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It was early in the morning, two days before Christmas, and Robin P. Arkley II was furious. He said so in an email to Eureka City Manager Miles Slattery: “I am furious.”
Arkley, the 67-year-old president and chief executive officer of Security National Servicing Corporation, a Eureka-based company dealing in real estate acquisition and management, said he wanted a meeting the following Tuesday, and he directed Slattery to bring along the city attorney, newly seated Mayor Kim Bergel and one member of the city council.
“We have been totally mistreated,” Arkley said in his email. “With 220 eureka employees, 1,400 housing units planned for the city, I am tired of miles ‘misspeaking’ or just misstating facts, we need somebody we can trust.”
Arkley’s frustration with city leadership had been building over the past two years. He vehemently disapproves of the city’s recent efforts to convert municipal parking lots into affordable housing developments, an initiative aimed at promoting infill development while meeting the city’s regional housing needs allocation (RHNA), as outlined in its general plan and required by the state.
From Arkley’s perspective, the parking lots represent a far more valuable asset to downtown Eureka than the proposed housing developments. He considers parking the lifeblood of a thriving downtown, saying it not only offers easy access to retail and restaurants, it also gives his own employees the shortest possible walk from their cars to Security National’s headquarters at 323 Fifth Street. Walking Eureka’s streets is dangerous, he argues, particularly for women.
In 2021 Arkley appeared on KINS Radio’s “Talk Shop” program and vowed to take political and legal action to block the city’s “crazy” parking-lots-to-housing efforts, saying city officials had tried to execute their scheme “in the stealth of night.”
Over the past year or so, Arkley and his staff have tried to negotiate several deals aimed at preserving one lot in particular, the one at the corner of Fifth and D, next to the recently condemned Lloyd Building. These efforts included an aborted bid to buy vacant property at Harris and Pine streets with the intent of trading it to the city in exchange for the parking lot. The Pierson Company wound up making a similar land-swap deal with the city last year.
Arkley has also proposed developing housing on his own 43-acre parcel known as the Balloon Track, though that land is not zoned for residential development. After the city announced plans to demolish the earthquake-damaged Lloyd Building in December, Arkley sought to acquire it but couldn’t come to terms with the city.
These unsuccessful efforts — stymied, in his view, by insufficient cooperation from city officials — fueled Arkley’s fury.
Twenty minutes after sending that early morning email on December 23, he sent Slattery a follow-up:
I would have preferred to have dealt with a capable and creative person. I ALWAYS find a way to yes. You ALWAYS find a path to a snotty and ill thought out no. The people of eureka and this county deserve better. I think that you are well advised to find a different path.
You should cater and protect your business center’s constituents. Do your council KNOW that we are trying to protect fellow females who work in eureka? It may be time for a female city manager who cares about the safety of women.
Merry and Blessed Christmas to all.
Vty [very truly yours],
By all accounts, the December 27 meeting at City Hall did not go well. People who attended say an irate Arkley unleashed a series of expletives before storming out, leaving his daughter and a few Security National executives behind to talk with city officials.
More than a month later, Arkley tells the Outpost that he’s so fed up with Eureka’s current leadership that he intends to move his company headquarters outside city limits.
“Will local downtown businesses be crushed when we leave? Yes,” he said in an email sent on Thursday, “but our first duty is to sn [Security National] folks. We have 4 acres in escrow outside the city. I will not deal with them anymore. I don’t want to spend $15-20mm on a new building, but am being left with little choice.”
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Whether Arkley follows through on that threat remains to be seen, but in one of several emails responding to questions from the Outpost he said the real estate deal closes in 60 days and has no contingencies. He declined to give an exact location but said it’s close to Eureka.
Reached by phone on Thursday, Slattery acknowledged that the city is prioritizing affordable housing over parking.
“That’s true, we are,” he said. “That was part of the general plan update and it was overwhelmingly supported by the community.”
During community workshops, he said, the public told city officials that they’d like to see Eureka move away from the type of development you see along Broadway, where businesses are pushed back off the property line to accommodate parking lots. Public feedback favored Old Town-style development, with parking requirements waived to allow infill featuring multi-story buildings that accommodate both retail and housing.
“The City of Eureka is considered a built-out city in that we don’t have large tracts of vacant land,” said Leslie Castellano, who represents Ward 1 on the Eureka City Council. She was the council member who attended the December 27 meeting with Arkley and his people.
“There’s a housing crisis in Eureka and throughout California. … ,” she said, adding that in Eureka, parking lots are some of the most viable locations for new housing construction. “We went through a fairly lengthy round of public process in making that determination,” she said.
Last year the City of Eureka commissioned a study analyzing parking availability and usage rates in Old Town and downtown, a region that runs west-to-east from A through L streets and north-to-south from First through Seventh streets. There are 3,114 parking spaces in that study area, all told, including public and private spots, on-street parking and off-.
The study, conducted by TJKM Transportation Consultants, found that Eureka has more than enough parking. Cities should aim to have a parking occupancy rate of 85 percent, the authors say. If that many parking spots are full during peak hours it indicates “a healthy and balanced parking usage between supply and demand.”
How does Eureka do by that metric? “During the study period, the findings suggest that the study area reached a maximum of 49% occupancy during peak hours with 1,584 spaces open for parking,” the report says. The off-street parking lots never got more than 55 percent full, leaving about 50 spaces open. On-street parking didn’t even reach 50 percent occupancy during peak hours, leaving 1,154 spaces available.
Nevertheless, members of the local business community and some in the public argue that it’s short-sighted to build housing on city-owned lots. (The Outpost reached out to the Greater Eureka Chamber of Commerce for comment but did not hear back before the time of publication.)
Slattery said city staff delayed work on the housing element of its general plan update for more than six months in an effort to alleviate those concerns. He said city staff looked at “six or seven” properties suggested by Security National employees or Arkley himself as candidates for land-swap deals that might save the parking lot at Fifth and D.
“There were at least two or three of those that were available that we would be willing to trade, similar to like we did with Pierson,” Slattery said. “For one reason or another [Security National] chose not to follow through on that.”
Some properties suggested by Security National were not viable for inclusion in the city’s regional housing needs allocation (RHNA), Slattery said. In the case of the Balloon Track, the land is not zoned residential, so the state won’t accept it as a potential site for future development.
In 2010, Eureka voters approved an Arkley-organized ballot measure to change the zoning on the property Balloon Track property to allow retail, office, multi-family residential, light industrial, restaurant and museum uses. At the time, Security National had plans to build a major development including a shopping center anchored by Home Depot.
Two local environmental groups sued over the ballot measure, and according to Slattery, Security National has yet to submit required documentation to the California Coastal Commission, so the zoning changes have yet to be implemented.
“It was made clear [to Arkley] at the beginning that in order to do an exchange, [the property swap candidates] had to meet certain qualifications. … ,” Slattery said. “He [Arkley] hates hearing this because he tells us to tell the state to eff off, and ‘Don’t even worry, they can’t do anything to you.’ Well, that’s not true.”
Another bone of contention between the city and Arkley concerns Security National’s plans for a community housing development along the Indianola Cutoff north of Eureka. Slattery said Arkley approached the city to ask about extending its wastewater infrastructure to service the new development.
“What I said to him was, ‘We would be more than supportive of doing that, but we are not paying for it with our ratepayer dollars,’” Slattery said. He added that the route Security National proposed — roughly following Hwy. 101 from the city limits north to the development — would be expensive and complex in terms of permitting. He said he suggested that Security National instead approach the Humboldt Community Services District about extending their services north from Redwood Acres to the development site along Myrtle Avenue/Old Arcata Road.
Arkley, he said, took this as a rejection and lack of cooperation.
In another interview on KINS Radio, from Jan. 30, Arkley called in from Baton Rouge, La., where he spends much of his time. He told host Brian Papstein that the City of Eureka is “more concern[ed] about the homeless or the very-low income than they are about the businesses and employees.”
Regarding the Indianola development Arkley said that if necessary Security National can rely on non-standard mound systems for septic treatment if necessary, though he added, “That’s a bad long-term fix for the county and the city. So let’s all figure [this] out instead of getting obstacles, instead of having envy. Let’s solve some problems instead of laughing at those who are trying to do things.”
Slattery points to the successful property swap deals with the Pierson Company — which preserved the lots at Fifth and H, Fifth and K and Fourth and G — as proof that city staff and the council were willing to work with the business community. And he said probably half of Arkley’s Eureka employees would qualify for units in the planned affordable housing developments.
But Arkley wasn’t satisfied, and in emails leading up to his December 27 meeting with city personnel (obtained via a California Public Records Act request), he blamed Slattery personally.
“Miles, you assume that you are smarter than all of us. You are not,” he said in one email. In another Arkley suggested that he would not cooperate on a proposed Caltrans project, which calls for Hwy. 101 south to be re-routed through the Balloon Track onto Koster Street. The City of Eureka supports the Koster couplet project but is not leading it.
“Find a new route,” Arkley wrote to Slattery. “I like our land the way it is. The city will receive the same cooperation that I have. If people are hurt or die in traffic, I am truly sorry. However, I am trying to protect the safety of sn [Security National] and other women downtown.
“This is going to be a fun meeting!!!!” he continued. “Get where it is going? I am tired of your bullshit.”
In other emails, Arkley accused Slattery of only pretending to live in Eureka, and he said Security National plans to enlist a public relations firm in this fight.
“There is no point in trying to work with you folks,” he wrote. “You know, you may have the advantage in some pr battles but we have spent over 25 x what anyone in the city has. Regardless of what you say, we have a $50mm portfolio of getting things done, which are ver [sic], very visible.
“Further,” he added, “220 jobs in the city ain’t anything to scoff at,” apparently positioning his employees as leverage. (In interviews, Arkley has alternately cited the number of Security National employees in Eureka at 220, 200 and “nearly 200.” The Outpost could not confirm any of those numbers.)
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Slattery said people were taken aback by Arkley’s behavior during the December 27 meeting.
“[It was] extremely unprofessional and astonishing to me, coming in this professional environment like that, and to start off with cuss words in front of elected officials and start throwing F-bombs out … basically walking out in a tantrum and leaving his employees behind to discuss the rest of it.”
Castellano said she tried to explain the city’s public processes in these matters “because it seemed like he wanted us to create some sort of separate process so he could have access to a city parking lot.”
The city will soon issue a request for proposals (RFP) to develop affordable housing on three city-owned lots, including the one at Fifth and D streets. Castellano said she encouraged him Arkley engage in the RFP process.
“I think he was hoping for something different,” she told the Outpost. Some of the things that Arkley kept bringing up in the meeting related to challenges that Castellano considers systemic in American society and California in particular, challenges such as housing shortages and the resulting populations of unhoused people, including some with serious mental health issues.
“I kept feeling like there was an assumption that one parking lot could kind of address all these complex issues,” Castellano said. “I just don’t think that’s true, unfortunately. … Maybe there’s just a frustration that there’s not an easy solution to this.”
On the evening after the meeting, Arkley sent another email to Slattery. In the subject field he’d written, “Little boy, don’ t be so foolish as to think this is the end…we have only just begun. The City has far more to lose than we do. Change is acomin’.”
The following morning Arkley emailed Bergel, saying he understood that she would soon be meeting with some Security National folks. He said that he admired Bergel’s efforts but that neither Slattery nor “Julie” were worth his time. (By “Julie” he apparently meant Castellano.) He also mentioned that he was looking to relocate Security National’s headquarters, adding that he would not “deal” on the Koster couplet project and that current uses of the Arkley Center for Performing Arts “will be curtailed.”
Bergel wrote back, thanking him for reaching out and for his dedication to the City of Eureka. But she went on to say:
I was extremely disappointed with the tone and behavior in the meeting yesterday. It is very clear to me that you do not care for our staff, that is your prerogative. However, if we are to work together at any capacity, the kind of belligerent behaviors expressed in the meeting must stop. We are not in the second grade here.
Treating people with respect regardless of our “emotions” will get us much further in our relationship than calling names and yelling, screaming, and demanding.
Arkley responded with a single sentence: “Laughing at your team and you.”
Reached via email last week, Arkley was still angry. He made an oblique reference to “crime on sn employees” and added, “Walking to farther parking lots, if any are left in the dark. Dangerous? You bet!”
We wrote back to ask what crimes have been committed against Security National employees.
“Crime is almost weekly,” he responded. “If you ever walk downtown, you will live it.”
Asked again what specific crimes have been committed he replied, “The stuff of legend. Almost countless. It is the stuff of a meaningful story.”
We asked one more time what specific crimes have been committed. Were these violent crimes? Assault? Robbery?
“As you can probably guess, our HR director would shoot me if I disclosed,” he replied. He had cc’d two Security National employees and asked one to confirm his information about crimes. Instead, a consultant named Gail Rymer sent a follow-up email, attaching an opinion piece she said Arkley had written in October for publication in the Times-Standard. You can download a pdf of the piece by clicking here. It mentions his concern about employee safety but does not include evidence of specific incidents.
Asked about his meeting with city officials, Arkley alleged that his reasonable proposals were met with laughter and rejection:
I told them that we have 50 acres in the City on or near the water. We could rezone an acre or two to [RHNA] qualified use and we would save downtown parking. Slam dunk. Miles Laughed and the Mayor and councilmember [Castellano] had blank looks. Parking is the lifeblood of downtown retail and restaurants. I said that we have plenty of toys to make a deal happen. I was then accused of wanting favored treatment. Do I make more selling the land or developing it? Get serious. This was a great solution for all. They would not even talk. I have never seen less solution oriented people. I guess if you are low income, you are a favored constituency status. Regular workers are on their own.
“I did not laugh at him,” Slattery said. “I gave him an answer that he didn’t like.”
Regardless, Arkley’s relationship with Slattery and other city officials has grown so bitter that he has vowed to all but abandon the city, moving his company headquarters out before construction begins on new affordable housing developments.
“That’s really unfortunate,” Slattery said, but he added that he won’t bend any rules in an effort to convince Arkley to stay.
“He made remarks during the meeting about how there was an old regime at the City of Eureka that was a lot more business friendly. The way that I took it was there was an old regime that treated certain people certain ways and it wasn’t necessarily equitable, but I can assure you everything that we do is equitable.”
Castellano expressed more of a c’est la vie attitude when asked what Security National’s departure from Eureka will mean for the city.
“It will mean that there will likely be a vacant building at that location for some period of time,” she said. “Downtown has changed over the last 100 years and will probably continue to do so. Ideally the building is not vacant for a long time. Ideally, [Arkley] finds a place where he’s happy and feels good.”