Planco forwards statue removal plans to City Council, statue’s suitors disclosed

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA – It’s all systems go for removal of the McKinley statue from the Plaza, with the project's paperwork ready to go, at least one serious statue suitor in the wings and the City Council poised to spell out details at their regular meeting Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Tuesday night, the Planning Commission adopted Resolution PC-19-01, which certified the removal project’s final Environmental Impact Report (EIR), adopted the findings of fact and overriding considerations under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), amended the General Plan, approved the removal project and sent the whole schmear off to the City Council.

Arcata's (and soon to be someone else's) statue of William McKinley. KLH | Union

While it might seem as simple as hiring a crane, lifting the statue off its pedestal and hauling it off to storage, it isn’t.

The Plaza’s environment is defined not just by its natural features such as vegetation and sunshine. The town square includes two historic resources –  the Arcata Plaza Historic District and Arcata Plaza Historic Landmark. The project is spelled out in the EIR as removal of the 113-year-old statue, its base, the 20-foot diameter planter “and any structural element that may lie under it.”

That will obviously and unavoidably impact the historicity of the Plaza, so in order to carry out the will of the City Council and voters of Arcata to create “a design for the Plaza that is inclusive and welcoming to people of all race, ethnicity, national heritage, background, and orientation,” (as described by the CEQA Findings of Fact statement) where mitigations aren’t available, overriding considerations must be specified and approved.  

The statement includes fascinating detail about the actual removal project. “The City Engineer estimates that the removal of the statue, including staging and transportation to the storage facility, will take less than two business days (approximately 16 hours),” the statement says. “Necessary equipment will include one crane and a truck to transport the statue.” But, it says, the resulting motor exhaust fumes shouldn’t bother anyone to any great degree.

The EIR summarizes the project as follows:

  • Provide a design for the plaza that is inclusive and welcoming to people of all race, ethnicity, national heritage, backgrounds, and orientation;
  • Preserve Arcata’s history while recognizing the changing values of its citizens;
  • Minimize impacts to the Arcata District, while recontextualizing the important features on the Plaza;
  • Preserve the McKinley Statue.

States the EIR, “The removal achieves the first objective. The mitigation achieves the second objective. The third objective will result from the General Plan amendment and the mitigation. And each alternative, including the no project alternative, would achieve the fourth objective.”

The EIR lists 41 comments received from the public, plus responses. Some comments are technical, for example pointing out that the statue’s base is made of granite mined in Minor Quarry rather than concrete.

Many of the comments support statue removal and some opposed it, but those comments tended to dwell on matters of opinion which required no alterations to the EIR.

Sixteen of the comments recommend various locations to which the statue might be conveyed, these include McKinleyville; the Phillips House Museum; City Hall; Bloomfield Park; Canton, Ohio; New York; Oakland, and others.

The meeting included comments from those urging the Planco to follow through with vigor in their role in certifying statue removal.

“I really think that it’s your duty to support this,” said Kelsey Reedy. She reaffirmed the declaration recently voiced by many during public comment on the statue  and other matters, that Arcata is located on “stolen Wiyot land.”

That point was disputed by Arcata resident Holy Holyan, who said he lacked a “positive understanding” of who the Wiyot people being referred to are. He said the Wiyot “came from Asia” to reside in the Western Hemisphere, whose continents originated on the same ancient tectonic plate that split apart to form Europe as well as North and South America.

“I personally don’t believe this land was stolen from them at all,” Holyan said.

A subsequent speaker expressed surprise and delight that the City Council and later, the citizens chose decisively to remove the statue. “Arcata proved me wrong,” she said. “That statue’s coming down… please keep that ball rolling.”

Others reiterated that Arcata is located on stolen Wiyot land, and further encouraged the Planco to forward the matter to the council in order to improve the Plaza.

The Planco vote was unanimous in favor of doing so, setting the stage for the Feb. 20 council meeting.

Canton calling

One location eager to receive the statue is Canton, Ohio, where young William McKinley practiced as an attorney before going on to his career in public service.

Canton Mayor Thomas Bernabei.

“We have a long history with William McKinley,” said Canton Mayor Thomas Bernabei last week.

A number of Canton-area stakeholders are interested, with a small search committee to decide the final location. Possible Canton sites include McKinley’s eponymous street or high school, one of his former residences, the town’s central plaza, the courthouse, an art museum or elsewhere. (But not at the McKinley Presidential Museum and Library, which doesn’t want it.)

The statue would likely be owned by a private foundation involved in fundraising for the statue’s relocation and siting, the Timken Foundation.  

Bernabei said Canton would likely want to build a new base for the sculpture, and would display Arcata’s longtime Plaza fixture “in a manner befitting the beautiful statue.”

“Canton is very positive,” Bernabei said. “I thank everyone out there for considering us.”

However, City of Arcata officials have cautioned that the Canton offer will be weighed along with others, and despite that city’s historical entanglements with the 25th president, the statue going to Canton is not a done deal.

Other suitors

A staff report for the Feb. 20 council meeting lists the Canton offer, plus three private offers. States the report,” A local resident has offered to pay costs to relocate it to one of several private sites in the area or to assist with relocation costs if a public viewing site is identified in Arcata.”

The Fairbanks Alaska Resort and Wildlife Refuge has also made an offer, according to the report: “The owner of the Fountainhead Auto Museum / Wedgewood Resort in Fairbanks Alaska has many vintage artifacts within his resort and wildlife refuge. His wife grew up in Arcata and still has family ties here. He has offered to pay all relocation costs and to come to Arcata to retrieve the statue.”

Another offer comes from an unspecified interest on the East Coast. “An anonymous donor has offered to pay all of Arcata’s costs including relocation costs to move the statue to a private collection that includes either other pieces of the artist’s work or other pieces from the McKinley Presidency. These options could have some limited public viewing opportunities.”

The staff report suggests the following framework for the council’s deliberations on the statue:

  1. Private collection or public viewing – should the final destination be open for public viewing or installed in a private collection?
  2. Should the City work with a private entity or a public entity – offers have been made by both private individuals and public entities. Some private entities will have public viewing. The offer from Canton includes a public location for viewing.
  3. Distance to destination – should the statue be relocated locally? If so, discuss maximum distance to relocation.
  4. Should the City seek compensation – Expenses to date for the project total approximately $15,000. The cost of work to remove the statue is not included in this estimate. Should the City seek costs for the work done to relocate the statue? Should the City attempt to sell the statue at a market rate? Or, should the City absorb the cost of removal?

The staff report estimates that about $15,000 has been spent so far on removal preparation. It projects removal costs and storage as costing another $15,000.

Some of the expenses may be “recaptured” depending on whatever deal is struck with the statue’s new owner, the staff report says.




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