Get Ready for Election Season! Open City Council Seats and Local Ballot Measures on the Horizon

By Caroline Griffith

The deadline to file to run for local City Councils is August 7, so by the time you are reading this, we may already know who our candidates are for the November election. As of press time, very few candidates had announced their intention to run, so if you are reading this before August 7 and are interested in local politics, now is your chance! 

Though they aren’t paid much (compensation ranges from $0/month plus mileage reimbursement in Rio Dell to $668.64/month plus medical/dental/vision insurance in Arcata) City Councilors have a lot of influence over the character of our communities. They approve the budgets that determine where and how our money is spent; they bring forward ordinances that determine city policies, for example, banning single-use plastics or closing certain city streets to car traffic; and they have the power to determine how development happens in our communities. 

Every City Council in Humboldt County and most Community Service Districts have seats up for election in November. Many of these have had uncontested elections in the past, meaning that one person runs unopposed, robbing voters of the opportunity to hear a diversity of opinions.

If you have ever thought of serving in elected office, or if you know someone you think would be good at it, now is the time. 

In addition to directly passing policy, City Councils also have the ability to refer issues to the voters in the form of ballot measures. Here in Humboldt County, there are a few interesting ballot measures to keep an eye on. 

Arcata voters will have the opportunity to vote on a tax of $37 annually per parcel to benefit parks and open spaces. It is anticipated this will raise approximately $175,000 per year “to protect and preserve natural open space areas for future generations by: improving and maintaining parks, open spaces and trails; protecting land around creeks, rivers and streams to prevent pollution and improve water quality; protecting redwood forests, wildlife habitat, working lands, scenic hillsides and agricultural land; expanding public access and trail systems.” If approved in November, this tax would last until ended by voters. Putting more public money into preserving open, natural spaces is an opportunity for us to do for future generations what those who had the foresight to establish Redwood Park did for us. 

Arcata voters will also be deciding whether to raise the percentage of public housing from 5% to 7.5%. Countywide, voters will also be voting on an affordable housing measure. 

Voters in Eureka will be able to decide whether to change the way they vote for City Councilors. In June, the Eureka City Council referred Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) to the ballot, a method in which voters rank candidates, rather than just voting for one. This allows voters to choose the candidate they like the best, rather than voting strategically for “the lesser of two evils.” If one candidate doesn’t receive a majority of votes, the candidate with the least amount of votes is eliminated and the second choice of all those votes is then counted. This goes until one candidate wins a majority. Cities that use RCV have had increases in voter turnout and in the diversity of candidates running for office. Bringing more voices to the table, especially voices that have historically been marginalized, has been shown to excite voters and invigorate the democratic process. 

Though the national election is high-stakes this year and commands a lot of attention, it’s important to remember that the outcome of our local elections has an enormous impact on our day-to-day lives. And, because of our small population, we have the potential to make an enormous impact on our local elections.