Note: This letter was not included in the City Council packet for the December 7 meeting. The reason for the omission of this detailed, pertinent letter is unknown. There have been many letters to the Planning Commission which have never shown up in any form — and thus the public has no City-approved access to. (This website will print all “missing” letters.) But typically the letters to the City Council have been included in the packet so that the public can view them — in advance of the Council meeting to which the letters refer.
The appeal of the Westwood Garden Apartments was on the agenda for the December 7, 2022, City Council meeting. That meeting has been cancelled, and the appeal is now scheduled for January 4, 2023.
November 4, 2022
To: Honorable Mayor Stacy Atkins-Salazar
Vice-Mayor Sarah Schaefer
Arcata City Councilmembers Alex Stillman, Meredith Matthews, Brett Watson
Community Development Director David Loya
Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer
From: Fred Weis
Subject: Westwood Garden Apartments: Request for a waiver of appeal costs
Honorable Mayor and all others –
Thank you for your attention to this matter. There have been many irregularities in staff reports over the past year, but this is the first time that bad information in a staff report has actually resulted in a decision that seems to have been influenced by that information.
From my speaking during the oral communications on Wednesday’s City Council meeting, you are aware of how I see the Westwood Garden Apartments project. As I said, it is my view that this is the most poorly designed apartment building in all of Arcata – ever. But also it was approved on false pretenses, it seems.
If the developer were to say “If I can’t build this project, then I’ll build nothing at all” then I would opt for nothing. And then at some point in the future he might create apartments on this site that would be better quality. As it is, the “barracks style” rows of two-story apartments – with each building casting shade on the one next to it – is both a terrible layout and a waste of a beautiful site and also is, in my view, a disservice to the people in our community.
Request for a waiver of appeal costs
At the City Council meeting, Councilmember Stillman asked me if it was my intention to file an appeal. No, it is – or was – not my intention, largely because of the cost.
At the time of my speaking, I was not aware that the Council can waive an appeal cost. What I was thinking is that the Council may want to revisit this approval on its own.
There is an issue with timing – and perhaps, Karen, you can make a suggestion as to how this could occur. The 10-business-day deadline for the appeal is up on Tuesday, November 8th. There isn’t time to have this on an agenda, discuss it at a meeting, etc. I’m aware that the Council can have a vote without an item being on the agenda if it’s deemed an emergency, but it doesn’t seem that this would qualify as an emergency.
Can there be a waiver of the appeal costs without a vote of the council?
Can the waiver be done “after the fact” – as a refund of the cost of the appeal?
Can a councilmember or councilmembers opt to review this on their own?
Irregularities in the staff report
As I said at the Council meeting, and specifically I say this to you, David: I mean no disrespect for the Community Development Department. I regard the Department as understaffed, and I have no idea what any specific person is thinking. However there were irregularities in the staff report that seemed to have influenced Planning Commissioners in how they formed their decision. Misleading statements, errors, falsehoods – call them what you want. Here is the major misleading sentence:
“The proposed two-story, construction materials and design provide important, unrestricted affordable housing for the community.” (Page 45, in the final paragraph below Finding “g.”)
This is clearly a false statement. This project does not provide affordable housing for the community.
And here are quotes from the Planning Commissioners from the discussion of this project:
Commissioner Christian Figueroa
I’m kind of at a juxtaposition right now, because I know we need to do what we need to do to move forward with having affordable housing (but again, for, you know, just housing in general).
Commissioner Kimberly White
And then we have the question of, is there a guarantee if it’s going to be affordable?
Vice Chair Scott Davies
Yeah, I’m going to invoke John [Barstow], in his absence, to just say that this makes sense because it meets our needs for affordable housing.
Prior to these Commissioners’ statements, Community Development Director did say:
And this project is not subject to the Housing Accountability Act provisions because it doesn’t have affordable housing. And as a market rate housing project, it’s asking for exemptions.
But it does not appear to be the case that the three Commissioners heard or understood what David Loya very explicitly said – that this is a market-rate project. It seems likely that they were referring to the staff report.
I believe that this false statement in the staff report – and the way it was apparently heard and taken by the Commissioners – is in itself adequate grounds for a further review of this project.
Other false or misleading statements from the staff report:
“The project includes 84 indoor bicycle parking spaces within building numbers 10 and 11.” (Page 34)
False. The 84 bike parking spaces are not indoor. They are outdoors, in a covered carport space. They are not “within” a building. The bike parking spaces are in a covered carport area – not indoors. The developer is providing open bike racks. With a little more effort and cost, bicycle storage lockers could be included. In general, people with a bike of any value are reluctant to use an outdoor bike storage – the bike will get stolen.
“The current proposal requests the removal of 10 trees that are greater than 16 inches in diameter and 11 other trees less than 16 inches in diameter … The trees scheduled for removal are a mix of fir, pine, willow and other unknown species.” (Page 47)
The staff report omits in the list of trees scheduled for removal a 48” diameter redwood tree. A redwood tree should certainly not be characterized as being an “unknown species.” And it seems improper for staff to not explicitly call out a tree of that size. (The only requirement is to list the trees that are over 16” in diameter.) The applicant’s plan for the tree removal states there are 10 trees of diameters greater than 16”, but the plan shows only 8. This implies that either there will be only 8 trees to be removed (which is better than 10) or that the applicant is not showing two of the trees on his plan (which is not good).
“The applicant proposes to develop one bedroom dwelling units that respond to the City’s Housing Element policies to provide student and senior housing units. The 2019-2027 Housing Element indicates the 2016 persons per household is 2.25, while the latest US Census estimates (7/21) indicate an increase to 2.36. Thus, it could be expected the 102 new units may provide housing for 241 community members.” (Page 33, bottom of page)
The project consists of 102 one-bedroom apartments, each 416 square feet in size. To utilize this 2.36 persons per household ratio in this instance is a deliberate misuse of the figure. There is no basis whatsoever to state, as fact, that this project “could be expected” or “may provide housing for 241 community members.” This is a false, misleading statement.
Commissioner White evidently believed this Staff-provided figure, as she said in explaining her deliberations: “But I also hear from the other folks that, you know, we need housing now. And I’m looking at 102 units, we have 241 possible community members who can be housed.”
ADA units in violation of regulations
On the matter that the apartments shown as ADA units not being up to ADA regulations. This can be fixed, if the developer will do that. But the project was approved in its current form.
Here’s one example of what is wrong with these units: The sliding door to the patio area is a standard 5-foot unit. (Installation rough dimensions are 5 feet – actual interior dimensions are smaller.) That door has a clear opening of around 24-3/8 inches. ADA specs are for a 32” clear opening – so it is not up to ADA standards there. It takes a 6’-6” or a 7’-0” slider to have a clear opening of 32 inches.
Because of the orientation of the front door and the bathroom door, I’m not sure it’s possible for a person in a wheelchair to get into the bathroom. You can look at the image below and decide for yourself.
The applicant submitted plans with the same 5-foot slider door on the ADA units as are on all the other 416 square foot units. Is this hasty, or sloppy, or an attempt to get away with something? We don’t know why. The applicant is calling these ADA apartments on the plan, but it is clear that these ADA units are not up to code. There are other issues with the ADA units also. Per ADA regulations, there are insufficient parking ADA parking for the 171 parking spaces. The applicant has four, and six are required.
What’s more, the ADA parking spaces have to be the closest spaces to the entrances – meaning the entrances to the ADA apartments — and they are not. (The assumption is that the ADA units are in the buildings at the rear of the property.) Again, this can be remedied.
The poor design of the ADA apartment is equally matched by poor design of the standard units, the poor layout of the buildings on the site, and the lack of consideration of the needs of the tenants.
Solar Orientation, Garden, and “Recreation Areas”
When you look at the illustrative site plan (Page 62 in the PC agenda packet, and included here) you can ask yourself: Where is the “recreation area” for the 222 bedrooms of occupants who will be living there? Those little strips of grass between the buildings are considered as recreation area. The “Recreation Area” marked on the site plan in the lower right corner is half-shaded even at noon for four months of the year. On September 22, at the time of the equinox when we have 12 hours of daylight, this area is half in shadow for all but four hours, and is in full shadow for five hours of that 12 hour day.
The “Community Garden” located in the upper right area of the plan receives close to zero sunlight for 8 months of the year — throughout the day. When there is 13 hours of daylight in Arcata, this “garden” area receives no sunlight — even at noon. It never has more than half its area in sunshine even in July.
Why was this approved?
There are many other issues with this project – issues of fact, issues of opinion. A month earlier the Commission rejected a plan from this applicant for this site. This project is an improvement on the plan of a month earlier, but has a similar disregard of basic quality of life considerations. It is an improvement in that fewer trees are required to be removed. It is NOT an improvement in terms of better housing for Arcata. Why was this approved? Because of fear that the developer might choose to not build there at all? Yes, we need housing in Arcata. But we do not need bad housing.
My requests of the Council
Please work with me and other citizens to see how this project can be improved.
It is indeed possible to have just as many occupants — or more — if the project were designed to fit the site.
If it takes an appeal to put a hold on this project so that it can receive further evaluation, then please grant a waiver of the appeal fees.
If I can help you to evaluate this situation – with writing, drawings, a model, solar shading diagrams – please do ask me.
This project’s location is tucked away, out of sight. If it gets built in its current form, most of us won’t have to see it or be reminded of it. Only the people who live there – the existing tenants and the new tenants – will be affected by it. But it could be so much better. The losers are the people in Arcata, who need quality housing. Not this project.
Thank you always for your service to our wonderful city.
— Fred Weis
Transcript of what I said at the 11/2/2022 City Council meeting, first oral communication
Image of the ADA apartment, with notes
Westwood Garden Apartments – Illustrative Site Plan (Page 62 in the Planning Commission packet)
Direct transcript — 11/2/2022 City Council meeting, first oral communication:
Good evening, I’m Fred Weis. Tonight I am speaking on the Westwood Garden Apartment project. This project is 102 units — each unit is a 416 square foot, one-bedroom apartment. It was approved by the Planning Commission last week. It is my view that this is the most poorly designed apartment building in all of Arcata — ever.
I am of the opinion that this project should not have been approved in its current form.
A theme of my Arcata1.com website is: Arcata, we can do better. I think we can do a lot better than this project.
I completely recognize the need for housing. This project disregards, in my opinion, basic quality of life needs of its tenants and should not be accepted.
There are major issues in the approval process. I will speak later with some details on this.
As one example, the two designated American with Disabilities Act apartments and ADA parking facilities, in my view, do not meet ADA standards. But they were approved.
More importantly, there were statements in the staff report that were, again in my opinion, misleading and 100% false. The project was referred to — and I quote– “unrestricted affordable housing for the community.”
It is not affordable housing. The notion of affordable housing was repeated by three of the five Commissioners. It appears that this false statement did indeed influence their decision.
I will remind the Council that to make false statements in a staff report is illegal. It’s against the law.
I think this housing can be created on this site in a form that benefits the people of Arcata. It is my sincere hope that the City Council will take this up as an opportunity to serve the people of Arcata with quality housing — not this project. Thank you very much.
Image of the ADA apartment, with notes.
We can look at this floor plan and envision a person in a wheelchair living there.
Where does the furniture go? Is there room for anything other than a kitchen table?
Certainly there is no room for a couch. How does the occupant reach into the closet?
Because of the orientation of the front door and the bathroom door, I’m not sure it’s possible for a person in a wheelchair to get into the bathroom.
[Note: The image below is an improved version of what was submitted with this letter on November 4. The original submitted image is below.
Original image that was sent as part of the letter:
Westwood Garden Apartments – Illustrative Site Plan (Page 62 in the Planning Commission packet)