Two views on ‘The Village’ – an L.A. profit center and a land grab

ACRH press release
Public Records Request Reveals Five Million in Income A Year for AMCAL and HSU
While Los Angeles Developer AMCAL’s representatives spent last week publicly smearing a grassroots group of Arcata citizens, new documents reveal a multimillion dollar profit motive for AMCAL's private dorm project at the Craftsman's Mall site. With the latest round of attachments finally released after a public records request by ACRH, financial projections and detailed funding agreements are now public. By being able to avoid the hiring of local construction trades, driving down wages and cutting corners on state required environmental and student safety standards, AMCAL’s project will bring in five million dollars a year according to the previously hidden communications between AMCAL and Humboldt State University.We are making the documents released to us available here:

While ACRH is attempting to go over the documents in full, including the financial spreadsheets, we are releasing them to media in the hopes that they can be explored fully. Additionally, communications from February to June are to be made available by HSU using the below email. See page four of the attached PDF for clarification.[email protected]edu

ACRH believes that Arcata is an inclusive community. This privatized dorm project, by a Los Angeles developer, will permanently divide our community. Removing students from the community and concentrating them in one location is the opposite of how Arcata should grow.AMCAL is against paying prevailing wages that protect construction workers and their families, against hiring locally and against building to the building code meant for student housing.

Amcal CEO Percy Vaz: "Amcal is ...advocating to remove expensive but unnecessary costs that even market-rate developers do not have to meet, such as the following: paying prevailing wages, having project labor agreements in place, hiring locally, adding social services to affordable housing projects and building to above-code standards."


Letter to the Editor: The Village land grab

The proposed HSU/AMCAL agreement makes it clear that HSU hopes or plans to purchase the Village project with the expectation that it will solve its student housing obligations. In other words, HSU is now planning a “land grab” using AMCAL as a vehicle. That is a major change from the project as originally proposed or understood by the public, and has the following implications:

This major change in the project to include the option and likely purchase by HSU was not addressed in the EIR and will or should require a revision and recirculation of the EIR. 

Arcata will permanently lose an important infill location which could otherwise serve to provide more affordable housing for Arcata residents of all ages. The rent-by-the bed dorm model as proposed would not be considered “affordable” and would only provide student housing. Furthermore, the dorm-like build would not lend itself well to repurposing for regular apartment housing open to all.

The Craftmans Mall property will become increasingly valuable over time due to its elevation 20’ above the surrounding neighborhoods in light of the anticipated rising sea levels, and the assessment and tax increases that would normally result will not occur if it becomes state property. The current time frame for calculating taxes appears to be 10 years, which is totally inadequate. Arcata needs to be thinking and planning longer-term.

HSU plans to build a freshman dorm on its own property to accommodate an estimated 450 incoming freshman. The Village is proposed to house older transfer and graduate students, who typically seek less restrictive housing, and particularly graduate students who are likely to have families or partners and don’t desire supervision. The Village is not constructed to accommodate families or pets.

Even if a family wanted to live there, the proposed per bed cost would be prohibitive. In the latest HSU/AMCAL draft agreement, the proposed pricing results in apartments that cost $2711.30/month for a 3-bedroom unit (5 percent less than the $2854/month cost at College Creek apartments), or $903.77/person/month. What family could afford that?

There appears to be an issue as to whether current HSU dorms are fully occupied to capacity, or already meet existing demand. Data on the HSU’s current housing occupancy would be helpful to determine the need for additional housing, particularly when student numbers are estimated to decline by roughly 1000 from its 2015 high for the 2018-19 academic year. 

The statistic that 19 percent of HSU students experienced homelessness at some point during the academic year, while horrifying if true, is not well-understood. Does it mean that they simply couldn’t find a place they could afford in Arcata (for whatever reason), that they were couch-surfing or sleeping in cars, or camping in the woods? Does it imply that HSU failed to notify them of the need to secure housing prior to arrival or adequately assist them in doing so, and basically left them in the lurch? How long did it take on average to find housing? It would help to understand that statistic so as to better address the problem, and to determine whether the proposed Village housing at the proposed student cost would truly result in reduced housing insecurity. Is the problem really a housing crisis or is it largely an affordability crisis? And if so, how do high-end dorms which threaten to raise other rents around town, really improve the affordability component?

Many terms in the draft agreement are vague. Also, it allows AMCAL to “opt out” of the agreement if HSU fails to fill the Village in the timeframe specified, or fulfill its management responsibilities, or if AMCAL sells the project to a buyer other than HSU, if HSU can’t find the needed funding to exercise its option. Once HSU is given notice of proposed sale, the time frame for HSU to exercise its option to purchase and find funding is very short. After all, AMCAL does these projects to make a profit. Unless the agreement is 3-way between AMCAL, HSU, and the city, how can we be sure the conditions of the agreement endure upon sale to yet another entity. 

The City Attorney has not definitely said that Arcata can limit student occupancy of the Village permanently to 602 students if HSU purchases the property. It would need to be a limitation that “runs with the land,” i.e., survives transfer to HSU. That needs to be clarified. What kind of conditions can be legally bound in perpetuity to a deed or title? Draft agreements have no legally binding implications.

HSU states it has the ability to lease on-campus property to AMCAL for such a project, but apparently hasn’t thus far seen fit to try to make that available. Would that change the labor costs? On-campus building would avoid all the issues the community is raising and would benefit students with the unbeatable convenience of being located on campus. HSU apparently plans to use the former Trinity Hospital as a parking lot, which is perplexing considering it is an ideal location for student housing. Housing on campus would enjoy all the support, food, and stores provided on campus and would be significantly closer to shopping and entertainment in town.

HSU has made no comment on or commitment to work to fix the traffic issues at LK Wood and Sunset, over which it, in combination with Caltrans, has control. The final EIR focused on these intersections in the findings which indicate significant negative impacts to traffic and transportation. These intersections pose serious safety concerns for students and non-students alike.

Assuming HSU purchases the property, Arcata effectively loses regulatory control over the property. Is that a desirable end result? What are the infrastructure and other implications? 

Given that we don’t have a final HSU/AMCAL agreement, it would be inadvisable to approve the project until a final agreement is reached, unless Council has decided to reject the Village project as designed. Making that decision would save Council, staff, residents, HSU, and AMCAL a great deal of time if Council members plan to reject the Village as currently proposed.

The presumption that Arcata “needs to grow” through higher-density infill is subject to challenge if it changes the community character desired by its permanent residents (to whom local government is supposed to be responsive) and if it provides infrastructure challenges that cannot be effectively or affordably met. Arcata needs to think longer-term in terms of a.) sea level rise, b.) changing educational venues, methods (increasingly on-line), and rising costs, and c.) infrastructure requirements. Arcata’s waste disposal and wastewater infrastructure is already being challenged, and adding population will not improve matters. Arcata’s greatest need is for affordable housing for all residents. Off-campus luxury housing for students only is not the highest priority.

Submitted by Jane Woodward



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