Letter: When your farm is folded into Arcata without asking, or being asked

SPOT THE DIFF Arguably not the clearest of explanations. Submitted photo

If you received this black and white picture in the mail on New Year’s Eve and you lived in the lower right quarter of the map, would you understand your home was being involuntarily annexed in three weeks? Maybe not if you had confidence in the Arcata City Council process of public hearings about massive changes to green space rulings. Transparency and all that ethical stuff.

It was only after the Jan. 20 meeting when we were stunned to realize our farm had been annexed to the city, after a 20 year process of Arcata public meetings that never discussed annexation of our home and farm. For two weeks we have been trying to solve a mystery with the classic questions: Who knew what, and when did they know it ? Who paid? (“follow the money”) And why was it kept secret from us and our neighbors, from April through New Year’s Eve, as city staff and PlanWest, as privatized LAFCo staff, plotted our annexation?

Because if we are now to be annexed, our future is just a 3-2 vote by the Arcata city council away from a housing development converting our ag land. We all saw it with the 2.5 acres on Q Street, just blocks from our house on Q Street. Now a 30 acre annexation of ag land with homes on it is slipped in. Are decisions this “historic” being left in the hands of staff, without elected officials’ knowledge? 

With the limited information we and our outraged neighbors have pieced together, we think we know how this may have happened, but not exactly why.

For the entire year of 2019 our family attended Arcata City Council meetings about  Creek Side Homes since it was across Foster Ave from our homes. We contacted farmers down Foster and they spoke. We put up signs around Heather Lane and those folks spoke. 

We had people who live on Ennes Park boundaries protest changing that into a soccer field. I knocked on doors back when that was safe. I painted 4- x 8-foot signs warning of the “Foster Freeway” they were creating. The only entrance and exit for all these new homes being on Foster Avenue, where our pigs and turkeys occasionally escape seemed harsh. 

We did not want the predicted 1,100 cars more each day that they planned for. The planners said they could not spread the traffic around to include some on Stewart and some through a firelane/parking lot the city maintains at the end of Westwood Court. Part of the reasoning they told me was it would need a new EIR and Stewart could not handle more traffic. The Westwood Court entrance was promised to the developer for parking so couldn’t be used. We went over and over the problems we saw with having the county road get all the traffic.

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We were asked several times about annexation of the land we farm and we had many reasons for wanting it to remain in the county, as do the other occupants and owners of the land south of Foster Avenue. Annexing Foster Avenue itself solves NONE of the traffic problems but does require annexation of the farms if done this way. The City Council was well aware of that option when they voted against it.

Creek Side was on the agenda in early 2020 when a Justice for Josiah protest shut down the meeting. Then on 24-hour notice a quiet meeting was held and the Exhibit A plan below was adopted. Although we did not know of the emergency meeting, and did not get to speak, the record shows there was absolutely no talk of annexing our land, or in the motion and 3-0 vote.

Then in April 2020 LAFCo staff - not voting commissioners – said they approved plan A with the city managing the corner of Q and Foster to city planners but suggested CONSIDERING annexing the road and 30 more acres of ag land to the south, and tripling the annexation size, without informing the City Council or City Manager Diemer. Director David Loya then worked with PlanWest/LAFCo to write and circulate a new EIR by July without informing anyone affected? 

He and his department are paid by developers’ fees, yet Chris Dart of DANCO says he did not know they were pulling money from Danco’s account at the City and LAFCo/PlanWest for a new EIR to annex our land until it was completed in November. We got an illegible map on New Year’s Eve. Last year’s mayor did not know. No councilmember we have written knew. 

According to the LAFCo/PlanWest staff report, George Williamson at PlanWest/ LAFCo proposed it to Director David Loya, and they went with it. The largest local land grab this century originated, arranged and executed by Staff. Westward Ho ! 

Nov. 17 was when the new EIR was finished. They scheduled the LAFCo meeting for Jan. 21, 2021 which happened to be the night Paul Pitino and Estelle Fennel were leaving LAFCo, and two new people voted without knowing the history, or having time to read the packet. They couldn’t even slow down to find out how Deep Seeded Community Farm would be affected – will Eddie Tanner’s customers still be able to get access? Too late to find out – the land next to him is annexed where the cars park and people walk in.

LAFCo mailed the letters to arrive on New Year’s Eve during a pandemic and a postal crisis. They printed the maps they sent in black and white though their versions were in color showing the new annexation lines. We only know one person who even received a notice and that person was confused by the half page describing the original plan on  Creek Side followed by highlighted and bold lettering saying all landowners had approved. Then in small print again the triple sized annexation was mentioned.

Really, was there no better way to inform the public? The city hires PlanWest for this? The owner, George Williamson, gets a bigger say as privatized staff than the City Council in deciding Arcata’s future?

But thinking sympathetically I realize if my job at LAFCo/PlanWest or City Planning or DANCO depended on development continuing on large projects maybe I would be quiet also.

However then I start thinking that continued development and annexation would now make our farms “infill” in some minds.This ag land is perfect for a housing development. It only takes three persuadable members to vote any land into development like the field on Q changing from a farm with goats to houses. 

The LAFCo protest process is weighted against us because it is based on appraised land values. Hundred-year-old homes on the land do not count at all. Purchase price of 23 acres is too recent to count. Improvements do not count. It seems a brownfield covered in 4 feet of gravel to mitigate the pollution is as good as rich river bottom soil in LAFCo’s eyes because they all can be developed eventually.

We are asking the Arcata City Council to put this on the agenda for Feb. 17, have a reconsideration hearing, and withdraw the application to annex our land and our neighbors’ land. Just go with Plan A as approved previously. That is the fastest way to get Creek Side Homes started and would save us the $1,000 protest fee and lawyers costs. We would appreciate public comments to the City Council.

Meanwhile, we sure would like to have more information on how this happened.

Sincerely, 

Karen Davidson

Arcata Bottom

 







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