Arcata City Councilmembers Meredith Mathews, Sarah Schaefer and Kimberly White discuss the Gateway Area Plan during a council meeting on Mar. 1 | Screenshot from online meeting video


You’ve likely been reading about (and hopefully attending) workshops and meetings surrounding Arcata’s Gateway Area Plan – that section of the city’s general plan that aims to rezone 138 acres near the downtown area to facilitate the development of high-density housing – for a few years now. And at this point, you’re probably wondering when the heck you will see some of these changes that you’ve been hearing so much about. 

Well, that was exactly the topic of discussion at Wednesday night’s Arcata City Council meeting, during which the council discussed the controversial plan, specifically the public engagement process and the timeline for the plan’s adoption moving forward. David Loya, Arcata’s community development director said that if everything goes smoothly, the plan should be adopted about one year from now. 

Loya began by providing councilmembers Sarah Schaefer, Meredith Matthews and Kimberly White with an overview on what the public engagement process has looked like so far, mentioning that the city has held more than 120 meetings and workshops on the Gateway Plan since 2018. Councilmembers Stacy Atkins-Salazar and Alex Stillman both recused themselves from the discussion (and likely will be from all future Gateway Plan meetings) because they both own property within 100 feet of the Gateway Area. 

Map of the Gateway Area in Arcata

Since the beginning of 2023, public engagement and the Arcata Planning Commission meetings have been primarily focused on establishing the framework for the form-based code the city will use to rezone the Gateway Area and guide future development. Once a month the city has held a public workshop on one specific topic of the code, followed by a Planning Commission study session to consider the public’s feedback and make recommendations.

The most recent of these public workshops, held on Feb. 23,  focused on streetscapes, parking and open space. The Planning Commission will hold a study session focused on the same topics on Mar. 18. There will be another workshop on Mar. 30, followed by a Planning Commission study session on Apr. 22. After that, all of the commission’s recommendations will be used to guide a draft of the form based code by the end of this June. 

But some councilmembers and community members were concerned that as workshops and meetings continue that public participation has declined, and become less diverse and less representative of the community. 

“I am worried that as process has gone on with more public meetings and no final decisions, I’ve seen public participation decline, and become less diverse and representative,” Arcata resident Melodie Meyer said over Zoom during the public comment period. 

Fred Weis – an Arcata resident who frequently speaks at Gateway meetings and started the Gateway Plan-focused website – also spoke during public comment, urging the council to make some sort of tangible decision related to the plan, adding that he thinks “people are upset that nothing seems to be happening.”  Weis also suggested that the city host more walking tours of the Gateway Area because many people couldn’t attend the tours held previously, due to COVID.  

Councilmember Meredith Matthews mentioned that groups and individuals can contact city staff or the council to request a walking tour of the gateway area at any time during this process. 

The council also discussed ways the city might be able to increase outreach to Arcata’s underrepresented groups, particularly the Latinx community. Mayor Sarah Schaefer mentioned that the City has held some Spanish speaking meetings, but they have not been well-attended. Schaefer said that the City is working with Equity Arcata to find ways to conduct more outreach to the Latinx population and other people of color in Arcata to help them be more involved in the public conversation around the Gateway Area Plan.

The council also felt that one of the best ways to bolster community engagement would be to complete a written draft of the form-based code as soon as possible, so that the public will have something to review when providing feedback. Loya said that Ben Noble, the City’s design consultant, is working very hard to meet the deadline of June 30, when drafts of the form based code, and the General Plan Update should be complete. (To be clear, the Gateway Area Plan is a component of the City’s General Plan.) 

Timeline for Gateway Plan milestones | Screenshot from Arcata City Council meeting

The City plans to release the draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the General Plan. After the plan has circulated for six months,  received comments and any necessary adjustments have been made, the city should be able to adopt the EIR, the form-based code and the General Plan Update – including the Gateway Plan – by March 30, 2024.