Key Arcata Figure Roger Storey Dies
Kevin L. Hoover
ARCATA – A man you may have never met or heard of, but who looms as large in Arcata history of any of the big-name town-shapers, passed away last week (see obituary, page 2).
Roger Storey served as Arcata’s city manager during the 1970s, when progressive candidates came to dominate the City Council, and revolutionized Arcata. During the reign of Wesley Chesbro, Alexandra Stillman and Dan Hauser, Arcata gained much of what we consider today to be essential Arcata features.
“We were brimming with ideas,” said Chesbro, elected as a councilmember in 1974 and now a state assemblymember. “We didn’t know the mechanics of bringing them into being.”
The incoming councilmembers joined Stillman, who had been elected in 1972, to form a liberal majority.
“Our first order of business was hiring Roger,” recalls Hauser, who took office the same year as Chesbro. “He was young, bright and dedicated.”
“We had put out the word that we were hiring a city manager and had prospectives,” Stillman said. “Out of all of them, we were just taken with Roger. We were really excited because he had such a positive, can-do attitude.”
“It was a perfect fit,” Chesbro said.
Even before they could launch new initiatives, they had to stave off what might have been irreversible, currently unthinkable developments already in the works.
The existing General Plan for Arcata called for housing subdivisions and an airport on the Arcata Bottom, and establishment of a deepwater port at what is now the Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary.
“We wanted, obviously, to reverse that substantially,” Hauser said. “Roger was very instrumental in helping us get that done.”
The liberal councilmembers were motivated by ideals as well as a sense of urgency. Their policies were anathema to traditionalists. Opposition to the incipient paradigm shift was fierce, and at times, bitter. Also, it wasn’t clear at the time that Arcata’s council wouldn’t revert to a more conservative majority with the next election.
“We thought we might just have two years,” Hauser said. “Roger helped us push [the new General Plan] through within a two-year period.” This involved writing a new General Plan that prioritized open space, doing environmental studies and holding public hearings.
“He understood very well how to make city government carry out changes,” Chesbro said.
Another accomplishment was opposing construction of a regional wastewater plant to be built in Eureka, which would have consumed huge amounts of energy. Arcata had already invested heavily in upgrading its wastewater treatment system and was now expected to contribute to the new regional system.
Further, the new plant would require a high-pressure sewage pipeline to be built along U.S. Highway 101, violating agricultural protections.
“Roger was cautious but helpful in opposing the regional plant,” Hauser said. Eventually, Arcata would implement the innovative series of treatment marshes which form part of Arcata’s wastewater processing system.
“The reason we have the Marsh today is because of him,” Stillman said.
“There was a real focus on Arcata being a municipal leader in environmental responses,” Chesbro said. “But you can’t govern by being against things.”
New initiatives forwarded by the council and executed with Storey’s “able and stable guidance,” as Chesbro put it, included creation of the Arcata Economic Development Corporation, Aldergrove Industrial Park and the Arcata & Mad River Transit System (A&MRTS).
Regarding A&MRTS, Hauser said that “it basically follows the routes that [Storey] laid out using a stopwatch years ago,” Hauser said.
“His handiwork remains a part of everything we do every day in our lives in Arcata,” Chesbro said.
Storey helped the council though rough times as well, such as when the public works director and chief of police were fired. “That created discontent in the community,” Hauser said. “Roger was, again, the one who did that at the request of the council.”
“He told us we were the most exciting council he’d ever worked with,” Stillman said.
Some of Storey’s accomplishments were institutional in nature, but just as lasting. “He encouraged us to become active in the League of California Cities,” Hauser said. He, Stillman and Chesbro were the first to take training in how to execute the duties of public office. Today’s councils do the same, and Arcata actively participates in League activities.
“A review of forest policies led us, under Roger’s leadership, to hire Mark Andre,” Hauser said. Andre has since risen to lead restoration and expansion of Arcata’s wetlands and forestlands.
“He was creative and thoughtful,” Stillman said. “Like a breath of fresh air. He was great with people, and a good physical manager.”
“I remember meeting him on the back steps to City Hall circa 1980, a short time after being hired as a part-time bus driver,” said City Manager Randy Mendosa. “I will never forget that when he greeted me and actually knew my name!”
“I strongly believe that Roger was the best city manager Arcata has ever had,” said Hauser, himself a former Arcata city manager.