Originally published in The Arcata Eye
If Mark Sailors could see an Arcata where the Downtown area was shut off to cars, bustled with foot and bike traffic, and was vibrant with street merchants and vendors reminiscent of one of the many festivals that take over on any given day, he’d be down.
Sailors, who is one of seven vying for two open City Council seats in November, is a mixture of mad-as-heck citizen and entrepreneur flustered with what he sees as an incompetent City staff, a bike-unfriendly City, and a medical marijuana-intolerant establishment.
Sailors, 40, has lived in many different places throughout the U.S. before finding a home in Humboldt County. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Md., where he attended the Baltimore School for the Arts, spent seven years in Alaska, and lived in Seattle for a hot minute. Eventually, he made his way here in 2001.
At the age of 16, Sailors started his training in martial arts. Although initially a part time gig, he fell back on his training when the job market was hurting in Baltimore and worked as an instructor for about 11 years. During that time, he helped train a number of law enforcement officers for a variety of agencies in the martial arts.
The story of Sailors’ arrival is the typical story of coming to Arcata to visit a friend and then upon arrival, falling in instant love with the beaches, the rivers, and the forests. In fact, Sailors, a Star Wars fan, couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the place acting as the backdrop for Endor in Return of the Jedi.
“You understand why people kind of keep [this place] a secret,” Sailors said. “There’s not many coastal communities as affordable as Arcata. It’s kind of special.”
Sailors, owner and operator of Arcata Kineticab – a bicycle taxi – has many stories to share about Arcata from the perspective of someone who is out and about every day and night ferrying people around town. Whether it’s stories of the homeless, or drunk college kids for that matter, urinating on the doors of Downtown shops, or the amazing tolerance of Arcata’s boys in blue dealing with problems on the Plaza, many of Sailor’s ideas for how the City can better itself manifest from those simple daily observations.
But coupled with those observations is the personal. This leads into what initially got him fired up and political – the City’s debate over the creation of a land-use ordinance to govern medical marijuana cultivation in the city limits.
Sailors, a 215 patient himself, passionately believes in the right of a patient to cultivate their own medicine (marijuana) for personal use, and he doesn’t think the ordinance in its current form respects an individual’s right to grow.
Although at first he was afraid to publicly put himself out there, Sailors said he started attending the many Planning Commission and City Council meetings on the topic and made his concerns heard, garnering what he said was the respect of others too fearful to put their faces out there.
Sailors understands there needs to be a balance between the rights of property owners who don’t want their homes to be butchered and, possibly, destroyed, and the rights of individual patients. He suggested other avenues to tackle blatantly commercial grows in homes, such as charging growers with felony vandalism for unapproved alterations to a home. But the system now, he said, does little to give patients breathing room to seek professional assistance in grows if needed.
“It’s this evil little Catch-22 circle of doom we’ve put [patients] in,” Sailors said, “because you’ve put in these draconian regulations that don’t allow them to be on the up and up.”
Sailors had little good to say about how well City staff guide and direct those attempting to get permits. Again, personal experience helped guide this view as Sailors found himself thrust into a frustrating situation with his taxi company.
Although he had a business license for his company, he was under the impression, due to conversations with staff, that he acquired all the necessary permits but later discovered that he needed a specific taxi license to operate in the city limits. He said City staff needs to be trained on the nuances of customer service and be able to make the experience of getting required permits for any endeavor as smooth as possible.
“They should be able to open up the filing cabinet,” Sailors said, “and give you what you need.”
Sailors had high praise for Arcata’s law enforcement, calling it far more tolerant than it needs to be. To better improve public safety, he suggested getting more officers out of cars and on to bikes, electric-powered even, to get a better pulse of the community. He also suggested an idea implemented in Baltimore, street ambassadors – essentially City staff helping direct people to where they need to go and another set of eyes and ears on the street.
Sailors scoffed at the notion that Arcata is a bike-friendly City, citing instances where cars still push bicyclists on to the sidewalk and where pedestrians, even at designated sidewalks, face the likely risk of being hit by a car. A simple solution he pointed at, particularly for the notorious crosswalk at Samoa Boulevard and F Street, is erecting bright yellow pedestrian crossing signs to alert drivers of people crossing.
“You can’t cross a street here in a crosswalk without being nearly run over to save your life,” Sailors said, “its scary scary scary.”
Sailors also touched on homelessness in Arcata and all the peripheral issues that result from it. Saliors fully supports the current plan for transitional housing, but he is concerned about concentrating facilities in one area and, in particular, in what he calls the “poorest area of town” – the area south of Samoa Street where he also lives.
He also fully supports not just one public restroom, but as many as is needed, facilities where people can clean themselves up, trash cans back on the Plaza. He said he sees first hand while working the consequences of not providing these facilities – fecal matter in allies and streets, cigarette butts and other detritus cluttering gutters and streets.
“Forcing people to be dirty and use out streets as a bathroom is not an answer,” Sailors said. “It’s not going to force these people away.”