With more than $ 4.4 million in COVID relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the city of Arcata is able to inject much needed money into existing and planned projects that will help the city reduce carbon emissions, improve the Valley West neighborhood, fight homelessness and restore the city’s jobs that have been frozen due to the pandemic, among others.
In a lengthy discussion at its Wednesday night meeting, Arcata City Council decided exactly how it wanted to allocate the $ 4,409,087 in ARPA funding. Choosing from a list of 26 suggested uses, council selected eight projects that council members believe are most in need of immediate funding.
After council took a few minutes for each member to choose their top five priorities, council agreed, first of all, that it was prudent to set aside $ 1 million, so the City could review its progress in approximately 12 months and be prepared to provide project funding if required. After much discussion and calculation, the council determined that the rest of the ARPA money would go to the city’s Mobile Response Services Team (MIST), establishing a safe parking program, reimbursing positions. freezes of city staff, funding support for the Valley West neighborhood, beautification and economic efforts for the downtown neighborhood near the plaza, a climate action plan to reduce carbon emissions, a fiber optic project / broadband to Town Hall and meet housing needs through the Arcata House partnership. Here’s a look at how those dollars will be spent:
Mobile Emergency Response Team (MIST) – $ 570,000
As part of the city’s police reform efforts sparked by the murder of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, the city worked to create MIST – a team of health specialists mental health and social workers, who will work with the Arcata Police Department. The idea is that MIST members, instead of just armed officers, can answer mental health-related calls that go through 911.
The $ 570,000 will fund MIST’s operations 40 hours per week for one year.
Safe Parking Program – $ 685,000
State-approved in 2020 as a way to deal with the shelter crisis, secure parking programs aim to provide a safe location for unhoused individuals and families who stay in their vehicles and generally provide people with access to facilities. toilets, drinking water, electricity or other amenities. .
Arcata Town Manager Karen Diemer explained that, similar to when the town established temporary tent shelters when the shelter-in-place ordinances came into effect, town staff would seek and invite those who remain in their vehicles to move to the established shelter area.
“The idea is that we can provide access to additional provisions – access to electricity, access to recharging, access to food, access to toilets, access to security at night,” Diemer said during the presentation. Wednesday meeting. “One of the lessons learned from sheltering during the pandemic is that we lifted the parking shelters very quickly and the residents of these shelter areas really wished they had fences and were safe at night. . ”
Diemer said the City is still working to determine an exact location for secure parking and is currently examining several different options. The funding will be used to staff the site and provide services, including baby food, electricity, a drinking water station and access to an off-site laundry.
Reimbursement of municipal staff positions – $ 519,000
Like so many cities, Arcata has been forced to make extreme budget cuts due to the financial impacts of the pandemic, including removing or temporarily reducing a number of posts. Fortunately, since Arcata’s 2021 budget was not as bleak as initially expected, some positions have already been paid off. Now, with ARPA funds, the city is able to fill six other frozen positions, including a police officer, three maintenance staff (a team leader and two workers), a recreation coordinator and a community development specialist.
Initially, the city was looking to unfreeze two police stations, but there was debate among council members about the city’s need for additional sworn police officers at this time. While council member Emily Goldstein did not believe the city should hire police officers and should focus on funding other community services, several other council members felt the police department was sorely understaffed.
In the end, the board found a compromise by agreeing to unfreeze a police officer position and decided to fund a maintenance worker position instead. Mayor Brett Watson said he believes the city could really use more maintenance workers right now, especially for our local parks and trails that were not maintained during the pandemic.
Support for the Valley West neighborhood – $ 217,500
For years, the town of Arcata has searched for ways to improve what many people consider to be Arcata’s red-haired son-in-law, Valley West. Recently, the city partnered with Comunidad Unida del Norte de Arcata (CUNA) – a Humboldt cooperation project – to work to improve the quality of life for residents of Valley West.
This funding will help support and expand CUNA’s efforts, which include raising community awareness, organizing community clean-up days, and focusing efforts on improving Carlson Park and developing a kind of center. Valley West community.
Climate action, reduction of carbon emissions – $ 500,000
While all board members agreed that some funds needed to be spent on climate action, there was some debate over how much. Near the start of the conversation, board member Meredith Matthews urged the board to allocate $ 1.5 million of ARPA funds to efforts to address the climate crisis. Mayor Watson, however, felt that was too high a number.
During the public comment period, several community members urged the council to focus its spending more on reducing carbon emissions. Haley Carr, who was speaking as a representative of the Redwood Coalition for Climate and Environmental Responsibility (RCCER), said that $ 500,000 “was not going to be enough” and asked that the council also spend the million dollars that ‘he had reserved for decarbonization efforts.
The $ 500,000 will be used to implement the city’s climate action plan, replace the city’s heating and ventilation system with an electrical system, and cover the costs of purchasing electric / hybrid vehicles. and the implementation of an Arcata All Electric Initiative grant program to help residents or businesses make the switch to electrical systems.
The council agreed that in addition to these projects, the city should consider all future projects from the perspective of tackling the climate crisis.
“I just want to say we all realize climate change is here and it’s a crisis and we all take it very seriously,” board member Matthews said at the meeting, urging the public to act as well. . “We can do what we can as a board, but we also take personal responsibility. ”
In addition, the board awarded $ 408,000 to help meet additional housing needs in Arcata and will work with Arcata House Partnership to identify its financial needs. The City will also put $ 200,000 for “economic recovery” and beautification efforts corridors of streets G and H leading to Arcata square and $ 180,000 will be used to establish a high-speed fiber optic connection between the town hall and the town courtyard.
Arcata City Council to Decide How to Spend $ 4.4 Million in COVID-19 Relief Fund; Lobby Group wants city to prioritize reducing carbon emissions