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Brett Watson: Arcata City Council Candidate Questionnaire

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Where did you grow up? Hemet, California.

How long have you lived in Arcata? 12 years.

Tell us a little about yourself, why you are running for a council seat, and what you can bring to the dais.

I moved to Humboldt County in 2006 to attend Cal Poly Humboldt and to pursue my passions to study the earth sciences and environmental protection. I graduated from Cal Poly Humboldt in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Forestry with an emphasis on Wildland Fire Management and a minor in Environmental Ethics.

Right after graduation, I found myself taking a different path and I started a small business making local products and shipping them around the world. These efforts gave me the invaluable experience of building businesses from the ground up and have given me valuable insight into what our local entrepreneurs need to be successful.

I'm big on fiscal responsibility and I work to prevent wasting taxpayer money and misallocating resources, e.g. arresting people for cc'ing someone on an email.

I'm running for re-election because I believe serving on the city council is the greatest form of public service I can provide for my community. It's also one of the most rewarding experiences when you see how the decisions you make can have positive impacts on people's lives.

We have some serious challenges ahead of us including infrastructure, housing, sea level rise, economic sustainability, transportation, and Cal Poly's growth in our community. Right now, my most immediate concerns are moving our wastewater treatment plant before it's underwater due to sea level rise and ensuring the Gateway Area Plan is created in a way that captures our communities vision and beliefs.

While a nationwide problem, homelessness is also an acute one in Arcata. What steps can and/or should the council take to address this issue?

Our first priority needs to be expanding mental health services for our entire community. Data shows communities that provide these services experience lower rates of crime and homelessness. I've already raised this issue with our council and there seems to be agreement, but we need to do more than just talk about it and we need to take action to expedite moving this goal forward. I've also been an advocate for opening up some of our public buildings that largely sit empty, to provide shelter for those in need. It breaks my heart when I see people sleeping in the streets in freezing temperatures while we have large public buildings with heat, power, and running water sitting empty. Our city staff always pushes back on this, though, citing costs and loss of space for some community activities. I firmly believe that if presented with the choice between holding a ping pong tournament versus providing a warm place to sleep for our homeless population, our community is going to choose the latter.

What are your views on the proposed Gateway Area Plan?

I strongly believe the city has failed to significantly engage the public and gather opinions from the entire community. We will cite numerous examples of efforts to engage the public but when these efforts are scrutinized, they're shown to produce very little meaningful data. We need to hire a professional polling consultant to reach out to our residents and collect community feedback via unbiased and scientifically based methods.

The primary challenge with any new housing within Arcata is our ability to provide wastewater treatment services to new developments. From the existing data we have, we can only provide wastewater service for another 4,000 residents. Our outstanding city staff is arguing we will be able to increase this capacity, but we've yet to see any meaningful data or evidence this is true. We can't spend tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money and make big decisions like this based on speculation and assumptions.

More importantly, the vast majority of feedback I'm constantly receiving from Arcatans via direct communication, public comments and surveys, is that our community wants to maintain the existing building height limit of four stories.

Two current members of the council are required to recuse themselves from Gateway plan discussions/decisions due to owning property within 500 feet of the project's footprint. Do you have any potential conflict of interest issues that might require your recusal as well, if elected, and if so, what would those be?

I have no conflicts of interest, citywide. I rent my living space and my workspace. As a renter, not only do I directly feel the impacts of increases to my cost of living, I also would not benefit from any increases to property values even if a project was across the street from my home.

With Cal Poly Humboldt in transition and the anticipated influx of thousands of additional students to the campus in the coming years, what can/should the city be doing now to prepare for impacts to the city and its services, especially considering its current housing shortage?

We absolutely need to make diplomacy, collaboration and civil discourse as our first and most important efforts to find common ground and a shared vision with CPH.

Throughout my five years on the council there has always been the sentiment that the city and the university need to be partners in all of our planning. However, from my experience, the university rarely stays true to our partnership. Time and time again they make huge decisions that significantly impact our entire community, all without any public discourse or conversation with city government. We have created liaisons, quarterly meetings, our city manager has breakfast with the university president, and none of this has had any impact on how CPH includes our community in their plans.

When I went door to door all over the city during my 2018 campaign, one of the main concerns shared by residents all over the city was the University taking over our small town. So what can we do?

The City Council needs to remember that we work for the 19,000 residents of Arcata and we've been entrusted by them to protect their neighborhoods and their way of life. We must put our residents first. We need to have this discussion in a public meeting and choose to take a firmer position in our dealings with the University. We need to come together as a community and let CPH know we are here, this is our City, and we will not be ignored.

It's widely believed that there's nothing we can do because CPH is the state, and they can override all of our local laws and do whatever they want. This simply isn't true. There are many examples of communities successfully pushing back against Universities attempting undesired expansion into their neighborhoods.

Keeping in mind the need to put diplomacy, collaboration, and civil discourse first, we also need to be prepared for the possible reality that based off of years of history, this may not work and we will need to come together to defend our community and our way of life.

How do you view the city's response to addressing the impacts from climate change?

In one word, insufficient. The Council wrote a lackluster response to a Grand Jury report that inquired about our planning for sea level rise. I felt we needed to be more willing to be involved in a regional effort, and I was the only council member to vote against the response. In my opinion, this is the greatest problem our city is facing as our facility rests directly on Humboldt (Arcata) Bay. The California Coastal Commission and the Regional Water Quality Control Board are essentially telling us we need to move this facility. Our staff keeps pressing us to leave the facility in place and to keep dumping tens of millions of taxpayer dollars into a facility that's going to be under the Pacific Ocean. Not only that, the Council just approved to pay nearly double the originally projected cost for our Phase 1 upgrade plan: $55 million dollars. I was the only council member to vote against this. Sadly, everyone in Arcata will now need to prepare for future rate increases to their wastewater utility bills. When I asked about this at our last meeting the staff response was, "We can't guarantee rates won't go up."

What is the city's greatest flaw in responding to residents' needs and what could be done to fix it?

Community trust in local government feels like it's at an all-time low. I regularly receive comments from community members that they feel misled and dismissed by our staff, and that some of the council members aren't listening to their concerns. There is a belief by some staff and council members that in a patriarchal sense, the 19,000 residents are their children, and they know what's best for them regardless of what the community is telling us that they want.

I completely disagree with this attitude, and I strongly believe my job as a council member is to reflect the vision and beliefs of our community members in my actions and votes on the dais.

Anything else you would like to address or mention.

If you have any questions for me or about me, please don't hesitate to email me directly at Brett@BrettWatson.org. You can also read more about my goals and beliefs on my website BrettWatson.org.

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