Mayor pleads, but Assembly puts radical rezoning for his vagrant services plan on ice

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The Anchorage Assembly finished hearing the fifth night of testimony, which went overwhelmingly against the mayor’s plan to rezone a large swath of Anchorage so that vagrant services and shelters could be sprinkled throughout the neighborhoods, from Geneva Woods to Heather Meadows to Spenard.

In the end, the Assembly voted unanimously to table AO 2020-58, the ambitious rezoning plan that would be the foundation for the rest of the mayor’s vagrant services program and would allow homeless shelters and drug addiction services near schools, homes, and playgrounds. It will take six votes to pull the ordinance off the table.

The members of the Assembly were clearly exhausted. Assemblyman John Weddleton apologized to the public for what he said was a “not well-thought-out” ordinance, adding that bypassing the Planning and Zoning Commission was “really wrong.”

Assemblyman Kameron Perez Verdia also apologized to the public for combining multiple items of legislation, and said he felt badly that people thought the Assembly was trying to “sneak” important legislation through or that the Assembly was trying to operate “behind the scenes.”

Wednesday’s testimony echoed the previous four nights, with the majority of people opposed to the plan. Some, like Ron Alleva, had waited for 20 hours to testify.

Larry Baker, a former Assembly member, sat through all five nights and was one of the final speakers of the marathon, explaining to the Assembly that he had never seen such community engagement in all his years of civic activity. He agreed to help residents who approached him for help in the face of what looked like a freight train coming at their neighborhoods.

Still on the docket for Monday’s meeting is the other part of the mayor’s plan — to use CARES Act money for the purchase of four buildings for services for vagrants and addicts. The Golden Lion Hotel near 36th and New Seward Highway; America’s Best Hotel in Spenard; the Alaska Club on Tudor Blvd; and Bean’s Cafe downtown would be purchased with $22 million of money from the federal government meant to help communities cope with the economic effects of COVID-19.

How that would work without the underlying zoning change is uncertain.

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz urged the Assembly to support his plan.

“We do not have the luxury of later. We have to expend these funds by the end of the year. If we cannot provide shelter, people will die,” he said.

29 COMMENTS

  1. The fact that the city, and the group that did the assessment of how to approach this problem, decided that buying 45 year old buildings was a good plan should be some indicator of the total lack of knowledge of all concerned. The most telling testimony in the assembly chambers was the information regarding how much money is being paid to different organizations, and how large the incomes are to some individuals, on the backs of the homeless.

  2. Berkowitz spends CARES Act money buying these buildings is little man complex needs to be dragged into Federal Court and charged with Fraud. This money is meant to help the economics of small businesses not line the pockets of his cronies

      • Yes, by all means … He’s stealing the economics of Anchorage and trying to use it for the people who don’t care about themselves.
        We can help them if they want help. They only want their alcohol and drugs..and $$ to support their habit… No amount of Money will solve their problems..unless they want help and they know where to go when they’ve had enough and want to change their ways. They’ve been visited by counselors, medical personnel going into their own camps … And we have considered the plight of these people.

        • Absolutely! If they wanted help they would get it. This problem will never be solved by throwing money at it. It’s called a choice! We, should give them a choice… go to rehab or go to jail. We as a society allow this to happen! We’d be cleaning these streets up pretty quick if there were actual consequences to their actions!

  3. The citizens of Alaska should consider the plight of homeless people around the state. While we sit in our comfy chairs reading some woman or man who is not as fortunate is sleeping on concrete. The watermark of a civilization is how we treat those less fortunate. The housing issue could be solved by a vintage idea from the sixties, small communal housing plots with opportunites for the basic hierarchy of needs but run by a treatment coordinator. It costs the city hundreds of thousands of dollars for incarcerations, the mortician, and burial of street people. If people cannot agree on whose neighborhood we should place homeless people at, maybe we should think about male and female dorms located somewhere in a vacant warehouse near Post Road. Or build a new jail and house transient people in the old jail. The community needs to come up with a constructive idea. These people are humans and should not be ignored.

    • Most homeless are there because of their choices. They continue to make those same choices. Love is not enabling them to live in the lifestyle of drugs and booze. If they wanted to really change, the people of Anchorage are more than willing to help out. We are not willing to build housing, feed them, cloth them, give them medical care, so they can go get hammered when they want, defecate on the street corner, and steal from backyards. I know not everyone is there because of that, but most are. If they themselves are not willing to change, no amount of money or services will help them. Sometimes you just have to hit rock bottom before you decide to actually make a change. There is a reason most of the homeless didn’t go the the Sullivan. They couldn’t bring in the booze so they would rather sleep in the woods. That is a choice. If we really want to help them, we would quit feeding them. Beans cafe should be shut down. No more food for boozers. Then they have to make a choice. If they wish to enter rehab, we are more than happy to take care of their needs as they clean up. We can also offer a one way ticket to anywhere they need to go, as they might have family or friends who would be willing to help them. Those who decide to keep living like they are, can do so without any public support. No housing, no food, illegal to panhandle. You would see the homeless problem disappear in a few months time. That is the most compassionate thing because true love doesn’t enable someone to live in a destructive lifestyle. It presses them to change. But you see, homelessness is an industry in Anchorage. Lots of people are making money from the homeless and really don’t want to see it end. They have a government paid job that will go away if the homeless go away. That is the reality of it.

      • Lots of good ideas, Josh. We haven’t had many winter deaths among the homeless recently, but over the years when there was one, it was big news. There would be a big write up in the ADN discussing the person to make sure we were empathetic to their humanity. Almost always, some survivors were listed and sometimes interviewed. They HAD family but they were so drunk, drugged or disorderly, their family didn’t want them in THEIR homes. So WE as strangers, are expected to be more helpful than their own family who were tired of their behavior? We need to stop making it easy to be homeless! Why change if you’re not going to go hungry?

      • I completely agree with you! This is the solution. If we could just get the marshmallow minded people to understand that compassion is doing tough Love.

    • How do you help someone who does not want help? How do you house someone who does not want a house? How do you make someone follow the rules who does not want to follow the rules?

      • Precisely. I personally know of several who have been given housing only to return to the streets later, they either broke multiple rules and got kicked out or just could not stand being confined in a tiny apartment.

  4. Deconstruct the camps. Arrest the vagrants. Offer them treatment. If they refuse treatment, send them to jail.

    There. Fixed it.

  5. The ole “people will die” argument. Really? That isn’t the issue at all. Does Berkowitz really think that wasting money on these buildings is going to bring these people off the street? Those of us that own property in this city are tapped out. Those on a fixed income are being assaulted through taxes and cannot afford their homes. The operating costs, the remodel costs, the UNION payroll that will come with this….It is mind boggling! The CARES Act money should be going to lift up the small business owners that are the backbone of every community; pay the rent back to the landlords for those that couldn’t make payments…- unless you are a leftist that wants to destroy the middle class. Watch out leftists – if you think you will come out on top in the socialist/communist “government”, you are sorely mistaken. “They” will toss you crumbs as they see fit.
    .
    A MOVEMENT WITHOUT A STRATEGY IS JUST A TREND. Berkowitz’s trend is to continue the national leftist agenda and appease those who depend on handouts. Support the radicals and not the people that are paying for it all. He is staging himself for his GOP run. He has a limited time as Mayor to put his “name” on something. This is NOT compassion, it is cruel. Stuffing hundreds of people into 4 buildings without a plan? Destroy family neighborhoods, schools, and community centers in the process? People have had enough of this. If the existing LAWS were enforced, perhaps things wouldn’t be so bad. If the very first person that camped, begged on the corner, crapped in public, shot up drugs in the grocery store parking lot was actually punished for their crime – made to be accountable – maybe this wouldn’t be so bad now. But, as it stands, you can shoot up, rape, defecate, and masturbate (with a device that needs a frigging extension cord!) publicly. You can be seen on a camera stealing other peoples property…NOTHING happens to you.
    .
    My mind is literally spinning right now on how utterly ridiculous this is. Wake up Anchorage! If you don’t think your neighborhood is next, then you aren’t thinking. This is beyond NIMBY. This is part of the leftist takeover. These leftists will do whatever they want. You are next!!

  6. So here we are: The final showdown of the Berkowitz regime. Can he successfully impose his divine will to create a massive, permanent vagrant presence in the heart of the city? Can he cut enough back-room deals with six members of the Assembly to get this done? Will he be able to divert millions in CARES assistance to this grand scheme? We wait breathlessly for the answer…

  7. “John Weddleton apologized to the public for what he said was a “not well-thought-out” ordinance, adding that bypassing the Planning and Zoning Commission was “really wrong.”

    Thank you Mr. Weddleton. This is precisely how the Assembly should work, you are our voice in opposition to a Mayor who refuses to listen to We, the People.

  8. Muni code 3.80.100 – Suspension of purchasing procedures during period of emergency.
    Muni code 3.80.110 – Exemptions from zoning regulations during period of emergency.
    I want to see the printed business plan the tyrant mayor has to purchase and renovate these four buildings by the end of the year in order to prevent deaths, I doubt the written plan exists.
    There is no plan except to spread money amongst his supporters with no bid contracts as authorized by the emergency powers section of the Muni’s ordinance 3.80.100. The mayor and the assembly are drunk on power.

  9. The CARES act is for businesses suffering from the economic impacts of the COVID 19 shutdowns. Its not for the mayor to go real estate shopping for the homeless. These would be gifts that would keep giving. The purchase of said properties is just the beginning. They would have to be renovated to meet codes, furnished, staffed, security (of course), utilities, maintaience…I doubt this mayor has calculated all these costs into his plan.

  10. Phil touched on the issue above.

    Over my entire lifetime in this state, these types of proposals overwhelmingly end up benefitting donors and/or political allies.

    I’m not saying that’s the case with this one, but I would be surprised if it wasn’t, given the rushed nature of the plan.

    Things to look into:
    Owners of the property being purchased.

    Recipients of the contracts to run and maintain the properties.

    Owners of properties in and around current homeless centers.

    Plenty more possibilities that don’t immediately come to mind.

  11. And who gets the contracts to run maintain and direct these facilities? The city unions get stronger and the tax base gets screwed. Help the people who pays the millions already being spent on the problem. Remember the booze tax is going to fix the problem. Right now the public sector funds some of beans cafe but if the little man had his way the city would run it with a union staff twice as large with no change in the homeless issue.

    • He already has so many directors of the director of the director…. a ton of overpaid, union staffers that clearly don’t get the job done. Yet, he needs more and more money to “solve” the problem around every corner you turn! The roads are like sh*t – where did the 10 cent gas tax go? Remember that one? Slipped it in on us. Now, the alcohol tax? Where is that going? And to think…Forrest – I don’t support the constitution – Dunbar is trying to be our next Mayor? The National Guard should deploy him to Cuba and never bring him back.

  12. Did the homeless die all previous years before Mayor B came to town? Mayor B is such a whining liberal. Send him back to San Fran.

  13. Ok so I’m not understanding . The re-zoning is OFF the table for now . But the purchase of the buildings is NOT . Am I reading this correctly ? Berky can still buy the buildings Cares funding but they would sit empty until rezoned??? Someone enlighten me on this in layman’s terms please

    • Yes, he is planning to buy the buildings, if the Assembly appropriates the money, and he will deal with the zoning after. – sd

  14. How dare you spend that much money for your own agenda! And what goes to the hard working people of this city in danger of losing their businesses? How much money will be required every month for utilities? Taxes? Upkeep? Bringing the buildings up to code?! Where is the business plan? Allow Anchorage to vote on it!! You, sir, are supposed to be a public servant – not our dictator! It is simply time to VOTE YOU OUT once and for all. ?

  15. I know a few homeless people, they are not all drug addicts and drunks. Many different stories. Lack of affordable housing is a huge issue.

    Just how far does $10/hour go? Can anyone live on that except in the streets. That’s provided you can even get 40 hours a week.

    Some keep getting knocked down again and again.

    I really don’t know what the answer is…..but the bigotry the community has shown is just disgusting.

  16. If these homeless people want taxpayer funded housing, food and medical care there must be strict rules in place for them to follow. The only way a socialist system works is with an iron fist.

  17. ‘Free” stuff paid for by tax payers must come at a cost.
    Why does the government spend millions on nutritional studies and not require balanced meals for those who receive taxpayer-funded food?
    Why does the government spend millions on medical research and allow drug and alcohol use for those receiving taxpayer funded medical care?
    If people want to live like socialists they should have socialist rules to follow.
    Sure, some people have special needs and need to be taken care of by society but there are way too many able-bodied people out there with their hand out. These people need to be identified and cut off. If they want the rights and freedoms of America they need to contribute to society.

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