Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – At its Aug. 18 meeting, the City Council considered creating a “Community Ambassador” program. A collaboration by the City of Arcata and Arcata Main Street, the unarmed city employees would provide citizens a range of services, from giving directions to reporting crime.
Suggested by Vice Mayor Stacy Atkins-Salazar, it could be funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act, which has made $4.4 million available to the City of Arcata.
“What we’ve all been hearing is that people don’t feel safe in our community in a lot of different areas,” Atkins-Salazar said. The program could begin with the downtown Plaza, but if viable could expand to other areas of town, such as Northtown and Valley West.
Atkins-Salazar said the ambassadors, which are already being used in other communities, could provide “a combination of safety and business promotion.”
Its initial goals, and the ambassadors’ duties, could be defined by the council. Some communities’ ambassadors assist tourists, notify police of crime situations, pick up litter and work with businesses to address chronic problems.
Atkins-Salazar said she discussed the possible program with Police Chief Brian Ahearn, who was supportive. Ahearn has previously cautioned that the ambassadors could be singled out for abuse by bad actors on the street as are APD officers and others – even benign Parks employees – who are perceived as being associated with officialdom.
She said the program would be consistent with the goals of the City Council and the former Plaza Improvement Task Force for safety, beautification, increased downtown activity and economic development. Unresolved parameters for the program include funding/cost sharing, oversight, personnel, a job description and initial areas of coverage.
Councilmember Sarah Schaefer said the program could be beneficial, and might be augmented by some kind of visitor center or information kiosk downtown. Her sole concern was for that the ambassadors be well-trained in equity and conflict resolution to prevent abuse of power.
Councilmember Emily Grace Goldstein liked the support for people and businesses, but said the policing aspect was essentially “adding more police without putting a badge on them, and that’s not something I can support.” She said the it felt like “a Band-Aid fix” that wouldn’t address core problems of homelessness and poverty, with the money better spent elsewhere.
Mayor Brett Watson said he wanted to move ahead with the defining the program, emphasizing its ambassador aspect.
Arcata Main Street’s Shoshanna said it was “an awesome idea,” with well-trained personnel being potentially useful in addressing problematic situations.
The council voted 3–2 to further consider the program, with Schaefer and Goldstein dissenting. Watson said he wanted to “focus on the community part of it,” not “adding some quasi-police presence and intimidating people.”