Twenty-three months ago, politics in the city of Eureka looked quite a bit different than they do today. Back then, the county seat appeared just about to be making some sort of leap into full-fledged cityhood. There were issues, activists, interest groups, controversies, anguish ... in a word, politics. Real, modern, municipal politics of a kind never before seen on the North Coast.
We were moved to publish a cover package that we called "City Asunder" (Oct. 26, 2006). On the surface, the package dealt with the pivotal election then taking place. Deeper down, though, it was all about the growing pains Eureka was undergoing in its political shift from townhood to cityhood. Our take was that it was a good thing, on balance. You take the rough with the smooth. You want to grow, expand, thrive, gain recognition, enliven the streets, become a place where ambitious kids launch careers? Well, sorry, but Mayberry doesn't cut it.
But the fall of 2006 was a moment in time, and things haven't yet worked out the way we forecast they would. For the last two years, Eureka city politics have definitely rebounded back toward the sleepy side. The City Council chugs away without significant internal or external dissent. Almost everyone is either uninterested or too jaded to pay much mind. Apart from the West Side anti-tweaker activists -- God bless and preserve them -- there are no neighborhood groups up in government's face. Basically, there are no neighborhood groups. There really aren't any active citizens' groups at all. No loud ones, at any rate. This seems a shame. The promise of ’06 has been squandered.
Two matters from this last week brought on these somewhat indigestive ruminations. As it happens, the two matters that made Eureka 2006 the place and the year that it was -- the Marina Center and the shooting of Cheri Lyn Moore -- were both back in the news this week. Both of them motivated all sorts of people in all sorts of ways back then. Now one is coming back and the other is fading away.
As freelance reporter Daniel Mintz reports elsewhere in this week's paper, the downtown-transforming Marina Center project appears to be very much alive, despite years spent missing in action. If the representatives of Eureka zillionaire Rob Arkley's Security National Corp. are to be believed, the project has survived the recession, the credit crisis and Home Depot's slump. Now, with the project's environmental impact report almost complete, Marina Center's Act Two may be ready to take to the stage. It might even do so in time for the November election.
District Attorney Paul Gallegos' prosecution of Eureka Police Department brass for their actions in the EPD's killing of Moore, a mentally ill downtown resident, ended the way nearly all of Gallegos' big-ticket, politically charged prosecutions have done -- thrown out by a judge before the case reached trial. Gallegos waited a year and a half before seeing if a grand jury would indict the cops in the matter; the judge last week ruled that he misrepresented the law to the grand jury in making the case. Unless a civil case is brought against the EPD, the still-troubling matter is at a close.
There's another Eureka City Council election this November, and at this stage we're only seeing small signs that people are taking it seriously enough to organize, as in days past. Longtime resident George Clark and relative newcomer Linda Atkins are making a concerted push at the Council from the left; if successful, their election will alter the balance of power in the city and may lead to new directions on everything from policing to economic development to transportation. Opposing them, somewhat disorganizedly at this stage, are incumbent Polly Endert and longtime County Coroner Frank Jager, each of whom seems to know about half the citizenry.
Will this election season inspire some interest in the city's civic affairs? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe Mayberry is replaced by nothingness. In the meantime, if you want to catch a glimpse of what we're talking about -- a little slice of what Eureka might yet someday become, if it summons the strength to throw off its chains -- go to Arts Alive! on Saturday. Once a month we get it together to take to the streets en masse at night, to fill our city with life. It's inspiring.