Arcata getting Tesla battery backup, developing ‘social host’ ordinance

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – At its Sept. 2 meeting, the City Council approved development of a “social host” ordinance. During normal times, such an ordinance would help prevent underage drinking at parties by holding the host accountable for providing those under age 21 access to alcohol.

Now, during the coronavirus crisis, a social host ordinance could help stem large house parties at which COVID-19 prevention precautions aren’t being observed. A county order by Public Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich requires facial coverings at indoor spaces per the California Health and Safety code. Police Chief Brian Ahearn cited the “tremendous risk” of coronavirus transmission at densely packed parties. “This is a tool that we certainly can use here in Arcata to hold people accountable for not following the health officer’s order.” An ordinance would make the party host responsible for mass violations via a misdemeanor citation. At the counci’s request, Ahearn and the city attorney will develop a draft law modeled after Eureka’s ordinance. 

Key personnel re-hired, Tesla power coming

The City Council also secured some key assets, human and otherwise. Items approved without comment as part of the council’s Consent Calendar included:

• Approval of an employment agreement with Finance Director Ondrea N. Starzhevskiy for five years at an initial annual base salary of $99,557.30 through Sept. 16, 2025. A staff report lists numerous of Starzhevskiy’s accomplishments over the past two years, and states, “Ondrea has built a reputation of being accessible, dedicated and always looking out for ways for the City to reduce expenses and increase revenues while maintaining quality services.”

• Approval of an employment agreement with Chief of Police Brian J. Ahearn for five years at an initial annual base salary of $119,010.84 through Nov, 6, 2025. Along with a list of accomplishments, a staff report notes “the commitment Chief Ahearn has demonstrated not only to the Police Department but to all City Departments and the community as a whole.”

• Approval of acquisition of a grant-funded Tesla, Inc. battery backup system (valued at $866,796) for no cost for the Wastewater Treatment Plant through the California Public Utility Commission’s (CPUC). According to a staff report, City staff were approached by Tesla to analyze possible battery storage power supplies for city facilities. The city settled on the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The state will pay Tesla to install the unit. Tesla includes an operation and maintenance package that the state also pays for. The batteries are estimated to save the city about 20 percent a month on the utility bill for the corporation yard, or about $24,000 annually. The batteries will provide full system backup power during an outage, with or without an onsite generator.

Expanded private use of parks during the crisis

The City Council also renewed the local emergency related to the coronavirus pandemic, as it must do every 14 days while the crisis persists in order to expedite aid and flexible decisionmaking so as to continue delivery of essential services.

“There is still a significant threat to our community from the emergency,” noted a staff report.

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The council also moved to establish temporary fees for use of public grounds such as neighborhood and linear parks. As a result of COVID-19, the city has been approached by exercise/wellness studios who wish to hold COVID-19 compliant classes in at least one of the city neighborhood parks.

These include Pilates, yoga and small exercise groups, dance classes and others who are “not feeling comfortable working out of their studio spaces during the COVID-19 response,” according to City Manager Karen Diemer.

Staff will work with interested groups to expedite use of public spaces “as appropriate,” developing a streamlined rental process such as that adopted for outdoor dining on city property by local restaurants.

Public facilities such as parks are generally not rented for private use by for-profit companies; but for birthday parties, benefits and other non-profit, non-business events. Applicants would have to have a county-approved COVID compliance plan. The process is in effect through Dec. 31, 2020, or the termination of the emergency declaration, whichever occurs first.

Rental fees and permit process are the same as required for current community park rental fees, currently $30.75/hour and $24.60/hour for non-profit users.

“I think this is a great idea,” said Councilmember Sofia Pereira. Mayor Michael Winkler said it would help businesses to continue to operate safely during the crisis. He asked for “spot checks” to verify COVID compliance.

The council unanimously approved the proposal.




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