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Two Seats, Six Candidates

Arcata Council election comes as the city prepares for a time of transition

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The two successful candidates in the November race for the Arcata City Council will take on their four-year terms during a transformative time for the city, with the Gateway Area Plan winding its way through the review process and Cal Poly Humboldt moving forward with expansion plans, including a major influx of students.

Arcata voters' choices include incumbents Meredith Matthews and Brett Watson, Arcata Planning Commissioner and previous candidate Kimberley White, astrologist and two-time hopeful Dana Quillman, and ballot newcomers small business owner Raelina Krikston and local American Legion Post 274 commander Jeffrey Scott Sterling.

The election will also likely serve as a referendum on the yearlong saga involving Watson, who was arrested Monday on suspicion of violating a temporary workplace violence restraining order issued by a Humboldt County Superior Court judge earlier this month at the request of the city.

A hearing on the order, which severely restricts Watson's access to City Hall and prohibits him contacting or being within 100 yards of four city officials — with some exceptions made for council meetings — is set for Nov. 4, just four days before the election.

In a Facebook post, Watson said he never meant to violate the order and the arrest "feels like a drastic over reaction and a publicity stunt by the city."

Watson has also vehemently denied any wrongdoing and resisted calls to step down after an outside investigation released in May found he sexually harassed a city employee and abused his power as a councilmember. He has said he is the subject of harassment by city staff.

Each of the candidates was given the same questionnaire on subjects ranging from their reasons for running and the Gateway Area Plan to homelessness. Sterling did not return his responses to the Journal or respond to a follow up email.

Appointed in 2017 and elected in 2019, Watson was removed from his second term as mayor by fellow council members who also cast a vote of no confidence in his ability to serve in October of 2021 after the allegations that led to the investigation first surfaced publically. Watson, who describes himself as "big on fiscal responsibility," said he's running again because he believes it is "the greatest form of public service" he can provide to his community and it is "one of the most rewarding experiences when you see how the decisions you make can have positive impacts on people's lives."

A Redwood Coast Energy Authority administrative specialist, Matthews is seeking her first full term on the council after being appointed in 2021. She cites her work championing the Complete Streets ordinance and building a relationship with the Wiyot Tribe, "the result of which is that we now have a land acknowledgement before our meetings, with more projects with the tribe to come," as examples of what she's helped to accomplish during her short tenure. "My work has just gotten started, and I would like to continue to make positive changes," she says.

White, a program coordinator and community organizer for CUNA (Comunidad Unida del Norte de Arcata/Community United of North Arcata) who's sought a council seat three previous times, says she's passionate about "affordable housing, home ownership opportunities and long-term solutions for the unhoused with dignity and respect." She says she wants to provide a voice for those who have "who have been left out."

A small business owner and creative director, Krikston says her experiences trying to find an affordable place to live in a tight Arcata rental market dominated by a handful of property management companies prompted her to learn more about housing issues and opened her eyes to the need for renters' voices on the council. If elected, she says she will push to "pass more stringent rent control laws in order to protect the current renter population now and as we grow into the future."

Quillman, a COVID conspiracy theorist who has run twice before, says she's been involved in local politics for nearly two decades, including opposing a proposed housing development in the Arcata Bottoms in the late 1990, serving on a 2002 General Plan Update committee and running for office in 2007 as an opponent of fluoride in the city's drinking water. She also vows to do what she can to "to fight the totalitarianism that has infected our world."

The following are excerpts from the candidates' responses, the entirety of which can be found at northcoastjournal.com.

NCJ: What are your views on the proposed Gateway Area Plan?

Krikston: The plan is an "opportunity to shape the future of our city to be able to reflect our community values and serve our population as it grows," she wrote, noting she would like to see certain key features, including inclusionary zoning, rental protections and incentives for condo development. "By requiring affordability, we can ensure that our community remains intact as we grow and ensure a diverse population of people in the city," she said. "Diversity is key to a healthy community."

Matthews: The GAP provides much needed housing and "infill is the climate-friendly way to go," the councilmember said. "A dense, walkable area is so much better than sprawl." She also stated it's better for the city to develop the plan rather than having the state step in and that "it is possible to have housing for all income levels, while still maintaining the character of Arcata." On building heights, Matthews noted the council is awaiting the Planning Commission's recommendations.

Quillman: The plan "needs to be shelved" and "will ruin our city," turning Arcata into another San Francisco as far as parking, she wrote. "The Gateway project is leading the city to be one that will be demographically out of balance with no affordable housing for families that will have a yard for growing food or playing in the yard," she stated, while also questioning why the plan is "coming out to the public at the same time as HSU is becoming a Cal Poly."

Watson: The city has "failed to significantly engage the public and gather opinions from the entire community," he wrote. The councilmember said one of the challenges is how the city is going to provide the capacity for the wastewater treatment services that will be needed. He also stated: "Most 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."

White: As a planning commissioner, she wrote that she is currently working on the plan. She stated that there's no doubt "we are in the midst of a housing crisis" and it "breaks [her] heart to see our community be so divisive." "If we plan carefully, and include the community in the decision-making process, we can provide the housing needed for Arcata, and still maintain the character that we all love and why we choose to live in Arcata," White wrote.

Quillman was the only candidate to respond that she has heard about a potential conflict due to property she owns being within 500 feet of the project, the reason why two current council members — Mayor Stacy Atkins-Salzar and Alex Stillman — are required to recuse themselves from discussions and decisions. She said she will also go through the Fair Political Practices Commission's process to make a determination as to whether she can participate in discussions and votes on the plan, if elected.

NCJ: 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?

Krikston: The Valley West project to "house our houseless neighbors is a good step forward," she said, adding she believes more measures should be taken to help "before people end up homeless" and "to ensure we have affordable housing available to our community." She noted there are "many things that can be done once a person becomes homeless, but not all that many to prevent it from happening in the first place."

Matthews: "I will begin by saying that I am very proud of what the council has done to tackle this issue recently," she wrote, noting Project Homekey, the Safe Parking Program and three more years of MIST services, and the Community Ambassador program "were all passed during my term." She also states, "I believe our next steps should be working with the city of Eureka and the county to provide real solutions for getting people a safe place to live."

Quillman: State and federal officials are the cause of homelessness, she said, and "they are not doing anything about it except cause more of it," so "how can a city council or even county supervisors be expected to solve it?" If elected, she writes, she will "push strongly" for creating several so-called "Opportunity Villages" where people can live.

Watson: "Our first priority needs to be expanding mental health services for our entire community," he wrote, saying data shows such services can help reduce homelessness and crime, and while there seems to be agreement among the council members, "we need to take action to expedite moving this goal forward." He said he's also been an advocate of opening up some largely empty public buildings to "provide shelter for those in need" but has met with some pushback.

White: "I became an Arcata Planning Commissioner because of my passion for equitable and affordable housing for everyone. Housing, like healthcare, is a basic human right," she wrote, noting she serves on several housing groups and believes "permanent housing is a solution rather than shelters, encampments, tent cities, etc." She wrote, "We need to rethink social policy. It is essential we address issues of equity and social justice and how disparity permeates through affordable housing and the unhoused community."

Early voting is happening now and Election Day is Nov. 8.

Kimberly Wear (she/her) is the digital editor at the Journal. Reach her at (707) 442-1400, extension 323, or kim@northcoastjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wear.

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