An anonymous flyer started showing up in Eureka’s Sequoia Park neighborhood a couple weeks ago. Spread across two pages, it includes Google Earth images, a photo of a legal notice from the City of Eureka, and a series of outraged statements written in all caps.
“HAVE YOU SEEN THIS!!??” the flyer demands.
It’s referring to a recent legal notice from Eureka saying the city plans to relocate its Public Works Corporation Yard from the current location by Costco’s parking lot to city-owned property between Dolbeer and W streets, across from the zoo and Sequoia Park:
“NEWS TO ME!!” the flyer shouts. And then, in bold, “AN INDUSTRIAL USE IN A RESIDENTIAL AND RECREATION AREA.”
Eureka’s “corp yard,” as it’s generally called, is where the city stores and repairs its fleet vehicles, public works equipment, maintenance materials and more. Drive by and you may see Humboldt Bay Fire trucks, police vehicles, street sweepers and other rigs coming and going, a prospect that horrifies the author of the flyer.
“THINK ABOUT THE TRAFFIC CONFLICTS,” it says, noting the proximity to the zoo, Sequoia Park and Washington School. It also notes that the move would eliminate one of the two softball fields on that block. “THIS PLANNED ACTION IS THE START OF AN UNSTOPPABLE CHAIN OF EVENTS.”
The flyer seems to have provoked the desired response. During last week’s city council meeting, seven people spoke in opposition to the proposal, even though it wasn’t on the agenda. Meanwhile, an apoplectic Facebook post has been shared nearly 150 times. Commenters — both at the city council meeting and online — say the corp yard is completely incompatible with the mostly residential neighborhood. They worry about the impacts of increased traffic, lighting and noise. They say it would be an eyesore. And they’re incredulous that this seems to be a fait accompli. Where was the public process?
Eureka City Manager Greg Sparks said the outcry is maybe a bit premature. Nothing has been finalized, he said, and if the relocation moves forward it will be subject to all the usual environmental review, traffic studies and community feedback.
“Public input will have an impact on whether or not this happens,” Sparks said on Monday. He also confirmed a rumor about what’s driving this proposal. While the city’s legal notice says the current corp yard is located in the tsunami zone and “poorly configured,” many have speculated that the big box next door might be the real impetus for the move.
“Costco’s interest in our corp yard is like the worst-kept secret in town,” Sparks said. “The fact of the matter is Costco has approached us about acquiring the corp yard. They’re looking to expand the store and they need additional property to create more parking.”
He stressed that the city has only had “very preliminary discussions” with the company’s people, but he also said Costco’s interest puts some time pressure on the city. Indeed, the request for bids says “the project is on an aggressive accelerated schedule.” Construction documents for the project, which is expected to cost between $12 million and $14 million, need to be completed by mid-January.
While Sparks insists this isn’t a done deal, he also noted that a search for other possible city-owned spots came up empty. And the city already commissioned a conceptual layout from engineering firm GHD. (Click here to view the pdf.) The design shows a 15,000-square-foot fleet services building and a parking lot in place of the current ball field, plus several storage buildings, office space, landscaping and evidence lockers scattered across the five-acre lot. It also includes a new building along the right field line of the other baseball diamond featuring bathrooms and a concessions booth.
“We think there are several reasons why it makes sense to move,” Sparks said. On top of the anticipated Costco offer, which would have to go through a public process to see if anyone else might bid as much or more, the new site could include an emergency operations center, Sparks said. And since the corp yard would be moved out of the tsunami zone there’s potential for grant funding.
“But at this point I’m not sure how soon we’ll have something going to council,” he said. Costco’s property management has yet to schedule a site visit or a follow-up meeting with city staff.
At last week’s city council meeting, residents of the Sequoia Park neighborhood highlighted the family-friendly atmosphere of the area and said that with new developments planned for the adjacent Cutten neighborhood, traffic has become a major concern. One woman said her autistic son plays on the ball field. Another said the yard would look ugly from the planned canopy walk above the zoo. And yet another commenter questioned whether the move would comply with the city’s general plan, which says public facilities must be compatible with surrounding development.
Sparks said that while current zoning would allow the corp yard on the proposed site, compatibility remains “a legitimate concern.” But he downplayed traffic impacts, saying activity at the yard is mostly limited to the hours between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. “It’s not like we have 20 dump trucks running in and out of there,” he said.
According to Deputy Public Works Director Brian Issa, the corp yard would generate roughly 100 vehicle trips per day. For context, Dolbeer and W streets average roughly 5,000 trips per day. “We’re looking at like a one percent increase,” Issa said.
When PG&E recently removed a row of trees along Hemlock Street that were interfering with utilities, some nearby residents assumed the relocation project was already underway. “No, that’s certainly not the case,” Sparks reiterated. Depending on public feedback and input from the city council, staff may yet look at alternative locations, including sites outside city limits that would have to be purchased, he said.
And in case the corp yard does wind up in the currently proposed spot, Sparks said, staff has done preliminary work to figure out how best to cut down on noise during construction and how to create an “attractive front” along the streets lining the property.
”There’s still a lot of work to do even before we can bring the concept forward,” Sparks said.
And judging by the community response thus far, the work won’t end there.
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Note: This post has been updated to include a better image depicting the proposed new location for the corp yard.