The State (and someday, the city?) of McKinleyville reviewed

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

MCKINLEYVILLE – Incorporation, a town center, a Vista Point park and improved trail patrols were among the topics discussed Jan. 23 during the annual State of McKinleyville meeting.

More than 130 people packed Azalea Hall for the event, sponsored by the McKinleyville Chamber of Commerce and featuring a who’s-who of leaders representing county departments and local government.

‘Justice for Josiah’ 

Those who attended the evening meeting were greeted outside the front door by about a dozen protesters demanding justice for David Josiah Lawson, a 19-year-old Humboldt State student who was stabbed to death April 15, 2017 at a house party in Arcata.

“What do we want?” yelled a protester, prompting his fellow protesters to yell back “Justice for Josiah!”

“When do we want it?” he asked.

“Now!” they responded in unison, repeating the chant over and over.

District Attorney Maggie Fleming

Among those on the panel inside Azalea Hall was District Attorney Maggie Fleming. Protesters outside held signs calling for Fleming be to recalled from office, even though she ran unopposed in the June primary and received 98.02 percent of the vote. 

The recall effort was somewhat muted the day after the protest, when Charmain Lawson, the homicide victim’s mother, met with Fleming and other law enforcement officials to discuss the case. She reportedly expressed some satisfaction with the D.A.’s efforts and said it appeared that an arrest would be made in the case.

Arcata Police wrapped up its homicide investigation and handed the case over to the District Attorney two and half months ago. Fleming has said her department needs more time to get more information on the analysis of blood found on a knife. Fleming said her office also needs additional information on a second issue, which she did not identify.


Attendees at the State of McKinleyville meeting were encouraged to submit written questions to moderator Ken Hamik of CommUnity Pride & Peace. The first question asked why McKinleyville is not incorporated and whether becoming a city is feasible.

“This is a question that comes up every year,” said panelist Steven Madrone, who is the Fifth District Supervisor and was just sworn in earlier this month, taking over the seat from Ryan Sundberg.

The problem, Madrone explained, is that there’s a state law that prevents new cities from taking revenues from counties. The City of McKinleyville would not be allowed to take fees and taxes generated from the McKinleyville area that are now going to the County of Humboldt, unless the county agrees to give up the money.

Madrone said that he plans to bring before the Board of Supervisors a request that various county departments track both expenditures in McKinleyville and revenues generated in the unincorporated community.

These numbers would give the community the factual data needed to help decide the issue.

“Now we can look at that, and if the county’s making money on McKinleyville, we can argue for more services,” Madrone said. “If they are losing money on McKinleyville maybe they [the county] want to get out from underneath the city.”

Madrone said the idea that residents might pay more taxes if McKinleyville incorporates often stops the discussion.  But, he said, it’s not known whether a tax hike would be necessary.

“We don’t know that that’s the case,” Madrone said. 

And even if cityhood did come with higher taxes, residents might be willing to pay them if they can see the benefits, Madrone said, noting the passage of the Measure Z public safety tax and its modified extension, Measure O.

“I do believe this community deserves to have that opportunity to have an informed discussion, factually, so we can understand what it would take to do that [incorporate],” Madrone said.

Bus system

McKinleyville is served by the Humboldt Transit Authority, which operates a county wide bus system. HTA buses pass through McKinleyville, traveling north and south and picking up riders along the way. However, the system is designed to transport riders to other cities and towns, not to get around McKinleyville.

Madrone said that he wants to see a local McKinleyville bus system established. He may take the matter up with the Humboldt County Association of Governments (HCAOG), on which Madrone as an alternate member.  HCAOG is a regional transportation planning agency and helps dole out transportation dollars.

Trail patrol

Sheriff William Honsal informed the crowd that his department is training deputies on how to ride ATVs and will soon use them to patrol the Hammond Trail and nearby parks. Honsal said he’s working with the McKinleyville Community Services District to find a spot to store the off-road vehicles. 

Honsal said his department is working with the website, which will soon map crime in McKinleyville and allow residents to spots problem areas and trends.

Town Center

Two major planning issues for McKinleyville will soon be discussed, one as early as tonight, Jan. 30, said John Ford, the director of Humboldt County Planning and Building.

Several properties are proposed for rezoning to make them consistent with the Humboldt County General Plan. A discussion about those rezones will take place at tonight’s meeting of the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee, which meets at 6 p.m. at the McKinleyville Middle School Conference Center, 2275 Central Ave. in McKinleyville. (See McKinleyville Matters.)

The other major planning issue is the creation of a town center ordinance.

The town’s growth blueprint, the McKinleyville Community Plan, was passed by the Board of Supervisors in 2002. It designated a town center area, which extends from Pierson Park to McKinleyville Avenue, and from Railroad Drive to an area just south of Hiller Road. It also includes the commercial area north of Heartwood Drive where the Burger King and other businesses are located.

The largest undeveloped area is located behind the McKinleyville Shopping Center. There are also some undeveloped parcels along the south side of Hiller Road. Most of this land is owned by Anne Pierson, which means the future of most of the town center is in the hands of a single person. Pierson has voiced support for the town center concept, but has said she’s not in a financial position to develop the property.

Although there’s an area designated as a Town Center, the county never created an ordinance that would spell out what would be required of new development in the area to make the projects consistent with the pedestrian-friendly, walkable, community oriented vision outlined in the general plan. The process of creating that ordinance, and determining the future of the town center, may start in April, Ford said.

Vista Point

Madrone said he’s pushing for the creation of a Vista Point park, which he hopes would be a popular stop for tourists, who would then come into town and spend money.  The county owns acreage near the Vista Point off U.S. Highway 101 north of Airport Road adjacent to the Hammond Trail. 

Madrone is proposing that the area be developed as a park with a visitor’s center.

Speeding and abandoned cars

California Highway Patrol Officer Paul Craft spoke about traffic violations, speeding cars and abandoned vehicles in McKinleyville.  Craft said that he’s observed an increase in traffic problems in town. If people witness a violation, they can report it to the CHP. However, there’s not a lot officers if they don’t see the violation.

“We have to observe the violation to enforce it,” Craft said. But there are times when officers will talk with the suspected violators and encourage them to follow the rules of the road.

Craft encouraged people who call the CHP and don’t get a response to call back, and not be shy about doing so.

“Know we’re not blowing you off,” Craft said, explaining how the office fields hundreds of calls. Also, staffing it limited. On a shift, a single CHP officer serves an area from Giuntoli Lane in Arcata north to the Del Norte County line, and from the ocean out to Orleans.




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