Last week, just after we went to press, Security National's Randy Gans stood up at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Eureka City Council and make a surprising announcement: The company he represents, which has been seeking to develop a long-vacant railroad on the Eureka waterfront for the last five and a half years, wishes to put their plan -- the so-called "Marina Center" development -- before the citizens of Eureka for a yay-or-nay vote. The City Council has the power to put such a measure on the November ballot; it will officially consider whether or not to do so at its meeting this Tuesday.
For those who have been around a while, the historical resonance of Gans' request is a bit jarring. It's been 11 years since the loathed Walmart Inc. took the exact same tack in a bid to build one of its crap emporia on the exact same piece of property; after a long and filthy battle, Walmart was shot down big-time: 60-40 against. The Walmart battle launched the political career of former state Assemblymember Patty Berg, and many would count it as the first big electoral victory for the Humboldt County left (outside the Arcata city limits, anyway). Now Security National honcho Rob Arkley apparently wishes to fight that battle all over again, with his own big box-anchored development.
The City Council will almost certainly go ahead and stick the thing on the ballot. Does it have a chance this time? Certainly a better chance than last time. Many citizens are tired of the old railyard just sitting there. Home Depot -- purportedly the Marina Center's anchor tenant -- doesn't have quite as hideous a reputation as Walmart. Arkley is a hometown boy.
But will it matter? Let's say, after a fight that will be even longer and uglier and more divisive than Walmart, the Marina Center takes home a victory at the polls. What then? To tell the truth, not much. The present City Council would have given Security National what it wants, anyway, with or without a vote at the ballot. At best, Security National wins some moral high ground. But the state Coastal Commission still has final say over the land use change that Eureka voters will be considering, and it would be a strange scenario in which a vote of the politically insignificant city of Eureka trumps their interpretation of state law.
Anyway, if you have strong feelings one way or the other and you're reading this on Wednesday (May 12), you might want to think about heading down to a Town Hall meeting that Councilmember Jeff Leonard is holding about the proposed ballot measure and a couple of other things -- citywide campaign finance reform, and another proposed ballot measure that would change the city charter so that residents of each city ward would directly elect their representatives on the City Council. Leonard's Town Holler will be at Eureka City Hall (Fifth and K streets) -- Wednesday, May 12, 7 p.m.
Reminder! All this month, the North Coast Journal and KHUM Radio have been hosting a series of roundtable discussions with the candidates on the June 8 ballot. The first two -- with the candidates for Sheriff and District Attorney -- were loads of fun; if you missed them, you can pick them up on the Web sites of either the Journal or KHUM.
Two shows remain, and they're concerning the top-of-the-ticket local races in this election season. At 6 p.m. this Thursday (May 13), I'll be speaking with the candidates for supervisor from the Fourth District -- Bonnie Neely, Virginia Bass and the aforementioned Jeff Leonard. Exactly one week later, the Journal's Ryan Burns will talk with most of the candidates from the Fifth District -- Pat Higgins, Patrick Cleary and Jeff Lytle. (Ryan Sundberg has said that he'll sit this one out, due to Cleary's ownership stake in the station, but we hold out hope that he'll change his mind.)
The idea behind these things is that they're more about good old-fashioned conversation than election season speechifying, as so far we think we've done pretty well with that. But you gotta join the conversation too. Get your questions ready and call 786-KHUM when the time comes -- we'll either read your question to the candidates or put you on the air. Whatever you do, don't forget to tune in: 104.3/104.7 FM, or online at khum.com.