Letters + Opinion » The Town Dandy

Cage Match

By Hank Sims



As Journal reporter Ryan Burns writes elsewhere in this paper, the California Coastal Commission is set to hear an appeal connected with the proposed Marina Center development today (Thursday, Dec. 10). The hearing will kick off the true beginning of the fight over the proposed big box-anchored development on the old railyard on the Eureka waterfront, which has been kicking around for almost four years now. Opponents of the project didn't bother putting up any serious effort when the City of Eureka approved the environmental impact report and a project permit last month -- figuring, probably correctly, that the vote was already in the bag. The Coastal Commission is the body that's going to make -- or, more likely, break -- the thing.

For honesty's sake, let's admit a couple of things at the outset. For one, California law pertaining to this and many other matters is Byzantine beyond belief, to the extent that it can sometimes actively stifle the very thing it was written to accomplish. The Balloon Track could sit there as is for another 100 years, leaching its ugly self into the Bay, and the Coastal Commission would never say boo. For another, much of the opposition to the project has little to do with environmental remediation per se. For various historical, cultural and economic reasons, some people -- some powerful people -- don't like the fact that the proposed Marina Center is anchored by a Home Depot. And there are a few powerful opponents whose passions are chiefly aroused by the opportunity to give financier/developer Rob Arkley and his supporters in Eureka City Hall a poke in the eye. If Arkley were to put forth plans to turn the site into a sustainable organic cooperative farm, there are people who would sue him for not devoting enough space to the hemp crop.

But it's almost as if Arkley and City Hall wished these antagonists into existence, and then provided them with cudgels. Believe it or not, there are developers in other parts of the state, and even locally, who invite the opposition into the tent before a project ever gets underway. Arkley, instead, has delivered the middle finger to his opposition, consistent with the strange, ideology-driven approach he takes to nearly all his Humboldt County projects. (Leaving aside some of the charitable ones.) What does he want more: To get the job done, or to destroy his enemies -- people who harbor wrongheaded notions about the rights of capital and the role of government regulation?

You can't look at the history of Marina Center long without concluding that the former is secondary, the latter supreme. More than anything, he itches for a fight. And this time, he'll have a whole bunch of his psychic irritants in the ring: Humboldt County Supervisor and Coastal Commission Chair Bonnie Neely, left-leaning hardware king Bill Pierson, enviros like Pete Nichols and Scott Greacen and others, state bureaucrats like Humboldt County Planning Commissioner and longtime Coastal Commission bureaucrat Ralph Faust. This -- the broad scope of the upcoming score-settling -- is what gives the current conflagration its end-of-days feel.

Whether it ultimately happens in today's hearing or not is open to question -- there'll certainly be plenty of others to follow -- but the Coastal Commission shows itself perfectly willing to whittle Marina Center down to nothing. The staff report in the case recommends reversing the city's permit to allow Arkley's CUE VI company to begin work on the site, and that's probably what will happen. If so, what will be most frustrating is the already audible whining from inside City Hall and Arkley's Security National that it is all so unfair. The Coastal Commission has been a brick wall growing steadily larger for four years now, and neither the company nor the city has done anything to alter course. The Coastal Commission wrote an objection to the city's draft environmental impact report containing the precise objections which are now on appeal; the city staff waved the commission off, then urged the City Council to approve the 1,000-page-plus report, complete with this objection and others, in a matter of days. Which the City Council did. So now the city is getting what it paid for, and no one should be shocked.

Anyway, come join us on the North Coast Journal Blogthing today (Thursday). We'll be live-blogging the Coastal Commission hearing when it gets underway, complete with a background sense of how underhanded and silly it has all been.


The North Coast Journal is proud to be fielding a team of reporters in Copenhagen for the duration of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which may actually come up with some sensible strategies for limiting humankind's assault on the planet. In the coming weeks, we'll be printing regular dispatches from Manila's Dan Ihara, an economist who has specialized in climate change, and Petrolia playwrights/activists/raconteurs Jane Lapiner and David Simpson. The first of their reports, which takes the pulse of the summiteers as the conference gets underway, appears this week.

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