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Saturday, February 4, 2023
HomeCommunity InputLetters & Public InputA current resident of the Westwood Garden Apartments speaks to the City Council

A current resident of the Westwood Garden Apartments speaks to the City Council

November 3, 2022

Hello Esteemed Council Members,

I wanted to touch base with you regarding Westwood and the conversation last night regarding these apartments as well as Councilmember Watson’s remarks. I replied to Mr. Watson independently in order to avoid any possible complications arising from email exchanges.

To give you the very basic temperature of the situation with Westwood, I, speaking not in an official sense for my neighbors, but as someone who has an understanding of this place and the concerns of residents would like to express that we feel that the Planning Commission gave up on what could have been a win, win, win, project. The people of Arcata, specifically residents of apartments, rely on our elected and appointed officials to speak and look out for us. As people who do not hold deeds, it is paramount that our officials listen to and understand our concerns. 

The triple win scenario I refer to, would have enabled the city to fulfil its duty to increase housing, while maintaining a healthy quality of life for its residents. This triple win would have also allowed the developer/landlord to continue making millions of dollars in rental revenue per year from this and other sites in the city. 

How did the city “win” in this scenario?

1.) It did not gain as much housing stock as it could have.

2.) It did not contribute to a higher quality of life for its residents who reside in apartments. These are expensive, market rate units placed inconsiderately close without regard for the design and structure of pre-existing buildings.  A planned-community necessitates this consideration. It has not been demonstrated that anyone took into regard how the existing structures function — not the owner, not a representative from LACO, not a single person on staff, nor on the planning commission. In fact it was demonstrated multiple times by the owner and LACO representative that they had no idea.

The simplest is the statement made to the planning commission that current residents do not have storage. The truth is, that current residents do have private storage units, they are large  private closets accessible from outside of the rear yards, or in the common entry way on each floor.

3.) Judith Mayer mentions a concern that not approving the project would mean the city would not get the “riparian restoration, or other stuff”. The revised project I suppose made the design better for trees, as fewer would be cut down. It did not make any meaningful changes to the quality of life experienced by residents in new or old buildings. It actually made it worse for those on the parking lot side. If a “win” for the city is a poorer quality of life inside a residence but marginally better because a few hundred yards of trail and English ivy removal along a creek, I would like you to know that once again this community was let down. 

Hello, my name is James Adam Taylor — I have professional trail building experience, I’m also an avid outdoors person and love to volunteer for invasive species removal and restoration projects. This community hosts hundreds of residents like me. Given the chance we would have stepped up to accomplish this goal, not to mention the numerous grant funding opportunities. And the fact that CPH is the main beneficiary of this work, don’t you think there was an opportunity to work with the university on this front? Clearly this can’t be counted as a win.

There are other ways the city did not win, but you get the idea. 

How did residents “win” ?
1.) They didn’t. This project allowed their present or future landlord to accomplish the goal of using the least effort possible to cash additional rent checks, WHILE increasing his percentage of local housing stock, enabling him to continue to shape market rate. Residents lost access to a communal green space, and in the most offensive instance have had wonderfully livable apartments units transformed into dank lightless tunnels. Understand if you will that building codes are intended for standard designs — Westwood is not a standard design, it is unique in the city and was intended to function as it stands for the quality of life of its residents. No one would intentionally place two story units in parallel 12 feet away with a 4 ft external walkway knowing that the older unit only has access to light from the miniscule bit of sky left visible when standing between the two. That is unless the developer did not care, and an oversight entity decided not to take notice. As a resident of a west-facing unit that currently gets direct sunlight, even I have to wipe mold off of my windows regularly. North facing and now all parking lot facing units will not get any direct sunlight, nor will they experience ambient sunlight in any semblance of a meaningful way. These residents will experience extreme mold issues. These buildings do not benefit from cross ventilation — they only have ONE exposure.

How did the developer win?
1.) He was able to inefficiently use every buildable inch of space to house fewer people than the lot is approved for. 
This is hardly a “win” aside from exercising minimal effort. 

In actuality, this project could have utilized plans from buildings already owned by Strombeck to house more people in the courtyard area without exceeding two stories, while preserving the communal  green space. The same principle could have been applied to the parking lot side as well. By going up to one three story building it could have housed significantly more people while still preserving green space and healthy living environments for residents. 

In a win, win, win, scenario, the City has more and better quality housing, not because of luxury fixtures but because of exacting oversight that necessitated humane housing. This is where people’s lives happen. The builder would have actually collected additional rental income and likely saved money by laying fewer foundations, building fewer rooflines, and having less external sheathing. The residents would have more neighbors in which to enjoy their greenspace with and still have a high quality of life inside of their homes. 

Janes Creek would still experience restoration and a walking path would still be constructed.

This is not an appeal. An actual appeal would have many citations from the Planning Commission discussion. It would specifically reference the plans and codes. This is a letter from a resident to my representatives. 

It would be greatly appreciated if the City Council would waive the appeal fee. It is onerous to the people of this community to raise over $1800. I literally had a neighbor come to our door with a twenty dollar bill in hopes that it would help with the appeal. We are residents of this town, we love this town, we want our community to thrive and we expect it to grow. We do not oppose building on this site: We oppose projects that do not take into consideration the lives of people living on the site or the well being of people other than the developer. As the holidays approach the lucky residents of the apartments are weighing the financial burden of an appeal vs. the ability to visit family. For others — service workers — it is in no way possible.

As for Mr. Watson offering to financially support the appeal, personally that seems petty and trite. He is clearly using myself and my neighbors real concerns as a means to carry out additional antagonization against City Hall. We do not view his financial assistance as a valid means of support.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

James Adam Taylor
Resident, the current Westwood Garden Apartments

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