Greasy McKinley And Other Chaos-Busters – December 15, 2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Police Chief Tom Chapman shows photos and YouTube videos of Halloween night and its aftermath. KLH | Eye

Kevin L. Hoover

Eye Editor

PLAZA – Maybe if we put up fences around the Plaza’s center and perimeter, establish checkpoints at all the corners, close the bars, hold a battle of the bands and coat McKinley in grease, we can have a Halloween and New Year’s downtown without a near-riot or worse.

Those were some of the ideas floated during a brainstorming session on downtown holiday excess abatement hosted by the City Council Wednesday, Nov. 30.

Police Chief Tom Chapman offered the Arcata Police Department perspective with photos and YouTube videos, some shot by the Plaza abusers themselves.

One of the videos, taken from  a vantage point atop McKinley, depicted seething masses of Plazagoers primed up and partying.

“It’s a lot different from the festivals that we have,” Chapman remarked dryly.

New Year’s Eve and particularly Halloween have become dangerously intense over the past three years, requiring massive law enforcement response that still doesn’t meet the challenge to public safety.

In 2008, APD called for mutual aid from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, California Highway Patrol, University Police, Eureka Police, Yurok Tribal Police and Trinidad PD to help deal with the public intoxication, fights and assaults.

2009 was similar, but included two arsons, an officer hit in head by a beer bottle and flying fireworks.

This year featured more than 25 arrests. “It was quite the show,” Chapman said. As far as sheer destruction, he said, “This was the worst we’ve seen it.”

The statue of McKinley, he said, is a “rallying point that engages people. Everyone’s pushing towards the middle.”

By 9:30 to 10 p.m., Chapman said, officers are “overwhelmed,” and it’s no longer safe for them to be in the crowd estimated this year at 3,000.

Fueling the fearful, feral folderol  is a mix of alcohol, young adults and a party atmosphere with Halloween masks that lend anonymity.

“Some people have a feeling of lawlessness and that they can do whatever,” he said. “In the bigger picture, we have to come up with a different strategy. We have to rein in some of the behaviors.”

As the Plaza becomes a resource sinkhole with cops trying to keep a lid on things, Chapman noted, the rest of the town continues to generate calls and crimes, from loud parties to DUIs.

Former City Councilmember Paul Pitino spoke in favor of an alcohol service fee or “stool tax.” This would be a surcharge on alcohol served at the bars, with revenues used for more enforcement and education. “The people that sell the most alcohol are affected the most by it,” Pitino said.

Chapman said that Prop 26 made it so that an alcohol service fee would required two-thirds voter approval.

Hotel Arcata Manager Diane Cutshall said the Plaza problems aren’t confined to the two holidays. The noise beleaguered hotel fields complaints from patrons virtually on a nightly basis.

“We have that same issue every night for those four bars,” Cutshall said. “Don’t think of it two days a year. It’s every single night.”

Peg Blake, vice president of Academic Affairs at Humboldt State University,  said that HSU students should realize that Arcata is their community, and help take responsibility for it.

But, Blake added, that’s only a partial solution. “It is not just HSU students,” she said. “Three arrests were HSU students. It’s not just an HSU problem. The solution is not just HSU.”

She suggested involvement by College of the Redwoods and other public schools plus service training for bartenders. “Let’s look at the whole picture,” she said.

Another woman suggested keeping a “family-friendly focus,” with wholesome diversions like decorating McKinley, “large-scale games,” multi-cultural dancers and a litter-collection contest.

Benjamin Bowles, who lives in a Plaza apartment, said that for HSU students, the Plaza is synonymous with boozing. “The culture of the Plaza is one to go to and drink,” he said. “Parties go till 11 p.m., then the idea is to go to the Plaza… My age group doesn’t go to the Plaza at night for any other reason than to drink.”

Robin Hashem said the Plaza has become the county’s party zone, and needs an image upgrade. “It’s endemic now,” she said.

Tom Bronzo said the Plaza perma-party  can only be abated with physical measures. “Fence off the inside. Police. Spread fertilizer. Stop traffic at night,” he said. “They’re 20-something kids, that’s what they’re going to do. Figure out a way to live with it. Close everything down. Other than that I don’t see a solution to it.”

Arcata Main Street Director Jennifer Koopman said a counterprogramming event might work, but that it would cost $40,000 and her organization couldn’t handle it alone.

Former City Councilmember Julie Fulkerson commended Arcata Police and the City. Her advice: “Reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. Make arrestees clean city streets. It just seems logical to me.” She said an alcohol service fee is “so obvious.”

Chapman said he was working with the D.A.’s Office to make sure violators  perform Arcata community service.

“Where are the students?” Pitino said, noting their lack of representation at the meeting. “We need to have them be a third of the leg of the chair here so we can get something going on.”

“The students aren’t here, but also the bar owners aren’t here,” said Hotel Arcata’s Sarah Knight. “They rarely show up and take accountability.” She said that even the Oysterfest is “another nightmare for us.” She urged an end to alcohol booths.

Cutshall suggested a battle of the bands event could eclipse the wilder partying.

Mayor Susan Ornelas said the City Council is  trying to get a group comprised of City officials, citizens and Humboldt State representatives together to formulate creative and responsible responses. City, HSU & community committee. “I would like it to have many legs,” she said.

“We’re just going to have to come up with a real solid management plan,” said Councilmember Shane Brinton. He suggested use of fencing and barricades for crowd management, and a large permitted event with substantial security at the Community Center or D Street neighborhood Center.

Public Works Director Doby Class spoke with rare emotion, calling the Halloween aftermath, “Horrible… I was sick in my stomach. Clearly something has to be done.”

Class feared for the safety of the people climbing McKinley, and for the statue itself. “It’s a 105-year-old piece of art,” he said. “Everyone needs boundaries and there are obviously none any more.”

Chapman said that in New Orleans prior to Mardi Gras, that city greases poles to prevent climbing. “I’m just throwing it out there,” Chapman said, conceding that there may be liability issues.

Councilmember Michael Winkler: liked the idea of a security fence around the Plaza’s center, but Ornelas said it would “just incite the crowd to tear it apart. Grease would make it a challenge.” She suggested covering McKinley in pillows, making him “a huge, pillow-covered ghost.”

Winkler wanted the alcohol service fee idea placed on the ballot, but Councilmember Mark Wheetley was skeptical of the idea.

City Manager Randy Mendosa said the City will form a Plaza interest group which includes broad representation.

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10 Responses to “Greasy McKinley And Other Chaos-Busters – December 15, 2011”

  1. Ian Ray

    Perhaps one solution may be temporary paddocks similar to the later Bebop and Brews. Volunteers could lead rotational litter collection contests by luring participants with three free beer tickets.

  2. Ian Ray

    Section 25600 of California’s Business and Professions Code appears to forbid a litter for alcohol contest. Some other Halloween and New Year’s Eve items must be tradable for trash collection. Coupons?

  3. Again the intrusive hand of the nanny state with the big buzzkill.

  4. Valerie

    I was once a college student at HSU, and every year there was a huge party up at a house off LK Wood. Everyone would be there and there was only mild activity on the plaza. Based on the turnout at the plaza this last year I’m guessing there was no party house? Why would anyone want to go to the cold plaza in their not so warm costumes if there is a house somewhere that can provide warmth, a descent places to sit, a bathroom and possibly a keg or some smoke to mooch off of? Looking at the you tube videos, I hate to say it, but those looked like young college kids or possibly even some high schoolers. Just because only 3 students got arrested doesn’t mean they weren’t the majority of party goers reeking havoc on the plaza. What I also saw on the videos was glass in hand. Lots of folks with glass bottles and smoking, two things that are not permitted on the plaza. Perhaps APD should have focused their plaza influence on enforcing no glass or smoking in order to create a better image of authority to deter excessive deliquent behavior. A great example of this practice would be 420 in Redwood Park. In my time there (excluding the last couple), the influence of local law enforcement focused on enforcement of park rules and regulations. And even sharing “meds”. By doing this it creates an authority image of “don’t do something stupid or you will get ticketed” and there was also lack of violence at the event. Obviously alcohol is more likely to make someone violent that pot, but you get the idea.

  5. Arcata Student

    During occupy L.A the city constructed wood fences around the fountains to keep them from getting ruined. They also encouraged people to paint on it. Maybe arcata can do something similar to the statue. Local artists can paint on it, and if something really magnificent comes up, it can get auctioned off, with the profits going to plaza restoration.

  6. Former student and resident

    When i was a lad at HSU the plaza was not a place to go on such holidays because there were other diversions such as house parties and concerts. The best way to solve this issue is not with a city council or APD action but multiple events on these days in safe areas that interest the students while minimizing cost to the cIty and away from the bars. Prohibiting or taxing alcohol is not the answer. Make the plaza the least preferred and inexpensive alternative— not one filled with pillows, lube, fun obstacles to tear down and especially more reason to stuff a bottle down your pants! Great reporting, but the worst ideas aired in a public forum since last Halloween.

  7. Indica Jones

    Three-legged chairs? Pillows? I see that the inmates are still running the asylum up there.

  8. Ian Ray

    Rocky Horror Picture Show was another good diversion from chaos. This type of semi-acceptable and semi-public spectacle has locally evolved into the secretive Impropriety Society which I doubt the drunken bottle throwers would ever attend.

  9. Former student/current resident

    I am understandably upset with the behavior of those who trashed the plaza….but the solution is NOT to erect fences and limit the freedoms of every citizen. We have a police force for a reason – a police force that as I recall has been given additional funding within the last few years (measure G…). Yet when things got “too scary” on the plaza the officers took a “hands off approach”….So we pay extra taxes to additionally support APD, and they quit when things get too intense….hmmm I wonder where all these students and havoc-wreckers got the idea that lawless behavior was ok…maybe it was when all the cops ran away. I believe posting officers in the bars would help to limit over-serving, and if officers had a general presence on the plaza among the crowd actually citing people for things like drinking in public…maybe just maybe things could get back under control. Or maybe we’ll have to fork over even more tax dollars to our beloved APD so that they can again do nothing and then blame the citizens….

  10. […] suggested at the Nov. 30 meeting included beefier police presence during holidays, curbs on alcohol sales and offering alternative […]


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