Trailers on the Crowley Site

It has been well over a year since PG&E donated 11 trailers to the Betty Kwan Chinn Homeless Foundation to be used as a transitional housing community for the homeless. And yet, today the trailers still sit, unoccupied.

The trailers are being stored on the north end of a lot known as the Crowley Site, near the Hikshari Trail in Eureka. But several roadblocks have prohibited the city from keeping the trailers there permanently, including the threat of litigation from Pierson’s Building Center.

In May, 2018 the Eureka City Council was slated to vote on an amendment which would change the zoning to allow development of the housing project on the Crowley site. But before the amendment could go to a vote, the item was abruptly removed from the agenda.

The city sent out a brief explanation stating that the city had “heard from a number of businesses in this area regarding the north end of the Crowley site and is removing this north end from consideration.” The statement also said the City was pursuing alternative sites, including the southern portion of the Crowley property.

Only one day before Eureka City staff sent out that statement, members of the city council received a letter from Janssen Malloy, an attorney representing Pierson’s. The letter urged the council not to approve the proposed amendment, mostly pointing out that this type of development did not conform to the intended use of the land.

William Pierson, owner of Pierson’s Building Center, also sent a personal letter to the city urging councilmembers to not approve the project. In the letter Pierson stated that he felt the notice sent to the nearby business owners by the city had not indicated the true nature of the project — a “homeless shelter” — which he did not think was appropriate for the site.

Through a Public Records Act request, the Outpost obtained a copy of the letter. In it, Pierson states:

We applaud the city for trying to help those truly in need that are looking to make a better life for themselves. With that said, the businesses on South Broadway are at the breaking point due to the large population of homeless, transient individuals, many of whom have mental issues and or drug abuse problems in our area. Increasingly they frequent and prey upon the open door policy of retail businesses, attempting to steal merchandise on a regular basis and frequently become belligerent and or threatening in their behavior when confronted.

When the Outpost reached out to Pierson he said that he did not wish to comment on this matter, just that “we are trying to provide a service for the people of Humboldt County in the best way that we possibly can.”

Chinn celebrates the move of the Blue Angel Village | File photo by Andrew Goff

Perhaps this scenario sounds a little familiar? That’s because a similar thing happened in 2016, when neighboring property owners threatened a lawsuit against the city if they approved the placement of shipping containers on the Mercer-Fraser lot on Second and Commercial in Eureka.

But despite the neighbors’ furor, the City Council approved the temporary placement of shipping containers on the lot. A solution was needed to help find housing for the homeless after the eviction of over 100 people from the Palco Marsh. The containers have since been relocated to Washington and Koster and are now known as Betty’s Blue Angel Village.

Eureka City Manager Greg Sparks told the Outpost that the nearby business owners initially had concerns about the type of people who would be living there and a potential increase in crime. But the Blue Angel Village has been very successful, Sparks said, and the neighbors feelings about it is now overwhelmingly positive.

Sparks believes that property owners near the Crowley site will also eventually come around when they see the project in action. He thinks some people still misunderstand what the housing will look like, not realizing that the people there will be paying rent and there will be onsite management present constantly.

The Blue Angel Village on Washington and Koster

“[We] want to make sure that we can communicate that this is not a homeless encampment; it’s transitional housing,” Sparks said.

At least one property owner near the Crowley site, Harold Hilfiker, has already come around to the project. Back in May Hilfiker had complained about the city’s lack of communication on this project.  He had been told the trailers would be further south and was not happy when they were placed on the north end of the site.

But last week Hilfiker told the Outpost that he no longer cares whether the trailers go on the north or south end of the property. He just hopes that the city will do something with them soon. He’s worried that the trailers face deterioration if they stay there too long.

And Hilfiker is right to fear that. Betty Chinn told the Outpost that the urgency of this project is mounting and she really hopes the city will make a plan soon. “I can not leave the trailers out there,” she said. “[I] just need an answer; yes or no.”

City staff has assured the Outpost that the project is definitely still in development and that they are doing what they can to move things forward. Eureka Development Services Director Rob Holmlund said that the city is still evaluating the southern portion of the property, which has now been identified as the more viable location for the trailers.

But there is still a lot to be done. Holmlund said the city is currently doing a wetland analysis and will need to complete an archeological study. After that, staff members can draft a site plan. Once that is complete, they plan to have a meeting with the neighboring business owners to field their concerns, which they are hoping to schedule for early February. Once all of those issues have been addressed, the issue can go back before the Planning Commission and the City Council.

Holmlund and Sparks understand the urgency of this project. Not only are some of the trailers beginning to deteriorate, but Eureka is in dire need of more housing for homeless and low-income individuals. And so far Betty Chinn’s programs have been a big help.  

Chinn just hopes that the business owners will get on board. “I don’t want a fight,” she told the Outpost. “I hope people understand how desperately we need the housing.”