Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
VALLEY WEST – Arcata’s northernmost neighborhood has a lot of issues, but also vast potential and recently, the ideas and attention necessary to address the area’s needs.
A commercial dynamo, the area hosts most of Arcata’s motels, plus shopping, medical and other tax-generating businesses. It’s also home to many Latinx and student residents, and hosts several low-income communities. Valley Westers have long complained of inattention from City Hall, with the area generally recognized as underserved.
Valley West is home to a Carlson Park, a work-in-progress which aims to offer area residents and visitors recreational access to the Mad River. That dream is presently complicated by a dense and persistent network of homeless camps which have degraded the riverside environment and compromised public safety.
But steps to promote broad community access to the park, and to improve Valley Westers’ quality of life, are emerging.
Sunday, Comunidad Unida del Norte de Arcata (CUNA), formed with guidance from Cooperation Humboldt, held a community celebration at the entrance to Carlson Park. The family-friendly event featured music, food, tabling by community groups and even vaccination.
CUNA has adopted the troubled park’s entranceway so that, according to a press release, “Valley West residents, families and the greater community will have a common space to enjoy the outdoors, connect with their neighbors, and host community clean up days and events.”
The group also continues to sponsor community cleanup days in Valley West. For more information, email [email protected]. For more information, on CUNA, email [email protected] or call (908) 422-8538.
The City Council has prioritized Valley West improvements as a goal for the 2021/2022 fiscal year. At last week’s council meeting, it took steps to flesh out that commitment.
Approved without discussion as part of the council’s Consent Calendar was a grant application to the California Wildlife Conservation Board for Valley West’s Carlson Park improvements and the Mad River Access Project.
The program funds boating and fishing access and wildlife-related recreational activities. Amenities it could help make possible include ADA compliant parking lots, trails, Mad River boat access, restrooms, trash and recycling bins, water fountains, kayak launch facilities and signage.
The council also authorized negotiations with Eureka Ready Mix for real property and public easement access for a half-acre parcel it owns next to 20-acre Carlson Park.
The company has issued a letter of intent and commitment to provide the city with fee title and/or a public access easement to the river bar for river access. The city’s present holdings don’t offer easy access to the river, while the Eureka ready Mix parcel is close to parking and boat staging areas.
Notes a city staff report, “Carlson Park is located in the Valley West neighborhood, which is a severely disadvantaged area in Arcata. The Valley West area, while accessible by car, is isolated from the rest of Arcata and many of the families who live in the Valley West area and rely on other means of transportation have extremely limited recreational opportunities. This development of Carlson Park and Mad River access will provide the community with free river related recreational opportunities within walking and biking distance of their homes while also serving the wider region.”
Concludes the staff report, “a 0.5-acre addition to the existing 19.88- acre Carlson Park and river access area would not likely cause a significant increase in annual maintenance costs to the City. The public access easement is likely to be at no cost. Eventual purchase price is unknown at this time but it not anticipated to be high and will be negotiated. Funds for acquisition could come from grants or City funds.”
Along with these efforts, CUNA and others are working on a long-range vision for creating a Community/Family Resource Center in Valley West.
An HSU class made a presentation to the Parks and Rec Commitee on May 12 reviewing the concept, documenting the need, presenting a preliminary building design. The class’s report is available at cityofarcata.org, as part of the agenda packet for the meeting.
As envisioned by preparers Karina Vega, Guadalupe Vega and Eriko Guzman-Rangel of the Department of Environmental Science and Management, Planning and Policy Senior Practicum Class Spring 2021, the center is a key step in enabling the neighborhood’s self-determination.
Such a facility could provide a range of resources: easy access to social services, food distribution, after school tutoring and enrichment, bicycle lockers, plus with classes for English and Spanish, computer literacy, healthy cooking, exercise and more.
The class report notes the lack of any community center, or even a central location for Valley West residents to gather. The area so far lacks any well-developed park such as those commonly found in Arcata neighborhoods to the south.
The report summarizes findings of multiple public scoping sessions held in Valley West and offers needs assessments. It includes heat maps for crime and vehicle accidents, suggests solutions, and considers the positive effects that a community center could have in alleviating negative impacts.
Concludes the report, “Valley West residents have long requested a community center and enhanced park facilities... we recommend a study on the health of Valley West residents be done before and after the facilities are built. The added benefits and programs the park and community center would provide can provide a solid study of the health and happiness of vulnerable communities like Valley West.”
VALLEY WEST CLEAN THE SIDEWALK DAY ON SUNDAY, AUGUST 1
The City of Arcata’s next Clean the Sidewalk Day in the Valley West neighborhood is taking place on Sunday, August 1 from 9 to 11 a.m.
Volunteers of all ages are invited to attend, and work will include picking up non-hazardous items left behind in the neighborhood's public spaces.
Those who wish to participate are asked to meet at the entrance of Valley West Park, located on Hallen Drive, at 9 a.m. There will be a check-in table in place for volunteers to receive instructions and supplies upon arrival.
Trash pickers, safety vests, gloves and buckets will be provided, and community members who have their own clean up supplies are encouraged to bring them. Participants should bring their own water, a face covering if preferred, and dress for the weather. Volunteers will also be expected to sign a volunteer agreement and a COVID-19 liability waiver.