Sunday, June 4, 2017

TL;DR: Our Favorite Quotes From This Week's Cover Story

Posted By on Sun, Jun 4, 2017 at 12:47 PM

Hey readers, we know that reading 4,500 words can be a slog for some in the fast, digital world. Even if that 4,500 words is about something as fascinating as the city of Eureka's many, varied attempts to address the entrenched homeless camp in the PalCo Marsh and the accompanying emails we obtained from public records act request, it is a long article. (Give thanks to the editors, because it used to be much longer.) But take heart, because we get you. After taking a whole year to pore through those emails, and several weeks to write the two-part series distilling them into something that would fit into our pages, we're ready for a brain break too. So we compiled some of our favorite quotes from the article into this listicle, along with some GIFs we feel capture the spirit of the exchanges.

1. "Easy turbo ..." – Eureka Police Department Chief Andrew Mills, responding to a passive-aggressive comment from Parks and Recreation director Miles Slattery about SWAP funding and EPD responsibilities.


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Eureka Council Slated to Talk Wards, Budget, Recreational Pot

Posted By on Sun, Jun 4, 2017 at 8:29 AM

The current Eureka City Council. - COURTESY OF THE CITY OF EUREKA
  • Courtesy of the city of Eureka
  • The current Eureka City Council.
The Eureka City Council will take a first look at the 2017-2018 budget on Tuesday and examine possible customized approaches to the recent legalization of recreational marijuana rather than having the state’s default regulations apply inside city limits.

But before tacking those weighty items, the council will discuss ward redistricting during a 4:30 p.m. special meeting. Following the passage of Measure P in November, future councilmembers will be elected by the residents of individual wards rather than a citywide vote.

To make sure each of Eureka’s five wards has an even population, the city will now need to examine the boundaries — which were last redrawn some 40 years ago.

The Budget
A majority of the city’s $28.4 million general fund in the upcoming fiscal year — about half of the $57.7 million total operating budget — is proposed to go toward public safety, with the Eureka Police Department receiving $13.1 million and Humboldt Bay Fire $6.6 million.

According to City Manager Greg Sparks’ introduction to the 288-page document, the allocation “is consistent with the city council direction of keeping public safety as the number one budget priority.”

Parks and Recreation is slated to receive $3.9 million and Public Works is budgeted at $1.14 million.

Overall, the spending plan is a 2 percent increase over last year’s budget, which also saw a bit of a bump after several lean years that necessitated painful cuts to a number of departments. But the majority of that extra $1 million is slated to cover increases in “pension, health insurance and transit related costs,” Sparks wrote.

“While the recommended budget is balanced the city council and community must be mindful that there are a number of uncertainties still facing the community,” Sparks notes in his conclusion. “Costs continue to increase despite a ratcheting down of discretionary expenses and a leaner public work force. Nonetheless, we will continue to adhere to sound financial practices that will allow us in the long term to successfully meet the challenges of providing quality public services.”

Recreational Marijuana
According to a staff report by Community Development Director Rob Holmlund, the council has until January of 2018 to come up with customized regulations or the general state guidelines will go into effect in Eureka.

The report notes that setting up a city-specific ordinance will take some time, but states the item was delayed while staff waited for President Donald Trump to “clarify the national policy direction regarding state regulation medical cannabis and non-medical marijuana.”

Another factor, according to the staff report, was a lack of clarification from the governor or the state Legislature on how to remedy conflicts between medical and recreational pot regulations.

“Accordingly, staff needs direction from council this month in order to beat the timeline and have custom regulations in place by January of 2018,” Holmlund’s report states.

Staff recommendations for personal grow regulations on recreation marijuana generally coincide with existing ones for medical pot.

Proposed rules include a maximum of 50-square-feet of inside cultivation space per residence, a limit of six plants, a ban on outdoor grows and a requirement that no exterior evidence of a grow be visible from public areas.

On the commercial licensing side, staff is recommending that the council consider banning commercial cultivation and sales of non-medical adult use marijuana anywhere in the city.

Most other aspects of the commercial side, including manufacturing, testing transportation and distribution of recreational marijuana and related products would fall under the same regulations currently applied to its medical counterpart, including zoning restrictions.

Early Release of Council Agenda
Thanks to City Clerk Pam Powell’s efforts to make city business more transparent and accessible to the public, agendas and the accompanying background materials are now available for review days earlier, generally the Wednesday before regularly scheduled council meetings. Find the full agenda and access staff reports for Tuesday's meeting here.
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Saturday, June 3, 2017

Tent Cities: An Expert's Opinion

Posted By on Sat, Jun 3, 2017 at 9:00 AM

A camp on the waterfront. - LINDA STANSBERRY
  • Linda Stansberry
  • A camp on the waterfront.

In the lead-up to the PalCo Marsh vacation, city and county officials and members of the homeless working group, emailed around articles with suggestions for what worked in other cities and states. Among these was an article written by Iain De Jong, titled “Tent City: How to Respond Effectively.” De Jong, a consultant and professor of community planning and housing at York University, is credited with having effectively resolved tent cities and encampments in more than 100 cities, mostly on the East Coast. As part of our research for our two-part series, we emailed De Jong a rough timeline of events to get an outside expert's opinion. (You can read in-depth coverage of this story on the Journal's website: Part 1, "Prelude to a Sweep," describes the decades-long issue that led up to the May 2, 2016 eviction of the PalCo Marsh and Part 2, "Swept," dives into the decision-making process and infighting that preceded the marsh's final days.)

De Jong was not consulted by the city but, after looking at the Journal’s timeline of how Eureka responded to the PalCo Marsh encampment, described what he saw as a “dysfunctional response.”

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Friday, June 2, 2017

A Band of Neighbors Successfully Sues the Squireses

Posted By on Fri, Jun 2, 2017 at 2:07 PM

The now red-tagged home at 1635 G Street. - PHOTO BY THADEUS GREENSON
  • Photo by Thadeus Greenson
  • The now red-tagged home at 1635 G Street.
Residents along a stretch of G Street say they had one main goal in mind when they grouped together to take Eureka’s most notorious landlords to court: They wanted their neighborhood back.

Conditions at two buildings on the street owned by Floyd and Betty Squires had continued to deteriorate, becoming magnets for drug activity and police calls, neighbors say. They saw an uptick in crime and, at times, felt unsafe walking out their doors.

The last straw was a shooting in December at one of the residences that served as a rooming house. Shortly afterward, neighbors filed a series of small claims cases that — after being parred down — left 20 to be heard in court earlier this year.

The effort paid off this week with news arriving in their mailboxes that Superior Court Judge Timothy Cissna awarded them varying amounts in damages — ranging from around $1,500 to $5,000 — after finding the Squireses failed to properly manage the two side-by-side buildings.

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EPD Pitches Homeless Day Center

Posted By on Fri, Jun 2, 2017 at 11:52 AM

J-son and Brittany sit across from St. Vincent de Paul's free dining facility in Eureka. - PHOTO BY MARK MCKENNA
  • Photo by Mark McKenna
  • J-son and Brittany sit across from St. Vincent de Paul's free dining facility in Eureka.
A recent entry by Eureka Police Department Chief Andrew Mills on the EPD blog addresses the issue of people loitering around the St. Vincent de Paul dining facilty at Third and Commercial streets. Local business owners have complained about an increase in vandalism, drug use and camping in the area. EPD data obtained by the Journal shows a sharp jump in calls to the eight-block area around SVDP immediately following the eviction of PalCo Marsh residents, although EPD officially says many of those formerly living in the marsh have been housed, and the people in the SVDP area are mostly new faces from out of town, drawn here by the promise of work in the marijuana industry. A group of business owners met with Mills and Councilmember Marian Brady to discuss their concerns on May 5.

"Business owners, manager[s], and residents have complained of the high level of disorder including drug use, discarded needles, fights, disorderly conduct, large amounts of litter, and bodily waste left in the alleys and surrounding properties," a memo from Mills reads. "People block sidewalks, graffiti buildings and harass pedestrians and motorists. Business has suffered from lost customers, vandalism, and theft. In addition, businesses are concerned for the safety of their employees."

To address this problem, EPD is recommending a multi-phase plan that will include meeting and communicating with the 30-40 people who tend to congregate in the area, then using diversion techniques to reduce complaints. That might include suspension of services from St. Vincent de Paul for some individuals for a temporary period of time. Police may also ask people to clean up an area or perform other tasks to get a voucher that they can exchange for "meal privileges." SVDP may also shut down the facility during a "crisis period."

"To restore services, the individual may be required to perform a community service: clean up trash, pull weeds, paint out graffiti, etc.," Mills states in the blog. "Once completed, they can get a voucher to re-establish services."

The city is also soliciting proposals for a new "day use" area, where people can stay during the day and store "limited amounts of private property." The six-month pilot project "must be easily accessible to the city by foot or bus, but does not have to be in the city." Proposals are due by July 1.
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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Key Players and Their Emails (A Companion to This Week's Cover Story)

Posted By on Thu, Jun 1, 2017 at 3:52 PM

This week's cover story, "Swept," takes a deep dive into the Eureka city government's collective thought process as it planned to clear the PalCo Marsh of homeless encampments over the course of more than a year, culminating in the May 2, 2016 sweep that resulted in the relocation of more than 100 homeless people.

To report the story, Journal staff writer Linda Stansberry pored through more than 11,000 pages of documents obtained from the city through a California Public Records Act. Below, you'll find a handful of bios aimed at giving you a better understanding of some of the key players involved in city's decision making process, as well as a a selection of the emails we received from each. In addition to providing a more detailed look at what city leaders were talking about in the months leading up to the sweep, the emails should give you a taste of what Stansberry experienced, right down to the city's silly redactions of public employees' work email addresses and phone numbers. (You'll even get to look at one email that's formatted to have a single letter on each line and stretches across more than a dozen pages.) But don't worry, we're sparing you all the non responsive and duplicate ones. (For more on those, read last week's editorial here.)

And, make sure to go back and read the cover story!

Greg Sparks
  • Greg Sparks
Greg Sparks
Hired March 6, 2014, Sparks arrived to take Eureka’s city manager position from West Des Moines, Iowa, where he held the same post. In Eureka, Sparks has had to confront a much different set of challenges than he faced in West Des Moines, a Des Moines suburb with a population of about 56,000.

Most notable are the economic differences: The median household income in West Des Moines is $54,000 compared to just $25,000 in Eureka. And with that income disparity comes a much larger homeless population in Eureka, which has one of the densest concentrations of chronically homeless people in the country. Looking back on the city’s handling of the homeless encampments in the PalCo Marsh, Sparks said he wouldn’t do anything differently, adding that homelessness has proven a huge challenge for cities throughout the state.

Read a selection of Sparks’ emails here.

Andrew Mills
  • Andrew Mills
Andrew Mills
Hired as the city’s new police chief Sept. 11, 2013, Mills came to Eureka from San Diego, where he’d worked as a cop for 30 years, with stints commanding both the city’s eastern and western districts. Originally from Michigan, Mills has strong background in problem-oriented and community policing, and became well known in San Diego for neighborhood walks with community partners.

Mills told the Journal he knew homelessness was going to be a large issue for his department when he took the job, but said he underestimated the depth of the problem and how much time his department would spend wrestling with it.

Email exchanges between Mills and other city leaders, as well as some members of the public, show that perhaps more than anyone in city hall, Mills was reticent to clear the encampments in the PalCo Marsh without having another designated space to send the people living there.

Read a selection of Mills’ emails here.

Miles Slattery
  • Miles Slattery
Miles Slattery
A 1994 graduate of Humboldt State University, Slattery returned to the North Coast in May of 2006 to work for the city of Eureka after a seven-year stint in San Diego, where he worked as a chemist. Slattery joined the city of Eureka as a project manager in March of 2006, became the city’s deputy public works director in November of 2011 and its parks and recreation director in 2013.

Somewhat of a firebrand, Slattery has been vocal in urging the city to invest more in its parks, believing active recreation and engagement by city residents would go along way to deterring “inappropriate uses” of public spaces and make the city safer.

With his department at the forefront of the city’s efforts to clean out the PalCo Marsh, Slattery’s frustrations boiled over at times, which is visible in the selection of emails you can find here.

Rob Holmlund
  • Rob Holmlund
Rob Holmlund
Hired as Eureka’s community development director in 2014, Holmlund is an East Coast native who came to HSU to get a master’s degree before getting a job with GHD Planning and Engineering.

Since joining the city, Holmlund has helped usher in a new medical cannabis ordinance, a pilot parklet project and a re-envisioning of the Eureka waterfront. As to the homeless issue, Homlund seems to have bought into the Housing First philosophy adopted by the city but has otherwise been fairly silent publicly.

Read a selection of his emails on the subject here.

Natalie Arroyo
  • Natalie Arroyo
Natalie Arroyo
Elected to the Eureka City Council in 2014, Arroyo came to Humboldt County from New Orleans, where she was living happily until Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.

Arroyo currently works for the nonprofit Redwood Community Action Agency and is in the midst of an 8-year contract with the U.S. Coast Guard, where she works as a marine science technician. Taking her seat as a member of Eureka’s first all-female city council in 2015 — her first elected office — Arroyo was immediately faced with the issue of homelessness and, more specifically, what to do about the PalCo Marsh.

Read a selection of Arroyo’s emails here.

  • City of Eureka
  • Kim Bergel
Kim Bergel
Elected to the city council in 2014, Bergel is a Eureka native who worked in elementary education as a one-on-one aide.

Bergel’s big campaign issue was traffic safety, as she’d served on the city’s traffic safety commission for six years. But upon taking her seat on the council in 2015, Bergel threw herself into the homeless issue, and more specifically trying to help people living in the PalCo Marsh. She visited the marsh almost daily, developing relationships with almost all who lived there.

Read a selection of her emails here.

Melinda Ciarabellini
  • Melinda Ciarabellini
Melinda Ciarabellini
Appointed to the city council by Mayor Frank Jager in 2011, Ciarabellini served six years before deciding not to seek reelection last year.

A Humboldt State University graduate, Ciarabellini worked for the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office for 30 years before retiring as a correctional captain. She came to the council intent on bolstering the city’s public safety departments and focusing on economic development.

Ciarabellini became a prominent and forceful voice in the council’s passionate debates over what to do with the PalCo Marsh. Read a selection of her emails here.

Linda Atkins
  • Linda Atkins
Linda Atkins
First elected to the council in 2008 and termed out in 2016, Atkins served eight years on the council. A retired engineering associate, Atkins was seen as the sole “progressive” voice on the council for a couple of years until 2015, when she was joined by Arroyo and Bergel.

Atkins was the driving force behind the city’s shelter crisis declaration, which later proved integral in setting up the shipping container transitional housing village run by Betty Chinn and the rotating free sleeping areas set up in city parking lots. Both were important parts of the city’s defense of a lawsuit seeking to halt the May 2, 2016, eviction of the PalCo Marsh.

Read a selection of Atkins’ emails here.
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