- Liberal precinct 3A-1
Well, we might as well get this over with, and let the SunChips® fall where they may: The North Coast Journal's office, in southwest Arcata, sits smack in the geographical heart of the Most Liberal Precinct in Humboldt County. Wow, that's like admitting to some sort of media bias. (But, we hasten to soothe, most of us staffers live in other precincts.)
How does Precinct 3A-1 -- 510 registered voters, with 404 voting in the recent election (just a 79 percent turnout) -- earn this label? Well, a higher percentage here voted for Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney (4 percent) than in any other precinct. And the combined votes in the precinct for McKinney and Peace and Freedom candidate Ralph Nader (2 percent) were higher than those for Republican candidate John McCain (5 percent). Also, 87 percent voted for Democrat Barack Obama.
The state races were perhaps more telling: For State Assembly, 94 percent voted for Democrat Wes Chesbro, a sound rejection of Republican Jim Pell. For U.S. Representative, 68 percent voted for Democrat Mike Thompson, 28 percent voted for Green Carol Wolman and 3 percent for Republican Zane Starkewolf. Ninety percent voted against Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage -- no other precinct registered as high a percentage of "no" votes.
Precinct 3A-1 -- shaped like a thumb's-up fist, which you can interpret however you like -- is bordered by parts of I, 9th, F and G streets and a stretch of Highway 101. It includes the Arcata Plaza, the Arcata Marsh/sewage treatment plant, the Marsh Commons co-housing project, banks, boutiques, medical pot dispensaries, cafes, student rentals, comely houses, scrap yards, secondhand stores, a massage school, an astrologer, dog healers, people healers, markets, auto shops and watery fields. It's flanked by the Co-op, City Hall and the Safeway shopping center.
And the most emblematic of this superlefty precinct? Marsh Commons on G Street, we guessed -- that infill, eco-friendly development between the marsh and that solar-powered house with the chickens who like to wander into the nearby trailer park for snacks.
Last Friday night, the co-housers were enjoying a community meal, except that fewer than half of the 18 diners that night actually live in the Commons. The rest were "outlanders" -- people from elsewhere who join the food club (you can eat there three times a week, as long as you cook a meal twice a month). Outlanders Aaron Steinberg, who owns the massage school on the same street, and his mom, Shari Sunshine, served apricot chicken, coconut milk rice, broccoli and cheese. Just before dinner, two kids pounded out "Heart and Soul" on the piano. Everyone chattered and filled up their plates. Red wine and apple juice flowed. Once they were all seated and eating, Steinberg ding-ding-dinged a fork on his glass.
"I've been instructed to tell you there is dessert," he said. Apple crisp, with apples from his Sunnybrae yard.
Resident Bob Tucker, a Humboldt State student, ding-ding-dinged his glass. "This next Friday we're thinking of getting the latest Batman movie, 'Dark Knight,'" he said.
A woman ding-ding-dinged next. "Just a reminder, tomorrow we're having our open house and house warming."
They fell back to eating. Did you know, said resident Steven Gustafson -- one of the founders of the Commons -- this used to be an old truck repair building? And did you know this was where Arcata Library Bike got its start? Gustafson's wife, Lynnette Chen, an HSU teacher, said it didn't surprise her that her precinct's the most left-leaning.
However, judging by a few Green and former Green confessions, it was evident that Obama had found favor here at the Commons. Thompson and Chesbro, too. Tucker said, about people who voted Peace and Freedom or Green, "They're people who are bad at math -- who made a choice to be disaffected rather than change the country themselves."