We are not those who are addicted to alcohol and drugs. We don’t use prostitution in the green belts. We don’t push our shopping carts all over town and into traffic on Broadway. We’re not passed out on our streets in broad daylight. We don’t beg at the entrances to major businesses. We’re not tweakers with backpacks on small bikes committing petty theft and assault. We don’t leave human waste all over town. We don’t walk through the business district screaming at nothing in particular. We are the 99%. We are the hard-working and/or retired, tax-paying, law abiding, Eureka citizens who vote and we are angry.
This past week I attended the Eureka City Council meeting as they had a few homeless items on the agenda and I wanted to see for myself what the public reaction, the city staff and more importantly, the Eureka City Councilmembers themselves were thinking regarding the homeless problems we have in this town. How bad was it? The usual suspects sent out their emails blasts to get the local advocates, activists and anarchists at the City Council meeting to protest and yell in front of the cameras. Remember the mantra for TV news, “If it bleeds, it leads!” People yelling in the streets are much more exciting TV than interviewing some local person who did a good deed. It was quite obvious that the majority of one side of the speakers were radicals who didn’t state their names, nor which city they reside. Instead a WWF free-for-all was allowed. Any Eureka City Council meeting that begins with public comments from James Decker and Kim Starr is guaranteed to go south quickly.
Frank Luntz wrote an excellent book called, “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear” basically stating that the marketing of your message is more important than the content. And yes, in politics everything is about what people hear and this is where the city staff fell flat. The City of Eureka staff failed on selling the homeless ordinance to both the community and the majority of the City Council and let the radicals take control of the message. The meeting went so bad I agreed with the Times-Standard editorial this past weekend.
Of bigger concern is the recent disclosure of the City’s potential to lose REMIF (Redwood Empire Municipal Insurance Fund) coverage over the hazardous buildings at the Devil’s Playground.
Back in 2011 homeless activist Kathleen Anderson’s tripped on a hole, fell and hurt her shoulder. Ultimately a jury awarded her $400,000 from REMIF this year and yet these hazardous structures are still in place four years later. From her North Coast Journal blog post she bragged, “Sometimes it takes hitting the pocketbook to make changes happen for the best.” Kathleen spoke at the September 1 Eureka City Council meeting (43:00 minute mark of the video) and her shoulder seemed to be pretty good. So I guess it’s my turn to trip, fall and hire Dewey, Sewem and Howe to file my million dollar lawsuit against the city.
Sitting in the audience hearing this homeless ordinance for the first time, I had some questions that many of the councilmembers brought up. Specifically, what are the costs for the City of Eureka each time they send work crews with police escort to the Palco Marsh for the weekly clean ups? Between EPD, City of Eureka staff, Harbor District staff, SWAP crews and Recology, how much are we paying every Thursday for the Palco Marsh clean ups? Other councilmembers were asking why we are cleaning this up weekly instead of clearing it out.
Second, what is the expected cost to have city staff manage these 60 gallon Recology totes to store the homeless personal effects on a 24/7 basis? If I heard correctly, that’s from 6 am every morning to 9 pm each night, seven days a week. Those homeless that don’t comply by storing their personal items will be subject to daily confiscation of their tents, sleeping bags, clothing, etc. Dumb question, who’s going to manage 100+ homeless campers storing their personal effects in totes every morning and every evening? Which staff members (plural) and/or EPD are going to do this as it will be full-time positions? Does this mean we are laying off police and fire personnel and closing a fire station while at the same time increasing city staff to deal with the storage of homeless personal effects? This was not explained clearly and where the City Council meeting really started to go sideways.
Third, what is the plan to demolish the cement structures on the Palco Marsh so the City of Eureka can keep their REMIF insurance coverage? The City’s recent Land & Water Conservation grant was denied. Also they still have to go through “the process”, which means CEQA, California Coastal Commission, permits, etc. just to get the permission to demolish these hazardous structures. Forget the $200,000 demolition costs.
The homeless ordinance was supposed to be about giving the homeless 72 hours notice to pick up their personal effects daily at the Palco Marsh (AKA: Devil’s Playground) and Old Mill Site Parcel 4, storing their personal property every day from 6 am until 9 pm, and that no permanent structures would be allowed. It would also allow to the city to confiscate any personal property left each day to be stored in 60 gallon Recology totes. It was never, ever about evicting the homeless.
I had a hard time following the dialog between Councilmember Natalie Arroyo and City Attorney Cyndy Day-Wilson as Ms. Wilson kept saying, “Putting up a tent from 9 pm to 6 am to sleep may not be violating the camping ordinance.” Huh? This is why laws should be crystal clear and not ambiguous and open to interpretation. Why not just say “dawn to dusk” to cover the changing seasons?
And my personal favorite was Steve Tyson, a homeless man living in the Palco Marsh who stated, “It’s not a camp site, it’s a home site. I live there.” Do I need to point out you’re trespassing on public lands? If a homeless person set up a tent in your back yard, what would you do? You’d kick them out. If they came back the next day, you’d kick them out again, And if they came back the next day, you’d kick them out once again. That’s what the City needs to do with our homeless folks who are illegally camping on the Palco Marsh. As Councilmember Linda Atkins stated, “These laws are already on the books.” So why doesn’t the City enforce the damn laws?
I went back and read the Palco Marsh Homeless Eviction Notice posted on July 15 where the City of Eureka gave ten days’ notice to the homeless folks camping illegally on city property that they needed to move on or face prosecution. That was two months ago. Why would the City post an eviction notice if they didn’t intend to follow through? Why do we have laws and ordinances on the books that we don’t enforce? My mother always told me, “Never make a threat you don’t intend to carry out.”
Sometimes our electeds say things that we scratch our heads at, such as when Councilmember Kim Bergel said, “We’ve got 11 people that want it to pass and 16 people want it to fail. So the people have spoken in my mind.” WTF!? Let me get this straight… radicals from Arcata are now “the people”. Its statements like this that get me motivated for November 2016. May I also remind you that KIEM-TV did on online poll where 68% of the respondents said the City Council was wrong for not passing the ordinance. How’s that for “the people have spoken”. Do you hear us yet?
FYI… as citizens are limited to three minute comments, I propose we limit our electeds to the same three minute time span. If it takes more than three minutes to get your point across, you’re not talking, you’re rambling.
The real question is, what do we as a society do with the homeless that don’t want housing? If you’ve lived in the Palco Marsh for over three years, you obviously don’t want housing. Which is more important – housing or your dog? What do we do with those that only want to abuse drugs/alcohol? Do we really think the tweakers and hardened criminals are going to want social support services? I once heard a great line from a local elected, “There’s a fine line between being compassionate and enabling anti-social behavior.” We desperately need to stop enabling anti-social behavior amongst the homeless and panhandlers of our city. On any given day, there are over 100 beds available for the homeless to sleep in Eureka from the Eureka Rescue Mission, the MAC, Serenity Inn, Betty Chinn Center and various clean & sober houses to name a few. Unfortunately, that means you can’t drink until you pass out, smoke meth, nor shoot heroin. Life choices, you understand.
EPD Chief Andy Mills has repeated stated, “I won’t move the homeless from the Palco Marsh unless we have a place to move them.” I agree with Chief Mills. Ever try to squeeze jello? It oozes through your fingers to another location. The same goes for the homeless. If we move ‘em out of the Devil’s Playground they will just set up camp in your neighborhood. Anyone want the homeless in your backyard? Didn’t think so. In the meantime, the Arcata Plaza is looking pretty good as a tent city.
While people may not like the idea of giving the homeless free housing, it saves money in the long run. Utah estimates it costs the government an average of $16,670 annually for each homeless person between their medical and law enforcement/courts/jail costs. Texas estimates the homeless costs higher at $40,000 per year. Do I need to point out that they contribute $0 in taxes? If we give them an apartment to live in with social services support, that costs just over $10,000 per year. We, the taxpayers are paying this one way or the other. Which would you rather pay?
We need a public, private, non-profit and faith-based community partnership to stop talking and start acting. I’m hoping a church can step up and offer their parking lot for overnight parking for those that sleep in their cars and provide porta-potties. “WWJD” – What Would Jesus Do?
AHHA (Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives) is working on 30 micro-houses and needs a piece of land donated. So let’s find some private, non-profit or faith based property where they can locate their housing. While everyone is talking about the “Utah Housing First homeless project”, let’s not forget the Mormon Church underwrote most of the costs. It’s not free, so the next person who complains at a public meeting gets to write a check towards homeless housing.
We need landlords to willing to work with HUD Section-8 to house these homeless as many of them receive SSI and would only have to pay 30% of their $889.40 check towards housing with the balance guaranteed and paid by HUD. We also need employers willing to take a chance to hire folks who may not have the best background. We all started somewhere. I worked pizzas for four years through high school and college (anyone remember Shakey’s).
While I realize it’s not the City of Eureka’s responsibility to house, feed and clothe the homeless, however they’re on your property and possession is 9/10ths of the law. It’s like having weeds in your front lawn. If you don’t deal with this problem immediately it only gets worse until the weeds have taken over the lawn. Sound familiar? Does anyone remember the debacle that was Occupy?
The one thing I’m not hearing from city staff and the Eureka City Council is what is the goal? I get it. You’re spending a fortune on resources between the weekly cost and city staff time of cleaning up the environmental disaster called the Palco Marsh homeless area, not mention the potential legal catastrophe of losing your REMIF coverage.
“Complaining without offering solutions is whining”. I didn’t hear any ideas from the majority of the Eureka City Council this last meeting besides “no”. You can sit back and wait for the Focus Strategies report, however this is only going to tell you “Housing First”, i.e. give the homeless housing. We already know where the City of Eureka stands on this issue. The City Manager stated in his April 2015 newsletter, “The City of Eureka does not have the financial resources that can be devoted to housing the homeless.” So my question is, how much money is the City of Eureka spending on the homeless problem already? Could this money be better spent elsewhere, like additional affordable housing, tent city space, dry dock, wet dock, something, anything?
What’s Plan B? What are your plans to manage the homeless so they’re not managing our town? And if you don’t have an answer or at least ask the intelligent questions, then it’s next man (or woman) up. I would rather you try something and fail, than stick your head in the sand and do nothing for the next four months while pretending that everything’s okay, ‘cuz it’s not.
Most of the people I implore to show up at City Council meetings tell me they would get too emotional and might say things they probably shouldn’t. So they stay at home, eat their dinner with their drink in one hand and yell at the TV. Politics is a contact sport. So unless you get off your ass and get involved that means a handful of radicals are “the people”. For the record, a recent community event was held at a Broadway business where over 75 local business owners showed up and basically yelled for a few hours about the social ills of our town. How many of them showed up at this recent City Council meeting? Two. If this current City Council thinks that “the people” only show up at City Council meetings, maybe you should have your voice heard by emailing all five of the Eureka City Councilmembers and let them know what you think in respectful words.
Instead of the usual anonymous trolls, I hope you consider posting in the Comment Section with your real name and what you wrote to the Eureka City Councilmembers. One person had some great ideas on Facebook and I’m reaching out to her for permission to reprint them.
In the Harbor District elections… Humboldt Bay Harbor Navigation Code required each candidate to obtain at least 25 registered voters signatures in their respective Districts.
Larry O. Doss will be appointed in lieu of the election as Hezekiah Allen and Jim Roberts did not turn in the required number of valid signatures in the 1st District. Although I’m hearing rumors again that Hezekiah is considering running for Humboldt County 1st District Supervisor against Rex Bohn next year.
In the 5th District both Patrick Higgins and Susan Rotwein turned in the required numbers of signatures. Kyle Visser is off the ballot.
In the 2nd District both Greg Dale and Nick Angeloff also obtained the required numbers of signatures.