Candidate profile: Merrill Sanford, Mayor

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.

First, we, the Assembly, need to fill the city manager’s position. Our manager, retiring unexpectedly, has thrown a kink into the smooth, coordinated flow of information and project development that an organization our size requires. We need to find a strong, positive leader who will have the ability to read the pulse of our community, both politically and publicly. The person needs to be a good communicator and better listener. We are looking for a leader who can be a decisive and collaborative decision-maker when appropriate. They need to have the courage to make the tough decisions. We will have public, staff and Assembly processes to help evaluate and select the appropriate person to be our city manager.

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?

The housing issues in our community are many. We need to address the entire spectrum of the issue, from senior housing to affordable housing. We need to keep the private sector engaged in building these new residential units. There has been a surge forward by both the public and private sectors. There are over 200 units being built at this time. We have, looking forward, at least 45 units in the que for next year. We also have three of four new small subdivisions next year. New land and road for higher density units in Switzer Creek, which is city property, is being developed, along with Peterson Hill, with 30-50 individual residential units, new land and a road on city property.

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?

For the past three years we have been looking for efficiencies within our budgets. By combining departments, reducing staff and not doing some projects, we have decreased the budget by $3.2 million. The Assembly as a whole has changed some tax exemptions. These will have the effect of increased dollars into the general fund. Besides looking at tax cuts and revenues, our next step should be evaluating and reviewing what services are required by the charter and then prioritizing the other things we actually do. With the outlook at the state level being so dismal, we need to have a prioritized list of what we can stop doing as cut backs in funds come to the municipality.

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?

We have great plans that identify many needs for our transportation systems. The biggest hold up has been, and will be into the foreseeable future, the lack of funds to pay for increased operational costs for these improvements. This also holds true for any basic road infrastructure building, both at the state and municipal level. Right now, we have the best basic, little public transportation system in Southeast. Looking forward, we can ensure the proper right-of-ways are in place and that we are looking to the future visions to make those projects happen. In the meantime we, the city, need to properly maintain and improve on the infrastructure we currently have.

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..

The marijuana issue is taking a great deal of time and effort. We will not get to a final set of regulations at the CBJ level by our target date in October. Set 3 of proposed State of Alaska regulations has been forwarded to our CBJ marijuana committee. This regulation has grown to over 70-plus pages. We are incorporating those rules that apply to us. Our Planning Commission is looking at some of these decisions and as the Assembly forwards them, they are doing their due diligence and evaluating where they fit into our land use codes. The state-wide initiative was voted yes on, and we are and will do what is legal to fulfill the requirements of the vote.

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?

We need to ensure the experience that both our visitors and locals have is an uplifting and positive one. The beauty of our Southeast region as a whole is unsurpassed. Our businesses need to enhance that personal, hands-on experience. A one-to-one encounter with our people, cultures and individual businesses is utmost important. The 16B docks and harbors cruise ship expansion due to start this fall will let us, locals and visitors, enjoy more room. The new state museum in the Willoughby District, with the possibility of a new performing arts center, will help us have a great, positive venue to experience in Juneau.

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?

The largest detriment to keeping our local, young workforce here in Juneau and then encouraging others to move here, is not the positive feeling they get from the beauty of our nature and the positive outdoor life experiences they feel and see. It is the lack of good, quality, affordable housing to rent and/or purchase. We have identified this as our number one goal to work on. The Juneau Chamber of Commerce, Juneau Economic Development Council and CBJ staff are getting keyed in to this problem. Changes to our permitting, subdivision rules and land use code should allow the private sector to move forward on many more residential units. We, the CBJ, are moving forward with the sale of land in the Switzer Creek and Peterson Hill areas.

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