Kevin Hoover: If There Was Ever A Case For A Do-Over, This Is It – July 6, 2011

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The letters above more or less reflect community reaction to the loss of Cypress Grove Chevre’s (CGC) dreams of an Arcata goat dairy. It’s such a stain on Arcata that one can’t help but wish for a chance at redemption.

Redemption doesn’t mean approving the project. It might mean rejecting the goat dairy for good reasons – but at least doing so after a rational public process.

You’d think a town so committed to freedom of thought could have a frank, adult conversation that includes people being allowed to finish their sentences.

As all-too-briefly described by CGC, the proposed dairy was an appropriate technology, animal-centered facility. Impacts were well understood and mitigatable. The dairy would be a showpiece for CGC to display to customers. It would be under heavy public scrutiny and thoroughly regulated by multiple agencies.

Given all that, what would Cypress Grove’s motivation be for maintaining the kind of squalid hellhole opponents made it out to be?

May 13, 1947: The Bloomfield Acres subdivision moves in on the Arcata Bottom. The Gilardoni dairy is at lower left. Merle Shuster photo courtesy HSU Library Humboldt County Collection

How to do it right

Last Thursday at a dinner party in which the goat debacle was the main topic, someone wondered aloud whether a petition might convince CGC to reconsider the Gilardoni site – or somewhere else nearby – for the dairy project.

I have no information that CGC is interested in giving Arcata another shot at hosting the goat dairy. The company has identified one new potential site, which, we are pointedly told, is “not in or adjacent to Arcata.” And certainly not as good.

But we can dream, can’t we? Yes, and in detail.

The first step to revisiting the issue is really starting over. How about we look for some common ground?

Opponents: Think honestly about the basis of your opposition. Then, if you still feel that way, bring your best facts before your neighbors.

Right up to the end, talk of clouds of ammonia, antibiotic runoff polluting the Marsh and E. coli killing neighbor children dominated the discussion, along with other preposterous claims.

I’d really like to see what the opposition would look like without the blatant fictions that formed its forefront.

Advocates: Show up and address the opponents’ factual concerns. Acknowledge any serious objections. Don’t let a few yelling people define the discussion.

Cypress Grove: Don’t wilt if one or two people wig out.

Politicians: Do something.

With a huge ag proposal at hand and tensions escalating, who is better positioned than our elected officials to act as a go-between for the advocates and opponents, setting a purposeful direction and clarifying basic issues such as process?

Supervisor Mark Lovelace visited the Gilardoni property and was researching goat waste issues. Yet, for weeks, little was done to allay the concerned neighbors’ worst fears, real or imagined, of their lives and property being ruined. It seems they were on their own, with the loudest, least reasonable voices holding sway.

Even the county process through which the project might have been approved or denied remained murky and in dispute. Why was this fundamental question so shrouded in mystery? A county supervisor interested in open government could and should have made some calls and cleared that basic issue up for his fearful constituents right away.

If we could turn back time, one has to believe that our elected representatives would play a more constructive role in shepherding a possible $3 million agriculture project through an orderly process.

But maybe not. They haven’t done any salvage work for us in the month since the project’s withdrawal.

Follow-through fail

Neither our mayor or supervisor has asked CGC to reconsider the cancelation. Basically they’ve offered perfunctory words of support (“hopeful,” “sincere wishes”) and offered to take the company’s phone calls. Impressive.

It’s clear now that any serious action to fight for Arcata, reverse this shameful loss and at least give the project a fair hearing is going to be up to citizens.

Who will start that petition, write the opinion column, form the Facebook group or grassroots committee?

Remember the post-cancellation proposal to create an “agriculture incubator” on the Gilardoni property? In the weeks since, no one has contacted the owners, Marla Daniels and Rayelle Niederbrach, to pursue that vision. It was just words.

Nor has anyone offered a simple, straightforward apology to CGC or founder Mary Keehn for the wildly defamatory accusations leveled at her and her fine company, or for the bullying conduct at Bloomfield School.

June 2, 1947: Iverson Avenue homes under construction. Do you suppose the new residents railed against the “industrial dairy” activity all around them? Merle Shuster photo courtesy HSU Library Humboldt County Collection

The end of history

Arcata has a rich agricultural history that spans from Wild West days when bears roamed the Arcata Bottom, through dairy’s golden age and into today’s exciting community supported agriculture/locavore/farmers’ market era.

But history has stopped. When Bloomfield Acres was planted in the middle of prime ag land, the die was cast: 64 years hence, a later generation of subdivision residents would demand that industrial dairying on neighboring farmland be disallowed – on grounds that they were there first!

This goat dairy could have validated so many of the values we espouse, including progressive agriculture, food independence, local entrepreneurship, consensus building, appropriate tech, humane animal treatment and more. It would even fulfill some of the same goals as the ag incubator idea.

Why didn’t we at least find out whether it would deliver all that it promised?

The fact is, impacts would have been mitigated and “dangers” made negligible. In time, just as with the nearby Windsong and Greenview neighborhoods, which have huge cow populations just over their back fences, the Bloomfield and Foster Avenue residents would have found the goats to be a non-issue.

When the gleaming, world-class goat dairy is finally installed elsewhere and the Ferndale City Council (or whomever) holds its ribbon cutting, I want every Arcatan to see that historic photo.

It should run in this newspaper as an obituary for Arcata’s agricultural heritage. It will also be a testament to Arcata’s abject failure to even try to comport with the high-sounding principles it talks about all the time.


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