City Council Reviews Projects, Dreams At Eco-Summit – October 28, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

The newly created pond at the Arcata Baylands Enhancement Project filled in with rainwater right away, and mallard ducks were there within hours. KLH | Eye

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

CITY HALL – The City held its annual meeting with three key environmental committees last Thursday evening, October 20. The good news is, Arcata still has a natural environment, and even as political and economic winds blow in every direction, Arcata doggedly continues to both improve what natural resources it has and add to its envronmental treasures at every opportunity.

The City has become adept at finagling grant funds to enable restoration in every corner of town, and Arcata’s citizens step up eagerly and in droves at volunteer workdays to offer sweat equity.

Much of the damage from past environmental neglect – creeks turned into ditches, forests racked by logging-related erosion and even-age tree stands, severely compromised wetlands – has been reversed or is on course to become habitat for creatures and recreation for humans.

City eco-rockstars like Environmental Services Director Mark Andre have gained global stature and influence through association with Arcata’s pioneering initiatives. Straight-shooter Andre in particular is well-regarded in both industry and the environmental community, gravitas which helps Arcata with funding and legislative opportunities.

Underpinning the whole operation are the various citizen-led advisory committees comprised of volunteers with special interest or expertise. The committees meet monthly to take ideas from the public, tackle problems and make long-term plans.

While they can only advise the decisionmakers, they do heavily influence the City Council’s decisions. It’s rare, but not unheard of, for the City Council to counter an advisory committee recommendation.

And so convened the annual meeting of the City Council with the Open Space, Wetlands & Creeks, Parks & Rec and Forest management Committees in Council Chamber last Thursday evening.

“We’re getting together so we can cross-communicate ideas,” said Mayor Susan Ornelas to the 30 or so participants seated in a circle around the chamber. Spokesfolk for each committee offered a brief overview of their group’s activities.

Parks and Rec is working on its Redwood Park Master Plan and will hold two public fora sometime early next year. Special interest groups such as bicyclists and equestrians will weigh in, a landscape plan developed and a draft plan should be ready next August or so.

Councilmember Alex Stillman suggested that not all City facilities need to be concentrated in Redwood Park. She said the City could develop recreational facilities farther up the trails.

The Redwood Park safety situation has been completely turned around from a few years ago, thanks to the Transactions and Use Tax (TUT), also known as Measure G, and the subsequent funding and deployment of forest rangers.

“It feels safe and the families are using it,” noted Forest Management Committeemember (FMC) Michael Furniss.

City Manager Randy Mendosa said the ranger staffing could be in trouble though, due to state budget cuts. The Supplemental Law Enforcement Services Fund (SLESF) appears to be in trouble and could be defunded.

“I just don’t know how much longer we’re going to be able to fund them [the rangers] at this level,” Mendosa said. “It’s not necessarily sustainable.”

Stillman said that was another good reason to shop local, as sales tax dollars support the enhanced City Services through the TUT.

Also in for improvements is Rotary Park in conjunction with the Arcata Rotary Club. Funding is a challenge, as many sources have dried up, said Parks Superintendent Dan Diemer.

He said the City is looking for more park land in the South-of-Samoa-Boulevard area to facilitate the needs of that neighborhood.

Environmental Services Director Mark Andre said volunteer workdays are extremely successful, drawing dozens of citizens. FMC Chair Russ Forsburg said the rangers were key to that as well, as in past years the volunteers had been harassed by bad actors in the woods and were discouraged from further participation.

Janes Creek restoration was discussed, with tree plantings and canary grass removal proceeding along various stretches. This assists with habitat recovery, flood control and more.

Dense infestations of canary grass, such as where Janes Creek meets 11th Street near the Arcata United Methodist Church, will be naturally abated when the tide gates are removed from the McDaniel Slough opening to Humoldt Bay. Tidal action will then be able to scour out silt accumulations three-quarters of a mile up the creek.

Bob Brown of the Wetlands and Creeks Committee noted that “Arcata is a very walkable community,” and suggested that this quality be better promoted.

He said the Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary is a “great place to take your dog,” but that people abuse the area by letting their dogs off leash there and failing to clean up the dog waste. When areas like Redwood Park are troubled, it increases use of the Marsh.

“It would be great to have a dog park,” he said.

Diemer said dog parks pose tricky problems. Small and large dogs can come into conflict, so fencing is required. Further, it would probably have to be several acres in size to allow sufficient space for pooches to prance and frolick.

“It would be a large amount of money to service a small portion of the population,” said Parks & Rec Committeemember Harvey Kelsey.

Diemer said another option is to designate areas of existing parks for dogs to be off leash, possibly along certain stretches of trails.

Julie Neander of Environmental Services said Friends of the Arcata Marsh (FOAM) is working on a brochure specifying locations where dogs may be allowed off leash.

Stillman said cats are an issue at the Marsh too, with neighbors’ kitties preying on birds there.

Forsburg said the City has never been able to sell the Grand fir and spruce harvested from the Community Forest. Now, opportunities to export spruce to China have come up, but there are federal restrictions on exports of spruce timber.

In researching that matter, it came to light that some of Arcata’s redwood is exported by one of its traditional buyers, and the company interpreted the law to include redwood and chose not to purchase any. Fortunately, other buyers were located.

“What we found out is that we lost a major competitor for our redwood this year,” Forsburg said.

He said Andre, who also serves on the state Forestry Board, is researching the matter.

Andre said the market for timber is “horrible” – so much so that some traditional timber buyers aren’t even bothering to return phone calls.

Stillman said the spruce is used in China for concrete forms, and can be used up to seven times.

Forsburg noted the acquisition of the Morris Property augmenting the Sunny Brae Forest, and the anticipated acquisition of the Green Diamond and Humphry parcels to further develop the planned Arcata Ridge Trail.

Andre said funds raised during the recent Bat N’ Rouge Drag Comedy Softball Game would help with the Green Diamond acquisition.

Forsburg said the Community Forest “continues to be showcased” as an innovative model for ownership and management.

Emily Sinkhorn of Open Space and Agriculture Committee said it is focusing on the western greenbelt project and Arcata Ridge Trail.

The Ridge Trail Festival and other events have helped bring focus to environmental initiatives such as the greenbelt, and noted that with the Baylands Project the City has a robust southern greenbelt.

A management plan for the western greenbelt is a new project, which will include setting priorities and then seeking funding. Unfortunately, funding sources which have aided development of the Community Forest aren’t available for protecting the prime soils in the western greenbelt.

Ornelas circulated several copies of a plan she and Open Space Committeemember Lisa Brown had developed to develop the western greenbelt, but as is often the case with handouts at public meetings, not enough copies were available for all 26 attendees at the meeting and its details are unknown.

Councilmember Shane Brinton said the Cypress Grove goat dairy controversy spurred interest in the western greenbelt and in keeping the area in use as ag land.

He said the Cypress Grove proposal was an “anomaly” and that the real threat to the ag land there is residential development. An Open Space District would be the best solution, Brinton said.

Lisa Brown said the City wouldn’t be purchasing and managing ag land, but could expedite conservation easements and pass-through purchases to guarantee the land is protected.

“There are a lot of different strategies and mechanisms to protect ag land, and right now, we don’t have one,” Brown said.