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Saturday, February 4, 2023

Two vacancies on the Planning Commission

On January 4, 2023, two new Planning Commissioners were selected by the City Council to replace Planning Commissioner Kimberly White, who was elected to the City Council in the November election, and long-time Design Review Committee member and Planning Commissioner John Barstow, who retired in October.

Three Candidates

The three candidates who were present for interviews were Peter Lehman, Mark Ritz, and Matthew Simmons.

  • Peter Lehman, Ph.D. is a professor emeritus of Environmental Resources Engineering at Cal Poly Humboldt University, and the founding director of the university’s Schatz Energy Research Center. He is 2021 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the California Energy Commission’s Clean Energy Hall of Fame. “Peter’s life’s work has been promoting clean and renewable energy, and he has done this with passion and focus. Over the years he has been a leader, mentor, and colleague to me and so many others. This award is very well deserved,” said Schatz Center Director Arne Jacobson.
  • Mark Ritz is the co-founder and co-owner of Kinetic Coffee in Arcata. He was the business manager at Yakima racks from 1999 to 2005, and worked at Specialized Bicycles for 10 years before that. In 2009 he was the president of the Arcata Chamber of Commerce.
  • Matthew Simmons has a B.A. in psychology from Washington University in St. Louis MO, and received a JD from UCLA School of Law in 2020 with a specialty in Environmental Law. He was a summer law clerk for four months in 2015 for the LA District Attorney, and worked for four months in 2018 as a research assistant at UCLA School of Law. He is the staff attorney at the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) in Arcata. His bio on the EPIC website says:

“Ever since he first visited Humboldt county several years ago, Matt has hoped he would be able to return and now he gets to call this unique place his home.
At EPIC, Matt is focused on using his law degree to make life as difficult as possible for people who want to harm the environment.  Whether it’s private companies, misguided state agencies, or the federal government (no matter who is in charge), Matt is ready to use every legal tool at his disposal to defend this corner of the planet.”


Two videos

Below are two videos that are portions of the full City Council meeting. The first video includes the interviews of the 3 candidates — approximately 31 minutes. The second video is of the discussion, public comment, and vote — about 16 minutes.

What is not shown or recorded in the second video is mayhem that occurred in the Council Chambers, starting at around 9 minutes 40 seconds on the video (about 1 hour 33 minutes on the full video of the meeting).  This disruption went on for about 3 minutes. The comments from the audience cannot be heard on the recording. I was present at the meeting, and several members of the community appeared to be quite upset.

Councilmember Stacy Salazar-Atkins spoke:

“But if you notice, we’ve never gone deep into discussion of any of the volunteers that we’ve interviewed. It’s very personal, those people that are showing up. And so today was was no different. If you go back and watch any other time we’ve appointed people to committee, I cannot recall having a lengthy discussion. It doesn’t mean that we we were doing anything that we shouldn’t be doing. But we did an extensive interview for a half an hour. And we formed opinions, and we’ve discussed them. And we did ask for public input. So I think we’ve covered the bases.

The new Planning Commissioners will play a crucial role in Arcata’s future

I support what Councilmember Salazar-Atkins said, but I will remind her and the entire City Council:  The ideas and opinions and visions that are promoted (or withheld) by these new Planning Commissioners in the discussions on the Gateway Area Plan will have the potential to change the look and feel of Arcata for the next 50 or 100 years.  As such, it seems important that the members of the City Council take a little more time than typical for a volunteer Committee or Commission position in other circumstances, and to present at least the appearance of having open minds in the process.

I regard all three candidates as qualified for the position of Planning Commissioner, each in his own way. In the months to come we will find out, through the speaking and actions of Peter Lehman and of Matthew Simmons, just how these two new members of the Planning Commission are thinking regarding the issues in Arcata today.


To read a transcription

To read a rough transcription of what is being said (not entirely accurate), you can either:

  • Press the “CC” button on the YouTube screen. This will being up Closed Caption subtitles, displayed on the video.
  • Below the video, on the right next to the word “Download” are three horizontal dots. Press or click on those dots. Then select “Show transcript” –this will display the YouTube rough transcription. You can then search for specific words in the video using Ctrl-F or Command-F.  You can scroll through the transcript and click on any words there, and that will cue up the video to those words.

If there is a request for a fully accurate transcription of these proceedings, I can provide this. Please contact me.

The interviews of the three candidates.  31 minutes.


The public comment, discussion, and vote by the City Council. 16 minutes.


The full January 4, 2023 City Council meeting. Includes the appeal of the Westwood Garden Apartments.  4 hours 49 minutes total.