Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – Whatever the Plaza looks like five years from now, no one can say they weren’t asked for their ideas on how to shape it.
Some major questions are on the table about Arcata’s town square: How can we make it more inviting and less frightening? Should cannabis be sold there, and what would that look like? Could we re-imagine the layout with regard to pedestrian and vehicular access? What should a new plaque designating the Jacoby Building as a historical landmark say? And perhaps of keenest interest to many, should the statue of President William McKinley be retained, redefined, moved elsewhere or melted down? And what, if anything, would replace it?
Arcata Main Street (AMS), the City of Arcata and a number of other downtown stakeholders have weighed in. A Jan. 8 study session at the D Street Neighborhood Center sought input on a variety of downtown issues, while AMS has now released the results of a business survey on the topic of cannabis sales.
The results of the meeting and the AMS survey will likely be considered at a highly anticipated City Council meeting about the Plaza set for Wednesday, Feb. 21.
City Manager Karen Diemer summarized the results of the Jan. 8 scoping session at the Jan. 17 City Council meeting. The meeting presented attendees with butcher paper-mounted graphics and text which represent suggestions made over the last 18 to 24 months. These included economic development, retail cannabis – where it should be and how it should look, alcohol sales and restrictions, crime and public safety, the McKinley statue and Jacoby’s Storehouse plaque, beautification, activities, the “Living Plaza” concept, parking, cultural shifts, even a draft “Community Code of Conduct” at the CommUnity Pride & Peace table.
“We tried to bring all of those ideas forward and really challenge the community to come together and try to prioritize ideas that they really thought would work,” Diemer said. The goal is to make the Plaza safer, more accessible, walkable and generally usable as a public space.
The results of the meeting are not scientific; they reflect selection bias based on who knew about the meeting and was willing to go out on a Monday night to attend. There was no restriction on participation by non-Arcata residents. Also, while facilitator Heather Equinoss urged attendees not to add more than three green dots of approval or red dots of disapproval to a page, no one was enforcing that.
Still, some results are clear: attendees unanimously disapproved of Plaza drug dealing, verbal harassment of women, aggressive dogs, trash and vandalism, and alcohol-related problems. Reducing vehicles during the Farmers’ Market was popular, as was having a police officer on the Plaza “at all times.”
Removing the McKinley statue and “racist symbols” was unanimously approved, though renaming the Plaza the “Arcata Peace Plaza” was roughly tied. Under “set the tone,” the Peace Plaza and implementation of a seasonal design for the square gained 3-0 approval.
The McKinley question popped up under several headings, and in all of them he was roundly disapproved. “Move statue but keep within the Plaza area” was downvoted 4-21. “Move statue but keep in Arcata somewhere” logged a 0-12 vote. Remove statue from Arcata all together [sic]” gained 42-to-9 approval. Adding an interpretive historical display was disliked 8-16.
Replacement of the Jacoby Building plaque with one that includes more Native American history was a 37-0 hit.
The creation of a place for the homeless/houseless to congregate away from the Plaza gained strong approval. So did anti-racism training for APD volunteer patrollers. Security cameras elicited a mixed response.
Attendees responded well to visual imagery. Pictures of bistro seating, food trucks and sidewalk markets drew abundant dottage.
Attendees said they’d be willing to walk up to eight blocks to shop on the Plaza, and even more to eat there. Parking wasn’t considered a big problem, and creation of an off-Plaza parking lot for downtown workers was favorably viewed.
Diemer displayed an image of central Arcata overlaid with the outline of the Bayshore Mall and its parking lot. For perspective, the mall and its lot extend from Sixth Street to nearly 15th Street in Northtown, though mall walkers aren’t challenged by the elevation gain as they are on Arcata’s streets.
A range of Plaza activities drew approval, most notably theatrical, musical and dance performances, a giant chessboard, art events, free wi-fi, lunch discounts, a playground and a shuttle bus from Arcata High to the Plaza.
Closing the streets to cars and extending the sidewalks outward was favored, as was planning for driverless cars.
Aesthetic improvements attendees liked include better recycling receptacles, more art, more benches and less McKinley.
Retail cannabis sales drew mixed results. Full window displays for the drug weren’t well received, with sticker-placers preferring a standardized decal indicating the availability of cannabis.
The “Living Plaza” proposal gained a lot of comment, with concern about senior access to the Plaza. CommUnity Pride & Peace will continue to fine-tune its proposed Code of Conduct.
Many more detailed results may be viewed on the city’s website, cityofarcata.com, as part of the Jan. 17 City Council packet.
A number of next steps are planned. The Public Safety Task Force will deliver its final report in February; alcohol server training is to be improved; budgeting for more activities and police will be considered; an alcohol sales tax and possible sales restrictions will be considered; the Parks and Rec Committee will discuss play equipment; a business neighborhood watch will be further scoped; and a group may be identified to work on an overall Plaza plan.
Councilmembers seemed to like the idea of throwing the whole reform package to a specialized group. “I like the idea of forming some kind of task force committee which would include citizens and somebody from our committees to focus upon the Plaza and just meet and go through all the ideas,” said Councilmember Paul Pitino. “It would be great to have someone filter all the stuff and come back with some ideas for us.” Councilmembers Brett Watson and Susan Ornelas agreed, but no action was taken.