Whether working on large city project, such as updating the city’s general plan, or small personal projects, such as growing a full beard in the summertime, Eureka’s Development Services Director Rob Holmlund is nothing if not dedicated.
After five years of serving the City of Eureka, Holmlund announced this week plans to resign in September. In his time with the development services department, Holmlund has served a critical role in advancing many city projects, including the Strategic Arts Plan, the housing development plan, and updating the city’s general plan and zoning code.
“I don’t think ‘it will never work’ was ever a part of his vocabulary,” Councilmember Kim Bergel told the Outpost about Holmlund’s work ethic. “If something was hard, he would hit it from a different angle. We talk about Eureka going through a renaissance. I think his leadership was a big piece of that.”
Bergel said that Holmlund will be missed for his meticulous and diligent approach to his work and his ability to make city documents more “user friendly.” This skill was particularly helpful in updating the city’s zoning codes and general plan, Bergel said.
Holmlund told the Outpost that helping make these updates is one of his proudest accomplishments from his time with Eureka government. He is especially proud of updating the city’s zoning code, which Holmlund said had existed since the 1960s and was incredibly outdated.
“The previous zoning code said all of our best buildings were illegal. [They were] too big, too tall, not enough parking. All of Old Town was fundamentally wrong, according to code,” Holmlund told the Outpost. “We threw the whole thing away and started over from scratch,”
Holmlund said that the Broadway area, which many Eureka residents complain about being unattractive, is the result of the zoning code. Buildings were legally required to be small, set far back from the street and to include tons of parking. Now, with new codes in place, the city can return to promoting a building aesthetic that Eureka can be proud of.
“I think that was our biggest accomplishment,” Holmlund said. “To say, ‘what makes Eureka great is the built environment that occurred before we had rules.’”
Another big change in Eureka, which Holmlund has helped initiate, is the recent surge of public art. In 2017 the city adopted the Strategic Arts Plan — which aims to revamp local arts and culture over a five year period. This plan included the creation of the Utility Box Art Program, which has been largely successful (despite a brief and memorable controversy) and the Eureka Street Art Festival, which has resulted in over 30 new murals in Eureka’s Old Town and downtown areas.
Associate Planner Swan Asbury told the Outpost that Holmlund served a critical role in helping these projects be realized. Asbury was a large part of initiating the Strategic Arts Plan and said she never could have done it without Holmlund’s help.
“It was a big project for me,” Asbury said. “I was lucky I had a director who helped me work on it and fought for it. Whatever he supports, he pushes hard and gets it done.”
One of the ways Holmlund helped advance some of the projects associated with the arts plan was by garnering the support of local businesses. Both the utility box art project and the street art festival were able to pay the artists through sponsorships from local business owners. The utility box project was completely funded this way. A lot of people complain about the city putting money into that project, Holmlund said, without realizing the city actually spent no money on it.
Ensuring that the artist be paid for their work was one of the most important aspects of these art projects, Holmlund said. He feels that it had become somewhat normal in Eureka for people to ask artists to work for free and this is something he has worked hard to undo.
“We need to honor artists as business owners and ensure that they get paid a decent wage,” Holmlund said.
Another accomplishment that Holmlund is particularly proud of is the updated housing element, a part of the city’s general plan. This will go before the Eureka City Council for adoption in September, after Holmlund has left, and he said he’s sad to miss that. But he is really proud of his team for creating this “revolutionary plan,” which he thinks “will stimulate a substantial amount of housing developments” in Eureka.
It would be impossible to list all of the other projects Holmlund has been a part of in his time with the city. Notably he has aided in the Eureka’s economic development and was a part of securing an In-N-Out for the city, he has helped promote cannabis businesses and the legalization of smoking lounges in the city, and was involved in the controversial shift in Eureka’s marketing strategy.
Holmlund said, although there is always more that could be done, he feels good about what he has accomplished for Eureka. “I tried my best,” Holmlund said. “ I feel like I got some good things done. I’m lucky to have a great team. The team deserves all the credit.”
His plan now, Holmlund said, is to pursue his lifelong dream of owning his own business and will be opening his own consulting firm in Eureka. Holmlund has been in Humboldt for over 15 years and has no plans to leave Eureka, he said. He is dedicated to this city.
“It has been an honor to be able to serve the city for a little while and I really look forward to seeing Eureka’s growth,” Holmlund told the Outpost. “The city is going to see really bright days in the coming years.”