Remember that advice from the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission that resulted in a press release announcing that Arcata Mayor Stacy Atkins-Salazar would have to recuse herself from all matters relating to the city-altering Gateway Area Plan process? (If not, catch up here.)

Well, two out of six current candidates for Arcata City Council would very likely be in the same position, if either of them are elected. That’s because like Atkins-Salazar, those two candidates — Alex Stillman and Dana Quillman — also own real property that lies within 500 feet of the Gateway area.

If either of them are elected, that would leave the council with a bare quorum — three out of five councilmembers — able to consider and weigh in on the largest-scale and most ambitious planning projects in recent Humboldt County history, and certainly the most important topic facing the next iteration of the council. With only three members able to vote, any council actions on the project would have to be unanimous.

In the map above, the Gateway Area, as mapped by the City of Arcata, is in red. The green area is everything that is within 500 feet of the Gateway Area. The blue area is everything within 1,000 feet.

The map also shows properties owned by Stillman, a longtime property owner and landlord in the city. The parcels she owns are colored solid black. The properties owned in part by Dana Quillman, who lives on H Street south of Samoa Boulevard, are in solid purple.

As you can see, both Quillman’s home and at least one property owned by Stillman — the one on 12th Street, between J and K — are solidly within 500 feet of the zone that the city has drawn up as the Gateway Area. In addition. Stillman’s H Street buildings fronting the Arcata Plaza are partially (and just barely) within the 500-foot limit, at least according to the geographic files that city government sent us yesterday.

This matters because the California Fair Political Practices Commission currently takes a hard line on what people call its “500-foot rule,” in which elected officials are considered to have a conflict of interest in consequential planning decisions are taken within 500 feet of an official’s property. The rule is spelled out in Section 18702.2(a)(7) of the FPPC’s regulations, which states that an elected has a conflict when property in which they have a financial interest is

… located 500 feet or less from the property line of the parcel unless there is clear and convincing evidence that the decision will not have any measurable impact on the official’s property.

Atkins-Salazar owns property located within 500 feet of the Gateway Area; Stillman and Quillman do as well. Therefore they are almost certainly bound by the same state conflict of interest guidelines that prevent Atkins-Salazar from deliberating on the Gateway Area Plan.

There is an exception, in the regulation quoted above: There is no conflict if there is “clear and convincing evidence” that the city council’s work on the Gateway Area Plan will have “no measurable impact” on the candidate’s properties.

But according to Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, a San Francisco-based law firm focusing on municipal government in California, that is a very difficult hurdle to clear, especially since the FPPC revised its regulations in 2019. In a review of FPPC advice letters issued since those revisions were adopted, the firm found that the exception does not apply when “there was evidence of increased intensity of use, traffic, noise, and changed market value of the official’s property.” If Stillman or Quillman are elected and wished to participate in the Gateway Area planning efforts, they would have to present “clear and convincing” evidence that the plan — which foresees thousands of new residents in the area — would have none of those effects on their properties.

Furthermore, it seems probable that Stillman’s commercial properties downtown would also disqualify her from participating in Gateway planning, whether or not the ones on the Plaza are counted as being within the 500-foot limit. Section 18702.2(a)(8) of the FPPC’s regulations deals with real property between 500 feet and 1,000 feet away from a project — the area shaded blue in the map above — and says that an elected official has a conflict if property they own meets the following conditions:

Involves property located more than 500 feet but less than 1,000 feet from the property line of the parcel, and the decision would change the parcel’s:

(A) Development potential;
(B) Income producing potential;
(C) Highest and best use;
(D) Character by substantially altering traffic levels, intensity of use, parking, view, privacy, noise levels, or air quality; or
(E) Market value

Stillman told the Outpost today that she has written to the Fair Political Practices Commission to ask for a solid determination on whether or not she has a conflict in this matter. But she says that even if the FPPC does make that determination, as it did in Atkins-Salazar’s case, there would still be much more that she could work on.

[UPDATE: Stillman writes to say that she has received this not very helpful response from the FPPC: “[S]hould you become an elected official you would need to seek advice in regard to the proposed plan and its potential financial impact on your holdings prior to engaging in any discussions or taking any actions in relation to the plan.”]

“There is more than the Gateway for the council to deal with,” Stillman said. “It’s slapped in front of everyone’s faces right now — the Gateway and homelessness — but the city has a lot more going than those two things.”

“I think that’s really screwed,” said Dana Quillman when reached this morning.

Quillman said that she believes the Gateway Area Plan, and other urbanist developments like it, is just one piece of a “globalist” plan that includes COVID, 5G technology and many other recent world developments with the aim of cowing the citizenry.

Quillman said she does not necessarily expect to be elected in a “city that has lost its soul,” but said that if she is she would continue to use her voice as a citizen and activist to advocate against the plan. She also would be open to supporting one of other candidates if they shared her views, she said.

The other four candidates for Arcata City Council on the June ballot — Humnath Panta, Edith Rosen, Kimberley White and Chase Marcum — do not own any real property in the city, according to the financial disclosure forms on file with the City Clerk’s office.