Arcata City Hall may soon switch to an electric heating system | File photo: Stephanie McGeary

During tonight’s meeting, the Arcata City Council will discuss how to spend more than $4.4 million in COVID-19 relief funds local environmentally focused political action group, Redwood Coalition for Climate and Environmental Responsibility (RCCER) is urging the council to use a hefty chunk of that money to fund projects that will help reduce carbon emissions in the city.

“The City of Arcata faces many severe impacts from the climate crisis, ranging from sea level rise to wildfire smoke to the inflow of climate refugees from other regions,” RCCER wrote in a letter to the council. “These and other impacts will only increase as we continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from our vehicles, buildings, waste disposal, and other sources. The City can no longer afford to make any spending decisions without consideration of how those investments mitigate or exacerbate the climate crisis.”

The $4,409,087 in funding comes from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) — specifically the state and local fiscal recovery funds, which allocate about $350 billion in aid to governments to meet pandemic response need and help “rebuild a stronger, and more equitable economy as the country recovers,” according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury website. This can include a wide range of projects, such as supporting public health expenditures, providing premium pay for essential workers and  investing in water, sewer and broadband infrastructure.

Arcata city staff has outlined some potential uses for the funds (you can see the full list of projects here), including allocating $217,500 to Valley West neighborhood support, $150,000 toward the city’s beautification and economic recovery fund — $25,000 of which would go toward beautification of G and H Streets near the Plaza, $500,000 toward an economic grant fund, $550,000 toward refilling frozen city staff positions and $1.2 million to support the the city’s Mobile Intervention Service Team (MIST) that will respond to mental health calls that come through 911.

Additionally the city is proposing $1 million of the ARPA funds be set aside for additional review. “It is prudent to set aside a share for 12 months to assess progress on the Council’s key goals and ensure funds are available to complete priority projects,” the staff report states.

It’s pronounced “rocker”

RCCER, which was formed earlier this year, is requesting that $1.65 of these funds be used toward projects that focus on reducing  Arcata’s carbon emissions. Colin Fiske — executive director one of the founding members of RCCER and executive director of the Coalition for Responsible Transportation Priorities — says this can include things like public transportation improvements, establishing a no interest loans revolving loan funds for low-income homeowners to help them electrify their homes and  support programs for affordable infill housing development.

Rather than establishing new projects, Fiske said that RCCER also supports the council waiting to use some of these funds until it has adopted its Climate Action Plan. Fiske mentioned that Humboldt County staff has been working with the county’s incorporated cities — including Arcata — to establish a Regional Climate Action Plan, which should be released soon.

Fiske also wanted to point out that Arcata is already planning to use some of the ARPA funds for projects that will reduce carbon emissions, such as converting city hall’s heating and ventilation to an all electric system. RCCER also supports the city’s plan to use funding for improvements to the Valley West neighborhood, Fiske said, adding that the revitalization of Valley West could also reduce carbon emissions by making more resources available to the people who live there and improving transportation options in the area.

“Valley West is historically underinvested in,” Fiske said, “We need to provide Valley West with more social destinations — not just shopping, but parks and areas for recreation.”

The Arcata City Council meets tonight, Wednesday, Sep. 1, at 6 p.m. over zoom.

You can view the full agenda and directions on how to participate here.