During a special meeting on Thursday evening — the last attended by resigning Mayor and Councilmember Sofia Pereira — the Arcata City Council unanimously voted to fill Pereira’s seat by appointment, rather than hold a special election to fill the vacancy.
The biggest reason behind the council’s decision is money. For the public to elect a new councilmember, the item would have been placed on the ballot for the next general election, Nov. 2. With no other Arcata issues on the ballot, Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer said during Thursday’s meeting, the cost would run somewhere between $50,000 and $75,000 to hold the special election. With the City of Arcata still recovering from the economic impacts of the pandemic and very little money to spare in its budget, the council felt that the city could really not afford to call a special election.
The other factor is timing. Several of the council members mentioned that they would rather not go without a fifth council member between now and November. Also, Pereia’s term expires in November, 2022, which also makes it seem a little less worth it to hold a special election to fill a seat for one year.
“I’m always for giving people as much of an opportunity to vote as possible, but in this case I think the appointment is the way to go,” Brett Watson, now interim Arcata Mayor, said during the meeting.
Watson, previously serving as vice-mayor, will step in, at least temporarily, as mayor. The council will decide during its July 14 meeting how to assign the mayor and vice-mayor roles for the remainder of the year.
As for the appointment process, community members who are interested in the council position will need to go through some of the same steps as if they were running for election. To be considered, the person must verify that they are over 18 and are an Arcata resident. They will then need to gather 20 valid signatures and submit a statement. The council will then interview each applicant and decide who to appoint. Members of the public and city staff will be able to submit questions for the council to ask the applicants, but council will have the final say on who is selected.
Per California government code, the council needs to fill the seat within 60 days, which gives a deadline of August 24. So, the process will need to happen somewhat quickly. The City of Arcata sent out a press release on Friday afternoon, saying that those interesting in the council position will need to make an appointment to pick up the paperwork by June 28. The deadline to submit application materials is July 19.
As a part of the meeting, the council also officially accepted Pereira’s resignation. First elected in 2014, Pereira was serving her second term on the Arcata City Council. Pereira will continue to serve her community in her new position as Humboldt County Department of Health & Human Services’ Director of Public Health.
“It’s been really a privilege to work with all of you and I’m really excited to see what you build over the next several years,” Pereira said to the council before she exited Thursday’s meeting. “I’ve said this before, but the city is really in incredible hands with you all. I appreciate your service to our community, your dedication and the different perspectives that you bring. I’ll just get to work with you in a different role. I’m looking forward to that.”
Interested in becoming an Arcata City Councilmember? Scroll down to the end of this post for more from the City of Arcata.
Earlier in the meeting the council also unanimously adopted the City’s 2021-22 budget, which projects both good and bad financial news for Arcata.
The good news is that the city tax revenues have remained in pretty good standing, with sales tax revenue estimated to increase by 12% from the previous year, transaction and use tax (TUT) by 23% and transient occupancy tax (TOT) is expected to see an 18% increase from 2020-21. Fee increases on water and wastewater have also contributed to city revenue, though most of those funds will go toward upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant.
But there are also increased expenditures, with other major projects, increases in personnel costs and insurance rates on the horizon. In order to stay in the black, the city did have to maintain some of the cuts made last year to survive the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the most controversial of last year’s budget cuts was the over $750,000 reduction in funding to the Arcata Police Department. Though the department does see a large increase in funding in this fiscal year, six of the police department positions will remain frozen, including two police officers and one overhire office.
Councilmember Emily Grace Goldstein said that she did a lot of campaigning during the election on the idea that the city should take money out of the police budget and funnel it to other community services and asked what the council’s goals are when it comes to this plan.
In general, the other council members felt that the city should not make any more cuts to the police budget. Watson said that the vast majority of the feedback he gets from the public is that people want more police, adding that the department has the “bare minimum of officers right now.”
Councilmember Stacy Atkins-Salazar agreed that the city should not make any more reductions to the police department, adding that she would like to have seen the police budget reinstated to what it was, or see the city expand other community services to “bolster a sense of safety in our community.”
Pereira also felt that the police department budget should remain as it is, at least until the city has come up with alternative services to receive that funding. “How I look at it is, if we’re going to take money away from something, then what are we building?” Pereira said during Thursday’s meeting. “Right now we’ve had to scrape things together to have a budget that’s in the black. I would want to use these next couple of years to build something that is worthy of that investment. I don’t think we’re there yet.”
City of Arcata press release:
The Arcata City Council will be appointing a replacement for Sofia Pereira, who stepped down from her seat on the Council to take on a new role as Humboldt County’s Director of Public Health.
The appointment must take place within 60 days of Pereira’s departure on Friday, June 25, and the new Council member will serve out the remainder of her term of office, through November of 2022.
The City Council adopts laws and sets policies to guide the City Manager and City staff in City operations. City Council members attend two regular meetings on the first and third Wednesday of each month in addition to other special meetings and study sessions, and various other monthly meetings of various regional partners.
Qualifications for individuals who wish to be considered for a seat on the Arcata City Council include that they must be at least 18 years old, must live within Arcata city limits, and are registered to vote at their Arcata residence address. Applicants must also obtain at least 20, but no more than 30, nomination signatures of registered voters who reside with Arcata city limits and are registered to vote at their Arcata residence
Those who wish to be considered for the opening may make an in-person or zoom appointment to receive application materials, beginning at 11 a.m. on Monday, June 28. Application information is available online at www.cityofarcata.org, however candidates must demonstrate residency and receive the actual nomination form from the City to be considered.
To make a 15-30 minute appointment please call (707) 825-2103 or (707) 822-5953 or email email@example.com. Complete application materials must be submitted by 5 p.m. on Monday, July 19.
Once applications are received, nomination signatures will be verified and candidate statements will become available for public review. A City Council Candidate Forum will be scheduled to interview the applicants who qualify.
More information regarding the candidate interviews and methods for the public to provide input into the process will be released shortly. The new Councilmember is expected to be sworn in at the beginning of the August 18 Council meeting.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (707) 822-5953 with questions regarding the appointment process. For more information and updates, visit cityofarcata.org.