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Ornelas wraps up 12 years on council
For Bob Ornelas, it seems like just yesterday that he first ran for city council.
In the spring of 1990, the Northern Calfornia town of Arcata was quickly gentrifying as a result of people moving up from the Bay Area and Southern California.
"I was worried about a yuppie takeover," recalled Ornelas. "As a low-income person, I insisted and demanded that people like me be represented on the council."
Elected in April, Ornelas became the first California Green (and the third in the U.S.) ever elected to a city council.
Fourteen years and three successful elections later, Ornelas has decided not to run again.
"I started out with many goals, and I achieved an incredible number of them, with the help of many progressive council members, active citizens and very hard-working intelligent folks at City Hall," Ornelas said.
"I have no regrets. Hell, I was even recently Žsainted' by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence for my support of the gay and lesbian community during all my years in office. That's something to be proud of."
Ornelas successfully preserved many of Arcata's greenbelt wetlands while pushing for sustainable forest management and acquiring additional forestlands adjacent to the city.
He and his wife Susan also helped Arcata create its first organic educational community farm.
But Ornelas is equally proud of accomplishments that don't fit into a Green
stereotype. For example, he helped create Arcata's First- Time Home Buyers
Program and a multiservice center for very low-income and street people.
Ornelas also served on the Humboldt County Association of Governments and chaired the Humboldt Transit Authority.
Known for his candor and impulsiveness, Ornelas both excited and exacerbated Arcatans. Supporters praised his record, while opponents called him irreverent and confrontational. "Politicians rarely say what they are thinking. I believe in speaking my mind. I don't hide the type of person I am, nor the experiences that have helped shape me," Ornelas said.
"But what everyone must know is that I have nearly always made my decisions after long and careful consideration. In that, I have fulfilled the oath to the people I was elected to serve."
A carpenter, handyman and former owner of the Mad River Brewery in nearby Blue Lake, Ornelas first came to Arcata in 1979.
He graduated from local Humboldt State University in 1982 with a degree in natural resources. He then spent two years in Liberia as a member of the Peace Corps.
When Ornelas returned to Arcata, he found a job at the Community Recycling
Center. He worked there until he joined the council.
After a two-year rest, Ornelas ran again, along with fellow Green Jennifer Hanan. Both were elected, joining Kirkpatrick to form the first Green Party city council majority in U.S. history.
Over the next two years, the three received national and sometimes global attention, providing an opportunity to publicize Green approaches to governing.
For Ornelas, the experience was both fruitful and bittersweet. "We started out with a bang, then realized we didn't work that well together," he said.
"We were three different, idealistic people elected to represent the entire community of Arcata," Ornelas said. "We often found that we had divergent views on how to do that. And sometimes that clashed with the expectations of what we'd do as Greens."
Both Kirkpatrick and Hanan stepped down when their terms ended. No new Green
joined Ornelas until Dave Meserve was elected in 2002.
With Meserve in office at least through 2006, Arcata will have at least one Green on its City Council for 16 straight years. This is the longest Green streak in the U.S. yet, tied with the Douglas County (Wisc.) Board of Supervisors.
Once out of office, Ornelas plans to stay active politically, especially on
pedestrian-bike, affordable housing and land management issues.
"Something's wrong when you get too tired to read," he said.
"You can get really tired of meetings. I need a couple of years of
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