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Wednesday, August 12, 2020
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Time to pay attention

By ANCHORAGE DAILY PLANET

If you seldom pay attention to the Anchorage Assembly’s antics, you may want to start to this week as it deals with several heated topics.

It will be doing all that, mind you, with the Assembly chambers closed because of COVID-19 worries, and testimony will be restricted to telephone and written comments.

On Monday, after hearing days of sometimes heated testimony against a city proposal to buy two hotels, the Bean’s Cafe campus and an Alaska Club building for $22.5 million in federal CARES Act funding, the Assembly is scheduled to take up the issue in a special session.

Public hearings on the proposed purchases were closed last week after several days of testimony. Many who testified complained about the speed and lack of transparency in the purchase attempt and wondered at the wisdom of putting such facilities in family neighborhoods and spending so much on aging infrastructure.

At the end of the public hearings, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and his administration were invited to address the Assembly on the issue at Monday’s meeting.

Buying the four properties would remove about $300K from city tax rolls every year and cost taxpayers about $7 million annually in operating expenses, or that is the story. Government is involved. Who knows how much it would cost in the long run? Assembly members wanted to change the zoning ordinance to allow all that – without Planning and Zoning Commission Review – while opening up much of Anchorage to such facilities. They have given up on that idea – for now.

The city would use about 19 percent of its $116 million share of the federal CARES Act funding – supposedly aimed at helping individuals and business in these trying times – using a “lease with potential purchase” dodge to get around the act’s language specifically mandating the act’s funding be used only for temporary, emergency shelter. The city plans to use CARES money until unrestricted revenue from the $1 billion sale of ML&P to Chugach Electric and the new 5 percent retail alcohol tax hit city coffers. ( $1 billion. Unrestricted. Be nervous.)

On Tuesday, the Assembly during its regular meeting is slated to take up Berkowitz’s proposal to set up a city Office of Equity and Justice, led by none other than a Chief Equity Officer appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Assembly. At $180K a year, no less.

We need it because COVID-19 has exposed “persistent structural inequities that have required municipal response to mitigate the disproportionate social determinants of health and equity facing people of color and low-income residents.” Berkowitz says.

Mind you, the city already has an Office of Equal Opportunity, the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, the Ombudsman Office and the Resilience Subcabinet, whatever that is. We suggest getting rid of all those functionaries and let the Chief Equity Officer carry the load rather than adding to a meddlesome, expensive bureaucracy. After all, do we really need all those people?

The panel Tuesday also is slated to take up a proposed prohibition on sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts targeting minors, along with a proposed moratorium until September on evictions for failure to pay rent.

This would be a good week to pay attention. Monday’s agenda. Tuesday’s agenda. How to testify on Tuesday.

[More stories at the Anchorage Daily Planet, at this link.]

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

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