ON THE COVER North Coast Journal Weekly
Feb. 24, 2005


Time to get serious: Will the next Arcata council member bring city government down to earth? [photo of candidates]

On the cover:
Arcata City Council candidates. Front: Mary Scoggin.
Second row from left: Andrew Lord, Nicholas Bravo, Mark Wheetley.
Back row: Michael Winkler and Greg Allen.
Scene from Arcata Plaza in background.
Photos by Bob Doran



LAST WEEK, JUST AS THE Arcata City Council prepared to spend a few hours debating whether or not to offer its support to U.S. military refuseniks, Mike Harvey, former chair of the Humboldt County Republican Party, rued his inattention to the current City Council race in that city.

"I think we screwed up," Harvey said. "If we had the foresight to run a Republican in that race, we would have had a shot at having a voice on the City Council. Not that we could win a vote, but it would have given a chance to have opposing viewpoints expressed."

Arcata electing a Republican? That hasn't happened since 1992, when Carl Pellatz and Lou Blaser were elected. The GOP is now the third party in Arcata politics, with Greens outnumbering Republicans 1,717 to 1,620. The Democratic Party dwarfs them both, with 5,101 members, but many Democrats clearly feel comfortable voting Green on the local level -- for the second time in a decade, the city returned a Green Party majority to the City Council last fall.

Still, Harvey may have been on to something. It's not just that, with the special March 8 election to replace former Councilmember Elizabeth Conner, the progressive vote may be split amongst the six candidates who did enter the race. It's that there is also something of a backlash brewing in the town -- something candidate Mark Wheetley calls "compassion fatigue." Business owners and residents concerned about crime and inhospitablily on the Plaza were once too cowed to voice their concerns at council meetings. Many are still shy, but others are no longer afraid of being booed down by the crowd.

[candidates at table]

Other local residents are fed up with the many "symbolic resolutions" the city finds time to pass -- most of them aimed at the policies of the Bush administration. Some decry them as ineffective and time-wasting, as Mayor Michael Machi suggested at the last council meeting, while others say that they are downright harmful to the community's image.

The size of the backlash is impossible to measure, but judging by the current crop of council candidates, one thing is clear: Would-be council members are taking it seriously in a way that they haven't before. With the exception of candidate Greg Allen -- a dyed-in-the-wool civil libertarian -- all of the current candidates advocate some form of what candidate Michael Winkler calls "tough love" with the city's indigent population. And most of them think that there needs to be some reform in the way the city goes about taking a stand on international issues.

While they differ in their approaches, the tough-love candidates all agree that it is time to "take back the Plaza" from disruptive, sometimes violent, members of the homeless community.

For candidate Mary Scoggin, some of the solution lies in the larger community -- older folks and parents of children -- vanquishing their fears of inhabiting the downtown. The fact that everyday people have given up on using the Plaza relinquishes the space to aggressive panhandlers, drug-dealers and other undesirables, she says.

Winkler and Wheetley both advocate deconstructing what people generically think of as the "homeless" population into its various components -- the truly needy, the addicts, the lazy -- and using police to aggressively target the unrepentant criminals. Winkler wants to simultaneously institute Allen's proposed Police Review Commission to ensure that abuses do not take place. Wheetley sees the problem spreading to Redwood Park and other public spaces, and would like to see stepped-up enforcement there.

Candidate Andrew Lord thinks that local businesses may be willing to chip in to fund a stepped-up police presence in the downtown, and adds that citizens should be ready to work with the police in alerting them to problems on the Plaza.

On the symbolic resolutions, there is widespread agreement that the city has to slow down and consider more carefully what it is doing. Wheetley argues that the power to call out the national government should be used more judiciously, and that council members should take into account whether their action is likely to have any effect. Winkler says that he would want to be sure that a "wide majority" of the town supports a resolution before he votes for it. He says he would specifically reach out to the town's conservatives to solicit their views.

Scoggin says that although the council has a long, admirable tradition of voicing the concerns of its residents to those in higher office, the process can be a distraction from the city's other business. She said that she would be loathe to spend scarce city funds on town hall meetings or advisory ballot measures except in cases of real emergency, such as a draft.

Taken together, the emergence of the tough-love candidates gives hope to Gene Joyce, owner of the Arcata Exchange furniture store on the Plaza and chair of the Arcata Chamber of Commerce's government affairs committee.

"I think we've got some very good candidates in there," Joyce says. "I'm hoping that filling that fifth seat will finally balance the council."

Joyce says that he draws customers from southern Humboldt to Weaverville to the Oregon border -- and that whenever Arcata makes the Fox News Channel for its latest blast at the president, he gets phone calls. Some callers regretfully say that they cannot justify giving the Arcata city government any more sales tax revenue; others express their gratitude and promise to make their next purchases in the town. But Joyce, like many California business owners, has been working with ever-smaller profit margins in the last few years. Any disturbance to his business brought on by the symbolic political stands of his town government causes him to worry.

He knows he's not the only one. "There's a frustration level in town -- citizens getting fed up with nothing changing," he says. "I would hate to see what happens next if nothing gets done."

[Greg Allen]Greg Allen

AGE: 52
PARTY: Green

He's reportedly a hot guitarist and soulful singer of the blues, but as a candidate Greg Allen doesn't have to rely solely on the votes of Arcata music lovers. As chair of the Humboldt County Green Party, a defense attorney and director of the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Allen embodies a certain strand of Arcata progressivism.

And though his fundamentalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution may be out of favor in certain quarters -- at least when it comes to electing new city council members -- he's sticking to his guns.

"God knows I'm not suggesting the homeless are saints," he says. "I'm saying they're people like you and me."

It's not that he doesn't respect the concerns of local business owners or residents who dread a trip downtown, Allen says. But he says that there are limits to what can be done about unpleasant but legal behavior. He thinks that moving the Arcata Endeavor, the downtown nonprofit that provides services to the homeless community, might be a partial solution. He has high hopes for the recently formed Arcata Homeless Task Force. But he doesn't want to hear people petition the council to address things it has no control over, such as, say, someone getting abusively yelled at for refusing to provide spare change.

"You can't enjoin speech," he says. "Hello?"

Allen is deeply critical of recent ordinances designed to clean up the downtown. The last council passed a number of such laws, banning sitting on the sidewalks and booting dogs, smoking and alcohol from city parks. Though he approves of the alcohol ban, he feels most of the other ordinances are counterproductive because these moved the homeless out of the park and onto the sidewalk, increasing tensions in the community.

"Maybe I'm missing something here, but I think that the relationship between the police department and the public started deteriorating when the council passed these ordinances," he says.

At the same time, Allen says he is deeply concerned about the high cost of housing and stagnant wages. He wants to see more clean industry in the town. He says that he wants to use his connections in Silicon Valley -- he grew up in Palo Alto, and still commutes to the area for work occasionally -- to lobby software companies to locate in the city.

"I think software is a natural fit for Arcata," he says.

[Nicholas Bravo]Nicholas Bravo

AGE: 30
OCCUPATION: Environmentalist

Nicholas Bravo is back, sporting a new look -- and it's not just the beard. As a candidate in the fall council election, he amused and exasperated the town with his strange antics, once appearing at a campaign event in a Superman T-shirt. He won headlines, but finished last in a field of 10.

Perhaps in keeping with the tenor of the times, Bravo has made a pledge to accentuate the positive and eliminate the theatrical grandstanding this time around. In debates and going door-to-door, Bravo has been talking issues and handing out compliments to his former competitors from the Nov. 2 election, Paul Pitino and Harmony Groves.

"I've gotten a good response," Bravo says of his new campaign style. "People are happy that I've been a lot more positive, more focused on the issues."

Bravo even has the beginnings of a civic accomplishment to his name. He has led a movement to rebuild the information kiosk, a community bulletin board that used to stand outside City Hall. He has met with city staff and members of the Design Review Commission, with whom he has reportedly been working cooperatively.

Despite this effort, some of the trademark Bravo oddities remain. It's likely that more than one eyebrow was lifted when the sample ballot came out: In the line below the candidate's name, Bravo, a Humboldt State theater arts student, described his occupation as "environmentalist." His accomplishments in that field may have hitherto been obscure, but Bravo insists they exist.

"I am a supporter of the Mattole forest defenders," he explains. "I have written letters to various lumber companies criticizing their practices. I supported the HSU recycling program when it was threatened."

Bravo's political affiliations also remain murky. One year ago, he was a registered Republican. Sometime before the Nov. 2 election, he changed that to "decline to state." Then, on Feb. 13, it was announced that he had been elected to the steering committee of the Humboldt County Green Party. In an interview before the party's meeting that weekend, Bravo stated that he hoped to gain the Greens' endorsement.

But as of last Friday afternoon, the Humboldt County Elections Office still had him down as a "decline-to-state" -- making Bravo a leader of a party that, at least at the time, he did not actually belong to.

[Andrew Lord]Andrew Lord

AGE: 31
OCCUPATION: Environmental analyst
PARTY: Green

When he was studying for his master's degree at Humboldt State University, Andrew Lord took a particular interest in the economics of rural development. After finishing his thesis, which centered on Humboldt County, he felt it was time to put his learning to work.

"One thing that inspired me to run this time is that I just finished my degree," he says. "I feel that gives me a certain obligation to give back to the community."

Since entering the race, Lord has positioned himself as a budget hawk. After hearing residents' complaints about the chronically poor condition of the city's streets -- potholes being high on the list of neighborhood annoyances -- Lord went to City Hall and purchased a copy of the town's budget. He's been going through it line by line, and is beginning to identify items where the city could squeeze out a few extra dollars.

Perhaps surprisingly for a Green candidate, he thinks that the city should increase its rate of logging in the Community Forest -- or at least return it to historic levels. Lord says that he supports sustainable forestry, but over the years, as logging has become more and more politically contentious, the city has harvested less in response to political pressure.

"You can see the numbers -- they shoot down," he says. "It's politically based decision-making, not economic decision-making." An increased rate of harvest would not only help the city's bottom line, he says, but would pump money into the region's private sector.

Lord also favors looking into the idea of asking local entrepreneurs and businesses to donate to the city, in order to help fix the roads and pay for increased police enforcement. He believes that business people might be amenable to this idea, as a way of giving back to the city after it has helped provide them with years of prosperity.

Currently, Lord is self-employed, working a few different professions. He's a freelance carpenter and he picks up work taking environmental samples for an out-of-town chemical analysis firm. He says that the fact that he works for himself gives him another advantage -- he is beholden to no one, and wouldn't have to recuse himself on issues that come before the council or resign, as Councilmember Elizabeth Conner did last year.

"I think it's important that the city doesn't have to spend the money for a special election again because of conflict of interest," he says.

[Mary Scoggin]Mary Scoggin

AGE: 42
OCCUPATION: Parent, professor
PARTY: Democrat

HSU anthropology professor Mary Scoggin says that running for City Council is "an anthropologist's dream." Who else but a political candidate has the license to quiz strangers about their concerns for the community? Who else has a reasonable excuse to learn the details about the city's sewer system and the pros and cons of police tasers?

But if a campaign is proving to be of professional interest, that's not why she decided to run in the first place. On the ballot, Scoggin chose to list herself as "parent," first and foremost, and it's clear that her two children -- ages 10 and 5 -- are never far from her mind.

"Part of my motivation in running for City Council is having kids that I'm going to launch into this community," she says.

An avid bicyclist, Scoggin's main campaign theme has been to improve the city's trail and bike path infrastructure. Inspired by the "model" park and pathway system of her native Minneapolis, she has floated the idea of removing auto lanes in the downtown in order to make Arcata more trail-friendly. She sees fostering alternative transportation not only as a service to local residents, but as a way of meeting Arcata's commitment to reduce greenhouse gases.

Scoggin may have little experience in local government, but that doesn't mean she doesn't have accomplishments to point to. She cites her experience organizing an academic exchange and research program between the California State University system and Peking University -- work for which she received a special commendation from CSU's Long Beach headquarters.

"I am on record as someone who can see things through," she says. Having simultaneously negotiated the bureaucracies of the CSU and the Chinese government, she feels prepared for whatever the council can throw at her.

Scoggin says that her familiarity with the workings of Humboldt State and the entire CSU system give her a distinct advantage in helping foster town/gown relations. Most people don't realize the extent to which campus doings are influenced by the state university system headquarters, she says.

"People have likened the Arcata/HSU relationship to a marriage," she says. "But it isn't just a love marriage -- it's an arranged marriage, and the parents live in Long Beach."

[Mark Wheetley]Mark Wheetley

AGE: 46
OCCUPATION: Natural resource planner
YEARS IN ARCATA: First moved here in 1977, but spent several years since elsewhere in California
PARTY: Democrat

For Mark Wheetley, who got a job with the city after graduating from HSU in the early '80s, it all goes back to the Arcata Marsh.

"Having a chance to work in the city in those years, when the Marsh was getting up and running -- that really set my career path," he says.

Since then, Wheetley has gone on to work for the California Coastal Commission, the Coastal Conservancy and the state Department of Fish and Game, his current employer. His job title has usually been "planner" -- in actuality, his expertise is bringing together private interests and various government bodies to get things done.

One defining accomplishment of his career is pertinent to the situation the city finds itself in today, he says. In the '90s, he was named project manager for the South Spit, which at the time was home to an encampment of more than 300 people, many of them children living in unsanitary conditions. Wheetley was charged with coordinating the various local, state and tribal governments that had an interest in the site.

After years of work, the spit was cleaned up and assistance was found for the indigent residents. Nowadays, with camping in the Community Forest on the rise, Wheetley says he sees a similar problem beginning to crop up in Arcata.

"I think as the city takes on the Sunny Brae forest and other public lands, it's something we're going to have to deal with," he says.

At the same time, Wheetley is concerned about other issues that seem to be flying under the radar. With the budget outlook increasingly bleak, he says that he wants to make protection of the city's recreational programs for youth a top priority. One solution would be to seek a tighter partnership with Humboldt State, which has excellent facilities and a cadre of eager student volunteers.

Deal-making like this has solved seemingly insoluble problems, Wheetley says, but to pull it off, you have to think creatively and know where everyone is coming from.

"If you don't understand the challenges that everyone is up against -- from the maintenance man to the mayor -- you can't develop solutions," he says.

[Michael Winkler]Michael Winkler

AGE: 55
OCCUPATION: Energy research engineer
PARTY: Green

Michael Winkler conducts his campaign like the scientist he is. When he first announced his candidacy, he heavily played up his experience as an engineer at HSU's Schatz Energy Research Center and laid out a platform of making Arcata and the region energy independent by 2055.

When he first went door-knocking, though, he discovered that people were more interested in hearing his position on other issues entirely. How did he plan to bring housing prices down? What was his economic development plan? And, traffic roundabouts -- pro or con?

Winkler used this feedback to develop a list of the top six priorities of Arcata voters (the roundabouts placed a surprising fourth). He then went back to the books, studying up on the issues and thinking through the arguments on both sides to develop positions.

"I started out from a renewable energy perspective, but I've broadened myself," Winkler says.

Not that he had that far to go, on some issues at least. For the last five years, Winkler has been a member of the Arcata Planning Commission -- the second most important governmental body in the city -- and through it he has gained considerable experience in the day-to-day workings of city government.

His work on the Planning Commission has led him to be a strong proponent of "smart growth" -- denser development in already populated areas and protections against sprawl. He favors mixed-use developments that include space for businesses and housing, and he supports city policy requiring developers to devote a certain percentage of new units to affordable housing.

But Winkler still sees his main strength as his knowledge of energy issues. He says that as it stands, Arcata government and residents spend an undue amount of resources on securing power. Given the likely decline in world oil supply, he says, it is more important to begin to think about turning Arcata into a net energy producer.

"Even if people are not interested in energy, it will affect them," he says.

Winkler says that the city is admirably positioned to develop new sources of energy, such as wind, wave and solar power. The city could look at forging partnerships with HSU and the Schatz lab to help build some very forward-thinking projects (he says that he will recuse himself if any such deals come before the council).

And, roundabouts? Though he critiques the design of some of the smaller ones, he says that "they're generally working."



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