New song by AnTone Dope Logic found at bottom of post**
The City of Arcata recently started in May of 2023, a six month free-trial with the Terner Housing Innovation Labs (THIL) research and policy simulation tool. THIL is a non-profit out of UC Berkeley funded primarily by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Meta, big bank foundations, and real estate investment firms. At a meeting on January 18th, 2023, Arcata's Community Development Director, David Loya described the tool as an "information dashboard" that will guide city development. After the free trial is over, the city will decide on paying $50,000 to continue using that software for the next three years, which may require accepting a new memorandum of understanding according to the contract.
This is happening despite numerous members of the public voicing their opposition, and Councilmember Kimberly White sharing concerns about unclear terms in the contract. Councilmember Kimberly White pointed out a general anti-regulatory bias in THIL's work, expressing that THIL's model developers could ignore Arcata's unique character with their data driven approach. Some of her other concerns included that THIL would be installing low quality housing too late to make a real difference. Councilmember Kimberly White said, "We talked about identifying funding over a 3 year period [$ for THIL], but we need need housing now." She also suggested that we should spend the time that would go to a 6 month free trial, actually developing code rather than waiting on THIL's guidance.
Six months earlier in August 2022, the city denied a proposal presented by a group of Arcata residents calling themselves Responsible Growth Arcata. RGA suggested Arcata form an advisory committee specific to the Gateway Area Plan, comprised of local experts. RGA pleaded for a greater effort from the city to engage the public and increase awareness of their development plans. RGA offered suggestions for how we can work together to design the city in such a way that "Arcata can be proud of 20 years from now." I wonder why the city seems more enthusiastic about working with THIL than they were about RGA's proposal? If the city is more comfortable receiving guidance from THIL than it is consulting with the local public, what does this mean and what does THIL want with Arcata?
According to the THIL website, one of their core focuses is "Increasing the supply and lowering the cost of housing in ways that align with equity and environmental goals." I'm curious about their stance on tall buildings as we've heard from our local Danco President, Christopher Dart, who publicly stated in the OLLI Presentation that any building higher than 4 stories is not economically feasible for providing low income housing due to California building codes and building costs. The city of Arcata's Gateway Area Plan draft currently would allow several tall buildings up to 8 stories. Several members of the public question whether tall buildings and population density will have a negative impact on the culture and quality of life in Arcata. Many suggest prices for housing will continue to rise regardless as long as the market is controlled by a small number of developers and landlords.
Arcata has historically been anti-corporate, one example is the Anti-Franchise Law that caps the amount of franchise restaurants allowed to operate in town. The law has recently been revised for anyone who'd like to read the new revisions here. The thing about THIL that strikes me as awkward, being associated with Arcata, is that their background is deeply corporate influenced. Is it safe to say that we can gauge our expectations of THIL based on the interest which fund it's work? Take for example Meta formerly known as Facebook, which provides a "free" service while profiting in the billions collecting and monetizing our personal data. Meta is no champion of equity; in 2020 Meta was sued by the US Federal Trades Commission for anticompetitive monopolistic practices, and that's just one example of the numerous scandals Facebook/Meta has been involved in.
Click image to read more at the Federal Trade Commission website.
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is another major source of funding for THIL, which is also directly connected to Meta. Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan formed the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as a Philanthropic LLC in 2015 after birthing their newborn baby - named Maxima. They announced that they were going to donate 99% of their Facebook shares to philanthropy. It's a bit confusing but after looking into how this works, I believe the Chan Zuckerberg Foundation is what funds the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative from Mark and Priscilla's personal wealth mostly tied to their shares of Meta. Through both CZF and CZI, the couple funds their different philanthropic reform efforts.
With Humboldt Sate University transforming into a California Polytechnic University, it's no surprise big tech organizations like those backing THIL are following. I imagine both the people who currently live here, and the students who come here have a lot to gain as well. But how can we be sure THIL is guiding our city based in what's best for those of us who live here, and not just the corporate donors who fund it's work? Does THIL represent Corporate America's foot in the door, masquerading as a non-profit here to solve our housing crisis? While it's difficult to understand the intent of a conglomerate of organizations, I believe that by looking into who is funding THIL we can attempt to surmise from the actions of those companies what THIL will suggest for Arcata.
Mark Zuckerberg to me represents both Meta and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, both organizations represent some of THILs largest funding sources. So focusing on Mark Zuckerberg, who in 2014 donated $100,000,000 into the Newark school system. This story was covered extensively by Dale Russakoff with The New Yorker who said, "And the venture philanthropists—despite millions of dollars spent on community engagement—have yet to hold tough, open conversations with the people of Newark about exactly how much money the district has, where it is going, and what students aren’t getting as a result. Nor have they acknowledged how much of the philanthropy went to consultants who came from the inner circle of the education-reform movement."
In a speech at Tsinghua University in 2014, Mark Zuckerberg praised Tencent as one "of the most innovative companies" in the technology sphere. Tencent is the same company that operates WeChat, the centralized app used by practically all of China to go about their daily business and social life. When Tencent started, they were known for copying their ideas and fitting them into the Chinese market. Tencent then built a ruthless monopoly in China before becoming a start-up incubator and fostering WeChat, which allowed Tencent to become interwoven into every aspect of life in China. WeChat provides everything from banking to media and communications, and it is also used by the Chinese Communist Party to maintain control via surveillance and censorship.
The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative formed in 2015, and made it's first contribution to THIL in 2017. The Terner Housing Innovation Labs is a UC Berkeley program with a "no limits" attitude about housing development. The picture I'm beginning to see here is that the state and companies like Meta have their sites on bringing Cal Poly to Arcata for an employee mill or a new start-up incubator of sorts. Some of these students may graduate and end up working for Meta or Google. It may be a small stretch to compare Meta to Tencent, still with Facebook being deemed a threat to democracy by numerous journalists and social scientists around the world, I start to wonder; if Meta is funding THIL, do we really want THIL influencing our policy decision making in Arcata?
Even if everyone at THIL and all those major companies have the best intentions, this is Arcata. Arcata residents should have a say in the developments that will impact our lives. I take issue with the city choosing to work with THIL because I think of it as a subversion to the democratic process. But at the same time, I believe the democratic process requires public participation to keep everyone on the same page. With all the transitions we're facing, and the major push to increase the population here, this time is crucial for supporting each other and our local economy otherwise outside interest will capitalize on the change for themselves, and I believe that's exactly what is happening.
The California Population Density Bonus Law is intended to stimulate our local economy through the development of housing. It appears that a lot of that grant funding could end up going to developers from out of town. The City is creating incentives for building developers to pack as many people into Arcata as possible, without parking, no guarantee of home ownership opportunities, and without addressing major infrastructure problems or considering what makes living in Arcata desirable in the first place. If you don't believe me when I say that our city government seems a bit of out of touch lately, I'd like to invite you to a community meeting held by concerned citizens who've been reading the plans to hear what they have to say.
Growing up in Arcata I learned that by supporting local arts, businesses, and events - we can maintain a healthy, strong, and loving community. I learned that each dollar spent locally contributes to the common wealth, and that it is also often healthier to eat the fresher locally sourced food than it is eating from chain stores. Arcata is counterculture, resourceful, ripe with talent and natural amenities, inclusive, friendly, and full of creative intelligent people who possess a wide a range of expertise. We live on sacred and ancestral land, Arcata is the place where people come to get away from the city, to the redwoods and beaches that practically demand our respect. Imagine the impact moving to a place like Arcata can have on the future of these students and travelers alike.
Imagine the impact we could have on the world by keeping our town's character intact. These times of transition can make or break a community. When students come here and experience the culture, immerse themselves in nature, learn about the history of indigenous populations and colonialism, the history of the rugged wild west, mineral miners and loggers, environmentalism, homesteaders, hippies, the cannabis rush, all of it.. Access to fresh local produce alone does wonders for the mind, body, and spirit.. The experience students gain here will ripple out into the world, and if we can strengthen and maintain our local businesses while we're at it, we will reap the benefits together as a community.
That being said, the City of Arcata has put a tremendous amount of time and effort into coming up with their vision for the future of Arcata. Being that they're most involved with the process, it may feel like they're the authority in the matter. The public ought to be engaging the city to really keep up and guide the process, otherwise we risk losing our representation when the city connects with groups like THIL. The city denied Responsible Growth Arcata's proposal to form an advisory committee for the Gateway Area Plan and instead accepted Terner Housing Innovation Labs proposal to guide our city development, that's a red flag. When our representation appeals to the guidance of outside interests, there's a slippery slope in terms of how the impact can be felt and reinforced over time to suit those interests.
Maybe the city would be more receptive to public input if we had a more data driven, streamlined approach to educating and collecting input from the public to present to the city.. This is something an engineer could likely have figured out over a couple weekends. I imagine Arcata has someone talented enough to create the software, and I think that's was what Scott McBain meant when he presented Responsible Growth Arcata's proposal to form an advisory committee specific to the GAP. Arcata has a lot of really smart people who could be brought together to design a development plan that will make all of us happy and proud. I want to do my part, and what I can provide for now is some perspective on why working with THIL represents a general disconnection from Arcata's values.
For me, and everyone who lives here, this really is personal as what happens will effect all of us. Please join in the decision making by writing letters to the city and news editorials, by coming to meetings and speaking, bring friends, learn and give feedback, why not!? The City of Arcata and Cal Poly have an investment in getting people to come here, I say what better way to do that than marketing something different than what students will find anywhere else in California. My thoughts only matter so much, I really want to use this story to point out that everyone who lives here has valuable input to share. After all, Arcata is the place that inspired Rhapsodic Global in all it's glory, and that's all you!
The unfortunate thing about this story is that it does seem to represent a shift in culture in Arcata's City Government, in harsh contrast with the public they've sworn to serve. If there ever was a time to be present with city development projects, it's now. There are some really great ideas being suggested by the public such as the Linear Park, opportunities that could be lost if the public doesn't properly and abundantly voice it's support for them now. There are also some big issues on the table such as building height or the an arterial truck route in front of the Historic Creamery Building. The July 11th, Planning Commission meeting is an important one to go to as the city plans on adopting the Gateway Area Plan.
We can reinforce the democratic process by peacefully attending meetings. We may even make new friends and connections in the process. There are many elements to the housing crisis and while lack of housing is one of them so is the circulation of wealth and access to assets like home ownership. We still have a chance to positively influence the situation and make wise decisions about how to move forward. If you want to read more about Arcata's development situation, I strongly recommend either going to Arcata1.com, ArcataLinearPark.org, or the Arcata Gateway Area Community Page on Facebook..
Writing this story got me thinking a lot about social media's influence in my own life.. Personally, I don't use it very well, I get distracted easily there and I don't believe it's an effective tool for raising awareness - like I once did. I've experienced account restrictions after trying to use Facebook to spread awareness about the Gateway Area Plan. I wrote and recorded a song about social media, and while it's not my best or favorite track, I feel it is an important song and I am going to share it here for free download. Please come to the meetings, there is too much to say for me to put it all here and we need your input if we're going to get the attention of our local representation at all. Thank you for reading.
Listen to Stan Revere by AnTone Dope Logic featuring Dido sample
I do not own the rights to this music