The Arcata City Council (clockwise from top left) Michael Winkler, Paul Pitino, Brett Watson, Sofia Pereira | Screenshots from Zoom


During its Wednesday night meeting, the Arcata City Council opted not to send a letter of concern to Humboldt State University regarding its decision to host the San Jose State University Football team. Instead, the council decided to discuss forming a committee to help ensure better communication between the city and the university in the future.

HSU announced plans last week to host the SJSU team until Santa Clara County COVID-19 regulations allowed for the team to practice on its home campus. The group of approximately 100 athletes and 25 support staff arrived on HSU campus on Friday, Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer reported to the council, are staying in single-occupant dorms and practicing at Redwood Bowl.

Diemer added that HSU tested all of the visitors upon arrival and they all tested negative for COVID-19. But the community and some council members have expressed concern over the lack of communication between the university, the City and Public Health prior to the decision to host the team.

“When news of their [HSU’s] plan circulated, the city council was contacted by many people in the community who expressed concerns about people coming to Humboldt County and increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19.” Diemer said to the council. “Further was concerns that the plan had not been pre-approved by the Humboldt County Public Health Department and our Public Health Officer.”

Diemer added that in her conversations with HSU staff, the university is “motivated” to remain COVID-free and is continuing regular testing throughout the visiting team’s stay.

During public comment, community member and former Arcata City Council Member Alex Stillman spoke against sending a letter to HSU, saying that a group of 100 athletes who are isolated on campus is less of a concern than the tourists who visited the area over the summer.

“How many hundreds, maybe thousands of visitors have we had in this community over the summer?” Stillman said to the council. “I think writing a letter to Humboldt State is really not appropriate when we look at the fact that a number of hotels and bed-and-breakfasts have been open all summer.”

HSU student Nick Vasquez, however, urged the council to send a letter of concern to the university, saying that HSU did not consider the needs of its students, staff or the local community before making the decision to host the SJSU team.

“For many of us this decision represents a slap in the face to all of us and everything we strive for in the community,” Vasquez said.

Of the four Arcata City Council members in virtual attendance, only Mayor Michael Winkler supported sending a letter of concern. Although the university has no legal obligation to seek approval from the city or county before making these types of decisions, Winkler said, he feels that HSU should have communicated better with the community and other local agencies.

“I feel like we need to send a strong message to HSU that we are not happy with their level of consultation on this and that in the future we expect that they will communicate much better and make it so that the community is comfortable with the actions that could potentially have an impact on the COVID situation and that the county health department is comfortable with that,” Winkler said.

Although the other council members agreed that HSU should have consulted with the city and community beforehand, none of them felt that sending a letter of concern would be necessary at this point.

Councilmember Sofia Pereira — who is employed by Humboldt County Public Health but said she does not do any HSU-related work — said the decision did not completely fall on Humboldt State and that she is more concerned about the “county shopping” that occurred when SJSU was trying to find a suitable alternative location to hold football practice.

Vice Mayor Paul Pitino said he felt that writing a letter would not be effective and brought up the idea of forming a “town gown” committee made up of city and university officials to discuss these types of issues once a month and “take responsibility for the relationship between the University and the City.”

The other council members said they were open to discussing this idea and decided to place the item on a future meeting agenda. Winkler — the council’s HSU liaison — said he would bring the subject up at the next liaison meeting.

“For me, town gown committee [or] commission — I’d like to see that happen and look at an outline of that,” Pitino said. “And that’s the letter I’d like to send to Humboldt State.”