Originally published in The Arcata Eye.
Imagine an Arcata where solar panels lined the roofs of every home, where wind and wave energy farms provided power to the City, and where oat and grain fields blanketed the Bottoms. In this Arcata, there is a car-free Plaza, bicycle taxis ferrying people around, smaller and more efficient public transportation, and a vibrant bike culture where riders could go anywhere within the City, or to Eureka for that matter, safely.
That’s an ideal vision Arcata City Council candidate Dave Meserve has for the City, one that is truly the epitome of “green.”
“We would be a City that consumed very little energy,” Meserve said.
Meserve holds true to the what he calls the four pillars of the green movement – ecological wisdom, social and economic justice, grassroots democracy, and non-violence – and those beliefs are reflected not only in the Arcata he wants to see, but also the innovations he would like to help realize. And among those is realizing the Arcata/Eureka trail, getting a downtown restroom built, reviving a loan program to encourage homeowners to buy solar panels, and taking steps to make the city more green economically and environmentally.
Meserve, a 41-year resident of the North Coast, moved to Arcata back in 1990 in order to finish college. Prior to that, he lived in Southern Humboldt, drawn to the area during the “back to the land” movement of the 1960s. He graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in Physical Science and a teaching credential, but a tough job market for teachers moved Meserve toward building houses, something he was already doing and continues to do to this day.
Meserve became politically active in Arcata in the late ’90s after realizing he needed to do something to help improve the world for his grandchildren. Since then, he served on the council from 2002 to 2006, but he lost during a re-election bid against a slew of candidates.
And in 2008, he spearheaded the “Youth Protection Act,” an initiative passed by both Arcata and Eureka voters that restricted the ability of military recruiters to have access to children under 18 years old. That law has since faced a legal battle with the Federal government.
While on the council, Meserve said he pushed for a police officer to patrol the Plaza on foot, worked with staff to obtain grant monies to study the feasibility of a developing a trail along the railroad from Arcata to Eureka, got solar panels placed on top of city hall, and helped create an energy specialist position in the city.
Another achievement Meserve is proud of is an ordinance, approved by the council, that scoffed the PATRIOT Act, something he said had an impact throughout the country. But he wanted to be clear that his priorities, if elected, would be on Arcata, but there may be times where it is appropriate to take a stand on a national issue.
“Definitely my focus isn’t going to be on that kind of thing,” he said, “but I think it’s a little disingenuous for people to say we shouldn’t touch anything outside of Arcata.”
What’s motivating Meserve to run this time around is mainly what he sees as a reactive council that isn’t pushing the envelope of innovation and isn’t seeking regional approaches to a number of challenges facing the City.
Meserve said he has seen a power shift in City government over the past four years or so after the new city manager – Randy Mendosa – took over, where City staff have been directing the council instead of it being the other way around. He thinks this situation is making Arcata more of a bureaucratic City rather than an innovative one.
“To me, the job of the council is to be both the innovators and the decisionmakers,” Meserve said, “and the job of staff is to implement the decision of the council.”
On that note, Meserve isn’t short on innovative ideas, whether it be a proposing a transition from into a charter city, moving toward a rank-choice voting scheme, encouraging the cultivation of oats and grains in the Bottoms, or making the Plaza more pedestrian friendly.
But one of the ideas Meserve really wants to see realized is the completion of a trail, along the now-defunct railroad, between Arcata and Eureka. He said the trail is necessary to provide a safe way for bicyclists to commute between the two cities. He said the city could build the trail as far as Bracut, but the project has lagged due to a 250-foot public corridor controlled by CalTrans and it’s lack of initiative to draft plans for that space.
“What we have to do is put pressure on CalTrans to do that,” Meserve said.
As for a Downtown public restroom, Meserve, who fully supports the idea, said the council was one vote short of approving that during his council tenure. Regardless of what the actually manifestation is, he said there needs to be facilities, particularly for the those who don’t have access to restrooms and instead do there “business” around town.
“I think it’s very doable,” he said. “I don’t know why we didn’t do it before.”
Meserve would also like to resurrect a program where the City gave homeowners loans to purchase and install solar panels through a revolving fund, with the loan being repaid, in part, through savings in energy costs. The City engaged in such a program in the ’80s, but it has since “fallen off the table.”
“It’s a win-win situation for everybody,” Meserve said.
Meserve sees creation of affordable housing and abating homelessness to be among the challenges Arcata will face over the next four years. He favors the creation of an emergency shelter and transitional housing to give the most vulnerable populations a leg up. He sees it as a way to weed out those who really need and want assistance to uplift themselves from homelessness verses those who choose to live that lifestyle, particularly those who camp in the forest and, as a result, trash the environment there.
“The moment we can provide emergency housing,” Meserve said, “they can’t do that anymore.”
On the topic of indoor marijuana grows, Meserve supports the idea of a graduated utility tax that increases based on how much power a residence is consuming as a way to discourage large-scale grows. He also supports the “Grow it in the Sun” movement advanced by advocates in Southern Humboldt as a way to be energy conscious.
“Taxes discourage things we don’t like, which isn’t the best thing in the world,” he said, “but it does work and serves a certain purpose.”
Overall, the potential for marijuana to be legalized in November will probably have a significant impact to the economy here, Meserve said, and the issue needs to be seriously addressed at a regional level.
As for economic growth, Meserve said he’s not like other politicians who tout the “jobs, jobs, jobs” mantra, but he said that Arcata has the ability to harness a vast amount of talent here for the end of creating green industries.
“I think there’s a huge potential here locally, because of the pool of knowledge that’s developed in this area over the years, for development of green jobs,” he said.
Overall, Meserve sees himself as the innovative candidate, one principled in the ideals of self-sufficiency, economic and social justice, and the green dream. Voters will have to ask themselves whether or not they like the status quo going into November.
“Do we want things to continue just the way they are now,” Meserve said, “or are there some changes we want? Are there some innovations? Do we need imagination? Do we need a little bit of excitement?”