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August 18, 2022
Dear Arcata City Council members:
I am an Arcata resident and business license holder, and served on the Energy Task Force that preceded the permanent Energy Committee.
I support the proposal for a Gateway Plan advisory committee (or task force) that Scott McBain and Responsible Growth Arcata made at last night’s (17 August) Council meeting. I am not part of that group and not deeply involved in the Gateway Plan controversy, but my experience with the Energy Task Force makes me believe that a formal body for citizen input would be a very good thing. I say this for two reasons.
First, Arcata is blessed with a wealth of professional expertise in many fields relevant to the Gateway Plan, and its citizens are unusually willing to volunteer their time and expertise.
The Gateway Plan is bound to encounter a wide variety of serious issues and potential obstacles, from traffic and parking to soil and seismic issues, sea level rise, wetlands, wastewater and stormwater management, etc.
As Mr. McBain pointed out, there is currently not a way for interested and informed citizens to provide substantive help on these issues. The Energy Task Force was successful because the Council selected its members to include a diversity of interests and technical expertise, and because its members worked productively with staff.
Second, a clear route for serious citizen input is essential for the Gateway Plan to gain credibility and acceptance in the community.
My strong perception is that many residents applaud the Plan’s goals but many also see it as being pushed by insiders intent on removing obstacles to profitable development.
The controversy over recusal at last night’s meeting perfectly illustrates the kinds of trust issues the Plan now has. An advisory committee could make it clear to the community that key decisions are not being made behind closed doors by people with vested interests, and could turn skeptics into enthusiastic participants.
Without such a committee, it’s hard to see how the Plan could be anything but divisive.
I understand the concerns about duplicating the roles of existing commissions and committees, but please keep in mind that the proposed Gateway Plan would have a uniquely large impact on the future of Arcata. It is not an everyday planning issue, but a proposal to profoundly change our town.
In the past, task forces and advisory bodies have been essential to successes like the Marsh and the Energy Authority that we’re all proud of. If the Gateway Plan is to turn into something that makes Arcata proud, instead of being seen as way for developers to avoid oversight, it needs substantial input and expertise from the community.
It seems like exactly the kind of big issue for which past advisory committees and task forces have been invaluable.
Lang Railsback & Associates