[sixties-l] Arcata: Sixties by the Sea

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Sun Feb 11 2001 - 15:37:04 EST

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    Sunday, February 11, 2001

    Downtown Denizens Try Liberal Town's Patience

    By BETTINA BOXALL, Times Staff Writer

         ARCATA, Calif.--This is a town where the 1960s never really ended, where
    environmentalism and social tolerance are civic creeds--and where it is now
    illegal to sit on a downtown sidewalk or linger there with your dog.

         Liberal Arcata--or at least some of it--has just about run out of
    patience with the homeless and youthful wanderers who congregate at the
    downtown plaza like shaggy pilgrims at a shrine.

         The City Council has adopted ordinances one might expect to find in a
    gated community, not in the free-spirited home of Humboldt State University.

         Smoking, dogs and skateboarding have been banned on the grassy central
    plaza for several years. As of last week, sitting and lying on sidewalks and
    curbs or hanging out with a dog in the downtown district are also municipal

         The new regulations have prompted outcries that city leaders are
    trampling on individual rights and betraying the town's progressive spirit.
    There has also been some discomfort on the council, which unanimously passed
    the dog ordinance but split 3-2 on the sidewalk-sitting ban.

         "When they say, 'No sitting, no lying,' they're targeting a group of
    people," complained Roni Baram, who teaches part-time in the local school
    system. "Arcata is just a friendly city to hang out in. I don't think it
    should be restricted to rich people."

         There have been rowdy City Council meetings--including one in which a
    councilman removed his shoe and banged it on the table after a speaker made
    a reference to Adolf Hitler. There was a small sit-in. There was a street
    theater performance featuring an actor bounding around like a dog.

         Opponents also launched a petition drive to put the new town laws to a
    public vote. But the petitioners gathered only about half the signatures
    they needed by their 30-day deadline.

         Mayor Connie Stewart says the residents she's spoken to have been
    "surprisingly supportive" of the new restrictions.

          "Everybody has a story" about bad experiences near the plaza, she
    added. "It's not part of a liberal philosophy to let one group take over a

          She points out that Arcata is not the only liberal coastal town to
    crack down on street life.

          Seattle and Berkeley both passed bans against lying and sitting on
    sidewalks. Both were legally challenged. The Berkeley ordinance was
    repealed; the Seattle law was upheld on appeal, said Alan Schlosser,
    managing attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern

          The Arcata plaza for decades has been a stop for young people wandering
    up and down the West Coast, a small-town version of Haight-Ashbury.

          During the summer, the sidewalks ringing the square can be clogged with
    the homeless and the aimless. They beg. They hang out. They do drugs. Many
    have dogs.

          Some of the street people turn belligerent and rude when their requests
    for money are ignored. They yell and curse. They throw things.

          "In the last two years [aggressive behavior] has escalated to the point
    where even the tolerant have a hard time with the fact they can't walk down
    the street without being accosted in some way," said Arcata Chamber of
    Commerce director Jody Hansen.

          Geoffrey Robinson, one of the petition backers, agreed that "it's kind
    of a mess downtown." But the answer, he argued, is not a vague ordinance
    that inevitably will be selectively enforced.

          "We need to come up with something so everyone will feel comfortable
    downtown. We're not there yet," said Robinson, who goes by the nickname
    "Lizard," works as a plumber and is studying alternative energy engineering
    at Humboldt State.

          He and others are planning a community meeting later this month to
    discuss the issue.

          Some Dog Owners Tread Carefully

          In the meantime, some local dog owners are careful not to tarry too
    long with their pets. The dog ban allows only police dogs, guide dogs for
    the blind and "dogs on leashes who are passing through" to enter the
    downtown district.

          Simone Watts, a graduate student who lives near downtown with her
    pointer Winter, said she understands the canine problem but feels like a
    criminal when she walks her dog off the leash at night. "I'm constantly
    looking over my shoulder to see if there's a police car," she said.

          Yael and Joseph Burkes, who were recently strolling along the edge of
    the plaza with their Shih Tzu, were less concerned about the dog ordinance.

          "I don't think it's so bad. It addresses a very complicated issue,"
    said Joseph Burkes, who with his wife owns a house in Arcata and lives in
    West Los Angeles.

          Yael Burkes said the downtown scene can be intimidating. "They want
    food. They want money," she said. "During the summer, people are sitting all
    along the fence with dogs and sleeping bags."

          On a cold February day there were only a handful of determined souls
    hanging out on the plaza.

          One of them was Derek Engelhardt, a 20-year-old from nearby Eureka who
    had tied his hair into a dozen tiny spikes.

          The new ordinances, he suggested, would not accomplish much. "I know
    they're not going to work," he said. "People have been chilling here for
    years, and they're not going anywhere."

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