Murray Walsh: With a new city hall, what’s love got to do with it?



I voted for the new Juneau city hall bond issue last year. I know a lot about the city’s office situation. I worked there for 12 years and I have done a lot of business in the various buildings since my employment there. Most of the spaces are deteriorating and inefficient. The city staff and Assembly who have been trying to explain the situation and demonstrate the need, are telling the truth.

However, I am not at all sure I will vote for the issue this time around. The Assembly had a chance to earn my vote and they blew it. It used to be commonplace that if there was a potential windfall from increases in property values, the Assembly would lower the mill rate so that the actual amount of tax paid would be about the same as the prior year.  

Not this year. Everyone who pays property tax is going to pay more, a lot more. It will be about a thousand bucks more for me. I know other homeowners who will pay double or triple that. Usually, a significant tax increase is debated and justified and, in some cases, sent to the public for a vote. The tax from this year’s property value inflation is “found money” and should not have been taken from property owners on a whim. 

The Assembly could have levelized our taxes but all they did was adopt a fig leaf of a reduction that allows them to say they lowered the rate. This was an opportunity to show that the Assembly cares about us, the source of their revenue. We could argue whether the area-wide increase in value was based on credible analysis or not. I do not want to bother with that because the real issue is the collective character of the Assembly and how they view the taxpayers. Are we citizens to be served or sheep to be shorn?

Juneau has shown that it will vote for capital projects that the public will use like parks, swimming pools, roads and schools. There is less enthusiasm for facilities to be used by the bureaucrats and officials. There must be a strong sense of appreciation and affection for the ‘crats before we will vote to upgrade their workplaces.  

I thought, in 1995, that there was strong support for new police building. But the first vote failed because that support was not strong enough to overcome the spurious arguments of the vote no crowd.

It is possible that the Assembly fumbles the ball every now and then and that such fumbles, or missed opportunities, are not really signs of contempt for the electorate. Still, it is hard to miss signs of haughtiness and excessive self-importance in our local leaders.  

I detected such a sign last year but pushed it aside when I voted “yes.”  What was it?  The very conceptual design for the new city hall showed the new Assembly Chambers would be on the second floor with a huge, panoramic view window. The current chambers, even with the six-inch lift for the Assembly desks, is on the much more accessible and humble ground floor and is designed so that the Assembly members are looking at the audience and the people speaking to them as equals. 

When we vote, we elevate people and give them power over our lives. But in return, we expect a measure of empathy and respect, especially when it comes to taxation.

So, is the public sufficiently fond of the CBJ staff and Assembly to vote for the new city hall this time? The Assembly had a very good chance to show some fondness for us. My vote was for sale! It still is but now the Assembly is going to have to show, somehow, that they do not actually view us as cows to be milked to feed their dreams of new digs.  

The city election is on Oct. 3. The Assembly has until then to show us that love does have something to do with it.

Walsh is a semi-retired land use consultant residing in Juneau since 1976.  His favorite Tina Turner song is “River Deep.”


  1. The Faux Junta doesn’t care. It hasn’t for years. We keep electing the same ship of fools, and they know it. We’re not voting then out anytime soon.

    They quietly watched the Anchorage Politburo get away with ignoring its people. So our lords and masters in CBJ thought “if it works for them…”
    We’re much more liberal than they are.

  2. Murray opposes a municipal boondoggle? I’ve lived long enough to see a blind squirrel get an acorn?

  3. Are there not other commercial buildings that could be bought and renovated? Search seems to be buying up a lot of properties recently like the Juneau empire building. It seems the city is not looking very hard at other options. After all who wants to buy ‘used’ when you can try for a brand new one? Well I haven’t bought a new one in years…..

    • What ever happened with the old Walmart building that has been sitting vacant out toward Mendenhall?

    • Bill, they did an economic and building analysis of the available buildings (including the old Walmart building) but the renovations to bring the buildings into code and disability-accessible were determined to be greater than building a new building. I am disappointed that the assembly wants to pay for an “education campaign” and I don’t understand why they don’t turn this into a capital campaign and start raising funds via an established non-profit arm. I moved to Juneau from Cordova, and there we spent over 20 years raising the money for a new city center through private, corporate, municipal, and grant funding. The citizens were behind the project (many donated personally) and it didn’t put all the financial burden on the tax payers.

  4. We can build a 40,000sf modest pre-engineered building in the City’s gravel pit behind Costco. The Assembly, bureaucracy, Engineering, CDD, ParksRec, even the homeless, can be housed in this warehouse-style building. We would do this in trade for the existing city hall. The only cost to the City would be $5-million to finish out the inside of the new building in Lemon Creek. The efficient, pre-engineered design could be easily and feasibly expanded for more space if needed. The missing element: it would not be a magnificent edifice of vanity; rather, it would be a humble, functional, and feasible structure bespeaking a capital that is not overly proud of itself. This is appropriate and can actually happen if we have the will.

  5. The walmart idea has been debated ad-nauseum, I was referring to the buildings Searhc has been buying up. I do find it hard to believe remodeling is more expensive that new construction. Which buildings did they look at?

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