It has been a busy two years for Mayor Peter Arth since he was first seated on the Dunsmuir City Council – and if a majority votes no to recall him during the November election, Arth said that he intends to spend the next two years continuing to make progress toward the betterment of Dunsmuir.
Following his 35-year career as an attorney for the California Public Utilities Commission, Arth retired to Dunsmuir where he revitalized the Dunsmuir Mercantile Company and opened shop.
Driven to create jobs for residents, see the historic district thrive, and re-engage the citizenry with the city government, Arth joined the newly seated city council in 2008.
With economic development goals at the forefront, the council immediately adopted Dunsmuir 2020, a plan originally conceived by former councils that addresses the revitalization of the town.
“The idea of Dunsmuir 2020 was to draw the community together and develop specific plans to attract visitors. It focuses on dealing with the many empty storefronts and the deteriorating state of some of the buildings in the historic district,” said Arth.
The Dunsmuir 2020 plan preceded the council’s development of the Downtown Historic District Committee, and the passing of an ordinance that holds building owners responsible for the upkeep and preservation of their historic structures.
As time passed, Arth said that the council became increasingly aware of the urgent matters facing Dunsmuir.
“I did not know what we were about to be faced with. Reality happened between 2008 and now. The council’s attention was diverted to crisis issues,” said Arth.
This reality was the state of Dunsmuir’s antiquated water and sewer systems which were dangerously close to resulting in hefty fines from the state water control board, the Mott Airport’s costs that were draining the city’s resources, and the Economic Development Block Grant loan program that had an 80 percent non-performance rate.
“We discovered that the airport’s operation was the subject of questionable spending practices, and it was losing a substantial amount of money,” said Arth. “We have started to manage the airport in a more responsible way. We are spending less, and we are no longer seeking federal and state money that we cannot pay back.”
In response to the mismanaged business loan program, Arth said that the city has actively sought loan repayment, and the council instituted an organized approach to improve loan approval procedures and repayment plans.
Regarding the aging water and sewer systems, Arth said that alarming reports from Pace engineers and city staff prompted the council members to take action. They ultimately voted to raise utility rates and seek loan and grant funding to cover infrastructure replacement costs.
Following the council’s vote to raise water and sewer rates, members of Citizens for a Better Dunsmuir gathered signatures for Arth and fellow council member Mario Rubino to be subject to a recall election this November. Arth’s recall was further prompted by his efforts to establish a medical marijuana nursery in the downtown area.
Two recall proponents have filed candidacy forms to serve out Arth and Rubino’s terms if recalled, and three rate hike opponents have filed for the three other seats that are up for re-election.
A Vote No to the Recall committee, led in part by resident Tim Holt, has been formed to work toward preventing the recall from being realized.
Regarding the city’s aging infrastructure, “As much as Citizens for a Better Dunsmuir would like to wish all these problems away, it can’t be done,” said Arth. “It is clear that the water control agencies are at the end of their willingness to delay fines around our sewer discharge issues.”
Arth noted that the water main failures on Bush Street will occur with increasing frequency and that much of the city is without sufficient water pressure in the event of a fire – and this includes Dunsmuir Elementary School.
Arth said that if the rate hikes were rolled back, “It would mean driving the city of Dunsmuir off a cliff.”
As for the lawsuit that the Citizens for a Better Dunsmuir filed against the city as a result of the rate increases, “This completes the circle of the financial jeopardy that our community faces,” said Arth.
Pointing out that the city has managed to adopt a balanced budget for the past two fiscal year cycles while maintaining modest reserves, Arth commented, “Just like every other community, we may be forced to abandon projects and reduce everyday services in order to try to meet the city’s most urgent emergencies.”
Despite the council’s many setbacks over the past two years, Arth detailed some of the major projects that he and the city council have strived to implement since being in office:
• Arth has worked with city manager Jim Lindley to acquire the water rights back from Coca Cola so they may be sold to a new bottling plant operator. According to Arth, Coca Cola will release their rights to the city next month.
Two entities have expressed an interest in leasing the bottling facility. When the bottling plant is reopened, the enterprise is expected to bring between 20 and 40 jobs to Dunsmuir.
• An advocate of bringing modern technology to Dunsmuir, Arth has worked with county-level teams to secure millions in federal stimulus money to build a broadband system in Siskiyou County.
• Arth said that he personally persuaded the electric company to apply to the California Public Utilities Commission for the initiation of a solar rebate program in Siskiyou County.
The program will offer significant rebates to electric users who go solar, and will allow customers to sell the excess green energy that they generate back to the utility. The PUC application is pending, with a favorable decision expected within the next two months, said Arth.
• Arth worked to help secure state and federal funding for the Green Jobs program at College of the Siskiyous. The program launched in 2009, and is designed to create high-paying jobs in various alternative energy fields.
• Arth is assisting College of the Siskiyous with its plan to build a 1 megawatt solar PV plant on its Weed campus in support of its Green Jobs program.
• A supporter of the arts, Arth worked with resident Mary Ann Kikerpill to help create the Dunsmuir Artists Guild. The goal is for DAG to be incorporated as a non-profit organization next year. Arth also donated money for the Fish Project this summer.
• The council has directed the city staff to make more financial reports and account balances available in an understandable format to council members, the public, and the media to ensure transparency in city spending.
• The council has been successful in negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding between the city and the sheriff’s department to maintain Dunsmuir’s level of law enforcement, while reducing the city’s cost by $50,000 annually.
• The council voted to pursue a $7 million grant to build a nature viewing facility which Arth said will increase Transient Occupancy Tax and sales tax revenue while providing jobs.
• The council has voted for the city to make financial contributions to community events, such as Railroad Days.
Arth stated, “If I am not recalled this November, my hope is to continue to build on the progress that the council has already made over the past two years.”