McKINLEYVILLE/ARCATA – The Arcata Fire District had planned on changing its name and doing so quickly, but now that its Board of Directors has learned how much it would cost, it’s ditching the idea.
At its May 10 meeting, the Arcata Fire District Board of Directors directed staff to move ahead with a plan to change the district’s name to better reflect the communities it serves. But a month later, at its June 14 meeting, Fire Chief Justin McDonald told the board that the name change would cost more than $76,000 and advised directors to table the idea.
The board agreed and instructed staff to pursue other options for educating the communities it serves. The board had not selected a replacement name, although it did have a list of proposed names, including Mad River Fire District and Redwood Coast Fire District.
Fire district staff and board members say they routinely encounter residents who think that the Arcata Fire District only serves Arcata, when in fact it serves a 62-square-mile area that includes McKinleyville, Arcata, Bayside, Manila and Jacoby Creek.
This becomes an issue when the district needs voter support for a tax measure, such as Measure F, approved by voters in November 2020. That measure expires in 2030, when the district will once again need to ask voters to tax themselves to support their fire department.
Measure F required more than just a majority vote – it needed a super majority, or 66.67 percent yes votes, for passage. Measure F passed by 75.38 percent.
According to precinct results provided by the fire district, the strongest support for Measure F was within the Arcata city limits, where 81.17 percent of voters favored the measure.
But in McKinleyville, where the fire district has a fire station and its administrative offices, only 60.72 percent of voters supported the measure. That’s well below the 66.67 percent super majority required for approval. Voter approval in unincorporated areas of Arcata was 62.47 percent, with 72.15 percent approval in Bayside and 73.76 percent in Manila.
“It seems we kind of have a disconnect with the people of McKinleyville,” said AFD Board President Randy Mendosa at the June 14 board meeting.
However, the theory that McKinleyville voters didn’t support Measure F based on the district’s name is based on anecdotal information, not actual polling data.
In a staff report, Chief McDonald raises uncertainty about whether the name change would help.
“Will it… fix the name recognition of the District for the communities that are not Arcata? There is no way to measure if a name change will help to garner support in the communities that are not Arcata,” McDonald wrote. “The District has no supportive data indicating a nexus between the name Arcata Fire District and low voter support for Measure F in the McKinleyville area. Although the nexus is plausible, is it a strong enough theory to spend over $70,000 on a name change? What happens if the name is changed and there is the same low support from McKinleyville residents during a renewal vote on Measure F in the year 2030?”
District staff compiled a list of more than 40 tasks it would need to complete for a full legal name change for the district. Signs, badges, vehicle logos, patches and more would all need to be changed. All of the paperwork and tasks would require more than 200 hours of staff time, bringing the cost to more than $76,000, according to McDonald.
“Staff feels that this expenditure is not in line with what was presented to the community during Measure F. Additionally, calculating the time commitment of this endeavor has highlighted that our team will be stretched thin and given the District is yet again understaffed and in the process of filling ranks, staff time is at a premium and time devoted to the name change is time lost,” McDonald wrote.
Rather than spending money to change the district’s name, McDonald suggested educating the communities that the district serves.
“Is the name a public education issue? Without quantitative data indicating the name is problematic, could the District implement other options to educate the public that they live in Arcata Fire District boundaries?” Mc- Donald wrote. “What if each fire station had a large sign above the doors that stated, ‘Arcata Fire District’? What about placing signage along roads near District boundaries stating, ’You are entering Arcata Fire District’? Could these simple measures clear up potential confusion for less cost?”
AFD Boardmember Nicole Johnson suggested that a large sign be installed at the McKinleyville Station stating that its part of the Arcata Fire District. Her fellow board members agreed with the idea.
“I’ll work up a proposal and bring it back,” McDonald told the board.
Also at the June 10 meeting, the board voted unanimously to appoint McKinleyville resident Kevin Jenkins to the Measure F Citizens Advisory Committee. Jenkins is the owner of McKinleyville Ace Hardware and is a member of the McKinleyville Municipal Advisory Committee.