Note: On Thursday, Dec. 29, the City of Arcata issued a press release essentially confirming the details of this story. The release has been appended to the end of this story. – Ed.
Kevin L. Hoover
ARCATA PLAZA – With a comprehensive approach to preventing dangerous excess on the Plaza during holidays still pending, the City is planning interim measures to stave off another near-riot this New Year’s Eve and Day.
Halloween night was a wake-up call to the City. For the third year in a row, the town square was flooded with celebrants, many of whom pushed the envelope of propriety. Others took that envelope and shredded it with drunken fights, bottle breaking and climbing the statue of McKinley.
From that Plaza promontory, a few of the revelers urinated on the crowd below, while one waved a sword. Nearly 30 people were arrested as an overwhelmed Arcata Police Department tried to rein in the worst behavior and stave off a riot.
The behavioral excesses of many among the estimated 3,000 got the attention of the City, which held a special meeting on the subject Nov. 30. As a result, a Plaza Study Group is forming and will meet in January to develop long-range solutions.
Meanwhile, with the danger of doing nothing made clear, APD and the Parks Division are planning anti-chaos countermeasures for New Year’s Eve. These rest on the premise that entreaties to moderation and reason will be observed only by the moderate and reasonable.
That being the case, and while plans won’t be finalized until this week, it looks like the Plaza’s inner core will be made off-limits so as to prevent people climbing up McKinley.
Specifically how that will be accomplished is not yet clear, though some combination of police officers and temporary fencing will likely be part of the blockage.
How much of the center will be restricted from use is also a question.
The City may issue a press release later this week detailing specifics of its plan to maintain order on New Year’s Eve, possibly including warnings and more appeals to reason on the part of Plazagoers.
City Manager Randy Mendosa said any serious, long-term approach to curbing dangerous holiday behavior on the Plaza will have to look at the bigger picture.
“It’s not just a Plaza thing, it’s a City thing,” he said.
Solutions suggested at the Nov. 30 meeting included beefier police presence during holidays, curbs on alcohol sales and offering alternative events around town to draw down the appeal of getting crazy on the Plaza.
The Plaza Study Group being formed will include a broad range of stakeholders, Mendosa said, including high school and college students and administrators, bar and Plaza business owners and other citizens.
The group is scheduled to meet Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 8 a.m. at City Hall. It will be facilitated by personnel from Humboldt Mediation Services.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CITY ENCOURAGES RESPONSIBLE BEHAVIOR ON NEW YEAR'S EVE
In response to the damage and criminal misconduct that occurred on the Arcata Plaza on Halloween; the Arcata Police Department has partnered with other local law enforcement agencies to increase the police presence on the Plaza for New Year's Eve.
Traditionally the Plaza has been a gathering point for New Year's Eve. While it is expected that people will still gather on the Plaza to celebrate the New Year, it is expected people will act responsibly and not engage in disruptive or illegal conduct.
Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman said, "The destruction that occurred on Halloween cannot be tolerated. While some people may be uncomfortable with the increased police presence, the safety of the citizens and officers and the protection of property certainly will require more stringent enforcement."
In order to prevent graffiti vandalism, public urination, indecent exposure, and the illegal climbing of the McKinley statue, the center of the Plaza will be cordoned off. Entry into the center area will be strictly prohibited. The consumption of alcohol and the possession of glass containers are prohibited and will result in citation or arrest. The discharging of fireworks in or near a crowd of people is a felony offense and will result in immediate arrest. All laws will be strictly enforced.