Like much of the country, the City of Eureka has seen better days -- particularly in the wallet department. Sure, unemployment hasn't hit as hard here as elsewhere (knock wood), but good jobs with bennies are few and far between; homelessness remains a lingering, seemingly unsolvable problem; and the city government has had its general fund raided by rising pension costs and anemic sales tax revenues, threatening the integrity of key services.
Into this civic miasma step six brave candidates for public service, all of whom view Eureka the way Luke Skywalker saw his dad: "There's good in him; I've felt it." Heck, they say, just look around. Well, no, not over there. Look past the Serenity Inn and those boarded up apartment windows. And, uh, ignore that woman on the boardwalk screaming to seagulls about Satan. Over there. See? We've got elegant Victorians! A waterfront in the midst of an extreme makeover! A passionate arts community! Natural beauty galore! And above all, a plucky citizenry ready -- nay, determined -- to make the most of things. (Those of us who haven't moved to Portland, anyway.)
At stake this election cycle is a potential power shift between the City's dueling political factions, which can most easily be delineated between those whose support for Marina Center is unwavering and those for whom it's somehow qualified. The debate over the (all together now) proposed-Home-Depot-anchored-mixed-use-development-slated-for-Eureka's-Balloon-Track-property has grown tiresome, but it remains something of a litmus test for would-be council members. Along with jobs, public safety and City Hall bureaucracy round out the list of top concerns among a scrutinous electorate.
Here are the city council candidates looking to reupholster the county seat.
Marian Brady: Of all the candidates for Eureka City Council this go-round, none has a message as simple and straightforward as graphic designer Marian Brady's, which essentially goes like this: The vast majority if not all of Eureka's myriad woes can be traced back to the obstructionists who have tried to derail Marina Center, foremost among whom is her opponent, incumbent Larry Glass. Last week, over coffee and a chocolate croissant, Brady laid out her reasoning.
If it weren't for the delays caused by lawsuits brought against the City and Marina Center developer CUE VI (a subsidiary of local businessman Rob Arkley's Security National), the development on Eureka's waterfront would have opened this year, Brady said, and the resulting boost in sales tax revenue would go a long way toward solving the city's budget troubles, perhaps even making Measure O, the half-cent sales tax increase on this year's ballot, unnecessary. The project's Environmental Impact Report noted that Crescent City's Home Depot alone took in $4.3 million in credit card sales from Eureka-area shoppers in 2008. Brady sees this financial "leakage" as proof that, contrary to "fear-mongering" from project opponents, Eureka can accommodate more retail. Brady is confident that the project's proximity to Old Town, combined with its mixed-use potential -- including space for light-industrial and white-collar jobs like, say, a corporate call center -- will help it revitalize the entire city.
Meanwhile, she said, the litigants who have prevented all this, like the environmental watchdog group Humboldt Baykeeper, were only ever concerned with making money. And Glass is in league with them. "Larry's on the side of those people," she said. "He's totally spoken against the whole thing for forever. Since day one he was against it."
This narrative carries weight with many Eureka voters, including those who, for whatever reason, dislike Glass and those who are ready to see something happen on the blighted property. While the truth or falsity of this particular story arc is debatable (see local newspaper opinion pages over the past five years), Brady made a number of specific assertions that simply don't hold up.
For example, she argued that the lawsuits pertaining to the cleanup of the Balloon Track -- the former railyard where Marina Center would sit -- were ultimately pointless because, "Guess what, [the cleanup plan] hasn't changed at all. They just held it up for four years and they're getting the same thing." In truth, last month's settlement between Baykeeper, Security National and Union Pacific Railroad changes the very structure of the cleanup process by giving Baykeeper an oversight role, and the group's scientists identified several contamination "hot spots" on the property that will now be mitigated.
Another claim: "Traffic studies showed that ... [the project] was going to make traffic better, not worse." Actually, the EIR found that traffic would slow in the project area thanks to an added 15,000 daily vehicle trips (though the study did find that mitigation measures would likely improve traffic safety).
A couple weeks ago, Brady's campaign sent out fliers announcing that "Democrats Support Marian," which is true insofar as individual Democrats plan to vote for her (and Brady herself is a registered Dem), but the endorsement of the county's Democratic Central Committee went to the incumbent. (City Council positions are technically nonpartisan.) Another flier proclaimed, "Larry voted No on the Balloon Track cleanup!" and "Larry is President of an organization that sued the city of Eureka to stop the cleanup!"
Larry Glass: The morning after these fliers landed in Eureka mailboxes, Glass marched through Old Town with color copies in hand, fuming to friends about this latest dose of "bullshit." Afterward, he, too, sat down at Old Town Coffee and Chocolates (next door to The Works, the record/CD store he's owned since 1971) to discuss the campaign. As for voting "no" on the cleanup, Glass insisted that the multiphase plan in question wasn't "an actual cleanup," despite phase-one approval by the Regional Water Quality Control Board whereas the plan that's now been agreed upon (pending clearance by the California Coastal Commission), "gives exactly what I've been asking for since 1989: full and complete cleanup of the site, full characterization [and] wetlands restoration. I'm happy," Glass said (though, typical of the man, he showed no outward signs of this happiness). The City Council did everything in its power to move the project forward, he argued, adding that Brady's other claim -- the one about his group suing the City -- is patently false.
For decades, Glass has been a member of the board of directors of the Northcoast Environmental Center (NEC), which was among several environmental groups that in 2009 lodged objections with -- and indeed threatened to sue -- the City regarding Marina Center's EIR. The suit was eventually filed; the NEC was listed as a plaintiff for a short while, but quickly withdrew. Glass said Brady's misleading mailers are of a piece with what he sees as a "political machine" working against progressive candidates in this election, a machine consisting primarily of members of the Greater Eureka Chamber of Commerce (Brady is a longtime member and Third Ward candidate Mike Newman is the group's current chairman).
While Glass has had a long and well-publicized personal beef with Arkley, he insisted that his objections to Marina Center have always been about the cleanup and that he'll go along with whatever the public wants on the site. "I don't really give a rat's ass about Home Depot," he said. "I don't think they're coming here anyway." Earlier in the same conversation, though, he admitted, "Yeah, I'm not a big fan of big box. I'll cop to that." He doesn't buy the argument of Brady and others that more retail will be a boon to Eureka. Beyond a certain point, he said, "retail jobs ... are just musical chairs."
Instead, he argued, the City should focus its efforts on creating manufacturing jobs by establishing an industrial park and creating some sort of small business incubator. (He didn't mention Arkley's annual Economic Fuel business challenge.) With a top priority of public safety, Glass is a strong proponent of Measure O. In fact, he said that if the measure doesn't pass, "the residents of this town are in for a rude shock, because services as they know them will start disappearing rapidly." As for his accomplishments since taking office in 2006, Glass said he's most proud of his efforts to help establish the Eureka Police Department's problem-oriented policing (POP) unit and changing the city's notification process to raise public awareness of conditional use permit applications. A priority for his second term, he said, would be overhauling municipal codes and changing attitudes of city staff to alleviate the city's "nightmare of bureaucracy."
Ron Kuhnel: Eureka Planning Commission Chair Ron Kuhnel lost the 2006 election for the Third Ward seat to Jeff Leonard by 32 votes, or 0.4 percent of the total votes cast in the race. This time around, he recycled his old campaign signs and website to save money and energy. At this point in the campaign, energy is at a premium; going door-to-door across the city has taken a toll on the 70-year-old. When he sat down to be interviewed, he looked bushed, which may be one reason why he believes -- as does Glass -- that the city's unorthodox election process should be changed to a true ward system, wherein candidates would be elected only by the voters from their own ward rather than the city at large. Other benefits to such a system, he said, would be that candidates could forge a more personal connection with their constituents, it would decrease the cost of running for city office and reduce voter confusion.
Politically, Kuhnel has allied himself with Glass (the two reinforced each other's arguments during a recent League of Women Voters forum). But Kuhnel said that the differences between all the candidates have more to do with strategies than political positions. "Pretty much every candidate runs on the same platform -- jobs and public safety ..." he said. "The real question is whether or not you have any bona-fide plans for actually achieving any of it." He believes that the quickest way to give Eureka's economy a boost is by increasing tourism (Kuhnel has personally been stepping onto tour buses to extoll the virtues of local restaurants and attractions, a job he says the city should consider financing). Tourism efforts should be complemented by working on infrastructure, he said, like helping to facilitate short-sea shipping via Humboldt Bay. Kuhnel argued that economic benefits from the Balloon Track are still years away: "I really believe the Marina Center is not a short-term solution to anything."
While Arkley's mixed-use development has dominated much of the political debate, Kuhnel said the complaint he's heard most frequently going door-to-door has to do with the bureaucracy at City Hall. "We are regulating our small businesses to death," he said. "There are so many permits and fees. For anybody wanting to start a new business, the process is intimidating." This hampers not only businesses but also homeowners who want to improve their properties, and unlike other problems facing the City, he said, this one can be easily solved by focussing attention on personnel training.
Like Glass, Kuhnel is a strong proponent of Measure O, and though he believes Measure N is "probably not the best way to do zoning," he's looking forward to finding out the voters' opinion on the issue.
"I know Newman has had some of the same ideas," Kuhnel said, "but the biggest difference is I really understand this. I understand this at the granular, grass-roots level. ... I've got bona-fide ideas in hand to actually do this."
Xandra Manns: With her long gray hair, sleepy demeanor and far-left ideals (not to mention her almost zero-budget campaign), former Bay Area city planner Xandra Manns is not your typical Eureka Council candidate, nor does she offer a traditional approach to city government. A member of Keep Eureka Beautiful as well as the city's Transportation Safety Commission (along with Kuhnel), Manns said that improving the City of Eureka should begin with a revisioning that starts on the neighborhood level and continues up through City Hall. "I think that the City Council doesn't really believe anything great can happen in the City of Eureka," Manns said.
Nor do its citizens, she added. Her top priority if elected would be "to have Eurekans have a different image of their city. There's too much concrete and asphalt," she said. "The city needs to really visualize Eureka being beautiful and functioning well, and they don't." Trying to lure businesses here is not productive unless we first focus on making "here" a better place and prioritize improvement through asset-based planning, she said.
After retiring to Eureka in 2002, Manns, who was born to Lutheran missionaries in India, where she lived until age 16, got embroiled in several local hot-button issues, first as a member of the Citizens Pulp Mill Committee, followed by wrangling with City Hall over tree planting on city streets (she says she's helped plant 500 trees in the last seven years), and recently with her efforts to prevent cell phone towers within city limits. In 2003, then-Mayor Peter LaVallee nominated Manns for the Planning Commission, but the council didn't approve her because, she said, "I wasn't mainstream enough."
Manns believes Marina Center will "just kill our local business" and called Measure N "a charade." Instead she recommends fixing up the city's neighborhoods through a government-organized home-renovation program -- taking over blighted properties and, with the help of developers, fixing them up either for low-income housing or resale to fund the program. This approach could help solve a number of the city's lingering issues, she said, including homelessness, crime (by reducing poverty, which fosters criminals), and even economic growth (since beautiful cities naturally attract businesses, she argued).
In general, Manns thinks Eureka should join the Slow Cities movement -- that is, stop trying to bring every homogenized convenience here and stop trying to maximize our exports. "We don't need to feed the whole world milk from Humboldt," she said. "Why don't we just take care of the people that live here? And we'll have clean rivers left. ... This [city] is remote, and that's one of our assets."
As a member of the Green Party, Manns is used to questions about splitting the progressive vote, and like many third-party candidates before her, she argues that democracy only works when you vote for whomever you believe to be the best candidate. She even bridles a bit at the term "progressive." "I'm an environmentalist," she said. The key difference? "I think I'm just a little more hard core."
Mike Newman: "Small business needs a voice -- in these times more than others," said insurance agent Mike Newman. Like Brady, Newman got a taste of campaigning when he went door-to-door for Virginia Bass' primary run. Through that process he caught the attention of politically minded people in the business community, including his personal friend, Harbor Commissioner Richard Marks. "I was asked [to run] several times by different people that are political,'" Newman said, though he declined to reveal who asked. "I'm not privileged to name names at this time," he said, "but they are part of my contributors."
This organized effort on the part of the business community was a reaction, he said, to similar organizing by "the other side" in previous elections. "Business people usually are mavericks and try to do it themselves," Newman said, "but this time around they decided, 'We're gonna try to band together and look at it with one type of mind.'" One type of mind, but not one mind. "Marian [Brady], myself, [Fifth Ward candidate] Lance [Madsen], [mayoral candidate] Frank [Jager], [Board of Supervisors candidate] Virginia [Bass] -- we don't all agree on everything, but for the most part we do because business is so important for the future of this city ..." Newman said. "How the heck do you think you're going to pay for city services except through sales tax revenues?"
Promoting the necessary growth in today's diversified economy happens one business at a time, whether it's starting a new one or helping an existing one expand, Newman said. "So you've got to make things as friendly as possible for business." Like other candidates, Newman believes the city's permitting process should be streamlined and its staff should be more helpful. Newman strongly supports the Marina Center development and gets passionate discussing the area's economic challenges. His son is 27 and attending College of the Redwoods after struggling to find employment. His daughter, a single mom of a 12-year-old, was lucky enough to find a job at Costco, which offers good benefits, he said. "We've got great choices for upper education, but once those kids graduate, there are very few choices job-wise that have benefits and wages," he said. "I'd like my kids, my granddaughter and future grandkids to stick around."
Newman has gone to a great deal of effort to run in this election. In July, he changed his party affiliation from Republican to "decline to state." That same month, he moved from Myrtletown (in the Second Ward) to E Street (in the Third) so he could run for Leonard's seat. (Four years ago, Glass also moved in order to run for office.) Despite this inconvenience, Newman said Eureka's mixed-up ward system offers "the best of both worlds" for a city the size of Eureka.
Asked what makes him the most qualified candidate, Newman said that he's been a small business owner for most of his life (he owned an Allstate insurance franchise for 15 years) whereas his opponent is a retired Sacramento bureaucrat. (Among other jobs, Kuhnel once worked as the state's chief information officer.)
Newman's other stated priorities -- after job creation -- include protecting public safety jobs (he's a reluctant supporter of Measure O) and safeguarding the environment.
Lance Madsen: Mr. Madsen, a longtime employee of the Eureka Housing Authority and former two-term Eureka councilmember, is running unopposed in the Fifth Ward. A call to his Eureka home last week was not returned by deadline, but in previous interviews Madsen has said he hopes to foster job growth while nurturing public safety and infrastructure.