Friday, June 03, 2005

Arkley's cry for HELP?

By James Faulk
Eureka Times-Standard

EUREKA -- The recent meeting between state officials and the local HELP group was headed up by Eureka businessman Rob Arkley, a top contributor to the various political campaigns of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Attending the meeting were Deputy Director Cathy Creswell from the state Department of Housing and Community Development Department, HELP lobbyist Kay Backer and Arkley, among others, said Creswell in a phone interview Thursday.

HELP -- or Humboldt Economic Land Plan -- is a loose coalition consisting largely of developers and related professionals who have taken issue with the way the county has updated the housing element of the general plan.

Arkley has not been officially linked with the HELP group before, although there have been rumors of his close involvement. Backer called the Times-Standard on Thursday to emphasize that Arkley is not a member of the group and has never attended a HELP meeting.

She declined to answer whether she or HELP attorney Robert Best were being paid by Arkley.

"We're like-minded in a lot of ways," she said.

The group gave Creswell a whirlwind tour of sites within the county where they have issues with the county's assessment of development potential, and also a binder full of documentation to support their claims, a copy of which was later given to county officials. The state officials later met with county staff and representatives from the Healthy Humboldt Coalition.

"We tried to be clear to everyone that this was not an unusual occurrence, that we will travel to any community at the request of local governments and local citizens or groups," she said. "We told all parties that we were going to reflect on the materials over a period of time and get back in touch with folks to share our thoughts or concerns."

She said she expects any decision to be made in about a month.

This visit comes after the state already approved the county's housing element, and after HELP's attorney sent a letter to the county that was seen as a possible precursor to litigation.

The letter outlined many of the group's concerns.

"First, we wish to inform the board that the housing element update it adopted on Nov. 30, 2004, is insufficient under former and current state housing laws," it read. "Second, we request that the board immediately direct staff to update the housing element as suggested in this letter to bring the county's housing element into compliance with current laws."

The county responded to that letter with a letter of its own, from Community Development Services Director Kirk Girard.

"On Sept. 13, 2004, the board directed staff to formulate a draft general plan that contains a series of specific urbanization expansion plans that could accommodate up to twice the amount of residential development necessary to meet the projected fair share housing goals. The expansion plan alternatives will be evaluated in terms of residential capacity, infrastructure cost, economic effects and environmental impacts."

The meeting has fueled speculation by some that Arkley's political contributions were the underlying motivation for this second review of the housing element, but Creswell said that is not the case.

"We were requested by Kay Backer to look at what was going on there and told that they would welcome a visit and so we accepted," Creswell said. "We did not receive a phone call from anyone saying that we should do this and I can tell you that it's very common practice."

A call to Arkley was not returned by deadline, but Backer -- who is HELP's lobbyist -- said Arkley was looking into forming a nonprofit group to tackle these kinds of issues. Her unsolicited phone call came an hour after a message was left on Arkley's voice mail.

"I understand you have asked why Mr. Arkley is involved in the subject of housing and the General Plan update process," she said in an e-mail. "I believe he cares deeply about Humboldt County's economic and housing future, and so he speaks out on matters of concern.

"Rob is not a member of HELP -- (he) has never attended a HELP meeting," she said. "I understand he is forming a 501C4 to address in a more formal manner issues he feels need attention for the betterment of all county citizens."

She also said she did not believe Arkley's contributions to Schwarzenegger had anything to do with the department's visit.

"I don't believe that's the case at all," she said.

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