Susan Ornelas: The Village’s shortcomings and possibilities

Mad River Union

ARCATA – Councilmember Susan Ornelas is one of two members of the City Council who have announced opposition to The Village student housing project. Councilmember Brett Watson has stated that he opposes the project because it is not sited within Humboldt State's campus borders.

A four-person council is considering The Village, since Councilmember Michael Winkler has recused himself due to a conflict of interest. Three councilmembers' approval would be required for the project to proceed.

The council will reconsider The Village at a special meeting Tuesday night, July 17 at 6 p.m.

Below are two opinions on the subject by Councilmember Ornelas. First, her initial announcement of opposition, voiced at the June 7 City Council meeting as the council began its hearings on the project.

At the July 11 council meeting, Ornelas pointed to a June 25 letter she wrote to The Village developer David Moon describing her ideas for an acceptable development at the Craftsmans Mall site.


My take on this is…I’m interested in some student housing. I think that’s important. And I’m slightly interested in this type of student housing that MCAL is putting forward. But what I‘m worried about is what I mentioned earlier about the Colony Inn, and how this kind of housing isn’t that adaptable, really. To then let’s say we have, even if we did the 600 one. Let’s say we had that and then it turned out we only really needed 300 for HSU 300 could be regular housing for people. Then we get into the Colony Inn kind of situation where we have people not knowing each other. Any age living together, sharing a kitchen. We’ve all experienced that during our college years. And we saw that it didn’t really work.

So I’m wary about that. I think it’s too much. And then I think, this has been brought forward…that successful housing in Arcata, working with students over the years…we found its best to be kinda integrated. Have the students sprinkled around, have people involved, have students seeing parents raising kids, and people going to work and things like that so that they see regular life. Another consideration that I’m having here is while we need student housing, we need every kind of housing in this community. We need professor housing, we need millennial professional housing, we need housing for young families.

So this is an infill project that’s 11 acres, it’s probably one of our biggest infill projects we have and for us to take it and only turn it only into student housing I think is very short sighted and not thoughtful. I really do agree with some of these thoughts that having this kind of “studentification,” that’s a word I just learned, having that concentration of young people is actually less diversity. Because there will be a less diversity of age.

This is a little… slightly uncomfortable thing for me to have to say, but we are talking about how there’s more people of color up at HSU and people are having a hard time getting places. I’m a little concerned, are we creating housing for people of color? And then what do we have? We have separated neighborhoods. That creates more strife. We’re already suffering right now in this city from racial strife and the best way we get past that is interacting with each other and having daily experiences where like, I’ve always bring forward the Farmers' Market.

City Councilmemberr Susan Ornelas

I think that’s the most positive experience I can bring forward when people of many types get together and they feel happy. So I’m really concerned about this. I think it’s too big of a project, too big of a student project. Now, I am kind of interested in…now I’m going to put something forward that’s not the proposal in front of us, I’m just going to put this out there because that’s what I think the community wants. I’m interested in some student housing like I mentioned yesterday, I don’t know why it went from four story to three story, some part of me thought, “let’s have some student housing up against the east side.” Maybe that’s four stories, I don’t know exactly how many. What I’ve been reading in different things… about 300 students in a situation like that we will already have some impact but be potentially digestible by the community.

… Because I think 300 beds… humans… could be there and that could make some sense and I think we could guarantee that HSU would be interested in using that. I don’t know that we can guarantee HSU would be interested in using 600. Because in our presentation yesterday, we had 8,500 students listed at HSU. Well that was 2015, right now we are at about 7,700. And I looked back thinking about history when I was up at HSU in the early 2000’s and that was 7,300.

So what are we talking about? We are talking about 400 more people in the last 18 years. We just built (well Kramer did) 142 apartments there. I just think we have to slow down. Now planned development is meant for phased-in development and I appreciate that and I think that’s what we should do here.

Particularly, I cannot accept the unavoidable impact of traffic. And we just go “hmm unavoidable, move on.” And it’s like, I don’t think overall overriding considerations are good enough because I don’t think there are socially overriding considerations. I think we are kind of creating a student-dense population that will not integrate into or experience the communities. And that’s not going to help us when it comes to racial strife.

So that’s what’s going on in my mind, but I haven’t read all of this yet. 


June 25, 2018

Dear David Moon, et al,

I am trying to find a way to support housing being built in Arcata. In the current design presented by AMCAL, with a young student demographic focus, I have trouble supporting it. Could AMCAL build something like the following:

1 - A student purpose built dorm for 350 people –Maybe it is two buildings one 4 stories high - one is 3 stories? Let’s say this is on 4-5 acres of the 11-acre property. I can even accept the square design AMCAL has now, if it is just turned, the courtyard to the south. There should be a commercial interest on the first floor of the 4-story; maybe an HSU consigned Bagel shop, or Deli – a place to buy milk? There should be food in the Village. This could serve the neighborhoods surrounding the Village also.

2- Build approx. 100 condo style apartment/ townhouses/ row houses - 2 and 3 stories tall on the other 5 acres. Two stories towards Maple Lane, 3 farther back. It could maybe even look similar to the layout in the redesign you presented, plan view.

The interior design of the condos/townhouses/row houses could be like a regular house with a small footprint, small houses if you will, maybe 600 sq. ft. footprint, some being 2 stories tall (1,200 sq. Ft.), some 3 story (?) and, there could be some smaller apartments - one story, 600 sq. ft. Anyway...I believe that approx. 100 of these small homes/ apts/ condos could be placed on the 5 acres, with appropriate open space, etc.

The exterior could look like that varied type of housing that AMCAL is already using. It is my understanding that AMCAL does all types of development. Maybe they have ideas / designs for this type of housing already?

There is row housing, built by Danco, off Guintoli Rd. – that can serve as an example, also, of small housing type development that people enjoy living within.

If it is not feasible to have privately owned interests in this Craftsman Mall development, maybe HSU could operate the townhouses/row houses as ‘HSU family student/ professor/staff housing’ - to increase the diversity of people on site, add children, and soften the ‘single young student’ influence. Requirement would be one must be a student, faculty or staff and have a family to live in the townhouses. Maybe there are also a few 1 bdrm. apts. in the development, that is rented to graduate students. A townhouse reserved for visiting professors? There should be varied ages, and children in the Village.

This type of development, with the 350 dorm students and the 100 townhouses, occupied by 2 people at minimum, maybe average 3? That is 550-650 people!

I hope you will consider this idea of a mixed development. It is one I could support, and it achieves an optimization of the infill. I hope HSU will consider the management of not only the purpose built student housing, but also HSU Family Housing.

Thank you.

Susan Ornelas




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