Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – If every suggestion aired at last week’s Plaza Improvement Task Force (PITF) meeting was adopted, it would surely solve all the problems with loose dogs, smoking, drinking, panhandling and other misbehavior – but only because there’d be no room for anything but clambering over all the water fountains, playground equipment, parklets, info kiosk, art displays, gazebo, plants, cultural lecturers and other appealing new features.
Of dreams for the Plaza, there is no lack – the walls of the Community Center’s Senior Room were literally papered with ideas practical, fanciful and of varying cost.
The torrent of suggestions is the result on an aggressive outreach campaign involving a Plaza Improvement Survey conducted by the PITF over its initial months of operation, as well as suggestions aired by members and the public at the task force’s meetings.
These will be run through the strainer of a set of criteria settled on early in the PITF’s one-year term of existence.
Any recommendations must promote one or more objectives of economic development, public safety, beautification and increased community activity. They must be practical and affordable, yet serve a wide range of community members, particularly those presently underserved.
Whatever makes the cut will be sent along to the City Council for revision and adoption.
The city has set aside $150,000 to implement whichever of the task force’s recommendations survive council consideration.
By way of working smart, the task force is proceeding in cross-fertilized coordination with other relevant citizen advisory committees, including the Public Safety Committee (PSC), Transportation Safety Committee (TSC) and Arcata Main Street.
Even as of last week’s meeting, more suggestions for the Plaza were coming in. Members of the public added a few more to the pile, including small parklets offering seating areas and an “organic” children’s playground as a safer alternative to the climbing tree.
Another citizen wondered whether the Plaza’s pending historic designation will complicate reforms there, particularly installations reflecting indigenous peoples, noting that such designations derive “from a white perspective.”
The task force then took summaries of recommendations from representatives of other advisory committees.
Parks and Rec Committee priorities include increased access to Arcata’s most centrally located park. Ways to do so might include creating more non-motorized access. Wide sidewalks, increased parking off the Plaza, more ADA, bicycle and public transportation.
Beautification could be done by improving existing features – more flowers and native foliage, better benches, upgraded crosswalks, trash cans and drains and installation of indigenous art or cultural features.
“Activation” – attracting users – could be done with a truck or trailer offering family fun lawn games, more activities, partnerships and community collaborations, even a pet care event.
Some users won’t visit the Plaza due to the dogs, while others want more dog activities. There might be lectures, tai chi and other drop-in programs, plus more art, music and culture. The overall rental process could also be simplified.
Also needed, said Parks and Rec, are making ways to use the Plaza more obvious. Way signs could indicate how to get to the ball park, Northtown and the Creamery District.
The Transportation Safety Committee’s 23 recommendations fell into three categories: traffic, alternative transportation and parking.
Among the more prominent issues were continued collaboration between stakeholders for increasing pedestrian access, more and better bike parking, possible collaborative use of private parking areas, temporary or permanent partial or complete road closures with exceptions for public safety and exploring the ramifications of charging for parking downtown.
The Economic Development Committee’s Plaza notions included alley improvement, with encouragement of businesses to open storefronts in alleyways. Eco-tourism could be encouraged, and mapping and signage could be improved. The oft-suggested information kiosk got a mention. Walking tours with online maps might be created to feature businesses, food and other features.
One business per week might sponsor activities on the Plaza, and be highlighted in return. A perennial favorite in terms of Plaza suggestions, more activities in general were again urged, themed around summertime, art, recreation and other possibilities.
Improved Plaza access might be created via an “attractive linkage” with the burgeoning Creamery District. Also, adjacent streets could be involved in Plaza-focused improvements.
In terms of beautification, desirable improvements could include more art, landscaping, lawns, greenspace, a gazebo or stage, better seating options, better sidewalks, larger or more complete walkways, cleaned-up signs, and better curbs and other infrastructure.
Task Force member Dan Bixler built on the Creamery corridor concept, suggesting that Ninth Street be made one-way and one lane all the way out to the Creamery, with a return route via Eighth Street. He said this would better link the areas and improve pedestrian access.
City Staff Liaison Julie Neander aired a new idea, that of making the Plaza’s alleys an entryway for bars. That is, essentially to turn the bars around so that their entrances face away from the Plaza. Only emergency exits would be on the Plaza.
Police attention and resources might then be more tightly focused on the ends of the alleyways rather than the diffuse interface between Tavern Row and the Plaza. The radical move could open up new territory for other uses along Ninth Street, and improve safety.
Bixler said community organizations and citizens ought to step up and get involved in the Plaza improvement process. “We need to get people back in action of they want things to be different,” he said.
Creation of an implementation plan was discussed.
Next month will hear the recommendations of the newly created Public Safety Committee, which meets this week.
The PITF next meets July 9, and will begin to finalize its recommendations for the City Council. The goal is to have a draft recommendation list completed by August.