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Saturday, February 4, 2023

Saturday, January 23, 2023

Tall Buildings are Unfeasible in the Gateway Plan

As printed in the Mad River Union, Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The January 10th, 2023, meeting of the Planning Commission was especially informative about the prospect of taller buildings in the Gateway area. We heard from Eric Loudenslager, Board of Directors of the Arcata Fire District, who told us that the AFD could not safely protect the occupants of a building taller than four stories. Even at four stories it is a dicey situation. “We’ve basically been lucky,” he said. “We’re telling them not to build another four-story Sorrel until we have a bigger fire department.” (Referring to the 2022-built Sorrel Place on 7th Street.)

I spoke to the Commissioners concerning a two-hour conversation with renown sea level rise and Humboldt/Arcata Bay expert Aldaron Laird. In addition to the known threat of sea level rise, we have here in Arcata the matters of rising ground water (from increased flooding and from sea level rise) and the breaching of the dikes that keep the rising bay water away from low-lying land areas. The 2005 New Year’s Eve king tide / storm — declared a “state of disaster” after bay waters came over Highway 101 — was the highest water elevation recorded to that date. Our average king tide heights now are less than a foot lower than that flooding event. It’s likely that we will have regular flooding of the low land areas in Arcata within 20 years, and sea level rise into portions of the Gateway area within 30 or 40 years.
 
Having groundwater just a few feet below the surface affects the design and cost of constructing foundations. Sea level rise to levels where Gateway buildings would be located is just about certain to occur within the useful life of any apartments built there. And the Coastal Commission, which has jurisdiction over any proposed project south of 8th Street (this includes the AmeriGas site, the Greenway site, the Wing Inflatables site, the trailer park, and more) has shown from recent considerations that they are looking at the 100-year sea level rise projections to assess safety and viability. To put that in perspective, in 100 years, by current projections, about 80% of the Gateway area will be under water.
 
To add to all this, the recent OLLI presentation about affordable housing was also brought up at this Planning Commission meeting. At that presentation, Danco president Chris Dart stated that any residential construction over four stories is not economically feasible in Arcata. (The deep financial resources of the university are the exception.) That is to say, housing priced so people can afford to live there cannot be done with taller buildings. Danco has built more affordable housing and more taller buildings than any other developer up here. I’d say Chris Dart knows what he’s talking about.
 
By continuing to disregard acknowledged experts, Arcata Community Development Directory David Loya insists on promoting a plan which cannot — in its current form — possibly succeed. Is it a 20-year plan for 500 apartments, or a 60-year plan for 3,500 apartments? Will homes actually be offered for purchase from a plan that only “encourages” condominium home-ownership, or will it be the case, as David Loya stated on June 28th, “when I met with the Humboldt Association of Realtors, they told me that there’s no way you’re going to get condominium projects.”
 
Arcata needs a good plan. This Gateway plan is not it. It’s not feasible. And, as I’ve said again and again, a plan that can’t be built is not really a plan at all.  

The plan needs to be simpler, more practical, and actually possible — and with true affordable housing and home-ownership opportunities, as David Loya and the City’s plan have promised, over and over. They have promised this, and they are incapable of making good on this promise.
 
I say: Let’s make this plan better.
——————————————

Fred Weis started Arcata1.com out of concern that information needed for good decision-making was not being accurately supplied by our City government. He can be reached at fred @ arcata1.com


 

 

 

 

 

Topical articles and links:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, January 15, 2023

“Gulliver’s Travels” map from 1726 depicts Arcata and the Brobdingnagian Gateway Plan

The Gateway Plan was anticipated 300 years ago as:  “The can-do spirit of the times that led people to devise a number of illogical schemes that would purportedly solve social and economic ills.”

Melanie Bright’s letter (November 15, 2022) to the Arcata City Council and the Planning Commission refers to the Gateway Plan as “this brobdingnagian development.” You can read her full letter and David Loya’s response here.
 
Brobdingnag is a fictional land which is occupied by giants in Jonathan Swift’s 1726 satirical novel Gulliver’s Travels.
The adjective “Brobdingnagian” has come to describe anything of colossal size.
 
A Brobdingnagian’s eyes are “above sixty feet” from the ground. A farmer who Gulliver meets is about 72 feet tall. Thus, the height of a Brobdingnagian would be about 65-75 feet — which by coincidence is more or less the height of the 6- and 7-story buildings that are proposed for the Gateway area.
 
And curiously for those of us here on the North Coast:

Swift describes the location of Brobdingnag and its geography in Part II of Gulliver’s Travels and provides a map showing where it is. The map indicates that Brobdingnag is located on the northwest coast of North America, around probably what is now British Columbia.

The map shows (from south to north) Point Monterey, Port Sir Francis Drake (now San Francisco), Cape Mendocino (Capetown, south of Ferndale), Cape St. Sebastian (just north of Brookings, Oregon), Cape Blanco (north of Port Orford, south of Bandon, Oregon) and the semi-mythical Strait of Anián (perhaps the Straits of San Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands, between the U.S. and Canada, between Seattle and Victoria, B.C.) and depicts Brobdingnag as a peninsula extending west into the Pacific to the north of the Straits.

The river in the crude fictional map more or less corresponds to the location (but not the angle of flow) of the Klamath River.

The little blip of a point just below the river would correspond to Trinidad Head. Just below that point would be Humboldt and Arcata Bay.

On this 1703 fictional map from Gulliver’s Travels, written in 1726, Arcata is marked with the red star.


Jonathan Swift’s novel is considered a satirical masterpiece and among the 100 best novels of all time. His satirical essay “A Modest Proposal” is considered to be one of the greatest examples of sustained irony in the history of the English language.

George Wittkowsky in 1943 wrote that Swift’s main target in “A Modest Proposal” was not the conditions in Ireland, but rather the can-do spirit of the times that led people to devise a number of illogical schemes that would purportedly solve social and economic ills.

The Humor section on this website contains a bit of satire, written in May, 2022, called “The Gateway Plan: A modest proposal.”

Just as Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is described, the target here is the Gateway Plan:

The can-do spirit of the times that led people to devise a number of illogical schemes that would purportedly solve social and economic ills.


 

 

 

 

 

Topical articles and links:

The Gateway Plan: A modest proposal

 

 

 

 

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Tall Buildings are Unfeasible in the Gateway Plan

Sea Level Rise expert Aldaron Laird, Danco president Chris Dart, and the Arcata Fire District Board of Directors, Chief, and Staff all agree — for three different reasons.

 

The January 10th, 2023, meeting of the Planning Commission was especially informative about the prospect of taller buildings in the Gateway area. We heard from Eric Loudenslager, Board of Directors of the Arcata Fire District, who told us that the AFD could not safely protect the occupants of a building taller than four stories. Even at four stories it is a dicey situation. “We’ve basically been lucky,” he said. “We’re telling them not to build another four-story Sorrel until we have a bigger fire department.” (Referring to the 2022-built Sorrel Place on 7th Street.)

I spoke to the Commissioners concerning a two-hour conversation with renown sea level rise and Humboldt/Arcata Bay expert Aldaron Laird. In addition to the known threat of sea level rise, we have here in Arcata the matters of rising ground water (from increased flooding and from sea level rise) and the breaching of the dikes that keep the rising bay water away from low-lying land areas. The 2005 New Year’s Eve king tide / storm — declared a “state of disaster” after bay waters came over Highway 101 — was the highest water elevation recorded to that date. Our average king tide heights now are less than a foot lower than that flooding event. It’s likely that we will have regular flooding of the low land areas in Arcata within 20 years, and sea level rise into portions of the Gateway area within 30 or 40 years.
 
Having groundwater just a few feet below the surface affects the design and cost of constructing foundations. Sea level rise to levels where Gateway buildings would be located is just about certain to occur within the useful life of any apartments built there. And the Coastal Commission, which has jurisdiction over any proposed project south of 8th Street (this includes the AmeriGas site, the Greenway site, the Wing Inflatables site, the trailer park, and more) has shown from recent considerations that they are looking at the 100-year sea level rise projections to assess safety and viability. To put that in perspective, in 100 years, by current projections, about 80% of the Gateway area will be under water.
 
To add to all this, the recent OLLI presentation about affordable housing was also brought up at this Planning Commission meeting. At that presentation, Danco president Chris Dart stated that any residential construction over four stories is not economically feasible in Arcata. (The deep financial resources of the university are the exception.) That is to say, housing priced so people can afford to live there cannot be done with taller buildings. Danco has built more affordable housing and more taller buildings than any other developer up here. I’d say Chris Dart knows what he’s talking about.
 
By continuing to disregard acknowledged experts, Arcata Community Development Directory David Loya insists on promoting a plan which cannot — in its current form — possibly succeed. Is it a 20-year plan for 500 apartments, or a 60-year plan for 3,500 apartments? Will homes actually be offered for purchase from a plan that only “encourages” condominium home-ownership, or will it be the case, as David Loya stated on June 28th, “when I met with the Humboldt Association of Realtors, they told me that there’s no way you’re going to get condominium projects.”
 
Arcata needs a good plan. This Gateway plan is not it. It’s not feasible. And, as I’ve said again and again, a plan that can’t be built is not really a plan at all.
 
The plan needs to be simpler, more practical, and actually possible — and with true affordable housing and home-ownership opportunities, as David Loya and the City’s plan have promised, over and over. They have promised this, and they are incapable of making good on this promise.
 
I say: Let’s make this plan better.


 

 

 

 

 

Topical articles and links:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, October 24, 2022

Letters are still missing from the public view

On October 11, 2022, Arcata resident Gregory Daggett sent a letter to the Planning Commissioners, the Community Development Department, and the City Manager regarding the ​conflicts the Gateway Area Draft Plan has with the California Coastal Act, Sea Level Rise, and SB1000. This letter can be seen on this website at this link.

As of October 24, 2022 [Updated: now January 15, 2023] this letter had not been included on the City’s “Submitted Comments” webpage. Letters — from September and other dates — are also not there. The exclusion of this letter seems to be similar to the situation in May, June, July, and August of 2022, when by every appearance the Community Development Director had taken it upon himself to determine which letters were presented to the public and which were not.

As a community, we do not know which letters and how many letters have been excluded from this supposedly all-inclusive listing of Gateway-themed letters received by the Planning Commission, City Council, and Community Development Department. There have been numerous in-person comments to the Planning Commission, the City Council, and the City Manager about this situation over these past six months, and yet the situation continues.

The excuse we have heard from the Community Development Director is that this is “something that slipped through the cracks” — this was not a valid excuse when spoken on June 28th and it’s not a valid excuse now.

The question is: Will it take a lawsuit for the City of Arcata to adhere to legal and time-honored methods of handling community input? If the City Council can do this properly, why can’t the Community Development Department?

As it was done correctly for years (or decades), why can’t it be done properly now?

 


For a period of time, the link for the September 1-30 letters was broken –so the letters from that period could not be read at all. That link has since been repaired.

 

 


 

 

Sunday, September 25th

Spoken in open comment at the Transportation Safeway Committee meeting on September 20, 2022. (Not a verbatim transcription.)

I would like to see clarification on the process and situation regarding the City not having the legal rights-of-way to build a new road alongside the L Street Pathway.

The City needs to tell us how this can legally be done — or we should remove this proposal from our consideration, so that we can move forward. There is not room in the right-of-way to build a street.

If it can be legally constructed, we should be made aware of how this would happen.

Spoken to the City Council on September 21, 2022.

The last thing, which is extremely important: There is no legal right to build L Street. I think that that matter needs to be resolved immediately. If the City knows how to get the legal rights to build that street, I think the public needs to hear this. If not, it should be removed from consideration entirely. 


 

 

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Thursday, September 15th

Opinion by Fred Weis, originally published in the Mad River Union issue of September 14, 2022.

Our choice for Arcata: L Street Pathway and Park, or another major road?

It’s a question of priorities. What do we want to see in Arcata? Do we make our roads better for cars, or do we make the Gateway area better for people? Yes, it is that simple.

The draft Gateway Plan proposes we split the traffic that’s now on K Street and put the southbound traffic onto a newly-created L Street.

Newly-created? Isn’t there a road on “L Street” now?  Nope. Take a walk there and check it out for yourself.

L Street south of Alliance is the old Annie & Mary train line. There’s a 10-block paved bike-and-walking trail, as part of the Great Redwood Trail rail-to-trail program. These days the “road” is a single-width strip, a total of 4-1/2 blocks, in three sections. You can’t drive from section to section. It has never been a through-road.

The Gateway Plan idea is this:  K Street would be a one-way, one-lane street, northbound from Samoa Boulevard to Alliance Road. By removing one traffic lane and one parking lane, there’d be plenty of room for wide sidewalks and a separated one-way bike lane. Left-turn lanes would help with traffic flow, and bulb-outs extending into the street would make pedestrian crossings shorter and safer.

The southbound traffic would be routed onto a new road alongside the L Street Pathway. There’d be a non-dedicated two-way bike lane that doubles as a sidewalk – not ideal for either the bicyclists or the pedestrians. A strip of trees between the road and the pathway. Otherwise about the same as K Street.

“I thought we weren’t going to create any new roads.” Well, in this case, the planners are making an exception.

Yes, there are advantages to splitting the traffic onto the two streets, one north and one south. Those are listed in the draft plan, and the engineers hired as consultants will praise this design. But let’s look at some other factors.

  • The current L Street Pathway is a treasure. If you haven’t seen it or been there, you really must go. A particularly pleasant part of the L Street Pathway is along the Creamery Building, with sculptures and outdoor seating and picnic tables and shade trees. It’s a part of where Creamery street fairs and festivities take place and it’s used every day by people out for a stroll.
  • Picture the traffic headed south on K Street, coming off Alliance: Cars, motorcycles, pickup trucks, delivery trucks, a semi-truck. Now imagine all that traffic alongside a pathway where people meet to sit, eat, read, talk in normal voices, and even listen to the birds in the trees. With grass and trees (or maybe a hedge) between the pathway and the road, the engineers tell us, it will all be okay. No, no, no. Putting in a road there ruins the pathway. It would be a sidewalk next to a street. If you’d walk along K Street now, that’s what it would be.
  • A Linear Park would be a jewel for Arcata. An area for us to enjoy every day and a noted destination for visitors. The redevelopment that the Gateway Plan promotes on those parcels along the Pathway/Park would have small shops and restaurants on the ground floors – all pedestrian-friendly and car-free.
  • Across the country (and all over the world) cities are taking out asphalt in order to create parks for people. We’re seeing this in Ukiah, in Portland, in New York, in Chicago, in Atlanta, in 15 locations in cities in the Bay Area. It’s a definite positive people-friendly trend, and an encouragement for a walkable community. Through strong past efforts we already have the makings of a wonderful Linear Park. We already have what other cities are striving for. Why throw this opportunity away?
  • The Gateway Plan is promoted as supporting non-vehicular transportation. Anything else exposes yet another of the many contradictions of the plan. Will Arcata become walk-and-bike friendly or not?
  • The Gateway Plan also calls for a park within 200 yards of housing. An L Street Linear Park running the length of the Gateway Area gives a good start to that goal.
  • Putting a road on L Street — in order to make traffic flow better on K Street — is a car-centric approach to problems that can be dealt with in other ways. As to the difficulty of crossing K Street, that issue also can be improved through better design, like bulb-outs and designated crossing lights.
  • Ideally in 20 or 30 years there will be less intense vehicle traffic, as the promise of walkability in the Gateway Plan comes through and smaller self-driving “pod” vehicles become more the norm. But if a roadway is constructed on L Street – and car-oriented buildings are built on that street – that road will be there for a long, long time. The height, mass, orientation, and purpose of those buildings will be based on facing a road, not facing a park.
  • On a one-lane street, what happens to the cars behind a delivery truck – like a UPS truck with lots of stops? With parked cars on one side and a row of hedges or trees on the other, there’s no place to pass and so traffic is stuck. In 2003 there was a movement to make H Street and G Street be one-lane so the sidewalks can be widened. The same delivery truck issue was pointed out, and, as you can see, it did not happen.
  • Crucially: A major problem with ambulances and emergency vehicles. On the new L Street as designed, the only place a car can pull over is onto a side street. Other than that, if an ambulance or a fire truck is behind you, there’s nothing you can do – and there’s nothing they can do.
  • There is strong evidence that an L Street roadway simply cannot be built. At the north end of the L Street corridor, the City does not have the rights of way to build a road there. And the word I’ve heard is: They are not going to get the rights. So is it time for an eminent domain taking of that private property? We’ll see.

Dave Ryan, Chair of the Transportation Safety Committee, had a strongly-worded accounting of his reasons for keeping the L Street Pathway and creating a linear park – and ditching the idea of making L Street into a road. This was all part of the Transportation Safety Committee’s August 2, 2022 recommendation to the City Council to give up the idea of L Street for southbound traffic. His full statement can be found at:  arcata1.com/union

What you can do

  • Learn more to make an informed choice. See the maps, aerial views, articles, and transcripts and videos of meetings about the L Street Pathway and Park.
  • Read and watch Dave Ryan’s talking points on preserving the L Street Pathway.
  • There are only three members of the City Council who will be voting on Gateway actions. Write to them and express your opinions.
  • If you agree that a less car-centric and more people-oriented approach is the way to go, consider signing the petition that’s being started by local citizens.

Links for all this and more are found at the Mad River Union readers’ page at:  arcata1.com/union


Fred Weis started Arcata1.com out of concern that information needed for good decision-making was not being accurately supplied by our City government. He can be reached at
fred @ arcata1.com

 

 

New and updated articles:




 

 

 

 

 

Also noted:

 

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Thursday, September 8th

Opinion by Fred Weis, originally published in the Mad River Union issue of August 31, 2022.

The Five Biggest Myths of the Gateway Plan – and how you can help find solutions

It’s fun to talk about dreams. The Gateway Plan has lots of goals. It’s aspirational. But I’m a pragmatist. I want to talk about dreams that can really happen.

Arcata needs housing. We know that. Maybe the Gateway Plan could provide an answer. Maybe.

As it stands, the Gateway Plan is a pile of contradictions, and it’s up to the community to make some sense out of it all.

First, to clear up three misconceptions that are floating around.

  • “Isn’t the Gateway Plan a long way off, perhaps years?” It’s up to the developers when the apartments will be constructed. And the Plan extends for perhaps 20 or 30 years into the future. But decisions are being made – right now – that will affect tens of thousands of Arcatans, now and forever.
  • “The Gateway Plan will be on the ballot, right? And we will vote on it?” No, not at all. The public does not vote on this, even though it will be the largest change ever in the history of Arcata. Even the Planning Commission doesn’t have a vote on this. The Planning Commission, the various Committees, City Staff and consultants, and the public (we hope) will all be making their recommendations. The Council will look at that, likely send it back with suggestions and requests for clarity, and then receive a revised version and vote on the Plan.

Mayor Stacy Atkins-Salazar has recused herself from involvement in the Gateway process, as a requirement of the Fair Political Practices Commission. There’s no ruling yet whether our newest (and most experienced) City Councilmember, Alex Stillman, may have to recuse herself also. Should that happen, that leaves just three voters. The yea-or-nay vote may be 3-to-0 or it could be 2-to-1. If coming from a 1-to-1 vote situation, then that third person swings it. And thus the fate of how Arcata will look and feel for the next 100 years will rest on the inclinations of one person.

  • “Hasn’t it all been decided, and it’s too late for me to get involved?”
    and the flip side:
    “We don’t have to watch this now – the City Council vote is still six or eight months away.” No to both. The important matters have yet to be fully declared. And to wait until close to the end won’t work. A big plan like this has a form of inertia that makes it difficult to change course. If it’s going to be a successful plan, good decisions have to be made now.

The Five Biggest Myths of the Gateway Plan

  1. Home ownership opportunities. As David Loya, Community Development Director, told the Planning Commission: “The City can’t regulate and say you have to build ownership opportunities here.” When meeting with the Humboldt Association of Realtors, they told him “there’s no way you’re going to get condominium projects.”

    So which is it? The draft Plan states there will be home ownership. The conflict between what the Plan states and what we’re being told is problematic. Building equity in a home that you own is likely not in the cards.

  2. Affordable Housing. The Gateway Plan envisions “thousands of housing units that are environmentally sustainable and affordable to people in all income ranges.” Some percentage, perhaps 20%, will be affordable. The rest will be market rate – which translates more into “what the market will bear.” The actual rental price is tied to the cost of construction, the interest rates, the desire of the developer to make a profit, and so forth. Will these be “affordable to people in all income ranges”? We need more details. And the higher prices will have the effect of encouraging rents elsewhere to go up.
  3. More apartments will cause rents to decrease, as the supply increases and the demand drops. Building some apartments is better than building no apartments, but thinking that the construction of 500 or 1,000 or even 2,000 apartments is going to satiate the demand is simply false. The demand is not going away. When 184 apartments on Foster Avenue came on-line, did that, as the planners tell us, “disrupt that market factor”? Local rents went up after those were built.

    Arcata is a great place to live and more and more people are discovering this and want to be here. That’s not going to change.

  4. Feasibility. Studies on feasibility are not a part of the Gateway Plan, yet the Plan calls for up to 8-story buildings in the large “Key Opportunity Sites.” Can the soft mud-flat soil of the industrial area along Samoa Boulevard support tall buildings? Will the Wing Inflatables building be torn down so that 6- and 8-story buildings can be constructed there? I guess we’re just going to have to wait to find out. Without knowing what’s feasible, it is no plan at all.
  5. Infrastructure. There may be 6,000 or 8,000 new people living in the Gateway area. There are disputes over the wastewater facility future capacity and what happens to the Arcata marsh if there’s greater sea level rise than anticipated. I leave those discussions to the experts. There are also questions about costs and capacities of police, fire protection (and other emergency needs), government services, medical care, schools, parks, and roads. And not to forget the people needed: police officers, teachers, medical personnel, and on and on. How are these issues being addressed? We’re in the dark.
  6. Surprise — There are even more myths! Here are some:
  • That there will be adequate on-street parking.
  • That there will be sufficient parks for all the people there.
  • That there will be family-size apartments and not just mostly student-oriented studios and micro-studios.
  • That solar shading of existing homes and properties is not a problem.
  • That walkability won’t be affected in Winter when new buildings put streets in shadow and the sidewalks are dark and cold.
  • That the L Street Pathway will be unchanged when a major-route road is built next to it – or even that L Street can handle ambulances and fire trucks.

Another myth? That I am against the Gateway Plan. Untrue. I’m for it. I don’t want to slow down its acceptance – I want to speed it up. The Plan as it is (and the way the process is going) cannot possibly in good faith be adopted. It will not provide housing for the people who want it and need it.

We need a better plan, far better. And that’s what we need to work on. Arcata, we can do better.

 

To aid in understanding the Gateway Plan, I’ve put up a special page on Arcata1.com for Mad River Union readers.  You can access it at:  www.Arcata1.com/union.  There you will find maps, aerial views, 3D modeling, videos, transcriptions of meetings, articles, editorials, commentary, and more.


Fred Weis started Arcata1.com out of concern that information needed for good decision-making was not being accurately supplied by our City government. He can be reached at
fred @ arcata1.com

 

 

New and updated articles:

 

 

 

 

 

Also noted:

 

Popular articles:

Tuesday, September 6th

To Dr. Tom Jackson: You can do more — Please.

Dr. Tom Jackson became the president of the then-Humboldt State University in May, 2019. In January, 2022, the CSU Board of Trustees finalized the decision to rename and create Cal Poly Humboldt. Five months earlier, the state legislature had budgeted $458 million to support the university’s proposed doubling in the number of students — from 6,000 to 12,000 — over the next seven or eight years.

Growth that is happens this quickly will have a big effect on all who live and come to Arcata — and not all of it good. 

An open letter to Dr. Tom Jackson

Dear Dr. Jackson —

We do not know each other, and we have never met or spoken to each other. But I would like to meet you and talk. I am aware that the decisions surrounding Cal Poly Humboldt’s expansion are not yours alone to make. You are the spokesperson and the figurehead, and so I, and many others, appeal to you.

You can see the potential vast change to Arcata that the proposed increase by Cal Poly Humboldt in the number students — and faculty and staff — that this will create?

In an area already affected by a shortage of medical facilities and personnel, an understaffed police department, too-low-budget fire protection, a need for more road maintenance, and a sewage-treatment facility that may be under king-tide water surges soon — is it any wonder that the people of Arcata view this expansion of Cal Poly Humboldt with some degree of horror? 

The small-town qualities that are so attractive to those coming to this area, whether students or not, will become a relic of the past. I’m not saying that no change is possible. Look at the Community Vision statement on Page 1 of Arcata’s General Plan 2020: We’ll grow, but on our own terms.” For the University to double in enrollment in seven or eight years is not what I call “on our own terms.”

Let’s look at the University of California, Santa Cruz, as an example of growth. Similarly to what Cal Poly Humboldt is proposing, enrollment at UC Santa Cruz rose from roughly 6,000 to 12,000 — in a 21-year period from 1979 to 2000. And Cal Poly is intent on doing this in 7 or 8 years? UC Santa Cruz enrollment is at 19,000 — is that also in the stars for Cal Poly Humboldt?

In 1980 the population in Santa Cruz was 42,000. The non-student to student population was approximately 7 to 1 (or 6 to 1 if that 6,000 is counted as part of the 42,000, or somewhere in-between). By the year 2000, with 55,000 in the city, that ratio was around 3.6 – 4.6 to 1. Now, in 2022, the city’s population is 62,000 and the university is up to 19,000 — and is still expanding. The ratio now is 2.25 – 3.25 to 1.

Can you see the trend there in Santa Cruz?

Increasing the student population to 12,000 students at Cal Poly Humboldt over the next seven or eight years will change the non-student to student ratio in our town to a ratio that gets dangerously close to 1 to 1. That is: For every adult, teen-ager, child, toddler, and baby — there would be one student.

Yes, many students will be learning on-line and will not live here. Those will be countered by other additions to our community. There will be 700 to 1,200 newly-added faculty and staff, some of whom surely will purchasing single-family homes, and thus becoming a factor in rising prices and low supply in that niche of the housing market.

(The 700 to 1,200 figures are my estimates, based on faculty-staff statistics for other UCs and CSUs.)

My question of you is:  What are you willing to do about this?

Yes, you.  You personally. Words are cheap. Actions are valuable. What are you going to do?

You are a smart guy, and you’ve got smart people around you. Here are some ideas. There are a lot of thoughtful and caring people in our community who I’m sure can come up with more.

  • A stipend for not bringing a car to Arcata. If we are going to have thousands of more students, let’s please not have thousands of more cars. Universities have experimented with transportation subsidies for students who don’t bring cars — and have had “no car here if you live in the dorms” policies. 
  • Zipcars, Hourcars, and Evie Car Share.  For those readers who are not familiar, Zip cars are an “on-demand” system where cars are rented by the hour or by the day. Cal Poly Humboldt has an arrangement to have Zipcars on campus, but there are only two cars at this time. Let’s make it 40 cars, or 100 cars. The cost for a car is $11 for an hour, $33 for three hours, and $83 for a full day — all prices include gas and insurance. That may sound expensive as an out-of-pocket expense, but, when compared with insurance, gas, maintenance, and ownership costs for a car on a monthly basis, it is a good deal. In areas with greater Zipcar involvement, you can pick up at one location and drop off a a different spot. For example, Berkeley currently has 20 Zipcar spots. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has six spots.

    Moving upward in desirability for the future are Hourcars and Evie Car Share, both in Minneapolis MN. They operate on a non-profit basis, with start-up funding coming from about $10 million in government and other sources, and now have over 150 all-electric renewable-energy-powered vehicles (plus 50 ICE vehicles) for rent on a per-minute, hourly, or daily basis.
    My point:  If they can do it there, we can do it here.

  • Making an iron-clad, in-writing commitment to not purchase or negotiate for purchase on a single parcel in Arcata or in Arcata’s extended sphere of influence without discussing this with us first — openly and publicly. This includes not making arrangements for development with a non-university agent on any parcel in our Gateway Plan area or elsewhere in Arcata.
  • Calling off or reversing the purchase of the Creekside property. This parcel that was annexed from County land into the jurisdiction of the City of Arcata specifically and solely for the purpose of a senior living facility — annexed for that purpose. Without that annexation there would be no sewer hookups and no development of any kind. Talk about an underhanded move! Were it not for the years-long actions by Life Plan Humboldt to design and create a mixed-income senior living project, that parcel could not have been purchased for University uses.
  • Telling us what Cal Poly Humboldt is offering to partially offset Arcata’s infrastructure costs.  We’re aware of the lawsuit against Cal Berkeley to cap student enrollment — a lawsuit that went all the way to the California Supreme Court, resulted in a ruling favorable to the neighborhood group, and resulted in a new state law which effective negated the CA Supreme Court ruling. See the article on this website: UC Berkeley lawsuit decisions may affect Arcata too. Lesser known is the subsequent lawsuit, regarding what Cal Berkeley is paying Berkeley as a partial reimbursement of the city’s infrastructure costs. Cal had been paying the city just $1.8 million and then upped that amount to $4.1 million annually — even though the city calculates its costs directly attributable to the university at $17 million.  $4.1M is not enough, says the “Make UC a Good Neighbor” citizens’ group.

    What are the figures here in Arcata ?  Is the University willing to commit to certain dollar amounts or percentage of budget or per-student allocation as a payment to Arcata? For both on-going expenses and capital improvement needs connected with Arcata’s police, fire, roads, wastewater treatment, homelessness, and governmental costs. 

  • In August, 2022, the state legislature approved $458 million for the Cal Poly Humboldt expansion. Meanwhile, here at the Arcata government level, our Community Development Department is forced to make hard decisions about spending $1,000 or $2,000 or $5,000 for this or that, for a consultant or software or architectural design fees, all as part of the costs associated with creating our Gateway Plan — of which the University is a large beneficiary.

    How about Cal Poly becomes a better partner and helps us out here? I propose that 2% of that 458 million dollars be seen as important for our community development aid, to be paid to the City of Arcata over the period of Cal Poly Humboldt’s expansion — seven years. That would be $9.2 million, or $1,300,000 per year. And we’ll want the first two years of payments up front, to help with our current planning costs.

    Dr. Jackson, do you want to be a good community partner? You can make this happen. The Craftsman’s Mall off-campus housing has a projected cost of $200 million.  Find some funds there — You can do it.

Thank you.

To read Dr. Jackson’s recent twice-weekly column, published in the September 1, 2022 Times-Standard, as well as my commentary and suggestions, see “A reply to “Thankful to be a community partner” by Dr. Tom Jackson, Cal Poly Humboldt” 

 

 

 

New articles:


Dave Ryan says: Abandon the L-K Street Couplet & Embrace the L Street Pathway

Aug 23 City Council / Planning Commission joint study session

 

 

Also noted:

 

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Sunday, August 21st

Arcata speaks:  Home Ownership is of supreme importance

Community Development Director David Loya, speaking at the June 28th, 2022, Planning Commission Meeting on home ownership:

 

The City can’t regulate and say you have to build ownership opportunities here. 

 

If you talk to the average Realtor on the street, when I met with the Humboldt Association of Realtors, they told me that there’s no way you’re going to get condominium projects.

As part of the August 16th “Form Based Code Workshop,” an on-line survey was conducted for the 50 or so participants. There was talk of having the survey be open to people who were not able to be at the live meeting, but this hasn’t happened yet.

The results of this survey were included the agenda packet for the City Council / Planning Commission joint study session on August 23rd, 2022.

During the survey, participants were asked “Is there anything you think is missing from the list that you believed should be considered as a top priority?”

There was a total 58 topics that people typed in, with 16 of those topics related to “Home Ownership.” The total combined score the “Home Ownership” topics is 148.

No other topic came even remotely close.  “Rooftop solar” has a combined score of 27, and “Expanded public transit” came in at 25.

Do you think that it would be fair (or nice) to tell all these people that the chances of Home Ownership Opportunities in the developments constructed in the Gateway area may be something like 1% or 2% of all the apartments built?

Here’s Community Development Director David Loya, speaking at the June 28th, 2022, Planning Commission Meeting on home ownership:

Planning Commissioner Scott Davies  (now Vice-Chair)    1:53:55 on the video
David, I have a question about making sure that there are home ownership opportunities. … How can we, or what is the mechanism by which we can also try to ensure that there’s a strong proportion of home ownership opportunities, whether it’s condos or penthouses, or whatever income range — versus rental?

Community Development Director David Loya    1:54:31
Yeah, that is something that I think we are being aspirational about. And this document, the nuts and bolts of how that would work is going to be left to our monitoring, I think. It’s possible that we, if we want that strongly enough that we actually make that a community amenity — that if you’re providing ownership opportunities within these mixed unit buildings — that will help to drive the market. The City can’t regulate and say you have to build ownership opportunities here. And I think if we did — I mean, there are a couple of developers who are very amenable to doing condo projects. But if you talk to the average Realtor on the street, when I met with the Humboldt Association of Realtors, they told me that there’s no way you’re going to get condominium projects.

So let’s get this straight:  People in Arcata overwhelmingly want to be able to own their homes, whether a single-family home, a townhouse, or a condominium apartment. 

And the Gateway plan will not supply those home ownership opportunities.

So — What’s next?

For more details and the videos and survey results, see the full article “Arcata speaks: Home Ownership is of supreme importance.” 

 

 

 

 

New article:

 

Also noted:

 

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Thursday, August 18th

The California Brown Act Law

Everyone in California who has held office or been appointed to a Commission or Committee is familiar with the Brown Act, or at least with the basic aspects of it. Designed to promote transparency and accountability in all government matters, the procedures outlined in the Act and in subsequent amendments are requirements of governance. Following Brown Act procedures is not optional. It is the law.

Here is the opening paragraph of the California Brown Act Law, shown split here for clarity. At the City Council meeting last night, August 17th, I read from “The People of this State…” and onward. Highlight is added.

In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.

The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.


It is my belief that City Staff have been withholding information that the People require in order to make an informed decision.

I would hope that we would see a remedy to what is an on-going issue. I have been observing this ever since I started learning about the Gateway plan, in January 2022.  I see it as a repetitive pattern — showing disregard of normal, acceptable operating procedures and process.

In the efforts to getting the Gateway plan adopted in an “efficient” and speedy manner, what we are seeing is, I believe, a case of a belief that “the ends justify the means.” That is, we do want a good plan. But there seems to be an attitude that doing whatever it takes to get this done is okay.

And that is where I disagree. I want a good plan too. But I’m not willing to see the public being shoved out of the way by violations of public process. I’m not willing to see specific requests of the City’s Committees and of the Planning Commission being disregarded and ignored.

When someone of the stature and importance to the Arcata Community as a director of the Arcata Fire District can talk about the views, concerns, and input of the Fire District as being ignored, then I’d say we have a problem.  (See Arcata Fire District Director Eric Loudenslager’s speech and video here.)

  • I ask that the City Council and the City Manager see that all efforts to remove the public input from the process and the ignoring of the Commissioner’s and Committee Members requests end — immediately.
  • I ask that the City Council and the City Manager instruct all chairs of Committees and all City staff liaison persons that limiting the public input to 90 seconds — or 60 seconds — when there are only four speakers wishing to speak is a violation of the the Court’s interpretation of the law. In my opinion, for a Committee that meets only once a month to be unwilling to extend a meeting beyond two hours in order to have meaningful discussion on something as important as the Gateway plan is very much out of line — and is antithetical to democratic process and the laws designed to enact transparent governance. A two-hour-plus meeting might be considered both appropriate and necessary — and be absolutely considered a part of the work of any City committee.  And aside from this, shortening public input to 90 or 60 seconds for each of four or so members of the public  is not the way to shorten a meeting.
  • I ask that the letters from the public on the Gateway Process — to the Council, to the Planning Commission, and to the Committees — be made available within 10 days of receipt, or, if received within 5 business days of a scheduled meeting, to be available within 3 business days of that meeting — prior to the meeting, along with the standard agenda packet. No excuses.
  • I ask that the minutes of the meetings of the Planning Commission show a list with each speaker and a one-sentence (minimum) synopsis of what is said — as is done for the City Council minutes. In my view, this is not too much to ask.
  • I ask that the City Manager instruct the Community Development Director to never, ever, again hijack or substitute a Planning Commission meeting agenda. To have done this was pure insubordination. In the business world this would be a fireable offence. 
  • I ask that the City Manager instruct the Community Development Director to respond to reasonable requests by the Planning Commission, the City Committees, and the public for information and resources in a timely manner. 
  • I request that the Community Development Director be instructed to separate facts from opinions, and to take far greater care about expressing opinions as factual information, and to take even greater care about saying things as fact when it just is not so.

[Do you want an example, a recent example, of this?  How about this one — one of many — from the “Building and Massing” presentation, released on Friday, August 12th, just last week. Module #3: Proposed Setbacks and Massing Impacts, at the 1 minute 29 second spot on the video. “I looked at these opportunity sites and broke them into sites that are vacant and ready to develop as soon as this plan is adopted. These three sites could probably develop immediately.”  The problem is that one of the sites specified currently has the building where Bug Press, the North Coast Fencing Academy, a storage garage used by the Arcata Fire District, and a contractor’s operation, plus a private residence. That site is not vacant. A second site has the Tomas Building, where Open Door Community Health Center is. It has an extensive garden for the Montessori school, including recently planted apple trees. And that site also is not vacant. (It also had been the site of the big-top tent — but that can come and go quickly.) The third site referenced is indeed empty.  How can the Community Development Director say that these sites are “vacant and ready to develop as soon as this plan is adopted”? The statement is 100% false.]

And I look forward to seeing the creation of a superb Gateway plan for the future of Arcata.

 

Tuesday, August 16th

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing it, doesn’t go away.”
— Philip K. Dick

Tuesday, August 16th, 2022

To: Honorable Mayor Stacy Atkins-Salazar, Vice-Mayor Sarah Schaefer, Arcata City Council Members Alex Stillman, Brett Watson, and Meredith Matthews

Topics:            (click here)
1. The 3D Modeling is here
2. City Council / Planning Commission Joint Study Session next week
3. K Street / L Street Couplet Decision
4. Gateway Plan Advisory Committee
5. Building Height is not a popularity contest
6. Soils Testing in the industrial area is a must

1. The 3D Modeling is here

The 3D Modeling is here and it looks great. A big congratulations to Community Development Directory David Loya, the engineering sub-contractor GHD, architect Julian Berg, and all who worked on it.  Initial examples can be seen in the David Loya’s “Building and Massing” presentation, seen here.

This is a great tool.  Let’s make full use of it.  We want to see images of what a proposed build-out might look like.  What would K Street look like if the six potential redevelopment blocks — Bud’s Mini-Storage, AmeriGas, the car wash, the Clothing Dock / German Motors building, and the Ag Sales building — of the Gateway “Corridor” district were built out to height of 4 or 5 or 6 stories?  What would be the solar shading?  The 3D Modeling software can show us.

2. City Council / Planning Commission Joint Study Session next week: Tuesday, August 23rd

You have a lot of material to go over. I will remind you:  Time management is crucial. You will have your agenda. My advice is: Allot a length of time to each item and stick to it. Decide early which items might be voted on and which are only for discussion.

In David Loya’s message to us last Friday, announcing the 47-minute Building and Massing presentation, he proposed “A similar but shortened version will be presented at the study session on the 23rd.” I say strongly and firmly in no uncertain terms: Please no. Your limited time together with the Planning Commission is too valuable. Every member of the Council and the Commission can watch the video of this presentation prior to the Joint Study Session. I don’t think there needs to be any time spent discussing the presentation. To repeat:  Your time is too valuable. A discussion of the primary component of the presentation — Building Height — will be a part your agenda item on that subject.

Similarly, I make the strong request that every participant be offered equal chances to speak — and equal time. With all deference to the Community Development Director and the work he has done, this meeting is not here for his extended speaking.  If you and everyone else is speaking in two or three minute segments, so should he… or even less. This is your time, and the time to have a discussion among the 11 members of your two groups. (The Mayor is recused, as we know.)

A Planning Commissioner told me that what is missing at those meetings are actual discussions among themselves of the issues. Not just one-at-a-time “what do you think” pronouncements, but real back-and-forth discussions. Perhaps at your Joint Study Session you can encourage this sort of discourse.

3. K Street / L Street Couplet Decision

To me it is such a no-brainer decision that it defies any choice to the contrary. 

Cities and towns all over the world are trying to remove streets and create walkable areas.

They are taking pains to create one, and we already have one, on the L Street Pathway, right here.

There are decisions that need to be made that affect the consequences of all further discussions and design. One big example is on your Joint Study Session agenda:  The current plan proposes that K Street be one-way going north and a newly created L Street being one-way going south). The people and the Transportation Safety Committee in strong language wants to keep K Street as a two-way street and make L Street into a linear walking/biking park. That decision will affect discussions on every parcel along K Street and L Street — building height, setback from the street, upper-floor setbacks, the need for walkways and other public open space, the commercial frontage, parking, housing unit density, and on and on.

To me it is such a no-brainer decision that it defies any choice to the contrary.  Cities and towns all over the world are trying to remove streets and create walkable areas — whether linear parks or “walking malls” or whatever you want to call them. They are taking pains to create one, and we already have the start of one on the L Street Pathway, right here. And the December 2021 draft plan proposed to destroy this.

We want walkability, we want reduction of automobile dependency, we seek a vibrant town environment, we respect our natural spaces, we want parks, we promote meaningful shop spaces and the arts — it is all there, and more, with the L Street Pathway.

I am firm and clear on this — see my articles here and here and for the need for parks in the Gateway area here and here and in my June 9th letter to the Council and the Commission here. I’ll post the transcript of the Transportation Safety Committee discussion for you to read also.

4. Gateway Plan Advisory Committee

A presentation and discussion at your meeting on Wednesday. I’ve been observing and speaking to the lack of management-level oversight and direction on the Gateway plan for months. You can see what I’ve said on how an Advisory Committee is crucial to the Gateway process here and here.

“If we continue as it has been to this point — without the overview and direction offered by an Advisory Committee —

The chance that a good plan will come out of this is, in my view, pretty close to zero.”

Any question as to the whether management-level decisions are “slipping through the cracks” or otherwise put off into the future can be seen in Arcata Fire District Director Eric Loudenslager’s seven-minute speech to the Planning Commission on August 4th. Watch and read it here.

“It seems incomprehensible to me that a recommendation on building height could come out of the Planning Commission or the City Council until we have a full economic analysis of what it’s going to cost the City of Arcata citizens and the Fire District to actually provide the protection there.”

Community Development Director David Loya’s response that these costs and considerations will be covered in the EIR is, to my mind, essentially nonsense. If the costs are then evaluated as being too great, then what? Do we start over with building height considerations and new Form-Based Code decisions?  Supplying fire protection is not just a matter of paying for a new fire truck, as Director Loudenslager well knows.

Any management-level decision — whether building a town or as simple as planning for a vacation — requires early recognition of the decisions that affect the outcome.  When planning a family vacation to London, you don’t make lists of all the sights you want to see and all the attractions you want to visit… and then look at the cost of the airfares and hotels. But that sure seems like what we’re doing here with the Gateway plan and process.

When Scott McBain presented the Advisory Committee concept the the Planning Commission last week, I said:

I spoke a few months ago about my concern that we’re going to get through this process in six or eight months. There’ll be all the recommendations from the Committees, they will all be compiled into a report. And this Committee will want this, this Committee will want this –and they will not be cohesive. And the Council will not know what to do. I’m not saying this [the Advisory Committee] will solve that. But I think it’ll help with any disagreement or provide more cohesive results that allow you to evaluate what the input is, what the information is. Again, I’m not connected with Scott. I support what he’s doing. I don’t agree with everything. I’m not a signatory on this for a variety of reasons. And that’s it, I hope you consider what he said.

5. Building Height is not a popularity contest

A decision on building height does not fall in the category of “I like this” or “This is what makes sense to me” or “We need housing and the only way to provide it is to go up” or “I want Arcata to be the way it’s been” or any of those sentiments.

It’s a decision made by planners and people connected with the planners, with great thought and consideration.

I respect and encourage public input on all sorts of matters. I want more public input — and I am continually surprised at lack of involvement among the people of Arcata in a plan that will change Arcata forever. But a decision on building height does not fall in the category of “I like this” or “This is what makes sense to me” or “We need housing and the only way to provide it is to go up” or “I want Arcata to be the way it’s been” or any of those sentiments. It’s a decision made by planners and people connected with the planners, with great thought and consideration.

There are many facets and factors involved in any building height decision.  There is an obvious balance between how many people can live there and the size of the apartment buildings. And there is a big question of whether it is feasible in practical terms to construct tall buildings in the industrial zone along Samoa Boulevard (see Item 6, next). If it’s not cost-effective for a developer to build there, and if we agree that we need more housing, then we would need to take another look at the big picture about what we’re doing.

I have been pushing for a greater number of height districts. I think the Creamery area and the surround blocks deserve its own height district. As it is now, a 7-story building could be put up directly to the west of the Creamery Building and an 8-story building could be put up directly to the south.  Yes, the Form-Based Code can take care of this on a block-by-block basis, but we haven’t seen hide nor hair of that and what might be in it.

From Andrea Tuttle’s letter:

“The Draft offers no 3-D visualization examples of what different building heights would look like at full-buildout of 3500 units.

Mockups should visually place structures in actual neighborhoods to show the impacts of mass and shadows on existing structures and pedestrians.”

Here’s a solar-shading image for December 1st for 2 p.m. — the solar shading would be greater for later in the year up through December 22nd. This represents what it would be — or greater — for 6 weeks of the year.  The imaginary buildings shown are 8, 8, and 6 stories, and are placed so as to include upper-floor setbacks.  This depiction is not perfect, but gives a good idea as to what we’re looking at.

Now that we have the excellent 3D modeling software in place, staff can provide images of what a build-out of what a 5 or 10 buildings might look like. And I’ll add that there may be, perhaps 80 or 100 individual apartments in a single 6-story building. (Unless the apartments are all micro-studios, that is.) TEN of those 6-story buildings amounts to perhaps 800 or 1,000 apartments… and the Gateway plan was talking about over 3,000 apartments. That might be THIRTY block-size buildings. The 3D modeling software can show us just where they might be.

6. Soils Testing in the industrial area is a must
— as well as evaluation of Sea Level Rise, ground water table rise, and if the land is needed for wastewater treatment plant expansion.

Every since the beginning of this plan people have been calling for soils testing to take place in the industrial zone along Samoa Boulevard. Because if the soils there cannot support 6- or 8-story buildings on a practical basis — that is, if the construction cost is too great — then development on the scale that the plan calls for will not occur. A big feature of the Gateway plan is the planned development of what is the largest expanse of raw buildable land in Arcata.

If it’s not practical to build there in the quantities the plan calls for, then providing housing in the other zones has to be increased.

Wouldn’t you want to know this, like, um, right away? If the buildings for housing we need cannot be built there, then what?

Well, if that were to be the case, we’d move on with other plans. But if we don’t know then we have no clue. We wouldn’t be creating our future — we’d be reacting to circumstances.

Community Development Director David Loya continues to insist that soils testing is not part of what this plan is, that it will occur when an actual project is submitted for review, and that the developer is responsible for soils testing to determine the costs and feasibility of the required foundations.

To me, nothing could be farther removed from actual planning for a reality-based future.  If the buildings cannot in practical terms be built there, then we are just spinning our wheels working on a plan which could not come into existence.  As I continue to say, again and again:

A plan that cannot reasonably be implemented
is no plan at all.

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Monday, August 15th

The 3D Modeling is here!

Cheers! Fireworks!  Rejoice!  The long, long awaited 3D Modeling is here, and it looks great.

Following months of “the dog ate my homework”-level of excuses as to why we were not yet able to receiving the vast and absolutely necessary benefits of having 3D Modeling available to us (see 3D Modeling: We’re still waiting), we now are having our first glimpses of how great this 3D modeling can be — and a reminder of how important it is in the evaluation of all aspects of the Gateway plan.

“On Friday, we received this message from the City:

Good Afternoon and Happy Friday,
Leading up to the August 23rd study session of the Planning Commission and City Council, we have some resources to share on building height and other elements of creating a form-based code.

        • Community Development Director David Loya’s presentation on building height and massing is up on the City’s YouTube page, here.

What was omitted from this announcement is that the 3D Modeling is indeed here — it is a feature of the video presentation. Or, to put it another way, it is the 3D Modeling that is normal and expected. Other cities have it, and typically it accompanies the project that it is connected with. We’ve been waiting so long that, yes, it looks terrific.

Finally we have a tool to evaluate just what the solar shading issues of tall buildings will be, what a six-story apartment building along K Street might look like, and — we hope real soon now — just what 500 or 1,000 or 2,000, or even “the 3,500 unit mathematical buildout” might look like. For some clues on that, see how the 3D model looks when added to a Google Earth aerial view of the car wash block and this part of Arcata at: The Car Wash site: An imaginary proposal.

This video presentation by Community Development Director David Loya is excellent and MUST be seen.  A preferred way of seeing this and other information is on the City Planning section or through the Building & Massing Presentation – An Overview here on this website.

What we had for 8-1/2 months was this:

And what we now have is this, below. We can now see how the upper-floor setback in the top example results in less solar shading on the buildings across the street.

And, extending the 3D rendering onto an aerial view, we can envision this more complete view of reality, below.

Note:  This is not an “official” image from the Community Development Department.  I made this image by combining an image taken from the presentation video with a Google Earth aerial view of Arcata. We need more images like this, so we can better see the impact of five, six, seven, and eight story buildings would have on Arcata.

New posts:

and to review:

Friday, August 12th

The Gateway Plan Advisory Committee proposal

On Thursday’s post I wrote about the Gateway Plan Advisory Committee presentation to the Planning Commission. To read that, scroll down or click here.

There’s been a variety of confusion about what the Advisory Committee would be and what it would do.

The details of a Gateway Plan Advisory Committee were presented to the Planning Commission on August 9th, and will be presented to the City Council next week on Wednesday, August 17th. Scott McBain and Chris Richards are behind this and they are the principal instigators, and, yes, they are members of the Responsible Growth Arcata group.

But a look at the names of the 84 people who have already signed onto this proposal should cure any skeptic that this would be an RGA-themed committee.  To see those names, click here.

And I will go further: 

If the City Council chooses to go forward without the formation of this Advisory Committee, the completion of a good Gateway plan is, in my view, doomed to fail.

Sorry to say this but that’s sure how it looks to me.

And why is my name not on that list of people who support the Advisory Committee?  Because when Scott was first promoting the Advisory Committee, starting four or so months ago, his proposal seemed not clearly thought through. And, as Planning Commissioner Tangney pointed out, the connection or influence of the RGA group on the advisory group was not clear. For me, there were some things that RGA stands for that could I support and other areas I do not.

Now that it is clear that the Advisory Committee is entirely 100% separate from the Responsible Growth Arcata group and that the structure and purpose of the “task force” is spelled out and solid, I’m behind it, in concept at least.  The execution — and getting the right people on it — will define its degree of success. And I will go further:  If the City Council chooses to go forward without the formation of this Advisory Committee, the completion of a good Gateway plan is, in my view, doomed to fail. Sorry to say this, but that’s sure how it looks to me.

I’ve been observing the process of how this Gateway plan has been unfolding — both the formal, designated (and often-altered) wishful process described by Staff, and the actuality of what’s really been happening.  And I have been and continue to be very critical of what I regard as poor management and lack of true oversight.

In my view, if we continue as it has been to this point — without the overview and direction offered by an Advisory Committee, the chance that a good plan will come out of this is, in my view, pretty close to zero.

How the Advisory Committee would be created

The members of this Advisory Committee would be appointed by the City Council.

The members of this Advisory Committee would be appointed by the City Council. The Advisory Committee, as envisioned, would be composed of management-level persons — not a housing specialist, or a wastewater treatment specialist, or a person oriented toward building height or design, or a parks or streets proponent.  Those “detail” people would be part of topic sub-committees.

The Advisory Committee would collect information.  They’d report on that information, as an exchange with the existing Committees and the Planning Commission. From what I’ve read, I view it somewhat like how the Humboldt County Grand Jury operates, in the sense that they are able to do more in-depth investigation and research into topics that other staff and elected and appointed officials simply cannot do — and then they issue a report.

There is so very much to research and understand about the many aspects of the Gateway plan.  It cannot be done even through the Commission and Committee system that we have in place. While we’ve heard staff reports and testimony and input from the public on a great variety of topics, at the Commission level and at the Committee levels, we can observe how few decisions have actually taken place.

Reading the words of Arcata Fire District Director Eric Loudenslager here about how the Fire District’s recommendations seem to be being ignored — that makes me want an Advisory Committee.

The idea is:  The Gateway Plan Advisory Committee would make sure that these necessary components did not “fall through the cracks” or be “put off until later.” They would have the overview needed to assess what has to take place — now — for this plan to continue.

And in that way the Advisory Committee wouldn’t be slowing things down. 

They’d be speeding things up.

And in that way the Advisory Committee wouldn’t be slowing things down.  They’d be speeding things up. If, without the Advisory Committee, in another 6 or 8 months we collectively have as little idea as to what’s going on as we do now, then we would have wished that we’d had it in place. And by then it will be yet another half-year down the road, with little progress and insufficient agreement.

As I said to the Planning Commission at the August 9th meeting: The draft Gateway plan came out on December 1, 2021. The original timeline for review, update, and adoption by the City Council was by the end of 2022 — that would be 13 months.  Staff is now suggesting that we’re looking at Spring 2023, or 16 months from the start.

We are now 8-1/2 months into a 16-month plan for adoption. We do not have 3D modeling; we do not have quantified results from the large Open House held 7 months ago in January; we have yet to see even one page of what the new Form-Based zoning code might look like. We’ve been told that we can create a finished plan, review it, and have the City Council — likely just 3 Councilmembers, because of recusals — vote on it to adopt it. It would be adopted as law for Arcata.

And we’ve been told: That they can approve this without even the zoning code that would support it. And without the promised 3D modeling that would show us how the tall buildings would appear. And without modeling of how the solar shading might work.  And without any notion of the feasibility of affordable or owner-occupied housing. And with no studies on the impacts on schools, police, fire protection, infrastructure maintenance, and actual — honestly assessed — future wastewater treatment capacity. And without regard to the financial impacts on the City.

Just to make one thing clear:  If adopted, we would have new policies in place for the construction of apartments in the Gateway area — and we would not have in place the zoning codes by which those apartments could built.  The Planning Commission understands this.  It was talked about at their July 26th meeting.  See the transcription and video of that meeting on this website here.

Does this sound like “Alice in Wonderland” to you?  It does to me.  Within that July 26th meeting, see my comments on the absurdity of passing the policies and not having the actual code in place here.

Commissioner Judith Mayer comments said, in effect: You can’t adopt a plan without having a Code!

We don’t have to have everything figured out in order to move forward with a Gateway plan. There are some things, though, that cannot be ignored.

In my view, the presence of a Gateway Plan Advisory Committee is a way of moving forward.  That committee won’t solve everything in order to create this plan. But having that Committee in place will sure get us a whole lot closer.

And again:
A plan that cannot reasonably be implemented
is no plan at all.

New posts:

Thursday, August 11th

1. Media coverage increases.
2. Gateway Plan Advisory Committee proposed.
3. Maximum Building Height? Confusion Prevails.

Media coverage increases

Seeing increased media coverage of the Gateway plan progression is immensely encouraging. The article in the Lost Coast Outpost on Tuesday, prior to the Planning Commission meeting, included quotes from Chris Richards and myself (Fred Weis) on the process and the possibility of a citizens’ Advisory Committee to assist the Commission, the Committees, and City staff in directing all the many facets, large and small, that are integral to making a good plan. Thanks to Lost Coast Outpost editor Hank Sims and local government writer Isabella Vanderheiden on that.

The Mad River Union continues to provide excellent coverage of key issues. I often think that this Arcata1.com website provides far too much in detail for a reader to get a quick overview of the Gateway plan process, and in that sense the Gateway articles in the Mad River Union do substantially add to what’s here. The articles there had been a frequency of about one a month, and now we’re looking at one in each weekly issue. The Gateway plan is important to Arcata, and the Mad River Union recognizes this. A thank-you to editors and publishers Kevin Hoover and Jack Durham for their contributions to our community.

As much as I love, respect, and depend upon the Northcoast Journal, their coverage of what I feel to potentially be the greatest change to life in Arcata — ever — has been noticeably absent.  I welcome the kind of full-coverage articles that the Journal is noted for, and has been awarded for, in future issues. I feel that some deep investigative reporting of what is really going on in this Gateway project will not only be of large benefit to the people in our region but will have national notice and significance as well.

As thoroughly outstanding as Kym Kemp’s Redheaded Blackbelt news site is, the coverage does not generally include much of Arcata doings. They do have the press release from the City of Arcata on the Form-Based Code presentation on August 16th. We appreciate all articles, big and small, for inclusion in Redheaded Blackbelt. Thank you, Kym, for everything you are doing and for your continue coverage of matters that, without you, I would have no knowledge of.

And, finally, the Facebook site run by Chris Richards: Arcata Gateway District Community. An essential element for the openness and tradition of Arcata involvement. Without Chris’s site we would have no method of communicating among ourselves just what this Gateway plan means to us as a community. We all thank Chris for starting, maintaining, selecting, and adding to this site. No one has to agree with everyone, of course, but the comments sure are fun to read — and learn from. Many maps and articles from Arcata1.com are highlighted on the Arcata Gateway District Community page, which leads to further public discourse and dissemination of information which, in turn, helps everyone.  As is said “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” Chris Richards is doing a lion’s share of the work on this.  Thank you, Chris.

Gateway Plan Advisory Committee proposed

At the Tuesday, August 9th Planning Commission meeting, a period of over an hour was devoted to the presentation by Scott McBain, and subsequent questions and discussion, for plans for a Gateway Plan Advisory Committee.  See transcription and video here.

The Advisory Committee, made up of perhaps 7 to 9 members appointed by the City Council, would serve as an adjunct to the the Planning Commission, the City’s Committees, and City Staff to more fully research, explore, and obtain public input on some of the larger issues affecting the Gateway plan and its process. This Advisory Committee would in no way replace the work of the existing operational groups, but could provide in-depth reporting on matters that simply cannot be covered over the course of a two-hour or three-hour meeting.

For anyone who thinks that the Commission and the Committees have it all covered and “there’s no additional meaningful fact finding or public review … which an ad hoc committee would add to the process,” as Colin Fiske said at the August 9th Planning Commission meeting, I only need to direct him and others to the example — one of many such examples — shown in the testimony of Arcata Fire District Board of Directors member Eric Loudenslager at the previous Planning Commission meeting, just five days earlier. See the entry on August 8th on this page here or read his words in full here.

If the Fire District can feel snubbed, with their advice for taller buildings disregarded and requests for an evaluation of the real and currently-unknown costs to the community of this development, what else is put in the category of “we’ll cover that later”? How about:  Schools, police, wastewater treatment, sea level rise, feasibility of constructing an 8-story building in an area where you hit water just three feet below the surface, the tiny likelihood of getting insurance coverage and bank loans on the theoretical “home-ownership opportunity” condominiums…. Would you call these major issues?  I do.

I’m not saying that we have to solve everything in order to create this plan.  I am saying, however, that it certainly pays to know and comprehend the size of the issues we’re dealing with. As I’ve said elsewhere, a plan that cannot be reasonably implemented is not a plan at all.

Maximum Building Height? Confusion Prevails.

Oh, this is far more than I can write about this morning. Building height is such a complex subject.

See transcription and video of the August 9th meeting here.

Oona Smith is the Senior Regional Planner at the Humboldt County Association of Governments. Speaking at the public comment section at the August 9th meeting, she put things this way:

“I just want to say that it concerns me talking about doing something like a survey to ask something as complex as what is the maximum height you would want a building? Because there are — as everyone paying attention, I think, knows — there are a lot of trade-offs. If you have a three-story building versus a six story building, just theoretically, there are pros and cons about land use conservation, energy conservation, aesthetic pros and cons…. Maybe all bad for some people, but just to say: “What is the tallest building you would want?”

I think it’d be really hard to do without giving context to be able to say that you’ve gotten a good response from the community.”

Form-Based Code presentation scheduled: August 16

The notice of this that is on the August 9th posting (below) has been added to.
Scroll down, or click here.

New post:

Wednesday, August 10th

The Four (or Five) Horsemen of the Apocalypse

To fend off any impending misunderstanding: I’m not saying the Gateway plan is the apocalypse. Not at all. The Gateway plan is going to be great. It just needs to get some kinks worked out… and some misinformation clarified and corrected.

“A broad range of housing densities and types, including rental and owner-occupied options”

“Affordable to the full range of Arcatan household incomes.”

Sorry, I’m just not seeing any of this in this current plan. 

Perhaps remove that from the draft plan, to make it be more honest. 

Or perhaps figure out how to make it come true — the far more desirable option.

“The Gateway Area provides a substantial solution to the City’s unmet and future housing needs, with thousands of housing units that are environmentally sustainable and affordable to people in all income ranges. Residents live within a broad range of housing densities and types, including rental and owner-occupied options, in a vibrant, walkable, near-downtown neighborhood.”

Multiple strategies are baked into this Plan to make housing in the Gateway Area affordable to the full range of Arcatan household incomes. This includes promoting a range of residential unit sizes and types, including studios, which are affordable because of their size, student housing, deed-restricted affordable housing, single room occupancies, and familysized dwellings with three or more bedrooms. As a result, the Gateway Area is a mixed-income neighborhood, with housing options available for all income groups, ranging from 200 square foot deed-restricted microunits to luxury condominiums for high-income households.”

From the intro page “Gateway Area At-a-Glance” and “The People’s Summary” (Page 1) of the December draft plan.

“A broad range of housing densities and types, including rental and owner-occupied options” “affordable to the full range of Arcatan household incomes”?

Sorry, I’m just not seeing any of that in this current plan.  Perhaps remove that from the draft plan, to be more honest.  Or perhaps figure out how to make it come true — the far more desirable option.

Wake up, Arcatans. Please.
Get involved. Create solutions.
This is our future.

New posts:


Tuesday, August 9th

(Edited and added to, August 11, 2022)

Form-Based Code presentation scheduled: August 16

Important for everyone who is following the Gateway plan:  A second presentation by Ben Noble, the City’s consultant on the Form-Based Code, will take place this coming Tuesday, from 6 to 8 p.m If you can’t be available at that time or miss it, it will be posted on YouTube and on Arcata1.com.

As background, prior to this new presentation, it is strongly suggested to watch, listen, and read the transcript from the first Ben Noble presentation on this website here or from the image-link on the right) It is about one hour long, or can be read in a shorter time — plus questions and some answers in an open period following Ben’s talk. (To watch the original video, it is on YouTube here.)

There are also additional articles on Form-Based Code on that page, as well as critique and suggestions on the the first presentation.  The transcription (with audio and notes) on this website is the preferred learning choice, in my view. 

  • Audio plus text, so you can read the presentation while listening.
  • Table of Contents links, so you can skip to or return to the sections that interest you. 
  • All the slides, images, and diagrams are included — you can spend time with the diagrams, instead of just watching them roll past as with a straight video.

The success of a Gateway plan is dependent on an assortment of “We need to get this right!” decisions.  The development of a good code — or, I’d rather say, an excellent Form-Based Code — is crucial. It will govern the look and feel of all new construction, where buildings are placed — both where within the 138 acres of the Gateway area and where on the specific parcel — what the streets and bike paths and walking areas look like, and on and on and on. And it will determine building height and massing. In short, everything that Arcata will become is outlined in the Form-Based Code.

Please be informed.
Read and listen to the first presentation here.
And come (via Zoom) to the second presentation
on Tuesday, August 16th.

The following is from the City of Arcata’s website.  Link here.

The second presentation in this series will be held August 16th, from 6-8 p.m., also via zoom. The meeting will be recorded and will be available on the City’s YouTube channel. This meeting will include additional information from the City’s design consultant, Ben Noble, and will cover additional design standards proposed to regulate building scale and massing, as well as additional information on proposed building heights by zone and community benefits.

This meeting will include virtual polling and participants will be asked to weigh in on building standards, in order to provide additional information to the City Council and Planning Commission in advance of the joint study session scheduled for the evening of August 23rd.

To participate in the meeting, please use the following link:

When: Aug 16, 2022 6:00 PM

Topic: Design and Form-Based Code Virtual Workshop 

https://us06web.zoom.us/j/88000938400

Webinar ID: 880 0093 8400

If you are unable to attend the meeting but would like to submit comments, please do so to the Community Development general inbox at comdev@cityofarcata.org with cc to Delo Freitas at dfreitas@cityofarcata.org. Staff will ensure that comments submitted are forwarded to the Planning Commission and City Council. The Planning Commission and City Council can also be contacted directly through their City email addresses which are available on the City’s website at https://www.cityofarcata.org/446/Planning-Commission and https://www.cityofarcata.org/547/City-Council-Members.

Monday, August 8th

4, 5, 6, 7, 8 stories … or more?

Let’s look at the words of Arcata Fire District Board of Directors member Eric Loudenslager as he spoke to the Planning Commission on August 4th. His full statement and video are here.

“It seems incomprehensible to me that a recommendation on building height could come out of the Planning Commission or the City Council until we have a full economic analysis of what it’s going to cost the City of Arcata citizens and the Fire District to actually provide the protection there.”

The question of building height came up for discussion — the first time for the Planning Commission — at the August 4, 2022 meeting. Commissioner White had previously acknowledged building height as the “elephant in the room” (see the Planning Commission’s July 26 meeting, this goes directly to that statement) .. but, let’s face it, there are a myriad of other elephants in the room too. Commissioner Mayer brought up Cal Poly Humboldt’s aggressive and ambitious construction process as being another elephant in the room.

For me, the even larger “elephants in the room” are:  The plan purports to be capable of supplying “Housing affordable to the full range of Arcatan household incomes” and “new home ownership opportunities” and “owner-occupied affordable housing” and as a Guiding Principle that the City will ensure “a balance of renters and owners” — and states this over and over again.  My belief is that when the buildings are actually constructed and the apartments are there available to rent or, conceivably to buy, that the rents will be higher than what we now have, the apartments will be occupied by students and by people coming here from out of the area, and that the “home ownership opportunities” and ability to grow equity through home ownership will be very close to zero.

The Commissioners’ discussion on building height that came later seemed (to me) to be more the case of the Commissioners expressing their personal views. It not come through so much as an informed discourse based on either what’s been expressed by the people of Arcata (and with an incomplete engagement report, we still don’t really know), what heights would be appropriate to deal with our housing needs, what would be feasible to build on our soils here, or even what might be seen as the future of Arcata.

Clearly there’s a correlation between building height and the numbers of bedrooms built — the quantity of people who will have housing. But that’s not discussed so much — only a general notion of what might fit in and what might work.

I say: Amend the plan so that there are more height-zone districts, that better reflect the existing neighborhoods. Or put this solidly in the “maybe-we’ll-see-it-someday” Form-Based zoning code.  I think new districts is preferred, so that there is no ambiguity.

As the plan was created, there are four districts in the Gateway area. The proposed 8-story area goes from Samoa up to 8th Street — including the Tomas parcel, the Greenway parcel, and right up to the south side of the Creamery Building.  The proposed 7-story area goes from 8th Street all the way up to the northern end of the Gateway area, at Alliance.  The blocks along K and (in theory) L Street are all shown as 7 stories.

The plan indicates that the Gateway District can built to a height of 7 stories.  If the industrial buildings in the neighborhood of the Creamery — where Jimenez Glass now is, or the buildings to the west of Holly Yashi, where the recycling center used to be and where Familia Coffee and The Back Porch architectural salvage store now are — there could be 7 story buildings put there.

All along K Street are 6-story buildings.  And along any possible L Street? There can be 8-story, 7-story, and 6-story, depending on where along L Street the parcel is.  In the Creamery District, the proposal is for 7- and 8-story buildings.

I say: Separate out the Creamery District, at a minimum. And then, along the L-Street Pathway. Based on recent input from the Transportation Safety Committee, we may be seeing “L Street” as a true walking linear park. We don’t want 7- or 8-story buildings on the west side of a walking path, do we?

I feel that instead of just four building-height districts, what we really need are 3 or 4 additional districts.

Supremely what we need is the 3-D modeling. Now.

So that we can visualize just what an 8-story building would look like, placed in the actual neighborhood.  Without the 3D modeling, we’re flying blind.  Without the 3D modeling, all discussion about building heights is just talk with no substance.

And ideally some aerial view maps, such as I’ve made here with the building-height districts shown.  The City Staff has a full Graphic Information System (GIS) that is capable of all kinds of mapping and presentation… but apparently Staff does not have the time or inclination to give us the necessary visual input to help us — the Planning Commission and the public — with the information that is required to make rational decisions.

Sunday, August 7

Are you a Bicyclist? Some questions for you.

Let’s agree that fewer cars and more people on bikes would solve some major problems facing all of us, both locally and globally.

I don’t know much about riding around Arcata, other than what I observe and what I get from talking with people who do ride. In my teens and twenties and through my thirties I rode my bike for everything — but no more. I acknowledge I got lazy. And as I aged, more and more I wanted the feeling of protection of having the steel cage of a car around me. I had too many close calls while riding a bike. People who know me know:  I hate cars. But I do use one.

If you’re an avid bicyclist you ride all over Arcata.  Maybe you use your bike to commute to work, to pick up groceries, to visit friends, to take your child on a ride into the world, or to get outside on a nice day.

You’re familiar with how biking currently is in Arcata, with a mish-mosh of dedicated paths, bike lanes (typically just painted stripes and inadequate for personal safety), and “sharrow” situations where bikes and cars and trucks are supposed to share the width of the road.

Maybe you ride all the time.  Maybe you only ride out in the Arcata Bottom on the farm roads where it’s open and pleasant and safe. Maybe you stick to streets that have pretty good bike lanes, and avoid those that don’t.

Whoever you are, and whatever kind of bicycling you do, you know more about biking in Arcata than I do.

Here are some questions.
And there will be other questions, too.  For more on these topics, see the article here on this website.

These are not rhetorical questions. I’m serious.  You can help me with this so I better understand what’s important for bike riders. I want to put your views into future articles here.

Questions:

With a 2-way bike path on L Street, would it be okay to not have a bike path on K Street?  Or should the bike paths be on literally every block?

Similarly: J Street is designated as a “Bike Boulevard” — Does that eliminate (or reduce) the need for a bike lane on K Street, just one block over?

If K Street was a one-way street, would the bike lane on K Street be in both directions?

Suppose L Street Pathway were retained as a bikeway / strolling path, and the L Street corridor were to be made into a Linear Park. Should the design include a separate, faster two-direction bike lane? What would be a desirable bike path situation there?

If 8th Street and 9th Street become one-way one-lane, as is proposed — should the bike lanes also be one-way?  Or should there be a two-way bike lane there.  If it’s a one-way bike lane, won’t some bicyclists ignore the one-way and ride counter to traffic?

Do shared “Bike Boulevard” streets and “Sharrows” streets work well in Arcata? Likely it is that some streets are okay and others not. What can you tell us about shared roads?

How do you view 4-way stop-sign intersections? Do you come to a full stop, or scope out the traffic and breeze through? Would it work or be more dangerous if the signs had an additional sign that said something like “Yield to Bicycles — Bicycles to not stop”?

What’s the deal with electric bikes and electric scooters? Where there are signs that say “No motorized vehicles” should they be allowed to be on that path? Many of these motorized bicycles look pretty much like motorcycles. Some bikes are pedal-assist (where the rider has to pedal to make it go) and others that just have a throttle — and some work both ways.

Bulb outs. Are bike lanes compatible with bulb outs?  It all depends on how it is designed, I guess. Have you ever run into a curb at a bulb out?

What’s your favorite type of bike lane? Least favorite?  Favorite street to ride on in Arcata?  Least favorite? If a new bike cannot cannot be separated from traffic with a hard barrier (because of too many driveways on that side of the street) is there still enough protection and safety?

What other questions should we be asking? What else can you tell me?
Please write to:  Bicycles  (at)  Arcata1.com  or reach me through the Contact Us page.

Thank you !

The proposals for streetscapes that are in the December 2021 draft Gateway plan are just depictions, I know, but they are somewhat inaccurate and misleading.  For one thing, what’s shown there is a sub-compact car, about the size of a Honda Fit — pretty small. To show bicyclists riding in a lane alongside a sub-compact car is not like what happens in real life.

To make the images more interesting — and more realistic — how about we consider what a Ford F-150 and a standard box-truck delivery truck would look like. These larger vehicles have been scaled accurately for the streetscapes shown. The original “Honda Fit” size little white car is there too, so you can see how small that car is relative to the traffic that would be on K Street or the proposed L Street.

For L Street, south-bound:

K Street, north-bound:

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Humor of the Day: “Always do your best”

 

“Dwelling Units per Acre”

This is another odious term that planners use. You’ll find it in key spots in the December 2021 draft Gateway plan, both as a phrase (or abbreviated as “du/ac”) and as a number that’s derived from “dwelling units per acre.”

Since the aim of the Gateway plan is to provide housing for lots of people, then we’d want to see as many dwelling units per acre as possible, right?  To achieve more dwelling units per acre, we can do two things:  Build taller apartments or have more units on a floor (or both). And how do the number-crunchers make more units on a a floor?  They make smaller units.

Perhaps you are understanding why I despise the counting of housing by “units” and “units per acre.” The numbers may satisfy some engineer or bureaucrat’s job to have a document filled out and completed, but it has very little to do with the actual needs for homes.  It’s just a shell-game, swapping one thing for another.  But it does not create more housing for people.

One other way to look housing density is by Floor Area Ratio, abbreviated F.A.R. or FAR. In creating apartments, we want some outdoor open space — that is, we don’t want the building to go all the way to the edges of the property. If, say, the building takes up half of the property and goes up 2 stories, then the FAR is 1. If the building was half of the property and went up 4 stories, then the FAR is 2. That’s the total floor area of the building divided by the parcel size.

The advantage of FAR is that we’re not counting “housing units” — we’re counting the area of the building. The developer could make a blend of studios, one-bedroom, two-bedrooms, three-bedrooms — and the FAR figure would stay the same.

With the “housing units per acre” designation, a building with all micro-studio apartments would have roughly twice as many “units” as a building that had a blend of housing sizes. There could be twice as many units — but it wouldn’t be providing more housing. The developer makes more money but people who want to live in a space bigger than 400 square feet would be out of luck.

We don’t want to use Floor Area Ratio to determine the design of buildings, just as we don’t want to use “dwelling units per acre” as any measurement of achieving our goals. There are other factors also that add up to encourage good design.

I remember reading years ago about how central planning was done in Russia during the 1960s and 1970s. Factory production and Housing production were controlled by government officials, who gave orders to the factory and construction management on how much of this or that they were required to make. One year the powers-that-be recognized that there wasn’t enough window glass in the country, so they ordered the glass factories to increase production by 25%, as measured by thousands of square feet of glass per month. So what did the glass factories do?  They made the glass thinner.  That would enable the factories to increase their output — as measured in how many square feet of glass they were making — without having to make more actual glass.  The glass was so thin that it often broke during transportation, before it even got to the construction sites.

That would be like saying “Let’s promote more units per acre” or “Let’s encourage greater densities, and get more housing that way.” We’d get more units, but we don’t get more housing.

A similar bungle happened in Russia with molded rubber parts.  The central government required factories to increase the number of “units” they made every month.  Just like what I’m describing here with making lots and lots of studio apartments to satisfy an invalid measurement — the molded rubber factories made lots and lots of doorstops.  Because then they could say that they made lots of “units.”  And at the same time, tractor tires were impossible to buy, because no factory wanted to make them, since each tractor tire only counted as one “unit.”

To paraphrase what I wrote yesterday: We do not want encourage developers to build studio apartments.  We want a blend of all housing sizes.  We don’t want a goal of building, say, 500 “units” and having them be substantially made up of studios.

Using the terms “housing units” and “dwelling units” and “dwelling units per acre” is the wrong way to measure housing. Again to remember:

The goal is to create homes for people.

New article:

Draft Plan Misrepresentation #57

Since we’re thinking about “dwelling units per acre” we can look at these lines from the “Key Opportunity Sites” on Page 37 of the December 2021 draft plan.

“The range of residential units that each site could generate is calculated at a medium density residential standard (18 dwelling units per acre) and at a moderately high-density standard (50 dwelling units per acre). While this plan does not envision establishing residential density standards, the 18 du/ac baseline provides a conservative estimate of what may actually be constructed since not all developers seek to achieve the maximum allowed units.

I’ve gone through a dozen words and phrases over these past months to describe what I see in this draft plan and in the documents and speakings since the plan was released. Starting with:  Disingenuous. Infeasible. Internally contradictory. Misrepresentational. Misleading. Likely done without thought. Then there are the stronger sentiments: Deceitful. Half-truth. Falsehoods.

I’ve communicated with Community Development Director David Loya about this:  The inconsistencies and deficiencies of this draft plan do not make his job easy. To be clear:  The people who wrote this plan are professional planners.  I’m not a planner.  But I can smell poor planning when it’s in front of me, and I can notice misleading statements when I read them.

“… since not all developers seek to achieve the maximum allowed units.”
Aren’t we trying to create housing here?  Isn’t that the aim of the Gateway plan? Are we going to allow 2-story detached town-houses, such as off of 13th and O on “Creamery Alley” ?  That’s not going to achieve the goals of housing.

“… the 18 du/ac baseline provides a conservative estimate of what may actually be constructed…”
What does the author mean here: That 18 “dwelling units per acre” may actually be what is constructed? I hope not!  That 18 du/ac is an average?  Like, there’s one acre with a building that has 64 units and then there’d be another 4 acres with 6,000 square foot lots and only 28 houses total on those 4 acres? Or maybe there’d be 5 acres that had a total of 90 units.

Because that’s what an average of 18 “housing units per acre” is.  It is nowhere near enough for what we want to do in the Gateway area.

For more info the article (reprint) on this website “Density Guide for Housing Types.”
Very quick to read, mostly diagrams.

Sorrel Place is about 64 units per acre.  And it includes one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and 3-bedroom apartments.

Is it possible that we could get some real figures here?

How many apartments are likely to actually be built?

Friday, August 5, 2022

“Housing Units” and “Housing Density”

We are here to make homes.

These aren’t numbers we’re talking about. 

We are talking about people. 

The phrases “Housing Units” and “Housing Density” are common in the world of planning.  But would it be possible for us here in Arcata — please — to move beyond this dehumanizing language?

My father was an engineer.  The thought-processes of engineers are vital to modern society. I respect engineers.  I value the contributions (mostly) that engineers make to our modern world.

But so much of this draft Gateway plan reads like it was created by engineers. It seems to be written by people preoccupied by numbers — and not by the actual reality that those numbers represent.

Please:  We are not here to make “housing units.”  We are here to make homes.
These aren’t numbers we’re talking about.  We are talking about people.  People will be living in these buildings.

This type of engineering-think leads to such phrases as, when looking at the Community Benefits program in Policy GA-2f:  “High-cost benefits should allow for a greater increase in allowed intensity than low-cost benefits.”  No, Mister Engineer: I don’t care about what the cost is to the developer.  I care about the value to our community. A roof-top restaurant with $100 meals might have had a high cost to the developer. (And, yes, “rooftop dining” is indeed listed in the draft list of community amenities.

The value to the community of such a restaurant?  Well, there’d be jobs, and there’d be enjoyment, by some. In this case though, I’d rate the value to the community of a high-priced roof-top restaurant, on a scale of 1 to 10, as about a 2.  That is, not much.

Similarly is the way the City engineers and the whoever wrote the City’s Gateway FAQs dispenses with the L Street Pathway, written about here.  (I appreciate the City’s engineers, but this case their considerations didn’t seem to involve the human element, in my opinion.) The results of taking all the southbound traffic, now on K Street, and routing it onto a newly-built road that would run alongside the current pathway?  Delivery trucks, semi-trucks, commuter traffic, big Diesel pickups, etc etc… what would the City be doing by putting this road next to a strolling pathway where people meet to sit and talk, and even listen to the birds in the trees:  “Some minor modifications are proposed.”  That’s the statement of someone who thinks like an engineer. There is not regard for the effects on humans of these “minor modifications.”

From the City’s FAQ page: “The trail will continue to be its current width and will continue to be separated by a vegetated strip along the entire L Street right-of-way.”

Because the pathway is in the same place and it’s the same width. Hmmm.  By that viewpoint, the numbers are the same and so by definition the path is the same.  And that vegetated strip makes it all okay, I suppose. No. Putting in a road there effectively ruins the pathway. (Fortunately for Arcata, the Transportation Safety Committee has issued a strongly-worded recommendation, and it does appear that the L Street Pathway will be spared, and a Linear Park will be present rather than the originally proposed local truck route.)

The large example of this is in the expressed desire to increase “housing density.” In the plan, developers can get a housing density bonus if they supply some “amenities” that are considered as community benefits — things that are good for all of us, that can be enjoyed and appreciated by all of us.  Like a community garden, or a space for a bus stop. (The exact community benefits and their relative values are being worked on.  The initial go-around can be see in “Community Benefits and Development Standards – Chapter 2” on Page 48.  Link here on Page 1 of the chapter.)

What do the developers get in exchange this negotiation with Arcata? They get to put in more “housing units.” There will be more housing units, and the “housing units” will be smaller.

When non-subsidized Gateway apartments are built, I foresee standard one-bedroom apartments as having a rent of $1,500 or $1,600 a month — or more. 

I don’t consider that to be what Arcata wants or needs.

The December 2021 draft plan uses the phrase “small units (which are naturally more affordable” and “affordable-by-design studio apartments” — six times in the document. I say:  Remove these phrases from the document. Those word are elitist and offensive. A tiny apartment is not automatically affordable by its design any more than a tall person is automatically a good basketball player. There are lots of factors involved, and as has been stated elsewhere on this website much of the rent cost is based on the cost of construction.  Now it could be the case that a small apartment is more affordable than a larger version — that could easily be true. A smaller one costs less than a bigger one. But when we’re seeing 400 square foot apartments renting in Santa Cruz for an average of $2,800 a month — that is hardly affordable. When non-subsidize Gateway apartments are built, I foresee standard one-bedroom apartments as having a rent of $1500 or $1600 a month — or more. [August 2022 comparative prices]  I don’t consider that to be what Arcata wants or needs.

Suppose the developer says “I want to put in more units.” 

Well, that’s easy:  Just make the units smaller. 

Here’s the problem, and I’ll use Sorrel Place as an example — in this case, it is a good example. (Location: 7th Street, between I & J) Sorrel Place has 16 one-bedroom homes, 17 two-bedrooms homes, and 11 three-bedroom homes. The average size is almost 825 square feet for the 44 apartments. Sorrel Place is 100% affordable housing so there are restrictions, but for this discussion let’s pretend it’s an ordinary apartment building.

Suppose the developer says “I want to put in more units.”  Well, that’s easy:  Just make the units smaller.  If they were 400 square feet, you’d have 88 units in the building (roughly). If they could be squeezed down to a 360 sq.ft. size, you could get about 100 units — in the same building.

David Loya, is proposing that there be no maximum limit on the density of units within a building. 

The Planning Commission Chair, Julie Vaissade-Elcock, disagrees.

The Community Development Director, David Loya, is proposing that there be no maximum limit on the density of units within a building.  The form of the building — height, size, setbacks from the street — will determine the largest quantity of units that can fit into that building, he tells us.

The Planning Commission Chair, Julie Vaissade-Elcock, disagrees:  She has strongly stated that there should be a policy for the maximum number of units. Ms. Vaissade-Elcock owns and operates a property management service in Arcata.  She likely has a good sense of what the rental market is with this direct connection.

Without a clear maximum of units in a building, what happens? The developer is encouraged to build smaller and smaller units. And this is what we see now in Santa Cruz: A single building made up of 200 micro-studios 360 to 400 square feet in size. It can be said: Apparently this is what people want.

Is that what is good for Arcata? Is this what we want?  I do not think so, not one little bit. I believe that we need a blend of housing, housing in all sizes.  I feel that there should be a limit — as a percentage — of how many studio and micro-studio apartments that can be included in any building.  Perhaps 20% maximum would be appropriate — and maybe some other percentages brought in as minimums of two-bedroom and up apartments. Such as 30% of a building must be two-bedroom and larger.

To the argument that to get around this developers will just build in the “Tea Garden”-style design — four bedroom, four bath apartments with a minimal kitchen — clearly intended for student living.  I believe this style of apartment should be banned.

And back to “housing units” and “housing density” — see the WordCloud article here. There are over 28,000 words in the draft Gateway plan, and the words “House” and “Home” — as meaning a place where people will live — do not appear a single time. (Lots of other words and phases are missing or mentioned only once or twice also, including “solar shading, “

In the Gateway area, people will live in “Housing” and “Housing units.” As the plan stands now, people will not live in Houses, and people will not live in Homes.

Let’s change that. Let’s make livable homes for people and not just a quantity of something that’s used to enter a figure to satisfy a numeric goal, or to fill out a form and check off a box.

To regard a three-bedroom apartment in the same way — as one “housing unit” — and equal to a studio apartment is just engineering-thinking. Instead, count the bedrooms. Count the number of people — adults and children — who might be living there.  Don’t count the number of housing units or how the maximum density in a building design allows it to “pencil out” (i.e. be profitable). This just encourages lots and lots of tiny apartments.

Homes are for people. Let’s not forget that.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

The Planning Commission meets today, Thursday August 4th, at 4 p.m.
In the Council Chambers, or available via Zoom or the City’s live website.
This is a “special” meeting, taking place in-between the Commission’s regularly-scheduled July 26th and August 9th meetings.

Today’s Gateway emphasis is on the Design and Community Benefits Chapters.

The Community Benefits chapter — and all the other chapters of the December 2021 draft Gateway plan — can be found on this website here.

If you want to watch or participate in this Planning Commission meeting, the agenda and zoom instructions are here on the City’s website.

Opinion:

We can note that the agenda packet has the Design chapter but the other required chapter is absent. “Chapter 2: Community Benefits and Development Standards” isn’t there in the packet.

This is another small “falling through the cracks” on the part of the Community Development Department. As I have said to the City Council more than once, it is my opinion that Arcata does not have sufficient staff to accomplish a plan of this size and scope. There are just not enough hours in the day for the staff that’s there to do a complete and thorough job — which is to make a good and successful plan for all of us.

A big example of what is missing: 


How are we going to provide for the affordable housing and home-ownership opportunities that the plan promises?

Leaving a chapter out of the Planning Commissioners’ agenda packet is a small thing. But it is one of dozens of “small things” that have been done improperly or left undone. And the same neglect is shown on the “big things” too.

Possible solutions?  Get some funding and hire more staff. Insist that Cal Poly Humboldt contribute more — get our elected State and Federal officials involved. Rely on support from local volunteers who have experience, with both large and small things (i.e. posting citizens’ letters on-line). Utilize a citizen Advisory Committee. Complete the engagement summary report so we know where we stand. Make some management decisions and move on. Stop spinning wheels and get more efficient. Make presentations complete and informative. Answer Commissioner’s questions. Give us the facts — complete information, don’t keep us uninformed — and let the Commission and the Committees do their work. Have promised features (i.e. 3D modeling) completed and available.

The big example of what is missing:
How are we going to provide for the affordable housing and home-ownership opportunities that this plan promises?

This is the conversation that we need to have.  Otherwise we’ll have apartments at even higher rents that we’re seeing now, and an even more-skewed lack of equity-building home-ownership opportunities. Things will get worse unless creative solutions are devised. “More of the same” simply is not good enough.

The plan says:  

“The Gateway Area provides a substantial solution to the City’s unmet and future housing needs, with thousands of housing units that are environmentally sustainable and affordable to people in all income ranges.”

As the plan is now, this is a 100% false promise.

And the notion the the “market” (i.e. the developers) will provide for us and build what is wanted by the people of Arcata?  I do not believe that for one second. Rental prices are tied to the cost of construction. There will be some subsidized affordable housing — perhaps 15% or 20%. Maybe 25%. Suppose 1,000 apartments are built — and that is a lot. It would be TWENTY buildings the size of the block-long Sorrel Place on 7th Street.  Oh, there could be a greater number of apartment units if those 20 buildings were twice as tall — that is, eight stories high — or if they had studio apartments there instead of one-to-three bedroom units. Then we’d only need to see TEN of those 8-story buildings.  In any eventuality, 1,000 new units at 20% or 25% affordability yields 200 or 250 affordable apartments.  The balance will be “market rate.”  That is not enough affordable housing for what’s needed. Does this help a working person or any kind of family?  No, it does not help.

The December draft Gateway plan talks about “affordable-by-design studio apartments” and “small units (which are naturally more affordable).”  Reader, would you like to be a single parent with a six-year-old child living in a micro-sized studio apartment –at $1100 or $1200 a month, or higher — because that’s what the Gateway plan deems to be “affordable-by-design” ?  I say: Remove all references to “affordable-by-design studio apartments” from this plan document. If making an apartment smaller is this plan’s solution for affordable housing, we need to go back for another look at what we’re doing.

The plan says:

“The Gateway Area provides a substantial solution to the City’s unmet and future housing needs, with thousands of housing units that are environmentally sustainable and affordable to people in all income ranges.”

As the plan is now, this is a 100% false promise.

Arcata, we can do better.


Wednesday, August 3

Transportation Safety Committee recommends:
We must keep the L Street Pathway

In headline-attention news, the Transportation Safety Committee with the direction of Chair Dave Ryan issued a strongly-worded recommendation that the K Street – L Street “couplet” concept be abandoned. The idea presented in the December draft Gateway plan was to have K Street be one-lane one-way headed north and build a new road for L Street as a one-lane one-way road going south. This was wrong on very many levels (see “The L Street Pathway Deception” and photos and aerial views of the L Street Pathway here).

A big round of applause to the Transportation Safety Committee for recognizing the folly contained in the draft plan — and for coming out decisively with their views.

The obvious hypocrisy of a Gateway “plan” reconciled to more traffic and car-centric building design — while in its language promoting walkability and human-scaled design — was exposed by the Committee.  The promise of a replacement for the draft plan’s concepts for K and L Streets allows Arcata to proceed in true Green fashion.  The draft plan is filled with words promoting how we should “encourage” this or that. The retention of the L Street Pathway makes what Arcata wants a reality.

At the same time this recommendation plants the seeds for a new Linear Park and a vegetated walkable “mall” in which the entire right-of-way can be devoted to public use.  Minus a lane of a driveway of course, likely on the eastern side, for those residents who still need to get in and out.

This is an outstanding WIN for many concerned citizens, and hopefully is a harbinger of good things to come. Again, our thanks to the Transportation Safety Committee and to the Community Development Director David Loya for being able to hear the clear message.

American Tune — by Paul Simon

This song always brings tears to me, for the simplicity and depth of its message. Here are eight versions of studio and concert performances, from 1973 when Paul Simon was 32 years old all the way to a during-Covid rendition at the “Til Further Notice” livestream production, March 2020, when he was 78 years old.

Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones

Letters from the public are finally almost here

Good news!  Or partially so, that is.  To put it another way:  We’re getting there; it’s just a bit slow. See these articles on the lack of transparency and the missing letters.

I will be adding to the Summary of letters received (see here) so that the content of these letters become accessible, as well as adding these never-before-seen communications onto this website. And also setting up the search facility on this website to include searching through the public comments, so we can quickly located content of these communications.

The public comments through the end of May, 2022, have been posted on-line. Letters will be posted in batches every two months.  Why not post the letters as they come in? It’s not that hard.

Why not put the letters in the packets, as has been done for decades?  Why not handle past-deadline and at-meeting public input for the Planning Commission the same way as it’s done for the City Council?  It seems to work out okay for the Council to have amendments to the agenda packets. Yes, that’s more work, but if set up to be done efficiently it’s not that much more work. 

On August 2nd we got an e-mail from the Community Development Director.  It seems that “all” of the public comments that have been received by the Department regarding the Gateway plan have now been posted on-line.

That message from the Community Development Director was missing the link to actually see this public comment, and the location on the City’s website may not be intuitively obvious.  It’s under:  Community Development > Housing > Strategic Infill Redevelopment Program > Ongoing Community Outreach, and then half-way down the page on the right side you click on “Submitted Comment.” That will bring up the “Comments Received” options. Here’s the link.

“Public comment recvied on the Infill Program has been saved internally as part of the administrative record for this program. Base don community interest, comments recieved [sic] will be uploaded to this website in batches. Generally comments will be uploaded in chronological, monthly batches.”

June 23, 2021 to December 19, 2021
January 12, 2022 to February 25, 2022
February 26, 2022 to May 24, 2022
June – July 2022   (no link at this time)

This says “monthly batches” but since letters for June aren’t here yet, perhaps we can take it to mean every two months.  In any case, the letters from June should be here pretty soon.
[Note to the City:  In the three sentences and links there are 7 typos and an unneeded comma.]

All the comments through May 30th are here, in theory.  So they are now only two months behind.  That is much better than being four or five months behind.

The “missing” letters seem to be there. The letter from Danelle Merz from May 15th is included, and Wendy Ring’s letter, and the April 4th letter from the Creamery Playhouse Arts letter (signed by 23 people) and my April 11th summary of the last batch of letters we were given back on April 8, and  — four months ago, and not all the letters, as it turned out. That April 11 letter is the ironic one:  That’s the message that speaks to how the letters are not getting into the public record — and that letter also was never put into the public record.  The letter about the letters not getting into the public record did not get into the public record.

Still missing are the letters from June 9th which were not put into the Planning Commission’s agenda packet for June 14th because of a mis-statement of the deadline date, and not put into the agenda packet for June 28th because they “slipped through the cracks,” and not put into the agenda packet for July 26th or August 4th because of reasons unknown. The letter from July 20th letter from Scott McBain and Chris Richards about the formation of a Gateway Plan Advisory Committee — that’s not there.

But it’s all a good step forward.

From the Community Development Department.  Highlight is added.

In addition, public comment received on the Gateway Plan from 2021-May 2022 has now been uploaded to the Community Engagement page. Additional comments will be uploaded in batches every 2 months. 

(To sign up to get these and other messages from the City, click here. You’ll have to sign up with the City to register your e-mail address or text number. You can check “Long-Range Planning & Community Visioning” and in the Calendar section “Infill Program Engagement” and “Planning Commission” and “City Council” and “News Flash – City News” as well as any other options you may like.)

 


Tuesday, August 2, 2022

The Transportation Safety Committee has a special meeting today at 4:30 p.m.  And the Economic Development Committee has their regular meeting today at 5:00 p.m.

Transportation Safety is looking at the proposed K & L Street Couplet — which would eliminate the possibility of L Street become a shining-start “walking mall” Linear Park. The Gateway plan is encouraging a walkable and bikeable, vital and vibrant community?  Let’s see it. Let’s keep the L Street Pathway as it is, and enlarge upon the wonderful human-oriented “street” that its become.

Here are some Arcata1.com articles for the topics for your consideration.

The L Street Pathway

The L Street pathway could be a community jewel in the heart of the Gateway area. The City wants it to be a high-traffic road, taking all the southbound car and truck volume from Alliance Road to Samoa Boulevard.

The L Street Pathway Deception

The K & L Street one-way couplet cannot be built.  The City does not have the rights-of-way, and seems unlikely to be able to obtain them.  The not-yet-negotiated old railroad rights-of-way:  Maybe.  The individual property owners’ rights of way?  Likely not, quite strongly.  The use of Eminent Domain to acquire the properties? The City has declared that they won’t use Eminent Domain. So — What happens next?  Let’s keep K Street as a two-way street and put the walking paths and bicycle lanes in a linear park on L Street.

Traffic Studies, Anyone?

Transportation Safety Committee:
Can you make decisions without information?  We’ve been promised to see Traffic Studies for getting close to a year. Do they exist? Have they been started? Can we see them? Originally scheduled for completion in November 2021 — PRIOR to the release of the December 2021 draft Gateway plan, but we knew that timeline was unrealistic from the start. Will we see these studies?  Sure, we probably will — some day.

Request for a “Plan B” if the K Street & L Street couplet cannot be constructed

The City wants to destroy a quiet strolling pathway so that car and truck traffic will be split between L Street and K Street. Meanwhile, cities all over the world are attempting to get rid of car traffic in favor of walkable public spaces. We’ve been promised a view of an alternate plan since JANUARY – six months ago.  So far, nothing.  Let’s see an alternate plan and make a decision.

Are you a Bicyclist? Some questions for you.

New proposed bike lanes are proposed for K & L Streets and for 8th & 9th Streets. Could we do without a K Street bike lane and instead keep L Street bikeable, walkable, and protected from vehicle traffic?

8th and 9th Streets: Where’s the parking?

8th & 9th Streets are proposed as one-way streets with bike lanes. That sounds good. But it comes with a 30% reduction of parking on those streets. That sounds bad.


Monday, August 1, 2022

Here’s a quick article to check out.

City’s Open House “Engagement Report” is finally (almost) here

Is this really the Community Engagement Report? The one we’ve been waiting FIVE SIX months for? It’s supposed to be a summary of what Arcatans want. Oh well. No Summary. Do we want 8-Story apartment buildings in the Gateway area? It still might be a while before we find out — from official sources — what the community wants.
Unless, that is, we already know.


Desultory:
Lacking a plan, purpose, or enthusiasm.  Of conversation or speech: going constantly from one subject to another in a halfhearted way; unfocused.

Gobbledegook:
Language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of abstruse technical terms; nonsense.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

I am asking and stating this as an expression of my opinion, after seven months of observation, listening, transcribing meetings, reading, analysis, and discussions with some dozens of people … and trying to makes heads or tails out of what I regard as a pretty total mess.

1. Today’s newest articles.
2. Why are we not getting the information we need?


Today’s newest posts. Click on any bold-blue title to go directly to that article.

The L Street Pathway

The L Street Pathway could be a community jewel in the heart of the Gateway area. The City wants it to be a high-traffic road, taking all the southbound car and truck volume from Alliance Road to Samoa Boulevard. Can you envision a “walking mall” with restaurants and shops, activities and entertainment, located along a tree-lined linear park?  I can.  When the parcels located where AmeriGas, the lot behind the former Tomas building, the storage units caddy-corner from the Creamery Building, and the Ag Sales building at 11th & L are all infilled and re-developed with park-facing storefronts, just imagine how delightful this area could be.

It’s what cities all over the world are striving to achieve, and it’s right here ready for us in our own town.  Unless, of course, our City determines it really needs to be turned into a designated southbound truck route.

Request for a “Plan B” if the K Street & L Street couplet cannot be constructed

The City wants to destroy a quiet strolling pathway so that car and truck traffic will be split between L Street and K Street. Meanwhile, cities all over the world — as well as our own written policies — are attempting to get rid of car traffic in favor of walkable public spaces. So what’s going on here?

Traffic Studies, Anyone?

We’ve been promised to see Traffic Studies for getting close to a year. Do they exist? Have they been started? Can we see them? What is going on?

Transcript and Video: Planning Commission meeting — July 26, 2022

Gobbledygook: Could the Gateway Plan be approved before we even see the Form-Based Code that defines the design? This is what David Loya has outlined… and which the Commissioners say cannot possibly occur.

The L Street Pathway Deception

The City does not have the legal rights-of-way to construct the roads that are presented inthe December draft Gateway plan.  Nevertheless they persist as though they do.  What I say:  Tell us the full story, and we’ll make a decision.
Still in draft form.  I intend have it complete on Monday.


Why are we not getting the information we need?

Being clear: This is not a personal issue.  I look at what people do and say, at their promises and performance. Why does Arcata’s Community Development Department insist on providing misleading staff reports and repetitive excuses for not keeping promises? Why not present the facts as they are and leave it up to us — the City Council, the Planning Commission, the numerous Committees, and the public — to either agree or disagree?

If some acknowledged necessary ingredient for a successful plan — such as the 3D modeling, or delivery of the Form-Based Code, or even an explanation of why we still do not have a satisfactory summary of the community input provided by Arcata residents attending the January 21st and 22nd Open House meeting, six months later — If these acknowledged necessary ingredients for a successful plan are not forthcoming, what are we to think?

Tell me, Reader:  After encountering deceptions, aren’t you far more suspicious of everything that is presented to you from that point forward?  If asked to accept something which either you know from the start to not be valid or you find out later was based on beliefs without merit — won’t your views of all that follows be accompanied with skepticism?

My skepticism and distrust started when when I read the opening page — the very first page — of the December 2021 draft Gateway plan. And — based on what the Community Development Department continues to promote as “truth” — that level of distrust has only increased.  See the “The L Street Pathway Deception” for more.

The information that we have been given on a weekly basis — at Committee and Commission meetings, in the staff reports, on the City’s own website — apparently cannot be relied upon as being the whole truth.  Is this disconcerting?  You bet it is.

  • The Planning Commission has been asking for when they might see the Form-Based Code since February.  Even a page of it, a sample.  This is the Zoning Code, the look and feel of everything. Buildings, streets, solar shading, affordability, community benefits, open space, bike paths, and more.
    They word we’ve gotten is “there’s been some discussion and questioning whether or not Form-Based Code is the correct approach.”  Reader, I disagree.  There has has been no discussion in the public record about whether or not to pursue the Form-Based Code. None. We’re all gung-ho about it.
    At the July 26th Planning Commission meeting, when asked what the time-frame might be for the Form-Based Code, we were told that “there’s a number of reasons that we’ve cited, including potential conflicts of interest and trying to sort through those” — which has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with working the consultant to develop the Code — and “the work-product that we were anticipating seeing earlier in this process just wasn’t available and ready” which, again, to me means nothing, and finally “my hope is that we’re going to start seeing the beginnings of it. Again, this design work that we’re doing with the community is the first phase of that, and then we’ll see that develop over the course of the next six or so months.”What is this?  We hope we’re going to start to see the beginnings of it? And we will see the design work develop over the course of the next six or so months?

    There is no answer as to when it will be ready.  I take those words to mean that it is just getting started. There’s been no acceptable reason offered for this delay.  Click here for more.

  • The 3D modeling, an integral part of any project, was originally been promised for February. That was overly optimistic, but since then it has only been talked about.  It was talked about in May.  In June.  Finally we were told that we are “looking forward to having that rollout over July and August.”  That’s good (if it comes) but we’ve needed it for the past four months. Click here for more.
  • Can anyone explain to me why any actual, usable, informative, decisive results from all that citizen input from the January 21-22, 2022, Gateway Open House is still absent? Yes, a report came out on June 17th, but it’s a listing, not a summary. It has photos of the input, but no compilations or recommendations.  Why not?It says that it’s a draft — so when do we get the real thing?  It doesn’t matter that the community input is on-going. We need to know what’s already been said.  It’s been, um, six months now.  Click here for the entire lackluster report, and commentary.

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.
It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

– Mark Twain

Friday, July 29, 2022

Last week I posted the article “A possible 6-story design for Arcata” about the design of a mixed-use building, originally intended for Santa Cruz, that I feel has some applicability for us here in Arcata.

Am I in favor of six-story buildings?  Or eight?  I’ve put considerable thought into this — it is indeed a major concern — and I’m developing an article on this subject, so stay tuned.

I will say, though, that as soon as the maximum building height moves down from the proposed eight-story height then the effective negotiating position necessary to ensure the “community amenities” exchanges with developers becomes reduced.  And the Gateway plan, as it is, completely relies on that community amenities exchange for the inclusion of elements for the public good — which the developers might not otherwise provide.  Such amenities as:  Affordable housing, home-ownership opportunities, privately-owned public access spaces (i.e. parks and parklets), and a host of smaller but significant community benefits. Without that exchange system in place, it is unlikely that the plan, as it is, will benefit the public.  So does this plan need to be abandoned, so we can start over?  No — but we have to be thoughtful and careful in how we proceed.  We could wind up giving away a lot to the developers, and gaining little in return.

(edited Monday, August 1, 2022)

Press or click on the images to go to that article.

I put the article about this building there not with the intention that it should be copied — but so we can look at it and evaluate the merits of its design. Consider what it has:

  • Both public and private outdoor spaces.
  • Useable sized balconies.
  • Roof-top garden space.  Could be expanded for more garden area.
  • Outside activity areas:  Bocce, Amphitheatre, outside dining area, walking and sitting spaces.
  • Parking is on the ground floor, inside the a surrounding “ring” of commercial use spaces and hidden from view.  The parking is “double-decker” with a mechanical stacker car parking system that is two cars in height.  For the 276 apartments there are 138 spaces.
  • The design has 6th floor is stepped back so that it’s 60% of the size of the floor below, and further minimizes the impact of the height by breaking up the building’s mass.  The full six stories is not apparent from a ground-level vantage point. From the street and from the back, it appears as 5-stories. In addition, the building uses as patented method of construction for less space between the floors. A 6-story building using this method is about the height of a regular 5-story building.

Unfortunately, as the article explains, a building of this design and level of quality seems unlikely to be built in Arcata. The cost of construction would require levels of rent that are a bit much by our standards.  (Santa Cruz rents as of June 2022 are around $2,800 for a 400 square foot studio and up to $3,800 for a 500 sq.ft. one-bedroom apartment.)

What we’re looking at here is the design. This Santa Cruz building is a far better design for people — for both the people who live there and for the people of the town who come there to eat, shop, meet friends, and stroll.


“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Thursday, July 28, 2022

The scope and size of the Gateway plan is so big — and there are so very many facets to all of it.  “What’s new” can overshadow what is important.  And “What’s big” can crowd out critical details.
All of it is important.  You can figure out for yourself what is valuable for you to know.

What do I want? Very simple.
Affordable Housing and Home Ownership Opportunities.

I will continue to repeat what I’ve said and will continue to say:  I want the best plan for Arcata, a superb plan. I want to see actual and enforceable Affordable Housing, and I want to see actual and enforceable Home Ownership Opportunities.  As I see it, the current plan provides for very little Affordable Housing and practically none of Home Ownership.  My concern is that apartments will be built and that the strong group of working people — health-care workers, police and fire-protection workers, City and County government workers, people who work at and run our stores and shops, restaurants, construction, schools, child-care, food, maintenance, and every business and industry here, all and everyone — that the people who mean so much to Arcata will not be able to afford the rents. It is 100% misguided thinking to suppose that by building more apartments then rents will come down.  They will not — it is more likely that rents will go up. I am all in favor of infill and walkable neighborhoods and bike paths — and usable parks. If it takes a little longer to figure out how to keep Arcata life-based and caring, then let’s do that.  The results will be worth it.

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Current news:

Upcoming joint study session

Coming up on August 23rd, at this time almost a month away, is the City Council and Planning Commission joint study session on the Gateway plan. It is expected that a determination for building height in the Gateway area will be established – at the very least that will happen, we hope. As we’re told, creating the agenda is in process.  To me it seems that there are a greater number or vitally important items to be discussed than there is time allotted for the meeting – so time-management will be critical. The meeting will be run by Vice-Mayor Sarah Schaefer (perhaps with assistance from City Manager Karen Diemer) because, as we’ve known since early April, Mayor Stacy Atkins-Salazar has had to recuse herself from Gateway-oriented discourse.  What is not known at this time is whether the California Fair Political Practices Committee will have issued a ruling on whether Councilmember Alex Stillman – elected in June and sworn in July 11th – will have to recuse herself as well.

It does seem likely that the fate of tens of thousands of current and future residents and renters, the potential construction of many hundreds of millions of dollars in real estate, and the look, feel, texture, and composition of our entire city for the next 50 or 80 years – or forever – will all be determined by the votes of three Councilmembers, at some point next year.


The Planning Commission meeting, July 28th

The Planning Commission meeting this past Tuesday, July 28th, was marked by less outspoken rancor and discord than at other meetings of the past. Still, there were plenty of undercurrents of displeasure, including Community Development Director David Loya interrupting Commission Chair Julie Vaissade-Elcock and speaking in two segments for a total of close to 11 minutes versus the Chair’s 3-1/2 minutes… and with the Chair having to eventually cut him off as he rambled on about the ministerial review process.

It seems that David Loya is still trying to defend Zoning Administrator review (i.e. himself and only himself) even though the City’s Form-Based Code consultant Ben Noble has clearly outlined three different options for the review process, including – you guessed it – having public input and Planning Commission review.  And even though the very successful Form-Based Code developed and utilized for more than ten years by Redwood City incorporates a Planning Commission review process.  It seems that still, at this stage, the Community Development Director does not grasp that the as-yet-unseen City’s Form-Based Code — which will effectively regulate building design — can co-exist with Planning Commission review.  To be absolutely certain, there will not be the same type of discretionary (and at times arbitrary) review as seen in the past.  But the approval process can and will benefit from the voices of the public and from the wisdom and experience of the seven members of the Planning Commission, augmented, of course, by the Community Development Director’s skills and knowledge. That is how it should be, and that is the process that the Planning Commission has indicated will be what the future holds for us.

Planning Commissioner Judith Mayer reiterated — in depth — what should be obvious to everybody:  That without a detailed zoning code (likely a new Form-Based Code) not only is the Planning Commission unable to evaluate and provide constructive additions to the draft Gateway plan, but also the City Council cannot possibly pass any plan that is dependent on this code – unless the new code is included with what is being vote on.  It is not clear that the Planning Commission fully comprehends that the new Form-Based Code is just beginning to be started.  The requests for samples — or to see the actual Code — that Planning Commissioners asked for in February, May, and June apparently fell on deaf ears.  There is no Form-Based Code for Arcata currently in existence. But, we are assured, it will be here… someday.

See articles on this website on this and prior Planning Commission meetings, and on Form-Based Code.

In other Planning Commission meeting news, we have the re-election of Commissioner Julie Vaissade-Elcock as Chair and the first-time election of Commissioner Scott Davies as Vice-Chair.  Congratulations and thank you to both for your service and dedication – as well as thank you to all the Commissioners for their questions, comments, viewpoints, and thoughtful discourse. And welcome back to Commissioner Dan Tangney and Commissioner (and former Vice-Chair) Judith Mayer, both of whose observations and insights were missed at the last meeting.

We had a two-minute gap on the audio to those watching the meeting via Zoom from home or at the location of their choosing, during the Oral Communications agenda section and starting with the very first speaker – who happened to be me. This was discovered by those in the Council Chamber only through the call-in participant Sherri Starr, about 14 minutes later.  Commission Chair Julie Vaissade-Elcock very much did the right thing in allowing me to speak a second time – this time with functioning sound — and inviting other speakers as well.  The Community Development Director seems to have misunderstood or otherwise misrepresented just what was going on, and further illustrated a lack of understanding of recent Covid-necessary amendments to the Brown Act (which governs transparency in government) regarding technical glitches of this sort and the importance of public comment and community involvement.  The Chair, with her intuitive sense of fairness and propriety, acted in exactly the right manner.


The Forever Missing Letters

And what of the “missing” letters that were supposed to have been the Planning Commission agenda packets?  Oh, you’ll never believe it:  They were missing again!  That’s right – the letters that were supposed to be in the June 14th packet, and then “slipped through the cracks” at the meeting on June 28th, with a promise to “bring it forward the next time” — those letters were not in this July 26th packet. Nor was the letter from Scott McBain and Chris Richards about the proposal for an Advisory Committee, signed by 82 citizens. Nor were there certain letters going back to April and even February — letters to the Planning Commission that have never been in a Planning Commission packet.

If you have sent a letter to the Planning Commission and question whether it was seen or read:  Please contact me.  I know of and have 8 letters that never made it in. I would like to correct this impudent oversight.

See articles on the letters from the public and the public input process here.


What’s next?

Lots!  The creation of a good Gateway plan is a long process. There are plenty of opportunities for your input, critique, and support. It is a huge task to enact our principles and vision into what will be Arcata’s future. The walk- and bike-ability of infill structures — perhaps even carbon-neutral structures — can be of huge importance in the coming world.  Let’s be innovative and get it right.

Cheers to all, and onward —

— Fred