Juneau’s City Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Juneau’s City Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

City moves forward on child care, prohibits e-bikes downtown

The exact costs of the program will be examined in detail later.

The City and Borough of Juneau took a step toward implementing an early education and child care program Monday night.

During its meeting, the Juneau Committee of the Whole voted to adopt a simplified version of Best Starts, a national child care model first developed in Washington state.

Best Starts offers financial incentives to child care providers based on the number of children and the quality of teaching. The state’s Learn and Grow framework, which lays out a model for evaluating instruction, will be used to determine the quality of education.

Proponents say that it would help solving the city’s lack of affordable child care, while at the same time increasing kindergarten readiness. Best Starts pays private child care providers — reimbursing on a per-child basis — who use the program’s curriculum as a way of expanding child care services.

In 2018, the Assembly voted not to put a Best Starts pilot program on the ballot.

Cosgrove said the McDowell Group estimated that 75% of infants and 47% of toddlers in Juneau did not have access to child care. The report also said only 11% of preschoolers don’t have access to care.

The city has been consulting with local child care businesses to find out how much money would be needed to keep them financially viable, as well as affordable for parents.

On Monday, Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove presented the committee two different but similar options. One model is the Best Starts model, and the other was a simplified version of the program. The simplified Best Starts model would be combined with Alaska’s Learn and Grow framework, which evaluates providers on the level of educational services they provide.

Cosgrove showed the Assembly a slideshow presentation outlining the differences between the Best Starts model and a simplified version of the program.

The two are largely similar but there were things in the Best Starts model that city staff felt didn’t work for Juneau, according to Cosgrove. One of the main differences is the simplified version put more priority on infant and toddler care rather than pre-K. It also allows for providers to receive other forms of funding.

While there was some concern among committee members that the simplified version focused too much on meeting the demand and not enough on school preparation, the committee ultimately voted to move ahead with the simplified version.

The exact costs of the program will be examined in detail at a future Assembly Finance Committee. Provisional numbers from the City Manager’s Office showed the program costing $618,000 to serve 487 in its first year or operation.

Money would also be allocated for workforce development and city facilities being converted into child care centers. The city is looking at converting sections of Floyd Dryden Middle School and Riverbend Community School into child care facilities.

Committee passes on e-bikes

The committee on Monday night also decided to keep a moratorium in place on renting “dockless devices” such as electric scooters or bikes.

The Assembly placed a moratorium on those devices last year, due to concerns with downtown congestion during the summer tourism season. But with the prohibition coming to an end in February, the Assembly took another look at the regulation.

Thomas Felstead from the Community Development Department told the committee that other cities had experienced problems with dockless devices, including congested sidewalks, clutter from poorly parked vehicles and unsafe users and accidents.

In order to mitigate some of the more common problems with dockless devices, Felstead and the CDD recommended they be prohibited in the downtown area. But, he added, after having conversations with companies that provide micromobility vehicles, the downtown area would be the only economically viable area of Juneau for that kind of business.

After some discussion on the viability of having dockless devices elsewhere in the city, a motion was entered to prohibit commercial activity on all dockless devices, not just electric ones in the downtown area. Some Assembly members reasoned that due to the high levels of foot and car traffic downtown during the tourist season, it was best not to allow bikes and scooters to be rented in the area.

There was also concern the city may be liable for injuries caused by reckless use of things like electric scooters. It was mentioned during the meeting that San Diego is currently facing injury lawsuits which argue that better regulation could have prevented the accidents.

The motion passed, with city staff tasked with defining the limits of the downtown area in the writing of the ordinance.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.

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