Berkowitz declares state of civil emergency

Last week, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz all but gave his blessing to the Occupy to Overcome group that had set up a tent city on the Delaney Park Strip.
This week, Berkowitz has declared a state of civil emergency in Anchorage, which will last 48 hours or more. It is his response to the city’s shelters losing $5.8 million in state grants.
For some, it was political theater from a mayor who on social media describes himself as liking “bloodsport” politics.
For others, it was two years too late — Anchorage has been in a death spiral under his watch.
Civil emergencies are reserved for earthquakes, floods, fires, and terrorism. There’s nowhere in America that a civil emergency has been called because a state refused to pay for a city’s homeless services. Certainly, San Francisco hasn’t declare a state of emergency because the state refused to give grants to private nonprofit shelters.
Seattle’s mayor called for a civil emergency due to a severe winter storm that was approaching the city in February.
In Alaska, they’re now for government budget cuts that were known about since February.
In Anchorage, $5.8 million is one percent of the city’s budget.
The way Berkowitz explains it is that the civil emergency is to address the impacts of state budget cuts that “pose dire and imminent public health and safety risks.”
Municipal Code 3.80.060 allows the mayor to make use of all available resources of the municipal government, including municipal personnel, to cope with an emergency.
That may include reassigning city workers to work in areas not covered in their union contracts in order to protect the public safety, health, and welfare.
It’s the closest tool he has to reorganize workflow across departments, because only a governor can declare martial law.
Earlier this month, Berkowitz gave his tacit approval to Occupy to Overcome encampments that had taken over the Delaney Park Strip in downtown Anchorage.
“This is an unprecedented decision for an unprecedented situation,” Berkowitz said. “Existing shelters have lost funding at a time when demand for their services is projected to skyrocket. First responders and health care professionals are anticipating a massive surge in 911 and emergency room calls, and it is imperative that we meet this impending humanitarian crisis with the resources that we deploy when responding to all emergencies.”
Berkowitz is giving advanced notice that this not his fault — it’s Gov. Michael Dunleavy’s.
Some say Berkowitz already has an emergency: Anchorage has an unprecedented street drug and alcohol problem, human trafficking, murder rates exceeding historic records, and gangs running criminal organizations across the city that have made Anchorage a notorious crime center in the United States.
Berkowitz also has a port that is collapsing, and under his watch the cost of repairs have gone from $300 million to over $2 billion. He has a software problem with the SAP payroll system that is now well over $100 million.
Berkowitz has exploded the municipal budget from under $471 million before he took office in 2015 to $524 million in 2019.
The mayor’s reasons include:
  • $5.8 million cut in Anchorage-specific services to homeless, resulting in a projected 800 more unsheltered homeless in our community, adding significantly to the burden of first responders and pushing vulnerable individuals and families beyond their tipping point;
  • the temporary closing of Brother Francis Shelter, forcing 240 homeless individuals to become immediately unsheltered on Aug. 1, and the dramatic reduction of services by 140 people after its reopening on Aug. 5;
  • cuts to Medicaid, senior benefits, legal services, food banks, domestic violence case management and support, and behavioral health, causing public health and public safety emergencies and the eviction of our most vulnerable residents;
  • 41 percent cut to state’s contribution to the University of Alaska, resulting in the projected loss of 700 jobs in Anchorage and projected to push Anchorage into recession.
The Mayoral Proclamation of Civil Emergency is in effect for 48 hours. It began at 3 pm on July 24, 2019. The Anchorage Assembly must meet on Friday to deliberate and vote on an extension of the declaration. Proclamation of Emergency is at this link.


  1. Does this civil emergency proclamation also mean that all union contracts are nullified during the civil emergency? Gee whillikers!

      • Actually Erak, Poland looks like it is doing much better then Portland. We are planning a trip to Poland (at least they love Americans)……I wouldn’t even think of a layover in Portland. Or were you implying something about Polish people???? Do tell…..

        • I agree, Poland is one of our best allies and it is a great country. Polish immigrants were once the brunt of jokes, which aren’t a correct stereotype except perhaps applied to someone who used to be our junior US senator and resigned to be governor and gifted his seniority to a daughter.

  2. What an absolute clown show. Does he think everyone is stupid? He stated that, and I paraphrase, ‘we are on our own – the state has left us to fend for ourselves’.
    What a concept Ethan! Taking care of ourselves! Kind of like kicking your 30 year old kid out of your basement once and for all huh? Time to fend for yourself little one!
    I know a few liberals who wish they would have voted for Rebecca Logan now. Berkowitz is an embarrassment. He is a crying, whining, spoiled brat. This could have been an opportunity for him to step up to the plate and swing for the fence – display some leadership skills with a damn plan. But noooooo, he steps up and whines and cries and blames everyone but himself. He has a much bigger hand in the destruction of this city than the state cutting him off the teet.
    Wake up Anchorage. Berkowitz gives more credence to the campers than the property tax payers who are funding their BS. When is enough enough? Now we have to be super PC and call these people “unsheltered”. Does that make HIM feel better?
    Changing the words doesn’t change the problem Ethan.
    And why now? Has he not noticed what has been happening around him for years? Suddenly when the spigot shut off, it’s an emergency. THAT isn’t the emergency. The emergency has already been surrounding us for years. I hope he checks his look in the mirror…. that is where the first big change needs to be made.

  3. There is of course a solution to cities like Anchorage who have a disporportunate thirst for state funding…
    Inpose an “earnings tax” on all employees within the Municipality of Anchorage.
    This is what cities like Philadelphia had to do when faced with a disporportunate need of social services in the state.
    “The Earnings Tax is a tax on salaries, wages, commissions, and other compensation paid to a person who works or lives in Philadelphia”
    ( Wikipedia)
    We as Alaskans cannot let one crime ridden urban area pull the entire state budget into the drain while advocating for garnishment of PFD’s for urban social services.
    Ethan needs to find a revenue path forward and economists tell us that path will be less dependent on state funds in the future.

    • While I’m unsure, I believe such a tax is outside of what would be allowed a municipality in AK. They are allowed sales taxes, of course, and property taxes which may increase eventually, here.

        • Well B, I’ll just say here that you may have seen nothing yet, compared to what you may see in the future. Heheh!

  4. And there are 3 choices in dealing with this emergency – impose an income tax, raise property taxes or institute a municipal income tax on individuals (preferable only those in the private sector.

  5. Seasonal sales tax anyone? May-Sept. I don’t know about you, but I don’t bat an eye when I pay tax on goods purchased when I’m on vacation.

  6. Has anyone broached the subject about why the native corporations haven’t gotten more involved with the homeless problem ? At all the street corners and roaming the streets. Most seem to be natives. Why leave it all to the nonprofits and the stare funds ?

    • Um, all the time. I won’t mention the names of the many community leaders who have expressed such a view to me personally. The usual response is that these corporations were chartered to make a profit and nothing more, just like BP and Walmart. Then there’s the homeless who aren’t Native who were in DOC custody, with DOC not the least bit involved in rehabilitating them before dumping them back onto the streets to continue their two-bit hustle. Then there’s the homless who do work for a living but aren’t interested in working solely to pay someone else’s property taxes. And so on and so forth.

  7. As soon as you put out a solution like using public property to house persons, who starts to whine that it is unfair? Realtors, apartment complex owners, anyone that makes profits off of extreme housing prices.

    I say build cheap housing or force down the cost of housing back to reality folks. Frozen corpses are not the solution and just throwing money at it fails miserably.

    Yea, I get it not all property owners are super rich and can afford that kind of a plan.

    But throwing the state into debtor’s jail like the rest of the country with a $21 trillion deficit is not acceptable either.

    • I agree with your idea but we think shipping the homeless to ADAK Island is a better choice. The Navy has great ‘full community’ housing et al out there. Ship the filthy drunks & the do gooders who wish to help, to save and rehabilitate as well as a support staff for minimal medical care and cafeteria workers. They will be left to their own responsibilities, can work for their food & lodging. If the state allows alcohol, so be it. It won’t be Anchorage’s problem.

  8. Taxes? Let’s cut spending starting with our leftist mayor, our inept election commissioner (allowed someone’s name on the school board ballot without filing paperwork, remember?), & others on our bloated MOA roles.


  9. When one uses the equity in their home like a teller machine, they certainly don’t want to see home values/rents decline. When one trades mortgages like stocks, they don’t want to see home values/rents decline. When one derives their living from property taxes, they certainly don’t want to see home values/rents decline. When one derives their living from rentals, they don’t want rents or rental property values/rents decline. Affordable housing schemes through increased taxes raise costs to all of the above and adds to housing inflation. The only way to lower housing costs is to make more land available to the public for housing. Gee, I wonder if there is any land in this State. But alas, all of the aforementioned would see property values decline if land was made available and affordable.

  10. Perhaps considering programs to actively teach, help and work the homeless much like the Civilian Conservation Corps did for 10 years in the 1930s could help. Make the homeless use their hands learning how to take care of our city by making them stewards of sidewalks, bike trails, parks, planting trees, fixing trails, streams and rivers etc. whatever the Municipality needs they could create community work teams to do. Surely with a lack of easy funding from state programs, there will likely be dwindling funds to pay salaried workers so why not put people to work for squatting instead of letting them live in squaller and panhandle on our street corners? Leadership is a responsibility for those who run for public office. Taxing the populace is only one solution, throwing money at the issue is only a band-aid.

  11. Often when dealing with a complex problem, it’s helpful to break it down into its components.

    Part of the homeless population in Anchorage consists of people with mental issues, either mental illness or low IQ, sometimes both simultaneously.

    A portion of the mentally ill/low functioning homeless are Native Alaskans.

    We have a hospital specifically tasked with serving Native Alaskans.

    A long time ago, this country had psychiatric institutions. These institutions were isolated from society at large and, as always happens, isolation led to these institutions losing their way.

    The horror stories are no secret and the institutions were closed for good reason.

    Yet the problem(s) they were created to address did not go away. The institutions were needed and still are. But they cannot be allowed to be isolated from society or the horrors will repeat.

    A solution for homeless Native Alaskans who suffer mental illness or are low functioning seems obvious enough; a psychiatric ward within Alaska Native hospital. One where the care-taking personnel rotate through annually so as to avoid the perils of isolation.

    Native Corporations are tasked, ultimately, with aiding Native Alaskans in the modern world. This proposal would seem to fit within that mandate, would it not?

    Granted, the homeless problem in Anchorage is far larger than just lost Native Alaskans but the key to solving a big problem is to tackle the components one at a time.

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