The race for a single seat on the Arcata City Council is making a special appearance on the June ballot with a crowded field of candidates vying to fill the opening left when former Vice Mayor Emily Goldstein stepped down earlier this year for family reasons.
The winner-take-all election will see the top vote-getter of the six hopefuls — Chase Marcum, Humnath Panta, Dana Quillman, Edith Rosen, Alexandra Stillman and Kimberley White — serve out the remainder of Goldstein's term, which runs through November of 2024.
Goldstein's departure marked the council's second midterm vacancy in less than a year, and the four current members decided in February to take the special election route rather than appointing someone to serve until the November election or simply waiting until then. The council found the special election option struck a balance of expediting the council's return to a full complement while allowing local residents to choose their representative.
With whoever wins stepping onto the dais during a transitional time for Arcata and the council, we asked the candidates to answer some questions about themselves, the challenges facing the city and their reasons for running.
Two of candidates — Panta and White — also applied to finish the term of former Councilmember Sofia Pereira, who stepped down last summer to become the county's public health director.
An assistant professor of finance at Cal Poly Humboldt, Panta says he wants to give back to a community that has given him "so much in the past several years."
"I think the city council is the best venue for me to contribute comprehensively to the community," he said. "I have extensive experience in multiple areas, including public and financial administration, public policies, planning, program evaluation, reporting, budgeting, accounting and data analytics. I believe my experience, expertise and perpetual pursuit of excellence will provide a meaningful contribution to the city of Arcata and its citizens."
White, a coordinator at the nonprofit Comunidad Unida del Norte de Arcata/Community United of North Arcata and a city Planning Commission member who also previously ran for a council seat in November of 2020, says she is passionate about "housing, addressing climate change and equity."
"I'm not interested in doing business as usual but committed to dismantling exclusive/oppressive ways of doing government by shifting/sharing power, creating a more transparent/responsive government," White said. " I am also running to be a voice for those who seemingly have been left out and have had no voice. I have lived in Arcata (land of the Wiyot) 30-plus years and am ready to bring my passion, education and experience to serve Arcata."
After breaking the proverbial glass ceiling by becoming Arcata's first female councilmember and following up two years later in 1974 to become the city's first female mayor, Stillman returned to the dais in 2006 and has served a total of 16 years.
A part-time commercial and residential real estate consultant and developer who also consults on historic preservation, Stillman said she has a "proven track record of getting things done during challenging times" and her experience will allow her to "hit the ground running, helping get critical projects going."
"Among the major immediate challenges facing Arcata are housing availability and affordable housing, public safety, growth of Cal Poly Humboldt and its impact on the community, homelessness and climate change," she says. "We are facing many challenges that can become tremendous opportunities — a transformation, but into what? Whether our younger generation inherits a well-planned, thriving city for the next 20 years gets decided now. These early stages of Arcata's transformation are critical. How we navigate this opportunity will either help or impede the future of your grandchildren and my great-grandchildren."
Running for the first time, Rosen, an assistant director of finance who's also owned her own consulting business, says she will bring her public and private sector experience to the dais and is "strongly compassionate about the betterment of our community."
"I am running for Arcata City Council because, with every cell in my body, I feel that this is the right thing to do — to give back to our community," Rosen says. "Our community truly helped provide a loving, caring, healthy environment for me to raise my daughters within. This is an outstanding, meaningful part of my mission to give back — to serve our local community, on Arcata City Council."
While also new to municipal elections, Marcum, a Cal Poly Humboldt anthropology major, currently serves as vice president of the campus' Associated Students governing board.
"First and foremost, I am running to represent those who have no representation, to give voice to those who have been silenced and to extend my hand to the people who have been down for far too long just as it was extended to me when I arrived in this wonderful community," Marcum says. "Furthermore, I intend to remove antiquated bureaucratic mechanisms from our governing policies and procedures, which tie the hands and hinder the freedoms of the great members of our community here in Arcata."
Quillman, who last ran for a council seat in 2006, declined the Journal's invitation to be interviewed other than to respond to questions involving the Gateway project, which she said she is opposed to and has heard she "cannot vote on it anyway because of the location of where I live."
The only other candidate to cite a potential conflict was Stillman, who said she "never expected the Gateway Area Plan's swath to reach my plaza properties on H and Ninth streets" and she's "60 feet short of being 500 feet away from the boundary."
The Fair Political Practices Commission, she said, has advised her to contact the state agency if elected.
Arcata Mayor Stacy Atkins-Salazar was recently officially notified by the FPPC that she has a financial conflict of interest due to owning a residence and business directly across the street of a boundary to the 138-acre area being targeted for high-density residential infill and mixed-use development. She had already been voluntarily recusing herself from discussions.
Here are the remaining questions and what the responding candidates had to say.
What are your views on the proposed Gateway Area Plan?
Quillman: I do not like that the city of Arcata has been planning this Gateway project while everyone has been distracted by COVID. In my opinion, the city should have planned a 2040 General Plan Update Committee instead of embarking on a large-scale plan like this and then give residents one short year to digest it and comment on it. I don't think a decision this large should be left to a city council. Start again, do it the right way, including the input of all kinds of residents of Arcata, the way the General plan update of 2020 was done.
Marcum: I think there is no doubt with the current projects being planned and implemented for growth in the sectors of business, education and infrastructure that we will have a great need for more housing moving forward. The Gateway Area Plan and mixed industry zoning could have many great aspects but many pitfalls as well. If we are to do this properly, we should pilot three separate mixed-use developments to determine which tact is more effective and appropriate for our community. The first is a student housing collective, (an) owned, operated, managed and benefited housing/commercial project, to provide a firm foundation not only for student housing, but student development in business and leadership. The second an unrestricted, non-traditional housing/commercial project to be developed, owned and operated by the local Indigenous tribes. Thirdly, a traditional approach to be executed by traditional corporate housing/commercial developers. Let us be bold, pave new pathways, lay a new foundation and be not afraid to stray from norms of our past. Let's together determine what is best for our community's future.
Rosen: The amount of complex analysis that went into the Gateway Area Plan is commendable — as is the overall intention of the plan — tying together multiple needs of our community. Two main concerns regarding the GAP are: ensuring ample community involvement and input, and ensuring further evaluation of the plan's impacts — including those that may be unintended. Contingency planning must be realistically considered with such a comprehensive project.
Stillman: I support the concept of the Gateway Area Plan for additional workforce housing for police officers, teachers, firefighters and other service people that guarantee us a viable bright future. In addition, market rate housing, with condos and apartments for those single-family homes owners who want to relocate to apartment complexes, making their houses available to families. Also, the GAP is in the oldest part of Arcata. The area has well over 50 historic buildings. These buildings need to be surveyed, a plan developed to ensure they are not swallowed up but have incentives to remain viable and create cultural amenities and harmoniousness for any expansion within the planning area. GAP can provide housing for Arcata's younger generation so they can remain in the community. Yet it needs to be thoughtfully planned and designed to continue to support Arcata's character and to create a livable, walkable and bikeable, healthy city.
Panta: The proposed Gateway Area Plan is a part of the city of Arcata's strategic infill redevelopment program. The Gateway Plan Area covers a 138-acre area located west of K Street. The plan's main objective is to redevelop the area to create more housing opportunities for the community. I think this is a great initiative by the city and, as with any infill redevelopment, this initiative can reduce development pressures on outlying areas and can enhance opportunities for public engagement and an overall better environment.
White: Arcata is growing, we need to be proactive and plan. In order to have real public engagement/true democratic process, the draft Gateway Plan needs to be community-led, fully transparent, include ALL voices, not just those that are privileged or who speak the loudest.
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?
Rosen: Houselessness is multifaceted and needs a systems approach in order to remedy deeply systemic inequities. This has been an issue in Arcata and in Humboldt for years now. Local governments can enact policies that direct funding toward sustainable, affordable housing projects, as well as ensure that individuals who are in need have access to basic resources, including access to the resources needed to heal.
Marcum: This problem can be approached and resolved through many different solutions, most of which require out of the box and unorthodox solutions. Some of which would be ideas surrounding non-traditional housing collectives located within undeveloped semi-rural locales that were non-restrictive and appealing to those without a place to live, communities to offer new beginnings, education, and methods of healing to help those in need until they can get back on their feet.
White: I am committed to long-term solutions for the unhoused, a member of True North and serve on several housing groups.
Stillman: Homelessness is a very difficult situation that has been exacerbated by the economic fallout of the COVID pandemic. I have been involved with Arcata House Partnership, by providing funding opportunities, support, donations and ideas to assist Arcata House Partnership in tackling homelessness since 1991.
The missing link for AHP is enough funding to provide additional services, whether it's more sheltered beds, mental health, substance abuse treatment or staff. We have over 17,000 people in Arcata and if we each gave $20 a year to Arcata House Partnership, they would receive $340,000, which could be seed money for providing more services. The root evil of homelessness is the loss of housing, which directly leads to mental illness. It is very important for Arcata's residents to help the valiant efforts of Arcata House Partnership; they are underfunded, need more mental health illness services, plus more transitional housing to help solve this critical community issue.
Panta: First, I have to express that I am deeply saddened to see the plight of homeless people across the country and especially in Arcata. Second, I believe the city of Arcata needs a multi-pronged approach to address and alleviate this situation.
We should start by appraising the number of homeless people in our city as well as by communicating with neighboring towns and evaluating their numbers as well. We should set this as a continuous process to create a timeline of measurement data.
Next, we should identify corporations and external organizations that care about corporate social responsibility. There are multiple organizations with funds that are allocated for communal activities and that go unused. We need to create partnerships with these organizations to bring them to Arcata either as financial donors or as active participants to aid in retooling and employing some of the homeless people. We need a proper plan, coordination and processes to be put in place for all these efforts.
The city council should provide designated shelter for homeless citizens with many activities, including job training, sports and counseling. Mental health issues, substance use, addiction, gambling and unaffordable rent are major causes of homelessness. Our policies, programs and plans should focus more on helping homeless people return to normal life and transform into contributing citizens of the community.
Once the city has a well-designed plan and partnership with entities in place for managing homeless citizens, we should also create rules to restrict the homeless people from occupying streets in major business areas and public and private properties inside the city.
How do you view the city's response to addressing impacts from climate change?
Marcum: I believe this city has great ingenuity and foresight on issues such as the environment and climate change. Although I would do my best to integrate the ideals and ingenuity of the local Indigenous populations and tribal governments into addressing these types of very important issues alongside collaboration with the brilliant components of our very own Cal Poly Humboldt.
White: We need to do more than declare a climate emergency but need to act by moving away from fossil fuels and focus on slowing climate change (Green New Deal).
Panta: Climate change is real, and while our city has had initiatives toward addressing this issue, I firmly believe we can do more and improve on existing policies, strategies, plans, partnerships and programs to address this issue.
Stillman: The city has been responsible in this realm and are constantly looking at the future and what it will mean. Remember the time when we couldn't walk the Arcata Marsh because they were raising the embankments as part of the climate change solutions? Or the flooding that no longer occurs because of McDaniel's Slough project? Bob Gearheart's Marsh Institute works continuously on wastewater issues along with city staff for the protection of the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary and treatment facility. Currently, Arcata has at least 10 years of sewage capacity and is planning for future growth.
Rosen: The city's response to addressing impacts from climate change seem overall positive. Arcata, as a community, places significant importance on natural resources and our environmental impacts. From complex evaluations and planning for sea level rise to reducing our carbon footprint, city of
Arcata incorporates sustainability and the long-term impacts of climate change into its planning processes. We need to ensure this continues so that we may best plan for our future and our future generations.
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?
Stillman: After the city of Arcata rejected the Village Project, Cal Poly Humboldt realized that Arcata saw student housing as Cal Poly's problem and not one the planning commission or council was willing to help them address. The university knew that Arcata could not absorb the growth of Cal Poly, therefore, they are working to partner in other communities to help fill the housing needs and continuing to develop housing on their properties. I will strive to have a positive and productive working relationship with Cal Poly to pursue our mutual interests of keeping an economically strong and culturally rich Arcata for all.
Panta: Well, the housing shortage is already one of the major issues in our community. We have first to conduct a quick housing needs analysis that not only identifies the current gap in demand and supply but also has a projected trend in terms of population growth and demographics of that population growth. Simultaneously, the city should make coordinated efforts and work closely with Cal Poly Humboldt to tackle the housing shortage due to the anticipated influx of additional students.
The city should make housing a priority project and create policies, plans and programs to revitalize neighborhoods, relax zoning and development rules, allocate land for affordable housing, simplify housing permit processes, offer long-term tax credit incentives and tax breaks for developing mixed-income housing at transit-oriented developments, create affordable housing trust and housing acquisition fund, create housing advisory board to advise the city council on housing issues. The city also should develop a mechanism to hear the voices and feedback of its residents on major issues like housing shortages.
Rosen: To prepare for the influx of thousands of additional students to campus in coming years, the city can, in addition to the planning for substantial infrastructure improvements and upgrades, to also prioritize formation of a comprehensive plan ensuring students have multi-layered support systems in place.
Marcum: Most importantly we need to uplift and involve the great minds, ingenuity and passions of the wonderful students of Cal Poly Humboldt. As they are a very large percentage of the Arcata population but have for far too long went without voice or a proper opportunity to assist, uplift and provide positive change to this great community, a situation which I intend to resolve as I believe the students have the capability to re-energize and re-envision a more productive, beautiful and healthy community here in the great city of Arcata.
White: We need to deepen our relationship with Cal Poly Humboldt and collaborate on housing, address infrastructure (wastewater treatment, fire, public transportation/parking, health services) and equity.
What is the city's greatest flaw in responding to residents' needs and what could be done to fix it?
Rosen: The city's greatest flaw in responding to residents' needs is not ensuring that proper and adequate outreach measures are taken. The city has made substantial efforts lately to increase outreach by using multiple methods of communication in order to ensure more community member voices are represented. It is imperative to meet people where they are at — on a physical level — as well as through the lens of compassion and understanding.
White: Residents don't feel heard. It is essential to have a well functioning democracy that ALL voices be heard and be community led, not just privileged few or loudest.
Marcum: The greatest flaw is that there is no student voice in the most important conversations being had and they are absent as well in the rooms where the greatest decisions are made surrounding and affecting the experiences and environments in which they shall interact with, day in and day out.
Panta: Some of the city's greatest flaws are the lack of transparency, poor communication, partnerships with external entities and disconnection from citizens in the community. I am a firm believer in processes and strive to put processes in place that will serve beyond my time. City council should improve and develop a better strategy and mechanism to enhance transparency, hear the voices of the people in our community, create external partnerships and address the issues raised while preparing and implementing policies, plans, programs and projects in the city.
Stillman: The greatest weakness is not having the funding to do all that is needed, whether it is ending homelessness, clean sidewalks, newly paved streets, more bike lanes, better park equipment, more dog parks or trails ... the list goes on. Sales tax is the biggest part of a city's budget. Because we have decided not to have big box stores, as Eureka, it's imperative we shop local. Be a part of the changes that we want to see.
The city council has gone through some rocky periods in the last year or so, including the removal of a sitting mayor with a public rebuke by other councilmembers, as well as the turnover of two council seats. What do you bring to the table to help move the council forward?
Marcum: I bring to the table the voices of more than 5,000 brilliant, passionate and creative students, alongside them the support of our wonderful faculty, staff and administrators, who care greatly for the success of our community. I intend to unite the university community and the great people of the city of Arcata and Humboldt County through inspiration, collaboration and positive leadership.
Panta: The condition of roads, infrastructure, and adequate and affordable housing, homelessness are major problems in our city. I am fundamentally rooted in two important values, unity in diversity and an effort to elevate. I have also lived in different countries and diverse neighborhoods with distinct issues and demographics and have the experience and expertise to address the city's significant challenges. I also have experience working with community members to find solutions to broiling issues. Thus, I have a lot to bring to the table to help move the city forward.
White: I have proven commitment/consistency as planning commissioner (three years), rapport with each councilmember and am ready to hit the ground running.
Stillman: I am a problem solver and I would like to have the opportunity to bring my knowledge, history and abilities to complete the term vacant by Emily Goldstein for the next two years. Arcata has many challenges ahead. I have faced unknowns before and have been able to develop solutions. I believe my skill set is of value at this time.
Rosen: I bring a fresh perspective — a future-forward focus to Arcata City Council. It is our responsibility to restore trust and confidence in our local government. I intend to lead by example.