Arcata City Council candidates offer mixed views on Cal Poly, GAP

ARCATA – Arcata’s six City Council candidates aired a frank exchange of views during a KEET-TV/League of Women Voters (LWV) forum Oct. 17, helping make voters’ choices clearer.

Moderated by LWV’s Anne Hartline, the forum used phoned-in questions touching on multiple issues facing Arcata, including Cal Poly Humboldt, the Gateway Area Plan, infrastructure, homelessness, transportation and more.

Dana Quillman said she opposes both the expansion of Cal Poly Humboldt’s enrollment and the Gateway Area Plan, which she referred to as the “Gateway project.” She said Cal Poly was “taking advantage” of Arcata. “I would really like them to decrease their enrollment and I would like them to find other places to house some of their students, like McKinleyville and Eureka,” she said.

Kimberley White called for deepened connections with the university, saying the Gateway Area Plan’s infill housing is part of a broader conversation to be had about infrastructure and public safety, including funding.

Jeff Sterling said the advent of Cal Poly is “great for our community,” but that growth needed to be guided so as to retain Arcata’s quality of life.

Meredith Matthews said she is “very excited about all these incoming students,” and as a workforce developer, she’s looking forward to more technically trained graduates able to work and live in Humboldt. She wants more housing, and “robust conversations” with Cal Poly on transportation and other issues.

Brett Watson said increased enrollment must be carefully managed, and that “diplomacy, collaboration and civil discourse” are key to creating a shared vision. But, he said, Cal Poly has not adequately consulted with the city in recent years.

Raelina Krikston said the student influx is an opportunity for “mindful, intentional” growth but will require transportation innovation and more housing.

White said she’s excited about the new Project Homekey motel conversions offering 138 new units in Valley West, but that they are just “a drop in the bucket” in addressing homelessness. She said housing is a human right, and called for more efforts, including tiny house villages.

Quillman said pandemic lockdowns increased homelessness. She said her partner Paul Pitino, as a City Councilmember had advocated for a Eugene, Ore.-style “opportunity village,” and that she supports that too.

Matthews, who serves as city liaison to Cooperation Humboldt, listed several projects underway, including Project Homekey, Safe Parking and the city’s homeless reduction strategy. She wants to develop strategies for implementing tiny house villages, cold weather emergency housing and emergency warming stations.

Watson said homelessness is a national epidemic, and called for expansion of mental health services, and for using public buildings for emergency housing.

Krikston said properties with multiple vacation rentals should have them be converted back into long-term rentals. One Airbnb, she said, is sufficient for supplemental income and a fee ought to be charged for a second one. That money could go into a housing trust fund. She also called for a rent freeze.

Sterling said homelessness should be prevented before it happens, and that those without housing need help “to get back on their feet so they can provide for themselves.”

On the Gateway Area Plan (GAP), White said housing needs can be met while retaining the town’s character, and that infrastructure must be addressed. She said a transparent, community-led process would be aided by a survey of residents, plus expert opinion, will resolve building height and other issues.

Sterling said the “Gateway project is huge,” and that it poses large questions about infrastructure, public safety resources, building heights, parking and rental costs.

Krikston said the Gateway plan is an “excellent opportunity for us to create mindful trajectories for growth.” She wants affordability preserved via inclusionary zoning, and cautioned against limiting plans by “fear of the unknown.”

Watson said the Wastewater Treatment Plant is a limiting factor in housing growth, and that state authorities will likely force Arcata to move it, rendering the city’s $55 million renovation project a waste of money.

Matthews said the GAP is a “living document,” whose critical issues are going to get expert analysis during the approval process. “We’re in a housing crisis,” she said.

Quillman said the university is “making a big problem” with its heightened enrollment, and that more housing density and lack of parking will make Arcata residents end up “like rats in a little cage and people will not be happy.”

A question obliquely alluding to the strife at City Hall between Watson, his council colleagues and staff asked about creating a safe and comfortable working environment for city employees, Sterling said communication is key. “Treat others the way you want to… be treated,” he said. “Simple as that.”

Quillman said she wasn’t aware of any staff safety problems, but that she opposes “medical mandates” and the city’s support for them.

Watson called for “a change of culture at City Hall.” He said he is a victim of discrimination by staff and fellow councilmembers over his Attention Deficit Disorder.

Krikston, whose response followed Watson’s, pointedly assured viewers that “I won’t be using my power and privilege to intimidate or sexually harass any of the people who work at City Hall.” Looking at Watson, she said, “My blood is boiling right now. I can’t believe you would just ignore the elephant in the room.”

Matthews said that “every single person deserves to feel safe at work. Full stop.” She said she is pursuing diversity and inclusion training for city personnel.

White called for a number of long-term measures, including a “culture shift” that would see divisiveness ameliorated and trust rebuilt via shared power in a transparent and responsive government.

Regarding transportation, Matthews said she’s committed to safe streets for all modalities, and a robust public transportation system.

White said bus and bike infrastructure need improvement, and that transportation out to be incorporated into the GAP.

Krikston said car sharing is a good option, plus bike lanes and bike-exclusive lanes.

Sterling said Arcata’s transportation system has problems, and he’d work with county and state authorities to improve things.

Quillman said an aging population requires private vehicles, and that “all this talk of getting rid of cars in completely idealistic.”

Watson responded to Krikston’s “elephant” remark by saying that due process is important, with transparent and unbiased investigation. He called for improvement of Arcata’s bus system and bike lanes.

All expressed support for full funding and staffing for Arcata Police.

All are concerned about climate change. Matthews said recently approved wastewater treatment improvements are essential for “keeping our toilets flushing,” but Watson said the money should be spent on relocating the treatment plant. White said Arcata is fortunate to have expertise with which to address sea level and climate issues.

Asked about endorsements, the candidates who have them were pleased to cite them while those who didn’t generally said they weren’t interested in them and hadn’t sought them.