Eye Editorial: Relocate And Reform The NCRC – May 26, 2010

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Through its dedicated volunteers and with the generous support of the community and City of Arcata, the North Coast Resource Center (NCRC) is providing vital services to the disadvantaged in Arcata. For the sake of those in need, the NCRC should have its lease on the Arcata Service Center extended. That will give the NCRC time to find a new place to do business. And then it really has to do that.

Arcatans want to be part of the solution to homelessness and deprivation, and the NCRC is a tested vehicle for doing just that. But the organization has a lot of housekeeping to do.

The NCRC continues to behave as though by providing homeless services, it has some special license to act without routine planning or permission and then have others clean up the mess.

Given its record of erratic leadership and community-hostile internal culture, the City Council should keep the NCRC on a very short leash with a minimum term of renewal, stringent performance benchmarks and full disclosure requirements.

Here’s a to-do list for the NCRC’s Board of Directors:

• Conduct serious long-term planning. The NCRC’s repeated pattern is to wait until a deadline is at hand, then, amid much moralizing, present the City and citizens with various faits accomplis that require panicked approval. Going from crisis to crisis is divisive and a disservice to the center’s clients.

• Lose the cult mentality. When Jim and Linda Sorter wrote that “the officials who run the City have turned it into a mean little town, inhumane and downright cruel in many cases,” they were openly stating the disparaging things NCRC staff and boardmembers say about Arcata all the time away from the City Council podium. The ingrate factor is off the charts with this outfit – the more the City and its compassionate citizens do to assist the NCRC, the more contempt and condescension are heaped upon those outside the insular inner clique.

• Swear off threats. The NCRC has historically offered a two-pronged message: We wish to be a cooperative community partner and if you don’t give us everything we demand right now, we will sue you into obedience. That worked last year, when the City foolishly allowed NCRC lawsuit talk to lock the public out of decisions about use of a citizen-owned building (the Arcata Service Center). This conditioned the organization to associate threats with success. Long term, these tactics only antagonize the town and further heighten skepticism about the organization.

• Play by the same rules as your community partners. The NCRC refused to leave the Arcata Service Center when its lease was up, unlawfully squatting until the City caved to its threats. As the Endeavor, it supported the “People Project” which took over City parks and excluded the public, requiring police extrication and resulting in a lawsuit against Arcata. Prior to that, the NCRC’s current president set up an illegal tent city at Sunny Brae Church, with no sanitation plan or consultation with neighbors, violating its Conditional Use Permit. A previous president used to literally truck protesters, complete with signs, from McKinleyville into Arcata, depositing them on City Hall’s front lawn.

• Get real about public disclosure. The NCRC turned up at a City Council meeting one night a few years ago with a plan to relocate to St. Louis Road, without any notification or consultation whatsoever with the hundreds of nearby residents and the school that would be affected. Its representatives demanded approval of the plan on the spot, neighbors be damned. Its board president promised that HSU would provide police services to the new center – a big surprise to the University Police Department, which hadn’t been consulted. This pattern has repeated since then, with the NCRC springing an unplanned lunch program on the City last December, insisting on immediate approval. Earlier this year, a neighbor outreach meeting for the lunch program was supposed to have been publicized via hand-delivered flyers to every business within four blocks, but that wasn’t done. Why doesn’t the NCRC publicize its board meetings on its website? Why isn’t its review of the lunch program on its website?

The point is, these and the other incidents which have antagonized the town and alienated any number of community members aren’t isolated instances. They’re part of a continuing pattern that the NCRC seems helpless to stem. Though composed of good people, the organization is painfully dysfunctional in many ways and requires close monitoring and hand-holding by authorities.

“Your challenging us made us better,” said NCRC Director John Shelter at the last council meeting – this after the organization resisted all the conditions that it now says improved it.

If the NCRC ever truly realizes that criticism is a gift, it will address the issues listed above and become what it says it is – a real community partner. Meanwhile, two words: short leash.

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