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.