Kevin L. Hoover
ARCATA – With the annual 4-20 mass marijuana gathering in Redwood Park looming next Tuesday, the City is taking steps to reduce impacts and preserve public safety.
The April 20 celebration of all things cannabis has grown year by year in Redwood Park, and has come to attract thousands of participants. No one organizes the event, and no organization applies for any permit, rents porta-potties or hires security. And though attendees are generally peaceable, the potential for public safety problems is a concern to the City, given that along with the pacifying pot which is consumed, alcohol is also imbibed.
The event coincides with an increase in petty crime such as shoplifting in town, and other infractions generally ramp up during and after the gathering, according to City Manager Randy Mendosa.
“The problems for the City include adverse environmental impacts to Redwood Park and the Community Forest; garbage; clogged streets from excessive numbers of people, dogs and vehicles; alcohol violations and “non-Prop 215” criminal drug offenses; and complaints about frequent disturbances to neighboring residents,” Mendosa said. “If the weather is good, it is possible that several thousand people could show up. The City of Arcata is being forced to spend thousands of precious taxpayer dollars to deal with what has basically become a very ‘big party.’”
Anticipating potential problems, Mendosa is beefing up police staffing for the big day and will do some traffic control as well.
To accommodate emergency vehicle access, the north and south access roads to Redwood Park from 14th Street and 11th and Bayview streets will be closed to vehicular traffic.
Though the nominal restroom facilities in the Redwood Lodge will be overtaxed and completely inadequate, the City isn’t taking any initiative to add on any extra sanitation facilities.
That, Mendosa said, is because of liability issues.”
“Arcata is part of a self insured pool of governmental agencies,” he said. “We simply can’t risk our insurance coverage by providing additional resources, amenities or assume any risk or responsibility for a non sanctioned, uninsured event. This is why organizers for legitimate events are required to get Special Activity Permits which includes insurance coverage to protect the City from exposure to costly civil liability.”
While it never asked for or promoted the dope-soaked event and associated challenges, Arcata has become irrecovably associated with the annual gathering, and has foundered in coming up with a solution to abate it.
Suggestions aired during public meetings have included scheduling a noisy – but probably unneeded – Public Works project in the park that day, or explicitly warning people away.
Those efforts would likely be counterproductive, since talking about 4-20 in any context only spreads the word for those who would be attracted to such an event.
“A key challenge for the City is to try and avoid responses that would exacerbate the problem, such as attracting heightened attention from the national news media and Internet blogs which could draw even larger crowds of people and problems,” Mendosa said.
For now, Mendosa said, the best way to minimize impacts is to not participate.
“I want to suggest that the best way for people to help protect the environment and precious City resources is to just stay away from Redwood Park on April 20.”