ARCATA, Calif. - Once called the "White City by the Bay" for its tidy rows of gleaming Victorian homes and shops, Arcata is turning Green.
This former lumber town has become the first U.S. community to give the pro-environment Green Party control of City Hall.
"It's almost unthinkable that such a thing happened. But it did," said Robin Arkley, a 50-year resident and retired sawmill owner. He and his wife, Lois, identify themselves as two of the remaining conservatives in this coastal town of 16,000 nestled amid redwood forests and green pastures 300 miles north of San Francisco.
In the 1950s, the area had more than 40 lumber mills, and timber workers easily outnumbered students at Humboldt State University, the town's compact liberal arts college. But most of the mills have closed, largely because of environmentalists' efforts to protect owls and salmon.
Nowadays, students and faculty make up more than half the population in a town now known for its bicycle commuters, its big composting and recycling effort and its pot-smoking "hemp" festivals.
Over the years, Arcata pushed unsuccessfully to allow bikes on freeways. It declared itself a sanctuary for conscientious objectors to the Gulf War in 1991. And it's now battling to preserve a nearby stand of ancient redwoods from timber-industry chain saws.
On Election Day, two Greens won office, joining incumbent Jason Kirkpatrick, 28, a food co-op employee, for a majority on the
five-member City Council.
The rise of the Greens with their far-left, German-born philosophy is unsettling to some members of Arcata's old guard.
"It'd scare you to death. You've got anarchists and socialists in this town," said Nancy Barnes, a 32-year resident who is planning to move because of the outcome of the election.
Arkley said he's put up with "hippie kids" from San Francisco, Los Angeles and elsewhere. Now, he said, those kids are running things.
"You see a hippie kid outside a City Council meeting and ask, `Where do you live, kid?' `Arcata.' How long have you been here?' `Three hours,' " Arkley said. He added: "You've got to have a sense of humor to live here. If you were a grim, uptight sort, you'd hate it."
The new Greens on the City Council are Jennifer Hanan, the 29-year-old manager of a store selling environmentally friendly products like wood stain with no petroleum products and "treeless" paper made from the kenaf plant; and "Bad" Bob Ornelas, 43, who runs a microbrewery.
Hanan, a Humboldt State graduate, said: "In Arcata, I have a feeling that Green is not so different. It doesn't have to be weird. We're all taking our stuff to the same recycling center."
The Greens want to strengthen the economy by attracting businesses that don't use local resources like fish or timber; relieve homelessness; build a teen center and skateboard park; and institute campaign spending limits.
They want the city to grow most of its own food, fix up housing instead of building new homes and add bike lanes to all streets to get people to leave their cars at home. They will also probably drop a lawsuit against Food Not Bombs, a hunger-relief organization, for feeding people in the town square without a permit.
Still, they say they will move slowly on divisive issues and reach out to older residents.
"There's a lot of temptation to do things, but we're not about to block off four or five streets and say, `Walking only,"' said Ornelas.
Arcata's Green Party formed in the early 1990s, not long before the first Green candidate showed up on a California ballot in 1992. About 15 percent of Arcata voters are registered Greens. On Election Day, Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader got more votes than Bob Dole, 1,333 to 1,007.
The Greens are hoping to make their victory in Arcata the start of a trend.
"We need to find towns in the Midwest where industry is broken down and say, `How can we turn this into a really neat town?"' Hanan said.