See also: Quimby Act Dreams — How do we get parks in Gateway?
Sure, there’s open space. But where are the parks?
The December 2021 draft Gateway plan states on page 20:
“The City’s goal is to provide a park, high-quality trail, or open space within 200 yards of every residential unit in the Plan Area.”
“You know, I’d like to think that what we have in the document at this point is — nothing in there is so aspirational as to be impossible.
But there are some pretty lofty goals.”
A wonderful goal. Or, as Community Development Director David Loya might put it, it’s an aspirational goal. A distance of 200 yards is just 600 feet, or 2 blocks in Arcata. Wouldn’t you like to live within two blocks of an outdoor spot to enjoy some afternoon Arcata sunshine?
But what exactly is a park? What is “open space”?
For this discussion what I’m looking for are outdoor spots where people can meet, congregate, hang out, and establish community. Areas with benches or chairs. A place to read, or see a friend. Children’s playgrounds. Places that give a sense of neighborhood and belonging.
Almost any kind of open space is good, so let’s make this more clear:
- You can separate out the open space that is wildlife or riparian habitat. I’m greatly in favor and supportive of natural open spaces and the great benefits to everything living (and not) — and all this is absolutely crucial to our planet, no question. But a person can’t sit there. So let’s have more of it, but also let’s not count it as a human-centric space.
- You can separate out the trails. Similarly, they are great for what they are. And likewise necessary for our community. But I’m looking for places for community involvement and people meeting.
- See what amount of space is there — the actual parks that exist — and then expand on that.
Where do the parks come from?
The City doesn’t own any land there.
Maybe the City should buy some parcels.
The Community Benefit and Amenities Program
A guiding proposition of the December 2021 draft Gateway plan is the notion of the Community Benefits and Amenities program. The idea is that the City will offer an incentive to the developer — higher density, a taller building, faster approval — and then the developer will give something back to the City. This is outlined on Page 48 of the draft plan, which you can see here.
But what if the developer already is able to build 4 stories, maybe 5… if he’s already eligible for streamline approval… and the developer can already build as many little studio or micro-studio apartment units as possible. (There’s no maximum density in the current Gateway Code — There is no limit to the number of tiny apartments that a developer can pack into a building.)
If the developer can do all that already — what incentive can the City offer?
Why would a developer give up land for a park… in exchange for something the developer already has?
We’re not going to get any substantial park that way.
Those amenities just aren’t a big enough prize for the developer to give up that valuable land.
The vast majority of parcels in the Gateway area are small. The largest group of parcels is at the south end — the industrial area where Wing Inflatables currently is, and the log deck and lumber mill along Samoa Boulevard. That’s 20 acres in total. The plan calls for that developer to give up about 1-1/2 acres for a Plaza-size park. In exchange for what? To build 8-story buildings there, is what was planned. But if the people of Arcata nix that height, what can the City offer in amenities to the developer in order to get that 1-1/2 acre donation?
Other than that 20 acres, there’s a parcel of about 5 buildable acres and one of 3-1/2 acres, and two parcels of about 2 acres. If a developer has a 2-acre parcel, do you think that they will donate a half-acre for park? Or donate a 1/4 acre? What incentive would encourage them?
We’re not going to get any substantial park that way. Those amenities just aren’t a big enough prize for the developer to give up that valuable land.
So how about a small park?
An open space park can be large or tiny. Even though the Gateway total area is 138 acres, it’s not likely we will get an open space the size of, say, Stewart Park — the park nestled in near the old Stewart School, between J and K Streets and between 14th and 16th Streets. That is a great neighborhood park — around 1.25 acres in size, less than a full city block. (A city block in Arcata is 1.43 acres.) The Arcata Skate Park is 0.65 acres — less than half a city block — and packs a whole lot of “oomph” into that half-block space. Even the tiny parks add so much to the neighborhood.
Bloomfield Park, on Zehnder Avenue is made up of just two house-lot-size parcels and is 0.2 acres in size, just 1/7th of a block. [Note: Below where it shows “Q Street” is a subdivision of 17 lots.]
Stewart Park is about a half-mile from the heart of the Gateway area — from the Creamery building — or about a 10-minute walk.
Here are the Arcata parks near the Gateway area — marked on the map with the dashed-blue line. The Arcata Community Park / Community Center is about a mile, or a 20 minute walk from the Creamery District.
There’s not very much in the way of parks close to the Gateway area.
And what about having a park within 200 yards?
“Within 200 yards” is a great aspiration, so may I suggest this:
Here’s a map that supposedly shows the walking distance from the Gateway area to other locations in Arcata. But it’s bogus. Let’s look at how it is fabricated and false.
This map shows what it purports as “5-minute Walk to Gateway Area” and “10-minute Walk to Gateway Area” — the two concentric dashed white lines.
First, the map might show what would be a 5- or 10-minute walk from the very edge of the Gateway area. But even that is not true on this map – at best, it’s a “as the crow flies” map, and not an actual walking map. And, as an “as the crow flies” map — taken from the edges and perimeter of the plan area, it is a very misleading representation.
As examples: From the westernmost tip of the Gateway Area on F Street (where very few people will live), walking to the Arcata Sports Complex is shown as 5 minutes. But — obviously — a human walker would have to cross Highway 101 on 7th Street… so it’s about 0.5 miles, or a 10-minute walk. From a spot more central in the Gateway area, such as the Creamery District, it’s a 20-minute walk.
At the north side, Arcata High School is shown as just a few minutes walk from the Gateway Area. From the Creamery District, it’s about 12 minutes. Windsong Park is shown as about a 7 minute walk – it’s about 0.9 miles, or 18 minutes. The Arcata Skateboard park is shown as a 5 minute walk, and it’s over 20 minutes.
The generally accepted measurement for parks and open space is:
Walking time under X-minutes to a park from Y-percentage of the parcels.
In Downtown Redwood City Downtown Precise Plan, there are 14 public open spaces.
96% of all parcels in the Redwood City plan are within a 3 minute walk of an open space where people can meet and sit.
All parcels are within a 5 minute walk.
The library at Cal Poly Humboldt is shown as a 10 minute walk.
To be clear, I am not saying that a 20-minute walk is bad, or that the Gateway area is not at walkable distances. I am saying that the depiction of walkability on this map is misleading, or to put it more strongly, false.
The generally accepted measurement for parks and open space is: Walking time under X-minutes to a park from Y-percentage of the parcels.
In the Redwood City Downtown Precise Plan, there are 14 public open spaces where people can meet and sit: 7 small parks, 6 plazas, 1 paseo – a total of 4.12 acres within the 183 acre area. 96% of all parcels in the Redwood City plan are within a 3 minute walk of an open space. All parcels are within a 5 minute walk. [See: Redwood City Downtown Precise Plan on this website, Page 10 “Public Open Spaces.”]
This current Gateway plan does not offer us much.
Surely we can do better.