Eureka Parking Lot Proponents File More Lawsuits as Initiative Qualifies for Ballot

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The great Eureka parking lot war is escalating.

Less than a week after the city of Eureka reported that an initiative seeking to block its plans to transform a host of downtown city-owned parking lots into multi-family housing developments has qualified for the November of 2024 ballot, a group of local residents led by Security National President Robin P. Arkley II has filed two more lawsuits against the city, alleging it violated provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act in pushing the plans forward.

For years, the city has been looking to address a housing crisis by developing a host of city-owned parking lots in the downtown and Old Town areas into apartment complexes that would provide hundreds of housing units. And those plans have been gaining momentum, with the city recently entering into a contract with the Wiyot-led Dishgamu Humboldt Community Land Trust on a project to develop more than 90 housing units on what are now two parking lots at Fifth and D and Sixth and L streets, and the announcement last month that Linc Housing, a developer picked by the city, had secured a $30 million grant to building 90 units on three city-owned lots.

But Arkley and other business leaders have expressed concern about the loss of off-street parking in the downtown and Old Town areas, noting that in addition to removing hundreds of parking spaces, the projects would bring in hundreds of new residents, many of whom presumably would bring cars with them.

“Building housing without parking,” the initiative website argues, “severely harms the economic vitality of small businesses downtown.”

The city, which has maintained that studies have shown the downtown and Old Town areas have enough parking without the lots, announced late last month that the dubiously named “Housing for All” initiative has gathered enough valid signatures to qualify for the November of 2024 ballot. It will come before the city council, which requested a staff report on its impacts back in August, on Oct. 17, at which time the council can either adopt it outright or choose to put it before voters.

If passed, the initiative would effectively block almost all of the city’s parking lot plans, save for a carve out for the Dishgamu Humboldt developments, by prohibiting any housing developments built on the downtown and Old Town lots from removing any existing parking while requiring they provide enough new spaces to accommodate residents of the new units. The initiative claims this will be balanced by another of its provisions, which would rezone 8.5 acres of the former Jacobs Middle School site, closed since 1982, for single and multi-family housing.

The problem with the Jacobs school site plan is the city doesn’t own the property and neither it nor the initiative proponents have any control over what happens to it. In fact, Eureka City Schools appears to be in the late stages of negotiating the property’s sale to the California Highway Patrol for the future site of its Humboldt headquarters, with the matter most recently having appeared on the school board’s closed session agenda for this month’s meeting for a conference regarding “price and/or terms of payment.”

Eureka City Manager Miles Slattery previously told the Journal that if the ballot initiative passes it would have reverberating impacts, instantly putting the city out of conformance with its current housing element, which includes 200 units of affordable housing slated to be built through the parking lot plan. That could then cause the state Housing and Community Development Department to deem the city out of compliance, jeopardizing matching state and housing funds and other grant opportunities.

It seemingly would also impact the recently announced $30 million grant from the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

“If it passes we would likely have issues,” Slattery told the Journal.

And it’s worth noting that grant is slated to fund more than just housing, with $2.9 million earmarked for sustainable transportation infrastructure (including a G Street bicycle boulevard), $4.7 million for public transportation projects (including two electric micro-transit buses and charging infrastructure) and $1.5 million in other amenities, including bus shelters, pedestrian lighting, bicycle parking, street trees and vehicle charging stations. Additionally, the grant allocates a total of $750,000 for workforce development and homeless prevention programs, as well as no-cost transit passes and broadband internet for residents of the projects’ affordable housing units.

Meanwhile, as first reported by the Lost Coast Outpost, the group Citizens for a Better Eureka, which is financially backed by Security National, filed two additional lawsuits Oct. 4 challenging the city’s parking lot plans. Identical to two earlier suits, the new filings allege the city violated CEQA when it approved plans to convert parking lots at Sixth and M streets and Eighth and G streets into housing developments.

After the first filings, the Environmental Protection Information Center issued a press release on behalf of multiple local nonprofits calling “bullshit,” and saying “not only is the lawsuit frivolous, but it actively undermines much-needed housing and climate action.”

The Eureka City Council is expected to discuss the housing initiative in open session Oct. 17, while it will likely be briefed on the latest lawsuits in closed session.

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