Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – If bold ideas and good intentions alone solved problems, Arcatans could leave their doors unlocked, their keys in their cars and their kids unescorted to school. Or at very least, be able to walk down the street without fear of being assaulted, aggressively panhandled or yelled at.
With the latter issues plaguing Arcata and little progress being made in reversing them, Pete Ciotti Jr., owner of the Jam night club, hosted a Town Hall meeting last Thursday, Sept. 14. The meeting was intended as a forum for public safety solutions, and its presenters included City of Arcata officials, community activists and others concerned with community betterment.
While public fora on street conditions have been held at City Hall, the D Street Neighborhood Center, the Community Center, the Arcata Chamber of Commerce and the Plaza itself, the H Street tavern was a semi-new venue for such a comprehensive meeting, although the brainstorming initial meeting of the activist group Community Pride and Peace was held there two years ago, and covered some overlapping issues.
Testimony at the meeting related issues familiar to anyone who has experienced Arcata’s downtown. Citizens and businesspeople complained of harassment, vandalism and violence.
Persons of color spoke of their disillusionment with Humboldt County’s supposed tolerance, saying they’ve encountered chronic discrimination and hostility.
Police said alcohol-related incidents dominate their work, and related the futility of ineffectually citing offenders who simply don’t care.
This meeting, like its many predecessors, also featured butcher paper posted around the room for attendees to scribble their ideas onto.
• A vision for the community’s center
• Crime reduction, increasing safety and peace in the city’s center
• Increasing positive uses of the Plaza
• Adressing homelessness and mental health issues, supporting human service organizations
• Understanding racism in the community
• Feeling safe and building racial equity
• Changing the narrative about the Plaza
• Reduction of alcohol-related disturbances
Unlike previous such meetings, there were some new features intended to ensure follow-through.
Professional facilitator Heather Equinoss, who recently helped organize and redirect the foundering Public Safety Task Force (PSTF) provided a disciplined methodology, which near-miraculously kept the meeting on track schedule-wise and held it to two hours.
Equinoss sought to deter the assembled imagineers from just throwing out wonderful ideas and leaving it at that. The ideas had to be “Specific and actionable in three months or less.”
She challenged attendees to prioritize two ideas from the various charts that they would be willing to personally work on, and add their names and contact information to them for later follow-up.
Many of the scrawled suggestions centered around communication and interaction, increased law enforcement, heightened awareness of racial injustice and improved services for those in need.
Among the ideas were more Plaza events, zero tolerance for offenses, a clampdown on alcohol sales, creating a car-free Plaza, more recreational activities, creating an information booth, better housing opprotunities, removal of the McKinley statue, rent control, a tiny house village and many more. (See the complete results at madriverunion.com.)
Calling it the “rock concert of meetings,” Jam owner Pete Ciotti announced that the meetings will be held monthly, the next one set for Thursday, Oct. 26 at 6 p.m.
With 70-plus attendees, participation dwarfed that of Arcata’s Public Safety Task Force, which usually has only one or two members of the public present. The task force is preparing a report with recommendations for the City Council, and meets next Wednesday, Sept. 27 at 6 p.m. at Arcata City Hall, 736 F St.
More photos from the first Town Hall meeting at the Jam, including the idea categories and public suggestions (with the citizens' contact information cropped or blurred out):