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Wednesday, March 22, 2023
HomeImportant TopicsFire Protection / Emergency ServicesThe Five Biggest Myths of the Gateway Plan

The Five Biggest Myths of the Gateway Plan

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 HousingThe 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. InfrastructureThere 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 for Mad River Union readers.  You can access it at:  There you will find maps, aerial views, 3D modeling, videos, transcriptions of meetings, articles, editorials, commentary, and more.

Fred Weis started 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 @


Opinion by Fred Weis, originally published in the Mad River Union on September 1, 2022.

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