‘White Whale’ towed, could return – February 10, 2010

APD officers prep the behemoth blight for removal.

Terrence McNally

Eye Business Editor

ARCATA – Former Arcata Police Officer, called back to the department to act as Police Service Officer, Richard Zanotti, completed an 18-month odyssey last week in a hunt for the White Whale. The converted bus had evaded Zannoti – creating complaint-generated headaches for the entire department as the cat and mouse game played out on City streets.

Neighboring businesses were a continual source of woes. The calls have been regular. The eyesore and illegal camping vehicle swam the streets of western Arcata, parking for weeks, getting tagged, moving. The cycle went on and on.

But for APD, getting the giant RV off the street was an expensive and time-consuming undertaking. Officer Ron Sligh was in regular contact with the owner as Zanotti tagged dozens of ignored orange violation stickers. “It’s against the law so people don’t store abandoned vehicles on the streets,” Zanotti says of Sec. 7501 of the Arcata Municipal Code. Still, alternative sites were suggested to the owner, who rolled the beast back and forth during 72-hour deadlines. After three days, a vehicle is considered abandoned. Still, the whale stayed one step ahead of the tow truck.

The exploits were documented by blogger Michael Moore through his blog, Arcata Can Be Better (arcatacanbebetter.blogspot.com), charting the whale’s movements throughout town. The live aboards violated Arcata camping regulations. What’s more, they left a mess about everywhere the WW was parked.

Zanotti is not even sure how man staff hours have been spent on the whale. But he did know when contracting Buddy’s Auto Center on South H Street that the City was facing several thousand dollars in fees. If left unclaimed, the only resource for deep-sixing big RVs is Eel River Disposal, who can charge up to $5,000. No one else has the capacity and no one else wants to take on the duty of dismantling refrigeration systems, electronics, trash and septic tanks.

Better, Buddy’s has a big-rig tow truck and has offered stow space after towing, giving the owner time to collect their vehicle, though facing several hundred dollars in fines and tow fees. “We pay taxes here, too,” Buddy’s Manager Steve Emerson says about the willingness to help the City. “You have to take the good with the bad. Unfortunately, when these things show up, it becomes everyone else’s problem.”

Nearby office workers react to the whalectomy.

“The City is fortunate to have Buddy’s here,” Zanotti says. If unclaimed, it’s Arcata that has to pay for the $3,000-$5,000 trip to Fortuna.

On Wednesday morning, three officers and two Buddy’s workers found a vacant white whale where it had been resting on Seventh Street for months. It has been tagged with months of violation stickers. But the whale did not go easy. A busted hydraulic system, the mechanics spent hours repairing it in order to get it down the street. And then… she was cut loose, prompting cheers from the neighboring businesses.

The exploits showed up on Moore’s blog quickly. “It’s unfortunate that the City has to tow and pay to dismantle the various buses and RVs that are accumulating on Arcata’s streets,” Moore said. “Especially since the individuals who own these vehicles have been given numerous chances to avoid towing. It’s just unfortunate.”

Maybe unfortunate, but the white whale was saved from the Fortuna wrecker the next day and its approximately $600 in fees paid for by the owner. Will there be a white whale sequel on the streets of Arcata? Time will tell.

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