Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – A petition which would overturn the City Council's decision to remove the statue of President William McKinley from the Plaza has been submitted to the City of Arcata. It is being processed by Arcata's city attorney, who has 15 calendar days to create a title and summary for possible placement on the ballot.
Whether the measure shows up on the Nov. 6 ballot depends on whether backers can gain enough petition signatures from registered Arcata voters. Ten percent of Arcata's 9,611 voters must sign the petition for it to qualify.
The City Council voted 4–1 on Feb. 21 to remove the 1906-vintage statue.
"The City Council made a mistake," said petition organizer David LaRue, who created a Facebook page now titled, "Let the People Vote on Our McKinley Statue." "They tried to go over the heads of citizens of Arcata. The statue was a gift to the citizens of Arcata, not the City Council."
The draft petition (see below), submitted by Arcata residents LaRue and Stanton Reynolds, includes multiple "whereases" establishing the statue's origins and legal premise. It then states in essence that moving, altering or harming the statue is prohibited, and that if it is moved before possible passage of the ballot measure, then it has to be put back.
Obviously alluding to the council's Feb. 21 decision, the petition specifically states that "All laws, regulations, resolutions, or ordinances of the City of Arcata to the contrary are hereby repealed."
LaRue said he is willing to abide by a decision by voters, whatever it may be. "We just want to use the tools the republic offers us to fix this mistake," he said. "At the end of the day, our only desire is to see that the people of Arcata are able to vote on the issue."
He said he has 27 volunteers ready to hit the streets and gather signatures, and is looking at having a booth at the Farmers' Market.
LaRue noted that the removal project's Environmental Impact Report, estimated to account for $50,000 of the overall $65,000 cost, won't be necessary if the citizens vote to remove the statue.
"They're [the City Council] willing to spend $50,000 just to avoid a vote of the people," LaRue said.
Statue removal advocates have stated their opposition to a vote on grounds that many indigenous people who are offended by the statue don't live in Arcata, and won't be able to vote
Once the ballot title and summary are available, petition backers must publish a legal notice in a legally adjudicated newspaper, then collect at least 961 valid signatures by May 29. If the measure qualifies, the petition applicants will get a refund of their $200 filing fee.
According to City Manager Karen Diemer, the petition drive and possible ballot initiative won't affect the city's proceeding with carrying out the City Council's statue removal decision, in terms of both paperwork and physical logistics.
The CEQA document and General Plan amendment required for removal will continue to be developed via the Planning Commission. A draft EIR and amendment will be developed, circulated for public comment, then finalized by the Planco and sent on to the council for adoption. There is no strict timeline for the EIR.
That could come before the City Council in September or October, possibly a little earlier or later. If any ballot measures have qualified, the council could at that time decide whether to wait and see what the voters want, or simply proceed with their removal decision.
There will be another public meeting in April or early May, but it won't involve the City Council. That will be a scoping meeting with city staff involved with implementing the move.
Likely taking place in April or early May, the meeting will study all the known project alternatives and what's involved with them. These include removal and storage, removal and relocation in arcata, removal and relocation in the region, removal and relocation to some distant place, the no project alternative – leaving the statue where it is – and any other options that may arise.
"We're just making sure that we consider everything," Diemer said.