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Wednesday, March 22, 2023
HomeCity PlanningAffordable HousingNew Commissioner Matt Simmons proposes huge changes to established neighborhoods

New Commissioner Matt Simmons proposes huge changes to established neighborhoods

Residential High Density zoning proposed for Bayview, Northtown, Arcata Heights neighborhoods

Matt Simmons describes Arcata’s neighborhoods as “segregated” — Click here
Read this article, then check:  Planning Commissioner Matt Simmons calls Arcata neighborhoods “segregated” and other New Articles on

See also:   Visualizing Density
Arcata’s General Plan and Land-Use issues
and other
City Planning articles

The General Plan Update

As part of the General Plan update, Arcata’s Planning Commission is in process of looking to see if minor zoning changes and tweaks should be applied to various areas of Arcata. There are 14 specific areas with suggested re-zoning — the largest and most major of which is the Gateway Area, of course These areas are shown in the city-wide map below, click here.

Matt Simmons, our new Planning Commissioner (two months old, since January 2023) has put forth the prospect of the entire residential sections of Bayview, Northtown, and “Arcata Heights” (i.e. upper I and J Streets) be re-zoned from the existing Residential Low Density to Residential High Density.  The video of his proposal is below, here.

[The strip along G Street (one-half block deep on both sides of G) would remain commercially zoned, with a staff-proposed change from Commercial General to Commercial Mixed, to allow for housing to be developed along with commercial usage.]

What Matt Simmons has proposed

The yellow-bordered areas would, by this proposal, be re-zoned as Residential High Density. The red-bordered region is the Gateway Area.

What are the Residential Density Codes?

Residential Low Density allows from 2 to 7.25 dwellings per acre on 4,000 to 6,000 square foot lot average size. Maximum height is 35 feet, with a density bonus of 38 feet.

Residential High Density has a minimum of more than 15 dwellings per acre, and up to 32 dwellings per acre. The minimum 6,000 square foot lot size for Residential High Density is 6,000 sq.ft., so right there it would not be applicable for many parcels. Maximum height is also 35 feet, but an increased density bonus of up to 45 feet — that is, four stories tall.

So the minimum density of the High Density zoning is actually greater than the maximum density of the current zoning.

And what about new State laws on 2nd houses and Accessory Dwelling Units on the same lot?

Recent State laws allow a large increase in density on Single-Family parcels. Based on how the existing home is placed on the lot, a homeowner could add one or two Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), could possibly split the lot and add a second house, and could possibly have as may as 6 dwellings where there currently is one. In more practical terms, there can easily be 3 units (1 large, 2 smaller) on a parcel with an existing home.

How might the High Density zoning work in actuality?

There are not many parcels in the Bayview area that this re-zoning to High Density would add anything to. 

Supposed the mansard-roof church building and older house at 13th and Union Streets, currently the Campbell Creek Connexion church, were to be torn down or burn down. The lot is 31,000 sq.ft., so in theory an apartment with between 10 and 23 units could be built there. To be clear, there would have to be 10 units built there – minimum. On the other hand, the parcel could be split up into at least 5 parcels, or 7 parcels. (The end parcels on A Street and on Union Street could be half-sized.) Each parcel could be designed to have 3 units. That’s 15 or 20 units there — without having an apartment building in a residential neighborhood.

Or how about the empty lot on 12th Street, just east of the historic house at 12th and B Streets. That lot is just a little under 6,000 square feet, or only 0.14 acres. Under State law, there could easily be three units there, or more. Under the proposed Residential High Density code, there’d be 15 to 32 units per acre, which works out to two, three, or four units… if four could be fit onto that lot. So the outcome is the same or very similar.

And the other 6,000 square foot lots — the same math. State law gives the same potential density as a change to Residential High Density, and likely with better results for both the neighborhood and Arcata.

The seemingly obvious large parcel at 11th and A Streets (it’s 1.42 acres) that has two older, smaller single-family homes on it (recently all fixed up) has riparian setback requirements and is not subject to development.

What is the rationale from Matt Simmons here?

At approximately 2:26 on the video — below, click here.

So I think I’m particularly thinking of those places where you might need to tear down a home and build something new. What happens in a lot of communities — where you have single family zoning and the value of land is going up and up because it’s a high-demand area, but you keep the single family zoning — is that you tear down the existing home and you build a much more expensive home on that same lot for one person. Right?

“And I think what I would like to see is changing the zoning to allow multifamily before that happens, right? Before it becomes a neighborhood that is even wealthier and has more expensive homes. And it sort of has to be done preemptively. You have to, because once you tear down the home and build the new, expensive — you know, I’m avoiding the word mansion — but brand-new, expensive single-family home, that’s just another long period of time where that’s gonna be the structure on any individual space.

“And so I really don’t think this would have like an immediate, huge impact, because I think there are a lot of people who live there and who don’t want to leave. And that’s perfectly fine. I’m just thinking of sort of a natural turnover of who owns properties. I’d rather than we’re encouraging increased density, rather than increased valued homes at the same level of density.”

A response from Fred Weis on a change to High Density Residential zoning

Matt Simmons could look around and view what’s real for Arcata. This is not Palo Alto or those expensive regions of Los Angeles — those “lots of communities” that he refers to. In Palo Alto, yes, a person might buy a $1.2 million home and tear it down, in order to get the lot that’s wanted, and then build a $4 million home. In Arcata, who is going to buy a $500,000 house in the Bayview neighborhood, only to tear it down? The numbers are very different. Yes, there “could” be a nutty person with lots of money who might do it. But I don’t think we have to plan for those persons. Under State law, if a person wanted to tear down a house that’s on a 6,000 square foot lot and build as many as six units, that could be done. Changing to Residential High Density zoning doesn’t really help.

And: Please be careful with the language. “You tear down the existing home and you build a much more expensive home on that same lot for one person.” More common here is to expand a home for the needs of a family. Not for “one person.”

How about if there’s a fire, and the existing house is destroyed?

I can recall three destructive single-family home fires over the past 30 years in the Bayview and Northtown and Arcata Heights areas. The AFD or someone with a better memory can tell us about others. They are” Bayview Street south of 11th; 16th & J; and 12th & C. All were re-built, and not torn down.

In Arcata, we value our existing homes. Homes are added on to, of course — sometimes with a new unit and sometimes not. A zoning change of this area to Residential High Density does not prevent a homeowner from adding on to his home.

A response from Vice-Chair Scott Davies

“It strikes me that what we’re trying to do with the Gateway is not really meaningfully that far away. And is going to be much lower-lying fruit. And we’re already in quite a protracted review process with that. Just from get-things done standpoint, I’m just not 100% sure what that would look like.”

Community Director David Loya

“Already based on current State law with Accessory Dwelling Units and small lot subdivision, SB-9, you can already get four parcels on an existing single family home. I think that the change that’s being suggested here is even a stronger nod towards equity in the sense that, hey, we’re all going to share in this densification. The difference between up-zoning and recognizing the existing ability to have higher densities on those properties would be that the zoning would come with a minimum density standard that’s higher than the existing maximum density standard on those properties. So just for you to reflect on the difference between those two things. And it could be that we established this as a implementation measure to address. The Vice-Chair’s points about this is kind of coming later in the game in this planning process, and it is a relatively big change. So if we made it as an implementation measure, it’s something that we could focus on as we intend to do this in the near future.”

Matt Simmons: On Arcata’s “segregated” neighborhoods

About 2:31:16 on the video.  Listen to the video below.

“First, I’ll just say I like that suggestion. I think it doesn’t have to come before any of the work we’re currently doing. It’s just something I see as a potential future step. And then, second, I would just point out that, even with that change, if you look at that table of our land use designations by area, most of the City’s residential is still Very Low Residential or Low Residential. And so there are still lots of other opportunities where you can have your segregated Low Density area. I’m just thinking that these areas that are really at the center of town, and that I think if we’re — If there wasn’t this regulatory pressure, keeping them the way they are, would change. We can consider looking at that.”

What in the world is Matt Simmons saying here?

He seems to be saying that, since there are so many other Low Density Residential zoning areas in Arcata, if people want to the opportunity to live in a “segregated” neighborhood, then they can live there. That would be Westwood, Vaissades, Janes Creek Meadows, Curtis Heights, Sunset, Greenview, Windsong, Sunny Brae — all of those, are by Matt Simmons’s definition, “segregated” — meaning that they are more or less exclusively single-family-plus-ADU zoned, with no multi-family dwellings. He likely does not mean “segregated” in terms of these neighborhoods being closed to people of color. (We certainly hope he does not mean this.) 

So if people who own homes who live in the Bayview or Northtown or Arcata Heights established single-family neighborhoods do not want a four-story apartment next to them, then they can simply sell their house and buy a house in those neighborhoods…? Is that what he is saying?

I find the use of the word “segregated” when describing Arcata neighborhoods to be completely out of line.


There should be a public explanation and an apology.


Matt Simmons likely didn’t mean Arcata’s neighborhoods are racially segregated.


There is no valid use of this here — other than to create controversy.

No, of course not:  Homeowners are not going to sell their house and move to another Arcata neighborhood. I’m being silly. But the use of the word “segregated” sure seems like a purposefully-chosen loaded phrase. Particularly in terms of how Matt Simmons referred to “established neighborhood character” as a phrase that “can also be used as a bit of a dog whistle, when changes are happening that a community doesn’t want.”  What, calling a neighborhood “segregated” is not a huge dog whistle — coming from the other direction?

What are you saying here, Matt? That Arcata’s neighborhoods will continue to be segregated until apartments can be built alongside single-family homes? Isn’t this what the new State law is intended to address?

In describing the changes he’d like to see to these neighborhoods, he uses the word “segregated” in referring to the existing zoning.  “Segregated” as in “set apart from other zoning” perhaps.

The far more common use of “segregated” is to mean “the policy of keeping one group of people apart from another and treating them differentlyespecially because of race, sex, or religion.”

I find the use of the word “segregated” when describing Arcata neighborhoods to be 100% out of line, and should require a public explanation and an apology.

The goal is housing

What are we trying to do?
Make up for the post-World War II single-family zoning sins of the past by using currently-acceptable verbiage?
Our goal is to provide quality housing for people.

State law SB-9 will provide small ADUs at a cost that is inexpensively as can be done. There will NOT be homes purchased in Arcata neighborhoods and then torn down. It just isn’t in the cards.

You want more inclusion? Then do what can be done to lower the cost of permitting, fees, water and sewer hookups, etc. for ADUs. If we can lower the overall cost of construction of ADUs to under $250 / sq.ft. — which can be done — then there will be more small rentals in these neighborhoods.

Final verdict?

The Planning Commission is on an ambitious path to review and update — all by the end of 2023:

  • The General Plan — which includes this Land Use Element and Growth Management Elements.
  • The Local Coastal Plan — which has not been updated since 1989.
  • The Gateway Plan — in its entirety.  “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.

Is there a real need to re-zone these areas of Arcata as Residential High Density?
Will that re-zoning benefit the people of Arcata?

My answer is: No, there is not a need to re-zone these areas of Arcata. And, no, such a re-zoning will NOT benefit the people of Arcata, nor realistically prevent the building of new homes in those areas that would exclude less-economically-fortunate persons.

There is so much that the Planning Commission needs to get done. Why does this even need to be an “implementation measure” as Community Development Director David Loya has it noted as ?

It is up to the Planning Commission to make their determination on this.

Neighborhood Map


Material from the February 28, 2023, Planning Commission agenda packet

Letter from Matt Simmons to the Planning Commission
Describes the proposed changes to established Arcata neighborhoods of Bayview, Northtown, and “Arcata Heights”


Map of the overall proposed zoning changes
Use the + key to expand the map to see more detail.


Details of the proposed zoning changes:
Use the + key to expand the map to see more detail.


Video of the February 28, 2023, Planning Commission meeting

Starting at 2:19 on the video


Matt Simmons talks about “segregated” Arcata neighborhoods

About 2:31:16 on the video. There’s only the audio in this section.

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