Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – The North Coast Growers Association (NCGA) has voted 32–8 in favor of partial street closure on the Plaza during main season Saturday Farmers Markets.
But before that takes place, the controversial measure will have to be considered by Arcata’s citizen-led Transportation Safety Committee (TSC). Any recommendation the TSC makes would then be kicked up to the City Council for final shaping and passage.
The matter won’t be on the TSC’s monthly agenda until April at the soonest, according to Assistant City Engineer Netra Khatri.
The proposal would close Eighth and Ninth streets to through-traffic during the main season of the Farmers Market April through November.
Under the roughly drafted plan, road signs would warn and direct drivers away from the two closed streets. Short-term parking for delivery loading and unloading, handicapped parking and Hotel Arcata luggage drop-off and pickup would be carefully preserved.
Farmer-vendors on the two streets would be encouraged to park their vehicles in the Pauli-Shaw Insurance and Tri-Counties Bank lots just off the Plaza. This would accomplish two goals: creating the special parking spaces described above and opening up views of the Plaza for businesses.
At recent meetings of the Plaza Improvement Task Force, Arcata Main Street and an NCGA outreach session, sometimes-tense dialogue between NCGA reps and Plaza businesses has highlighted the problems of blocked Plaza views and reduced foot traffic for Plaza businesses during the Saturday market.
Merchants fear that reduction of parking and circulation on Eighth Street might further depress their Saturday business.
At its Spring Membership Meeting last week, members heard the latest presentation on the matter from Executive Director Portia Bramble, Market Manager Laura Hughes, other NCGA staff and an assortment of farmers.
The farmers have resisted parking their vehicles elsewhere because, apart from the hassle, the trucks provide a safety barrier against passing vehicles, which have come dangerously close to striking them.
But intensifying traffic on the Plaza during the Saturday market has become problematic for farmers and businesses alike. “It didn’t used to be so congested,” said Flora Organica’s Lisa Zierer. “We need to make this happen.”
Shakefork Community Farm’s Kevin Cunningham said the partial closure is a “baby step,” and helps farmers “get to know their neighbors to the rear.”
TSC member Moonlight Macumber questioned the accuracy of an Arcata Main Street survey of downtown businesses which returned a 60 percent disapproval of road closure, with 30 percent approval. She said the survey didn’t accurately state the closure proposal, and that the number of respondents exceeded the number of actual businesses on the Plaza.
But a survey conducted by the NCGA showed Farmers Market customers did want partial or even full closure.
Whether or not the TSC and council approve the closure, the NCGA plans to continue to look into improving the parking arrangements on the Plaza.
A Plaza mystery
One point of contention is whether the NCGA already closed Ninth Street without authorization in late January or early February.
Coco Maki, owner of PastaLuego in Jacoby’s Storehouse, claims that while having coffee at Jitter Bean at Ninth and G streets on a winter Saturday morning, she observed Ninth Street along Tavern Row blocked by barricades and shut off to traffic.
“It definitely was closed,” she said.
This was confirmed by Arcata Fire Battalion Chief Rick Gomes, who brought up the matter during a meeting of the Plaza Improvement Task Force. He said he got a call about the closure, sent a fire captain to take a look, and learned that the street had in fact been closed. “We were a little surprised by that,” Gomes said.
He told the task force that his department has to have full access to the Plaza for emergency response. “Three sides of the Plaza have already burned, and it will happen again,” Gomes said.
But NCGA officials steadfastly deny that any unauthorized closure took place. Hughes said that a few vendors were set up along Ninth Street Jan. 26, but that the road was open.
“There was no closure,” Hughes insisted. “We don’t even have barricades to use.”
The City of Arcata has no record of any street closure on the Plaza that day.
The NCGA has since established close communication with Gomes and the fire department in order to avoid further misunderstandings.