You may be thinking the same thing many Arcata residents have for the past few months.. "What is the Arcata Gateway Area Plan (GAP)?" Well, let me tell you. There is currently a push from the City of Arcata, and the State of California, to invest in increased housing and population density (infill) throughout the State, including Humboldt County and particularly in Arcata.. My intention with this post is promote public awareness, for the purpose of generating more public comment because up until now most of us who live here didn't even know what was being planned.
Humboldt State University recently transformed into a CalPoly Technical Institute, presumably attracting a myriad of new students and new business prospects. For some, that's enough to justify building several 6 - 8 story buildings along the western edge of Arcata. But for Arcata residents who've been here long enough to know Arcata, the idea comes off as a bit absurd to say the least. Some people believe Humboldtians are resistant to change, I however don't find that to be the truth.
I think Humboldt County has a unique and well deserved smugness partially because most of us who live here, different as we all may be, we seem to agree on one thing: We're not like the rest of California. In fact many of us moved here to get away from the city, and cringe at the idea of Arcata becoming more densely "developed." Still there is definitely a shift in progress, and it's been happening right under our noses. This story deserves not only a deeper look, but a pencil and eraser, and I'm not the only one who thinks so.
I am grateful for a small group who have put in the work reading the Gateway Area Plan draft and documenting their concerns. Responsible Growth Arcata formed naturally in a grass-roots fashion after the GAP draft became available on December 1st, 2021. RGA is a group of Humboldt County citizens all with some intrinsic connection to Arcata, who took the time to read the plan. RGA brought the discussion to the public, arguably more effectively than the city did. The Mad River Union editor called one of their members a "GAP Activist," which I do not believe is a proper framing of the groups intent.
RGA wants to make sure that Arcata residents are involved in the planning and improvement of future developments. I personally spoke to the Arcata City Council during a meeting and mentioned the lack of public input or awareness about the GAP. I still feel the Arcata City Council is showing no signs of slowing down, even after others and myself have reflected this comment. During the Economic Development Committee meeting on 5/12/22, the EDC seemed a lot more open to working with the public than the Arcata City Council did..
Though it was RGA who offered me a printed copy of the GAP draft to read for myself, and it was RGA members raising legitimate questions during the City Council and Economic Development Committee meetings. So far some of the concerns include changes in zoning and how it will effect currently existing businesses and homes, the blocking of sunlight, lack of parking and community spaces, plus the impact to public municipalities such as sewage, sea level rise, the surprising prospect of several 5 - 8 story buildings, and of course we all want to know who stands to gain from all this?
Arcata is not the place for big developers to get rich. Arcata is small, business friendly, locally oriented, and a bastion for creativity. We've always had our minds on sustainability, and promoting the common wealth with events and activities. We're eco-conscious, happy to live right next to the redwoods with our bay views. While out scouting for this promotion, I was warmly reminded of our values by the town mural wrapping around Wildberries. The future poses challenges, but we've always known this day would come.
I really respect the work RGA is doing, and during a meet & greet it was made clear to me that we need more people to get involved. Arcata is on a fast track to becoming something it's never been before. I know many of us love Arcata, with it's anti-franchise law and local splendor. The least we owe to ourselves, and to each other, is to read the GAP draft and come up with our own questions/comments, then attend a City Council meeting to make our voices known. The City officials do after all, work for us, not big building developers or Cal Poly.
Arcata has always had a strike of creative genius to it. I believe it's in our best interest to put that to use now as we determine a better plan. All of us who live here will be effected, so please join me in reading the GAP draft and adding input to the public record. It's important that city staff, and developers, are keenly aware of our collective perspective on their plan. Currently the Council is basing their judgment on the small amount of input obtained by the City of Arcata, who's supposed to vote on GAP at the end of this year, 2022.
I've written this article fairly vague for a reason, as until I read the whole plan, I just don't know the facts well enough to be more thorough. There is an unaffiliated Arcata Gateway District Community (FB Group) for anyone that wants to join the conversation on Facebook, thanks to those who have started the effort to improve the GAP plan and get more public comment. Several of us want to organize an event to increase public awareness, and the Economic Development Committee has affirmed that we may be able to work together in doing so.
I would like to invite any and all interested parties to join Rhapsodic Global's Humboldt County Improvement Group. Our site is open for local organizers to come together and discuss or promote developments from their respective groups. I personally have a hard time staying focused on Facebook, so while I made an effort to gather some info from there to share here, I will likely re-focus my efforts on attending meetings and networking out in the field. I don't have all the answers, but I believe in Arcata!
And I invite anyone who wants to help me document and promote this story to join RhapsodicGlobal.org!
Responsible Growth Arcata's Current Mission Statement, and objectives:
A Living Document Collaboratively engage with the City of Arcata on the General Plan Update and Draft Gateway Plan to ensure that the plans best reflect the long‐term needs and interests of existing and future city residents, businesses, and property owners. Ensure that the General Plan Update and Draft Gateway Plan are fully consistent with the vision, values, and priorities of the community as stated in the current General Plan, Arcata Economic Development Strategic Plan, the adopted 2020‐2021 City Council Goals, and the adopted 2020‐2021 City Council Policy Objectives.
Support an infill plan for the entire city that maintains the unique character of the City of Arcata.
Implement both the planning and public engagement processes rigorously and objectively.
Ensure that the City has the infrastructure and capacity to implement, manage, and maintain the Plan.
Public Participation and Plan Development
1. The General Plan 2045 and Gateway Plan should follow a bottom‐up development process similar to what the city used for the original Wastewater Treatment Facility, the General Plan 2020, and many other draft city projects by including a task force and community participation in developing the plans, rather than having citizens respond to a draft plan (top‐down).
2. Utilize city staff for outreach and assistance to all Arcata property owners (not just large developers) to encourage infill housing.
3. Establish a streamlined approval process that ensures the public review and input process is retained for all future developments (Planning Commission and/or City Council approval).
Social Equity and Public Amenities
4. Encourage affordable low‐income housing that transitions people out of homelessness.
5. Encourage development that promotes affordable home purchase.
6. Encourage development that promotes affordable home rental.
7. Encourage development of recreational, green space, arts, stream restoration and daylighting, and other community‐based amenities.
8. Preserve solar access to existing buildings, including photovoltaic, hydronic heating, passive heating, and human access to sunlight.
Future Infrastructure and Planning
9. Focus on infill within the existing city limits and preserve natural areas and greenspace boundaries (ag and forest lands), including setbacks from existing green infrastructure (streams, solar panels).
10. Ensure that future development is sustainable, net‐zero energy, and outside the future 100‐year sea level rise hazard zone.
11. Ensure that there is an infrastructure and financial plan developed to support the General Plan 2045 and Gateway Plan, including Wastewater Treatment Facility, storm-water and flooding, fire suppression, schools, recreation, police, medical services, and others.
12. Plan and support future high‐paying jobs via continued mixed‐uses, including service industries, light‐industrial, and additional STEM startup businesses that are expected to expand and relocate in Arcata due to Cal Poly Humboldt.
13. Develop a practical parking, traffic, and public transit plan that is incremental in achieving the goal of encouraging increased bicycle/pedestrian use and reduced vehicular use in the downtown area.
14. Future development should be encouraged to support architectural styles within the surrounding neighborhoods, and minimize impacting historical structures and resources.
15. Limit future high‐density residential developments to 4 stories, with setbacks starting above 2 stories.