Editorial: A problem we can solve

When the Arcata Community Center opened for business in 1999, the city had an enviable problem – it had two community centers. There was the new one, and the old Community Center located at 1301 D St.

That was when concerned citizen (and all-around wonderful person), the late Minerva Williams, came up with a truly inspired suggestion: rename the old Community Center the D Street Neighborhood Center. And then identify other potential neighborhood centers around town, for use by area residents for hyperlocal events. This was long before online fora  like NextDoor, which accomplishes some of the same things.

While the follow-through never happened, the City Council at the time did take the first part seriously, and renamed the facility the D Street Neighborhood Center.

Well, that didn’t solve the problem. Not because it wasn’t a good idea, but because of... human nature, force of habit, lack of attention span, resistance to change, imprecision, the perpetually-baked condition of Arcatans... or all of the above. You decide. 

An unfortunate new, hybrid and unofficial term cropped up – the “D Street Community Center.” Groups using the facility and even the City of Arcata, to this day, still use that unfortunate, confusing fake name. 

It’s usually not an issue – until it is. We at the newspaper have taken calls from upset citizens who’ve gone to the real Community Center, located across from HealthSPORT, for an  event publicized as being at the “D Street Community Center.” They, understandably, saw the words “community center” and went to the Community Center. But their event was actually a mile-ish up the street, at the D Street Neighborhood Center.

After taking several of these angry calls, we brought the matter to the attention of past City Councils, suggesting that they rename the facility something catchy, that could never be confused or concatenated with the Community Center. Name it after some noteworthy citizen like David Josiah Lawson, Monica Hadley, Victor Schaub, Marino Sichi, Minerva Williams, Pete Villarreal, Johnny Antonioli, Joe Costa, Edilith Eckart, Ward Falor, Laurel Skye, Don Kolshinsli, Don Van Vliet, Madhavi Riley, Robin and Lois Arkley, Randy Collenberg or some other distinguished individual in Arcata history. There’s certainly no shortage of worthy folk. Actually, it’s high time we stepped up and started honoring the Wiyot people with facility names, just as a start. 

The reaction from the past councils was to do nothing. The inconvenience of citizens confused by the situation wasn’t enough to bestir them to make this simple change. Now, this entirely avoidable situation has materially hampered a civic process. 

Last Thursday’s surreal meeting at the D Street Neighborhood Center wasn’t supposed to be there. City staff had discussed holding the CEQA comment session for the Old Arcata Road Improvement Project at the Community Center, where all manner of public meetings of that nature take place. 

But a well-meaning staff member apparently thought that the discussion about the “Community Center” referred to the D Street facility, likely because of the persistent use of the “D Street Community Center” malapropism. 

That misleading term has become so inculcated into common parlance that the city itself sometimes forgets the actual name of the building. 

Unfortunately, the city then sent out a memo about the meeting to the many citizens who had signed up for email notices on the road project, telling them the meeting was at the “D Street Community Center,” giving the address.  

When we saw this, we again, for the umpteenth time, gave the city the feedback that use of that term was only going to sow confusion. They fixed it in a later press release, calling the location by its proper name. But the fact is, the meeting was never supposed to be there; it was only held at the former community center because of confusion about its name. The city had to follow through and hold it at the D Street address because of the mixed-up memorandum.

What followed was a crazy-making parking lot meeting immediately adjacent to a U.S. highway at rush hour, with citizen and staff comments on a major project drowned out by internal combustion engines. What’s in a name? Well, when misused, you get a hobbled public process.

Maybe this fresh, bold new City Council can lift a finger to end the running dysfunction. They’re tackling truly weighty issues such as climate change, equity, COVID-19 and other world-class imbroglios, so there’s no reason why they can’t take a few minutes to rename the D Street Neighborhood Center and finally end this grinding civic annoyance. 



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