Friday, April 1, 2022

FPPC Gives Ruling on Arcata Mayor's Conflict of Interest Question

Posted By on Fri, Apr 1, 2022 at 2:17 PM

click to enlarge A portion of the Arcata Gateway Area. - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • A portion of the Arcata Gateway Area.
The Fair Political Practices Commission has officially notified Arcata Mayor Stacy Atkins-Salazar and the city that she has a financial conflict of interest that prohibits her from participating in decisions about the proposed Gateway Area Plan.

Atkins-Salazar had already been voluntarily recusing herself from discussions due to owning a residence and business directly across the street from a boundary of the 138-acre area being targeted for high-density residential infill and mixed-use development.

“I am disappointed that I will not be able to participate in the Gateway Area Plan as a decision maker, however, I understand why the FPPC ruled the way it did,” she said in a city news release. “The Gateway Area Plan is an important planning process that will have lasting effects on our town and it is important that it be done correctly, including avoiding legal issues such as conflicts of interest."

The FPPC found that the Political Reform Act prohibits Atkins-Salazar from participating in decisions regarding the plan “because it is reasonably foreseeable that those decisions would have a disqualifying material effect on her business’ interest in its real property.”


Back in February, Atkin-Salazar cited her recusal as one of the reasons she felt an urgency to hold a special June election to fill an open seat on the Arcata City Council, saying that leaving important decisions on the plan to just three councilmembers while at that time she was awaiting word from the FPPC was a “heavy lift.” 

Read the city of Arcata release below:
Arcata, CA, April 1, 2022 – The City of Arcata receives guidance from the Fair Political Practices Commission regarding Mayor Atkins-Salazar financial conflict of interest. The City of Arcata has received a determination from the Fair Political Practices Commission that confirms Mayor Stacy Atkins-Salazar has a conflict of interest in making decisions on the Gateway Area Plan because she owns both a primary residence and business within 500 feet of the Gateway Area Boundary. The City of Arcata has initiated a planning process focused on residential and mixed-use development within a specific region of the City approximately 138 acres in size, known as the “Gateway Area.” It implements a measure in the City’s General Plan Housing Element to allow for residential infill development in an area that was historically used for mixed and industrial purposes, and will result in the City Council’s adoption of an “area plan,” to be called the “Gateway Area Plan.” This planning effort was first initiated in late 2019 when the City Council adopted the City’s current Housing Element of its General Plan that included a specific measure mandating creation of the “Arcata Gateway Specific Area Plan, which will include [a] form-based code that allows high density infill development.”

Below is the conclusion from the Fair Political Practices Commission.

QUESTION: Does Mayor Stacy Atkins-Salazar have a conflict of interest which would prohibit her from participating in the City Council decision concerning the Gateway Area Plan?

CONCLUSION: The Act prohibits Mayor Atkins-Salazar from taking part in decisions relating to the Gateway Area Plan because it is reasonably foreseeable that those decisions would have a disqualifying material effect on her business’s interest in its real property, located across the street from the Gateway Area Plan boundary.

On this decision, Mayor Atkins-Salazar said, “I am disappointed that I will not be able to participate in the Gateway Area Plan as a decision maker, however, I understand why the FPPC ruled the way it did. The Gateway Area Plan is an important planning process that will have lasting effects on our town and it is important that it be done correctly, including avoiding legal issues such as conflicts of interest."

Additional Background Sections 87100 and 87103 of the Act prohibit a public official from making, participating in making, or in any way attempting to use his or her official position to influence a governmental decision if it is reasonably foreseeable that the decision would have a material financial effect on one or more of the official’s financial interests distinguishable from the decision’s effect on the public generally. Mayor Atkins-Salazar and her husband own real property located outside and across the street from the Gateway Area project boundary, within 500 feet of the Gateway Area boundary. She lives at this location where she additionally owns and operates a dance studio business as a sole proprietor.
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Kimberly Wear

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Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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