Kevin L. Hoover
VALLEY WEST – Almost three years ago, City officials met with Valley West residents and businesspeople in the Hampton Inn’s meeting room to go over all the new redevelopment-funded projects – street trees, paths, trails, parks and other amenities – that were planned for modernizing Arcata’s northernmost third.
The reception was hostile, with attendees skeptical of the upgrades and content with the status quo.
But times change, and so do priorities. Last Thursday, April 4, City officials were back at the same meeting room promising much less, but were received with enthusiasm.
Redevelopment has ended, and with it most of the public facility improvements. Also gone, temporarily, is Valley West’s police officer. Staffing issues and the promotion of the former VW officer, Sgt. Brian Hoffman, have left the area with a taste of the effectiveness of a neighborhood beat cop, and missing one.
Meanwhile, Valley West has seen an explosion in the number of panhandling and camping travelers, coinciding with a surge in loitering, alcohol-related violations, petty thefts, trash and environmental damage along the Mad River. Complaints about these issues dominated last week’s meeting.
City Manager Randy Mendosa started the meeting with appreciation for Valley West, admitting that it “doesn’t get its fair share” and promising to listen to concerns.
Public Works officials said Valley West and Valley East Boulevards will be repaved this August at a cost of $600,000.
Police Chief Tom Chapman said staffing at APD is improving, and a new Valley West officer will be in place by mid-May.
Ken Zanzi, co-owner of the new Mad River Parkway Business Center development, said he was frustrated with Caltrans and the CHP over trespassing enforcement along the south bank of the Mad River.
Chapman said the local CHP ststion is soon to be headed by Lt. Adam Jager, who, unlike predecessors from other areas, is a local person with an interest in the community.
Business owners complained of travelers trespassing, plundering garbage bins and letting their dogs run wild. One woman said a man’s dog urinated on her outside the Dollar Tree store.
“It’s like the Wild West,” said one business owner. “It’s a free-for-all. They run us.”
The manager of the Valley West shopping center said because private security cost $48,000 per year, it was cut, but it may have to be restored.
A woman asked if police could “get rid” of the homeless. “No,” Chapman replied flatly. “We support and follow the Constitution regardless of socioeconomic status.”
He said he is “optimistic” that planned public safety improvements will serve as a “foundational component” which will improve the area’s economic fortunes and quality of life.