Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – Always a work in progress, Arcata has undergone accelerated transformation over the past year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week’s annual Arcata Chamber of Commerce State of the City event – held online rather than at the Minor Theatre as in previous years – offered a snapshot of an Arcata and Humboldt State navigating some fundamental shifts.
Addressing challenges and managing major change while minimizing the harms and recognizing new opportunities was an emergent theme of the Zoom event.
Introduced by Chamber Executive Director Molly Steele, the webinar featured the usual grid of attendee faces interspersed with screen shares of PowerPoint-style slides laden with images and bullet points.
Major presentations were made by Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer, Humboldt State President Tom Jackson, equity arcata coordinators Christian Boyd and Janaee Sykes and HSU Provost Jenn Capps.
Chamber Board Chair Ken Hamik acknowledged the unprecedented challenges faced by the business community and town at large, but also noted the resilience and creativity Arcata had brought to bear.
City of Arcata
Diemer appeared both live and in pre-taped segments from the Minor Theatre, Marsh and Plaza. “What a year it has been!” she observed.
She said the COVID challenge brought out the best in Arcata, with businesses such as Alchemy Distillery, Holly Yashi and Kokatat stepping up right away by creating much-needed PPE and sanitizer.
In addition, Arcata House Partnership assisted with emergency shelters, helping 97 people and serving more than 10,000 meals. At the same time, Playhouse Arts supported local artists, and Arcata Police officers helped by reading stories to children at the library.
“For a community our size, we are so impressive in spirit, in business leadership and service and really, in the commitment to the values that we hold. If we ever tested that, this was the year,” Diemer said.
The city’s response was to put itself on a war footing by reducing staff, freezing and deferring expenditures and budgeting on the assumption that tax revenue would drop up to 30 percent. This averted the need to take out loans, as other cities have had to do.
Twenty-one local businesses got nearly $206,000 in emergency loans, while seven construction projects using outside grant funding infused more than $2.1 million into the economy.
“Arcata still had a lot happening, and actually made real progress forward in 2020,” Diemer said.
A listening campaign with the Chamber and Arcata Main Street led to streamlined permitting for outdoor dining, COVID-safe events, collaborative marketing and other measures.
As perhaps a vote of confidence in the city’s direction, Arcata voters increased their own taxes with passage of Measures A and B. Measure A generates $175,000 per year for parks and open space, while Measure B will bring 220 more affordable housing units.
An unexpected surprise was that sales tax revenue didn’t plummet during the pandemic – in fact, it increased from $919.396 in 2019 to $951,771. Also remaining healthy was the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) or bed tax on hotel stays, declining from $533,819 in 2019 to $514,090 last year.
Diemer credited a strong “buy local” ethic as well as the homebound mounting multiple construction, renovation and landscaping projects for the relatively healthy economy.
Still, multiple longtime businesses such as Arcata Stationers and Folie Douce, among others, did close. Further, other revenue streams from parking, field rentals, recreation programs and water and sewer revenues did drop.
Nonetheless, some 61 new Commercial Cannabis Activity permits were issued, building permits held steady and a number of new businesses popped up.
Diemer acknowledged “real struggles” by businesses, but added, “The signs that Arcata will recover are there, if we all continue to dig in and work ahead together.”
Meanwhile, Arcata Police has added two mental health counselors who respond with sworn officers, revised its body cam and Use of Force policies, implemented new training on cultural humility and implicit bias and works with equity arcata on a “know your rights” campaign.
Christian Boyd and Janaee Sykes of equity arcata outlined their group's work. The collective works to create a welcoming community for Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) individuals via numerous forms of outreach, including art, education, employment, health and housing.
equity arcata seeks to address BIPOC feelings of disrespect and hostility due to racist behaviors locally, improving their representation and safety and helping make sure their cultures and traditions are represented in the classroom and community.
COVID-related challenges include lack of health and safety information for non-English speakers, increased bias and discrimination, fear of wearing masks due to racial bias and health risks for essential workers.
The group’s Home Away From Home working group helped feed and supply local students.
The “white tendency to intellectualize,” Sykes explained, is a common defense mechanism by white people when reacting to the experiences of BIPOC people. This causes BIPOC people to “shut out and shut down.” The Whiteness Accountability Space and short-term racial separation isn’t segregation, Sykes said, but provides “safe spaces for processing, healing and growth without judgment.”
Multiple working groups and other resources are available to help narrow the gap on racial disparities. (See equityarcata.com for more information.)
Humboldt State University
HSU President Tom Jackson outlined a number of initiatives to sustain and rebuild the university post-COVID. Infrastructure initiatives include realigning the budget, pushing sustainability and efficiency, promoting diversity and civility, campus safety, community partnerships, communication and more.
Provost Jenn Capps explained the polytechnic designation, which brings focused, hands-on experiential learning and prepares career-ready graduates with “robust offerings” in engineering, applied sciences, technology, science and the arts.
The designation could bring broader recognition of HSU, enable new grant and donation possibilities and increase student access.
In ensuing days, Humboldt State unveiled its “Future Forward: 2021-2026 Strategic Plan."