Arcata resident, retired professional engineer, and former Greenway Partners partner Steve Salzman sent this letter to the City Council and Planning Commission — eight months ago. Essentially he says: Let’s answer some basic questions first.
The topics in his letter:
- Public Input: What happened to the public input element of Planwest’s Scope of Work?
General Plan and Area Plan: Why are you working on an Area Plan before updating the General Plan and completing the Local Coastal Plan process?
The 2020 General Plan planning effort took close to 3 years and included extensive public input at Planning Commission meetings. What’s the hurry?
Wastewater: How much additional treatment capacity will be required, how much will it cost and how will it be paid for?
- Sea Level Rise: Update the Local Coastal Plan based on the most recent and relevant scientific studies and planning efforts.
Arcata’s 2020 General Plan was adopted in October, 2000, as a plan for the next 20 years.
From the Planwest Partners website:
Planwest served as the General Plan consultant to the City of Arcata during their four-year comprehensive General Plan and Local Coastal Plan Update. This project involved coordinating with local and state agencies, working with four city designated citizen task forces and community groups, and coordinating other consultant work.
There were dozens of citizens, consultants, elected and appointed officials, and prominent members of the community who contributed to the 2020 General Plan. Among the many names of those involved we see: Julie Vaissade-Elcock (current Planning Commission chair), Judith Mayer (current Planning Commissioner), Alex Stillman (current City Councilmember), Ann King Smith (former Planning Commission chair), Aldaron Laird, Mark Andre, Robert Gearheart, Mary Gearheart, Elizabeth Conner, Margaret A. Gainer, John Barstow, Joyce Plath, Michael Erwin, Jeff Knapp, John Graves, Oona Smith, George Williamson, Vanessa Blodgett (current Planwest partner, née Tomlin), Kay Hofweber, and more.
Steve Salzman’s letter to the City Council and Planning Commissioners
March 30, 2022
Mayor Stacy Atkins-Salazar
City Council Members
Planning Commission Members
736 F Street
Arcata, CA 95521
Dear Council and Commission Members:
Thank you for your service to our community. I know it can be a thankless job, especially during a pandemic.
I am a long-term Arcata resident and retired civil engineer and business owner (graduated HSU’s ERE Program, in 1986). In the course of my professional practice, in Humboldt, over the last 30 years I have completed numerous economic and engineering feasibility studies, infrastructure engineering designs, planning and permitting processes, and construction management of commercial and residential structures.
I have reviewed the Draft Gateway Area Plan and compared notes with a variety of professionals in our local engineering and planning communities. I have the following questions and comments.
What happened to the public input element of Planwest’s Scope of Work? The way I read it, there should have been extensive public outreach and a series of design charrettes (not just Zoom meetings and a website). I know it’s difficult to gather public input during the pandemic but, it seems like the consultant developed the Plan, presented it as a PowerPoint presentation and is now responding to public criticism. Not a great public process. While there are some very good elements of the project (such as green space and bike trails), it feels like these are window dressing on a behemoth, high-rise apartment complex project that is not needed and is totally out of character with the City of Arcata.
Recommendation #1. Implement a more effective community notification strategy, hold a series of design charrettes, and find out what the residents and businesses of Arcata want the city to look like, in the future.
General Plan and Area Plan
Why are you working on an Area Plan before updating the General Plan and completing the Local Coastal Plan process? My understanding is that an Area Plan creates exceptions to the General Plan based on some extenuating circumstances or unusual opportunities. Again, there are certain elements of the Gateway Plan that should be included in the General Plan but, 6 and 8 story apartment complexes are not. The 2020 General Plan planning effort took close to 3 years and included extensive public input at Planning Commission meetings. What’s the hurry?
Recommendation #2. Complete the General Plan Update based on inputfrom the residents and businesses, in Arcata before considering the Gateway Area Plan.
It is my understanding that the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) is operating at or nearly at its design capacity and is currently undergoing a $60 million upgrade to get it into compliance and to replace aging infrastructure. The population increase projected by the Gateway Plan and the Cal Poly expansion and the Glendale Community flows will require significant additional treatment capacity. How much additional treatment capacity will be required, how much will it cost and how will it be paid for?
An expansion of the WWTP will probably require additional acreage above the 20′ MSL elevation for oxidation ponds and polishing marshes. [Editor note: MSL = Mean Sea Level] Where will these be located? Some of the areas in and around the Gateway Project may be viable options but would be incompatible with residential uses.
Recommendation #3. A detailed engineering feasibility study and plans for expansion of the WWTP should be completed as part of the General Plan Update and well before considering where to house additional residents or completion of the Gateway Area Plan.
Sea Level Rise
It seems pretty likely that, over the next 50 years, the entire Humboldt Bay Area will be significantly affected by rising sea levels and the associated rise in groundwater elevations, increase in the duration and severity of local coastal flooding and tsunami threats, Concentrating residential housing in this area along the fringe of the bay seems short-sighted. The Local Coastal Plan (from 1989?) still must be approved/adopted by the Coastal Commission.
Recommendation #4. Update the Local Coastal Plan based on the most recent and relevant scientific studies and planning efforts. Map out those area behind the aging/failing dike structures that are most likely to revert to salt marsh and mudflats. Determine what can be done to repair or abandon some dikes, how much it will cost and how it would be funded.
Thanks for the opportunity to share my concerns. I look forward to participating in the process of planning for the future of Arcata.
Steve Salzman, P.E.
[address and phone redacted]