matter,” Sampay said. “That is the state of Arcata.”
Pereira apologized for the oversight. Diemer said the Lawson investigation continues daily, with evidence still being processed.