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.