Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA PLAZA – Surrounded by minor violations of the Arcata Municipal Code and with law enforcement nowhere in sight, participants in the Community PRIDE Project (CPP) met Friday afternoon, Oct. 16 on the Plaza. The plan was to move their outreach effort from The Jam family tavern where it had met for the first two weeks out into the real world.
What followed was an hour-long discussion of the causes, effects and possible remedies for conditions downtown. These range from litter to coarse behavior to a prevailing anything-goes, scofflaw attitude that manifests itself in smoking on the Plaza, vandalism, harassment of women and physical assaults.
Maureen Kane said the bad behavior reflects the corruption of our society, “right up to the highest levels.” She called for community unity.
Attorney Paul Hagen recommended “practical solutions.”
Those two themes – making a cultural shift while doing triage on the immediate problems – played out with a number of suggestions.
Ideas aired included providing relief for the homeless, and by extension the downtowners they importune for handouts and whose doorways they often occupy. There was discussion of restoring some of the functions formerly provided by the now-defunct Arcata Endeavor, such as showers, laundry and food.
The City of Arcata was represented by City Attorney Nancy Diamond and City Engineer Doby Class. Class said the former Endeavor building at Ninth and E streets, now occupied by Arcata House, was recently overhauled and has fully functioning facilities. However, Arcata House is operating under reduced services due to funding shortfalls.
An idea proposed during previous inconsequential efforts to civilize the Plaza but never followed through with – installation of parking meter-style donation stations – was again raised as a method for collecting funds for services that genuinely aid the homeless. Another suggestion was having merchants collect donations.
Yet another suggestion was creation of a kiosk on the Plaza that might provide cheap but nutritious food, along with resource referrals.
Some wished for more police presence on the Plaza, or possibly a security service. The importance of documenting and reporting negative incidents was stressed.
More Plaza events and activities were also encouraged to mainstream the downtown with wholesome activities. Now that the Plaza is Arcata’s de facto downtown dog park, more “Doggipot” poo-bag dispensers could be installed.
Several attendees came with brooms and bags, ready to start cleaning up. Following the meeting, they did just that. The cleanup crews could become a more organized and repeated effort.
Class said the city’s Tymco 600 Regenerative Air Street Sweeper could be scheduled for more frequent runs along dirty downtown streets. Nancy Stephenson of Arcata Main Street said her organization and the city are looking into funding for a $4,500 sidewalk-vacuum.
As attendees discussed downtown issues, their discussion was interrupted at times by loud profanity emanating from a clutch of goodtimers at the Plaza center's eastern-side benches. Loose dogs roved and bicyclists rode freely on the Plaza, amid gusts of cigarette and cannabis smoke. A small group of people used the planter at the base of the McKinley statue to sort and share food. When done, they left their litter at McKinley's feet despite the availability of waste receptacles just footsteps away.
With multiple behaviors posted on the Plaza's "no-no" signs were being openly violated – a frequent situation when police aren't present – it wasn't hard to see how the "broken window syndrome" which has been discussed during previous CPP meetings could be in effect. That is, a prevalence of unaddressed infractions creating the sense of "anything goes," and setting the scene for escalated anti-social behavior.
The Community PRIDE Project meets again this Friday at 1:30 p.m., following the Arcata High School Homecoming Parade, at The Jam, 915 H St. in Arcata.