Twenty days before he went on KINS Radio's "Talkshop" program and touched off a public firestorm by grumbling about the city of Eureka's "giving away" Indian Island to the Wiyot Tribe, Robin P. Arkley II had some questions. An email dated July 11, sent from Arkley's company Security National to Eureka City Manager Greg Sparks and obtained by the Journal through a California Public Records Act Request, is titled "RE: Legal Authority."
"It has come to my attention that the city of Eureka is transferring property, owned by the City, to the Wyott Tribe (sic)," Arkley begins. "The purpose of this letter is to request what legal authority the City has to give City owned property away, and what compensation the City may be receiving in return."
No details about compensation have been made public, as the city and the Wiyot tribe have signed a confidentiality agreement over negotiations for the transfer of the property in question: an island in Humboldt Bay, known before colonization as Duluwat or Tuluwat Island, which in recent years has been dubbed "Indian Island." Arkley also refers to the property as "Gunther Island," a name it bore for several decades. Robert Gunther, a dairy farmer, purchased the island on Feb. 23, 1860, three days before settlers slaughtered between 40 and 100 Wiyot women and children there. The city has been in negotiations with the tribe to return the island, the site of the tribe's World Renewal Ceremony, for more than two years, and transferred a 40-acre portion of the island's northeastern tip back to the tribe in 2004.
As Sparks explains several times in subsequent emails, no details about that transfer have been finalized. The agenda item that raised Arkley's ire was a July 18 memorandum of understanding, ultimately approved by the city council, that reaffirmed the city's commitment to making the transfer in the future. Sparks tells Arkley a draft agreement will be made available to him and other members of the public when it is completed.
Arkley questions both the need for secrecy and the city's authority in initiating the process.
"It would seem to me that a[n] MOU with the wyiots (sic) is premature in any fair disposition process," he writes, adding that he would like a copy of the council's authorization. In subsequent emails leading up to the council meeting, he asks to meet with Sparks and the city attorney, saying the city was transferring resources without considering the rights of Eurekans, including the "the right to simply walk on the property at our whim." If the city sets precedent for "giving away" public property, future "public assets could be declared surplus and given away at the whim of a renegade city council to any favored transferee de jour of the day."
"I am not picking a fight with anybody," he writes. "There are considerations that are bigger than the history of Gunther Island."
Sparks reiterates that the MOU only reconfirms the process begun two years earlier and that the council received community input in support of the transfer when the process began. He suggests Arkley attend the meeting if he has concerns he'd like to address with the city council.
Arkley also smacks Sparks for allegedly taking action without evaluating the legality of transferring the "surplus property."
"It ought to be evaluated from a legal, not emotional standpoint," Arkley writes. "This is a thinly veiled gift to a favored group/nation at taxpayer expense."
Hinting at a future course of action, Arkley says he believes that property should be put to a bidding process, raising again the status of Native American tribes as sovereign nations.
"This property ought to be in a public charity's hands, who can administer it for public benefit, not for the benefit of a separate nation," he writes. "I will do everything in my power to see that it is 'suprlused' into an entity that allows the public [to] continue to enjoy its use. I will see you at 8:30 tomorrow."
Details from that meeting (held the morning of the city council meeting) are unavailable, but the council unanimously voted to sign the MOU verifying "the city is still committed to making the transfer." Several members of the Wiyot Tribe attended, with Chair Ted Hernandez saying the tribe's intention was to restore the island's natural resources and resume ceremonial use of the land. Public comment was brief and universally in favor of approving the MOU.
"It's the right thing to do, it's a long time coming and I am personally in favor of making this happen," said Councilmember Kim Bergel, recommending the council approve the MOU.
It was shortly thereafter that Arkley went public with his frustration, telling KINS radio host Brian Papstein that his children enjoyed visiting Indian Island and the council was just "giving it away." In the subsequent firestorm, he and his wife Cherie released a public statement to the Lost Coast Outpost, saying that while they would like to purchase the island, they do not want to own it.
"Why can't we come up with a solution to share the island?" the statement posits. Arkley did not respond to Journal requests for comment.
On Aug. 3, Tim Callison, a representative of Arkley's company, Security National, sent a formal letter to the city council, offering $500,000 for the western half of the island and offering to donate the property to a conservancy group to ensure the land "remains available for public access, including the Wiyot Tribe."
"It appears that there potentially may be several legal obstacles to such a transfer by the City," the letter says, in bold.
Subsequent emails question the formal appraisal ordered by the city, accusing the independent appraiser of having been coached and the whole process as being "under the table and results-oriented." Sparks denies that accusation in his emailed response. Arkley, having read the appraisal, writes, "You have to be kidding me." The island is far undervalued, he writes, and the appraisal itself is "sloppy," based on information that is already 12 years old. (The Journal looked at the appraisal and found this to be inaccurate: The majority of property sales used for comparison were done between 2009 and 2012.)
"Greg, I would like to talk to your attorney and you as soon as practical," Arkley writes. "I really don't think that the council wants to put its reputation at risk with such a work product."
In his reply, Sparks says due diligence has been exercised and the public will have plenty of time to weigh in on the process once a draft agreement is reached, at which point the appraisal may be updated according to direction.
"As for meeting with myself and the city attorney, I do not believe we are at a point where that will be useful," Sparks writes.
Sparks did not respond to the Journal's request for comment, but the content and tenor of the email exchange seem to summarize what is at stake. The city, as represented by the city council, has reaffirmed its decision to return the island, even if a long and tangled legal process awaits. The details of how exactly that process will shake out, and the formal agreement that might come out of it, may not see sunshine for several years. In the meantime, Arkley is having none of it and appears to be trying every means to stymie the nascent attempt at reparations.
"I think Mr. Arkley really should take a look at what he is asking for from a different perspective," says Councilmember Austin Allison, responding to the Journal's request for comment. "Indian island is important to the Wiyot Tribe on many fronts as it has been a ceremonial place of gathering for centuries, as well as a place of a very dark time in Eureka's past. There is very little economical value to this piece of land and there is no malfeasance occurring in the transfer."
Arkley, however, seems to think he has legal grounds to stand on to block the returning of the island.
"If this devolves into a fight, which I sincerely hope it does not, the city is grossly exposed," he writes in an Aug. 16 email to Sparks and the council. "I prefer to follow a consensual and positive path that benefits and protects all the citizens of Eureka."
There is another option, suggested in an earlier email by Arkley: Put the sale to the Wiyot Tribe on the ballot in 2018.
"That way the council will have a great issue to run on," Arkley writes. "Something tells me that they/you are woefully out of touch with the citizens of Eureka."
Editor's note: A prior version of this story first appeared on the Journal's website Aug. 30.
Linda Stansberry is a staff writer at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 317, or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @LCStansberry.