What is your highest priority for the CBJ to accomplish during your term in office? Explain why this is a priority and how you would facilitate this change.
Growing and diversifying our economy is paramount. State government remains our economic mainstay — 20 percent of jobs and 28 percent of payroll. We can’t change $45 oil, but we can work diligently and creatively on opportunities in cruise ship and independent tourism, seafood and commercial fishing, mining, attracting active retirees and many other areas. Example? A CBJ task force I chaired on moving NOAA Alaska fisheries science jobs from Seattle laid out a specific plan that would bring 175 high-paying jobs to Juneau. Downtown revitalization is also very important for all of Juneau — bolstering our capital city status while supporting tourism. And the Auke Bay town center idea supports desirable housing options and further development of the University of Alaska Southeast.
Juneau needs more housing for several kinds of populations that range from the homeless to young families on limited budgets. The Housing First effort is an encouraging start, but much more is needed. What additional actions would you suggest the Assembly take to get on with solving the housing problem in Juneau?
Our extremely tight housing market — particularly rentals — is the biggest inhibitor to needed economic growth. The shortfall is pegged at 700 units, but is actually higher given the many substandard units now occupied. We need to streamline permitting and should put our revenue bond authority behind housing development to reduce developer costs and lower risk. There is high demand downtown from both younger and older populations. Across the country top quality circulator transit has proven extremely effective in stimulating housing and mixed use investment — and it will be good for tourism, reduce downtown congestion and add convenience for Juneauites commuting to work. And we have the financial resources to make these investments with no increases in sales or property taxes.
As Alaska tightens its belt, city revenue is likely to shrink as well. What are your suggestions to increase efficiency in Juneau and/or reduce the municipal budget?
City government needs to look for efficiencies across the board — small, incremental savings can add up to a lot. But we can’t cut our way to prosperity. We need economic diversification and growth. Improving our housing situation is key. As we work on that we should prioritize building within our existing base of water, sewer and road infrastructure whenever we can. Extending infrastructure to new areas is very costly — millions of dollars per mile. There are lots of opportunities for higher density and in-fill development that don’t require new basic infrastructure. This strategic approach will reduce upfront costs and ongoing maintenance budgets, saving millions of dollars over the long haul.
When considering public transportation, traffic, and parking issues in our municipality, what do you consider to be the major concerns and the solutions for them?
Flexible work hours will reduce rush hour congestion and make commutes safer. It’s not just a downtown issue. Mendenhall Loop is often very congested from Egan to Back Loop, particularly during evening rush. Efforts to coordinate flex hours with the state and feds must be restarted.
We need a large parking garage near the Federal Building. Meanwhile, let’s optimize our on-street parking. I identified 20-plus spaces in the downtown core that can be gained just by reducing yellow paint zones.
Circulator transit should connect all downtown parking lots, letting people “park anywhere and go everywhere” quickly and comfortably. It would free-up Capital Transit resources to extend much needed service in the Valley and Lemon Creek.
The legalization of marijuana requires new regulations for CBJ that determine how the use of this substance will be handled in the municipality. For example, the Assembly must decide whether or not to allow the production and sale of marijuana edibles such as cookies, candies or sodas, and whether or not to allow smoking parlors for marijuana, including in the downtown area to draw in cruise ship passengers. Select one of these two specific decisions that must be made and discuss what you would like to see done..
It’s good that we are no longer using scarce police resources putting people in jail because of marijuana. Personally, I favored decriminalization rather than outright legalization and commercialization. I think that proponents are overly optimistic about the economic benefits that marijuana sales might bring, and underestimate the potential negative aspects this trade could have on a downtown that many have been working hard to revitalize. But Juneau is now required to regulate. The Assembly Committee on Marijuana will be making recommendations soon. It is my hope that smoking parlor permits will be limited to prevent wide proliferation, but of sufficient number to prevent undue speculation.
Tourism is a significant part of the CBJ budget. What steps should be taken to make sure tourism is a positive experience for both visitors and residents?
Tourism offers important growth opportunities. Completion of the new docks will see a 20 percent increase in arrivals, up 1.2 million visitors. We need to reinvest CBJ tourism revenues to accommodate those visitors. Circulator transit, streetscape improvements and completion of the seawalk will ease congestion, help diversify retail opportunities and make our city experience as good as natural attractions like the glacier, whale watching and flightseeing. The payoff for Juneau residents is that those improvements will be good for us, too. Tourism revenue investments are also helping ease crowding at Statter Harbor in Auke Bay — moving much commercial fishing activity to the Auke Bay loading facility and completing a new tourism staging area (now under construction).
The Juneau Economic Plan tells us that we need to be courting young people to fill state positions of retiring Juneauites. What can the Assembly do to further this goal?
Again, housing is our biggest economic development challenge. The young people we want and need to attract, including our own kids wanting to return after college and work experience Outside, need reasonably-priced, available market-rate housing. I repeat my view that the city should back housing development with its revenue bond authority, and with infrastructure investments that promote high density housing and mixed-use that is built within our existing roads and utilities base.
Beyond that, those young people need to be assured of a really good school system for their own kids. Increasing class sizes in our system are really concerning. We have great lifestyle opportunities here for young people (and active retirees), but they need good places to live.