Lucy Salazar: Valley West is full of positive directions, and deserves better

Gillen Martin’s letter from March 31 is right on the mark. Words do matter, and the never-ending putdown of Valley West continues the view that this neighborhood is beyond hope. The rare mention of Valley West in the Mad River Union is found in the Police Log.  If that’s all that people ever hear about Valley West, then they only associate it with crime and criminals. 

What I see in Valley West are resilient residents, who have kept on working in person during this pandemic; dedicated businesses that are almost all still open after a difficult year; community-minded shelter clients who help with our monthly Clean the Sidewalk events; hardworking parents that are making sure that their children are safe and well taken care of; and homeless individuals and families who continue to need services and a place to feel safe. 

Don’t forget that the city designated neighborhood of Valley West also includes the area west of the 101 freeway, which incorporates the Lazy J Mobile Home Park, the Mad River Fire Station, the United Indian Health Services complex, the Mad River Community Hospital, Pacific Union School, a variety of businesses and the offices for several federal agencies. Lots of great things are also happening on this west side of Valley West, but it never gets associated with its true neighborhood’s designation.

I also appreciate and want to highlight the anonymous donor, mentioned in Ginger Campbell’s March 31 letter, who paid John Shelter’s New Direction crew to remove 1,342 lbs. of trash and 42 syringes right along the northbound Highway 101 off ramp at Giuntoli Lane. It’s amazing what a hardworking crew can do in one day! That donation of $186 for the dumping fee made a huge improvement to the view of Valley West for residents and visitors exiting the freeway at that offramp. After months of seeing all this trash, this donor probably couldn’t handle it any longer and just took care of it.

The book White Fragility by Robin Diangelo quotes Professor J. Kēhaulani Kauanui from Wesleyan University who states “Racism is a structure, not an event”.  I would add that classism is also a structure that exists by design. Often times, disadvantaged neighborhoods like Valley West are set up to fail by not having streets swept on a regular basis; having dark streets because burned out streetlights are ignored for months; not providing recreational opportunities or safe spaces for all age groups; continuing with flimsy excuses for not providing areas for safe camping when city-owned flat sites are available (e.g., Happy Valley); looking the other way for months when huge piles of trash accumulate or vacant lots become extremely overgrown; failing to repaint curbs red, allowing large trucks or buses to park in areas that create unsafe streets for pedestrians and vehicles; or resisting multiple recommendations for putting in a police substation (as recommended in a 2009 Arcata Planning document and the 2018 Public Safety Task Force Final Report).

This year a new group called CUNA (“cradle” in Spanish) has formed under the guidance of Cooperation Humboldt. This Comunidad Unida del Norte de Arcata (Community United of Northern Arcata) is dedicated to determining the needs of those who live or work in Northern Arcata and coming up with solutions for these needs. CUNA meets weekly and a major ongoing effort is creating a Community/Family Resource Center in Valley West. An HSU Senior Practicum Class is currently working on this concept, documenting the need, searching for potential funding, gathering collaborators, and presenting a preliminary building design. This much needed Resource Center could provide easy access to social services, food distribution, after school tutoring and enrichment opportunities, a convenient place for bicycle lockers, along with classes for English and Spanish, computer literacy, healthy cooking, exercise for kids and adults, etc. One possible location for this Resource Center would be Laurel Tree Charter School, who will be moving to their new site in McKinleyville in two years. Being right next to a city park opens up all sorts of entertainment opportunities and family-friendly activities.

As discussed during the Arcata City Council’s priority setting meeting on March 25, the Council has chosen Valley West Improvements and specifically the planning for this Community Center as one of its highest priorities for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. In addition, the City has listed developing beautification priorities for Valley West as another of its high priority items to focus on this coming year, collaborating with the Chamber of Commerce, the Main Street group and Arcata House Partnership. Listed efforts include trash pickup/cans, murals, planters, flower baskets, and better lighting. It’s curious to me that trash pickup and better lighting are considered “beautification” efforts rather than essential services. 

Also a much lower scoring was placed on focusing public safety efforts on priorities developed at a Valley West neighborhood meeting, which included “trespassing/loitering, narcotic activity, vacant properties and encampments, and coordinate enforcement of nuisance properties,” Another structural example of racism/classism?!

We’ll see how this all turns out, but it’s about time that Valley West gets some positive attention and investment, for the benefit of both residents and visitors alike. “Rather than pointing out Arcata’s “hellholes,” maybe future headlines will highlight the positivity, clean streets, family-friendly activities, and successful businesses that Valley West has to offer.  That kind of accurate and less derogatory reporting, as Ms. Gillen suggested, will be much more appreciated and have better consequences for the Valley West neighborhood and the entire City.

Lucy Salazar is an advocate for the Valley West community.



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