Note: Union readers are pointing out a legal opinion from the League of California Cities that seems to indicate that the 2-0-2 vote means that the Village was approved. See below. – Ed.
Mad River Union
ARCATA CITY HALL – The proposed "The Village" 602-student housing project met its end at Wednesday morning's City Council meeting. On a vote of 2 in favor of a motion to proceed with consideration of the project, none against and two abstentions, the project failed to gain approval. Councilmembers Sofia Pereira and Paul Pitino voted in favor; Susan Ornelas and Brett Watson abstained. Councilmember Michael Winkler had recused himself due to a prior business relationship with the developer.
The vote came after a two-hour meeting during which opponents – many of them members of the Arcata Citizens for Responsible Housing (ACRH) group which opposed The Village – voiced many of the same concerns that they have during Planning Commission and City Council meetings. These include the project's traffic impacts and negative consequences for adjacent neighborhoods.
"I'm happy with the outcome," said Erik Jules, ACRH co-director. "The councilmembers worked really hard and I'm grateful for their effort."
Doug Dawes, Humboldt State vice president for administration and finance, said the university will have to look at "other ways and means" to provide student housing. "We're just highly disappointed," Dawes said.
The unusual special Wednesday morning council session came after two previous meetings had been prevented from occurring due to protests. For this meeting, signs listing "precautionary measures" were posted facing out from City Hall's entrance and in towards the lobby. The signs cited Arcata Municipal Code sections regulating unlawful assembly and disturbing the peace. The signs listed items not allowed at council meetings, including amplifiers, signs, noisemakers, food and beverages and "other items deemed by city representatives as reasonably capable of disrupting or disturbing the meeting."
Arcata Police and Arcata Fire officers were on hand to ensure compliance with Council Chamber's occupancy load, which was posted as 56 persons. Officers stood by inside the chamber in case of disruption, but that didn't occur and after an hour or so, the officers left.
Alert Union readers are citing the following 2006 legal opinion from the League of California Cities (emphasis ours):
""[S]uppose you have a five-member council and four members attend the meeting with one councilmember absent. If two members abstain for some reason other than conflict of interest, the motion passes. (A quorum is present and a majority of the quorum votes in favor of the motion (2-0-2-1.) If, however, two members disqualify themselves because of conflict of interest, the motion fails (2-0-0-3).5 The motion fails because of lack of a quorum: the two disqualified members are not counted for purposes of the quorum. Therefore, there are only two members present who are legally qualified to take action, and the council cannot consider the matter until the absent member is present to constitute a quorum of three.""
If applicable to this morning's vote, that would mean The Village was approved.
Mayor Sofia Pereira said she is consulting with city staff to gain clarity on the matter.
Frank Whitlatch, associate VP for Marketing & Communications at HSU, offered the following statement:
“Obviously we’re very disappointed in today’s vote by the Arcata City Council. We believe the Village Project would have provided the safe and affordable housing that our students need. We worked closely with the developer and with the City to make changes and improvements to this project, and it had the potential to both serve students and meet the needs of neighbors and the city as a whole.”
“Looking ahead, we’ll need to be creative and pursue a variety of other options. Our priority is our students, and they face a serious challenge finding suitable housing. This is impacting their educational experience and having a negative effect on our overall enrollment.”