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From the Publisher

March 3, 2005


Journal backs Wheetley


It may be time to retire the snickers that generally accompany Arcata City Council elections. On March 8, Arcata voters will choose among six candidates for one empty seat on the council, and the field they have to choose from is the strongest the city has seen in some time. Indeed, we 're probably not alone in wistfully imagining a council composed of the five best candidates in the current race.

A natural resources planner with decades of government experience. A forward-thinking alternative energy engineer who has served the city for years. An energetic and engaged Humboldt State University professor with a young family. An attorney with a passion for civil rights. A recent university graduate eager to roll up his sleeves for his town. Except for the fact that the business community is not represented, this field looks very much like a composite portrait of the best Arcata has to offer. They 're all capable, and we'd have a hard time picking a group more representative of the city.

That said, one of them stands apart. The Journal enthusiastically endorses Mark Wheetley and has every confidence that he will become, in short order, the most effective leader that city government has seen in a very long time.

What most distinguishes Wheetley from his fellow candidates is a long record of accomplishments in the public sector. Whether as a civil servant (he works for the state Department of Fish and Game) or a citizen activist, Wheetley has had a hand in building and securing a surprising number of amenities that Humboldt County residents take for granted.

The Manila Dunes. The Hammond Trail. The Eureka Marsh. The South Spit. The restoration of Salt River and Redwood Creek. The county 's new homeless services facility, the Multiple Assistance Center, which is just about to come on line. The return of a portion Indian Island to the Wiyot. In each of these cases -- and they are only a sample from his career -- Wheetley has worked behind the scenes, navigating a tangled web of federal, state and local bureaucracies to get things done.

Of course, Arcata voters will pick their candidate not just on their ability to get things done, but on what he or she seeks to do.

Arcata cherishes its reputation as a "progressive" city -- a charter member of that small constellation of American university towns whose politics and government set them apart from the rest of the country. But maybe it's time to think a little more carefully about what progressive politics should be on the level of city government.

For the last couple of years just about the only thing that the Arcata City Council has done really differently, aside from the roundabouts, is to issue periodic "symbolic resolutions" -- demands on the federal government to end the war or to scold John Ashcroft. The net effect of these resolutions has been to secure Councilmember Dave Meserve semi-regular guest spots on the Fox News Channel. They don't even make any appreciable percentage of the citizenry feel good about itself any longer, particularly when the quality of life in town continues to deteriorate.

Wheetley harkens back to a different era -- a time when Arcata 's reputation was built on actual achievements, not symbolic ones. Today, anyone can walk through and enjoy the visionary Arcata Marsh project, which showed the world an unlikely way to balance community sewage treatment needs with the restoration of wetlands. As a young HSU graduate, Wheetley cut his teeth on the project. It continues to be his inspiration.

Nowadays, Wheetley talks about building a regional parks district, so that local recreational facilities might qualify for more funding from state and federal government. He wants to strengthen ties to Humboldt State -- a smart move for any number of reasons, but Wheetley sees it as a way to preserve Arcata 's extensive youth programs in a time of budget crisis. He wants to foster neighborhood improvement groups, so that they can offer ideas and feedback on issues ranging from economic development to affordable housing to crime and homelessness.

What do these proposals have in common? They 're all innovative, ambitious and aimed at improving the day-to-day lives of Arcata citizens. Impotent letters to Washington, D.C., don't really factor into the Wheetley platform.

As we noted last week, shifting the focus back to local problems is a common theme in this election. It is to be applauded. But while other candidates have exciting ideas about Arcata 's future, they don't yet have a track record when it comes to making big things happen. Wheetley has both in abundance.


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