Following a lengthy discussion and hearing comments from more than a dozen community members on Tuesday night, the Eureka City Council voted to postpone making a decision on a proposed land swap that would facilitate the construction of affordable housing in the City.
The council was poised to vote on a property transfer that would exchange three city-owned parking lots – at Fourth and G Streets, Fifth and H Streets and Fifth and K Streets – for four parcels on Fairfield Street between Harris and Henderson, owned by Pierson Properties and Development LLC. The City had planned to convert the three parking lots into low-income housing, but was met with a good amount of community pushback, mostly over the threat of nearby businesses losing their parking spaces.
Though the parking issues partly prompted the City’s decision to look for alternative sites for the housing, Eureka city staff also recommended the land exchange because it would potentially result in the creation of more housing units. During a presentation he gave at Tuesday’s meeting, Eureka City Manager Miles Slattery said that the three parking lots combined could hold 65 housing units (45 very low income and 20 low income), whereas the Pierson property would be able to hold 104 units (59 very low and 45 low income).
During the public comment period, many community members joined the meeting over Zoom to voice support for the project, saying that the land transfer seemed to be a great opportunity for the City to create more housing. Many folks were also against the proposed land swap, voicing concerns over the less central location of the Pierson property and questioning if the City might be making a mistake by letting go of properties located in the Downtown and Old Town area.
Some community members also had concerns over the public process surrounding the proposal and felt that there hadn’t been enough public meeting opportunities for them to voice their concerns. Several councilmembers also said that they had received emails from constituents who were disappointed with the lack of public outreach surrounding this proposed change.
The councilmembers were largely in support of the land swap, agreeing that it would be beneficial to the City and the creation of more housing and that the location of the Pierson property was ideal for a housing development – located near Winco, two city parks and Alice Birney Elementary School.
Councilmember Natalie Arroyo was concerned, however, about the council making a decision during the first public meeting to be held about the land exchange, especially since the meeting was the week before Christmas when many people are likely out of town visiting family. Arroyo made a motion to continue the discussion to the council’s Jan. 4 meeting, hoping this would give more time for public input.
The council then voted, 3-2, in support of Arroyo’s motion. Councilmembers Leslie Castellano and Kati Moulton supported the delay and Councilmembers Scott Bauer and Kim Bergel were against it.
Councilmember Bergel said that although she understood some of the concerns over the public process, she felt that the City could not afford to waste anymore time when it comes to creating more housing. “We are in a shelter crisis,” Bergel said during the meeting. “We have been in a shelter crisis. I agree that the process was a mess…I just get so tired of us putting things off so that we can keep talking about it.”
The proposed land transfer will come before the council for a vote at its next meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 4.
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