A pair of major cultural events soon to occur to the north and south of Arcata promise bring an unprecendented number of summertime travelers to town.
Some 25,000 people are expected to attend the two-week gathering of the Rainbow Family in Oregon's Ochoco National Forest near the town of Prineville beginning this Saturday. The event runs through July 10.
Three weeks later, about 10,000 people are expected to the 13th annual Reggae on the River concert will take place in French Camp, near Piercy in southern Humboldt County.
Arcata, already a popular destination with alternative lifestyle "urban travelers," is expected to see an increase in transient visitors of the type associated with panhandling, illegal camping and drug violations.
The increased potential for confrontations and crime both downtown and in outlying camping areas has citizens and City officials concerned - and acting in advance to lessen impacts.
"I would guess this is going to be the biggest summer ever," said Police Chief Mel Brown. "When the rainbow gathering winds down, Reggae on the River wil be winding up. If you look at a world atlas and see where Prineville is and where Arcata is, there's this interesting layover."
Brown will address the regular meeting of Main Street Arcata this Wednesday at 1 p.m. at the Golden Harvest restaurant. Downtown business people will be briefed on law enforcement response to the expected influx, what types of behaviour constitute violations and which do not and how to make citizen's arrests.
"I'm going to remind everybody about peoples' civil rights, so that they can call and have a realistic expectation of service." The chief noted that merely sitting on the sidewalk is not a crime, unless passage is obstructed. Nor is asking for money.
But Brown said an increase urban travelers is likely too mean a corresponding spike in petty crimes of shoplifting and Community Forest camping.
(Cover photo: Hippie school bus with destination sign "Even Further" drives past The Alibi saloon and Hotel Arcata. Caption reads: The driver of this bus was seen signing up passengers on the Plaza for a trip to the Rainbow Gathering in Prineville, Ore. A transient woman is cited by police, right, for letting her unlicensed dog run loose on the Plaza.)
But the loitering and panhandling along with shoplifting and camping already have people in Prineville "tearing their hair out." Merchants in that town were reported locking their dumpsters and scrutinizing customers more carefully.
"Every summer we do have an influx of people, but this one's going to be greater because of the gathering in Oregon," Wright said, "There's going to be a lot of panhandlers, there's going to be a lot of dogs without leashes and there's going to be a lot of smoking on the Plaza. Some people aren't going to be happy, maybe most people aren't going to be happy."
Wright, a longtime critic of the tactics of APD following a use-of-force incident involving a roommate at his former home, is as concerned about police behaviour as he is about citizen reation. As increased transient visitors have trickled in with the warming weather, said Wright, "the police already had this 'battle them' mentality, in intimidating and harassing people on the Plaza."
Wright said his concern is that police and citizens not overreact to the summertime surge, which he expects to be large. "I want to try and see the town take a new approach to the summertime transients," he said. "Maybe instead of using the cops, we can accept it open up to enbrace them. Just try and be friendly and hope that courtesy is returned. Basically, don't be afraid of everyone."
Wright guessed that a "couple thousand" travelers could stop in Arcata in coming weeks.
"Arcata is 'the spot,'" said Bo, tapping a hand drum as he stood over a pile of bivvy sacks unloaded from the van into an adjacent parking space. He said he had been here before, but was not planning to return after the gathering as the overpriced Reggaee held no appeal.
"$80 a day just to go hear music? Reggae's getting really bad, ridiculous. Music should be free." Besides, he said, "There's a lot more things going on in Oregon after the Gathering.[who needs Humboldt's inflated ego]." (Reggae on the River's web page may be viewed at www.ReggaeOnTheRiver.com
His friend Keith said that most visitors will not stay long. "People will stop, but only for an hour or two," he said.
The camp, located in both the privately known forest behind east of Humboldt State University and near the Arcata Community Forest's Trail No. 4, included shelters made of tarpaulins, tents and tree stumps.
"It was attrocious," said Officer Bobby Lucas, who assisted with clearing the campsite. "There was garbage everywhere. It smelled of urine. There were two open fires still going."
Lucas said 6- to 700 pounds of garbage was removed over a four-hour period, including trash, tents, blankets and debris, "and we weren't done."
City workers were to return to the site this week for more debris removal.
"On my end, it's an environmental concern," said Environmental Services worker Tom Francis.
Francis noted erosion and pollution to fragile waterways in the area. "Some of the camp units were located close to the little streams."
He said about eight campsites peppered the area, and that they reminded him of ramshackle "Ewok Villages" in the movie "Return of the Jedi," do to their crude construction in the redwoods.
Mark Andre, deputy director of environmental services, said the campers were warned on first offenses but that "we followed it up."
He said his department would intercept any possible campers with warnings. "We're going to be aggressive," Andre said, "We're trying to patrol near the end of the day. If we see people with backpacks headed up there, we'll warn them."
Police Chief Mel Brown said his department has a "partnership" with Environmental Services "to try and address some of the environmental damage and fire hazards and to protect property from damage caused by camping."
(Cartoon "The Lost Coast Chronicles" Vol 30 by Doyle -- depicts two vehicles at an Arcata one way street stop sign. One vehicle is a VW bus with dreadlock drive and dog sitting next to him; other vehicle is a Ford 4x4 pickup truck with USA flag on front license plate rack, with bearded driver and dog sitting next to him. Both look at each other and think the balloon caption which reads "No good degenerate... People like that make me ashamed to live here in America...") Below paper posts caption: "The First Amendment -- Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."