A trio of ballot initiatives aimed at curbing cruise ship tourism to the capital city by changing the city’s charter will not appear on the October ballot. Organizers failed to collect the 3,000 signatures needed for any of the three initiatives to move forward, proponents of the measure announced Wednesday morning.
Karla Hart, who led the initiative on behalf of the Juneau Cruise Control group, told City Clerk Beth McEwen that the group had “gathered substantial signatures” but said efforts were hampered by lingering pandemic concerns and poor weather conditions, which made it difficult to collect signatures outside.
Hart submitted a letter addressed to Mayor Beth Weldon and City and Borough of Juneau Assembly members instead of the petition books. She said the efforts to collect signatures resulted in a strong base of supporters, and the group plans to stay involved and press for reforms.
In the letter, which was provided to the Empire, supporters urged the city Assembly to consider ordinances to curb cruise traffic to the city. The letter outlined several suggestions, including passing “blue laws” that restrict the days and hours ships can be in port, encouraging the assembly to take steps to prevent the new Norweigan Cruise Line dock from coming to fruition and calling for an independent study to evaluate the impact that the cruise industry has on Juneau.
“We are going to allow the city and industry to do the right thing,” Hart said.
After meeting with the clerk, Hart, the Juneau Cruise Control board and about 10 supporters hosted a news conference in Marine Park. At the conference, Hart declined to disclose the exact number of signatures the group gathered.
“We may or may not have gotten close,” she said.
When asked about each measure, Hart said that the proposal to block ships larger than 100,000 gross tonnage after Jan. 1, 2026, got the most traction and that the effort to prevent ships from calling on Juneau on Saturday “resounded loudly.”
Hart conceded that the measure limiting hours during which cruise ships with more than 250 passengers can visit to 7 a.m and 7 p.m. fell flatter than the others. She said her group did not fully realize the intricacies of boarding and departing ships when they created the question.
She said that the industry “ran an intense suppression campaign rather than let direct democracy play out.”
Hart said suppression happened in many ways, including interruptions to their signature-gathering efforts that included members of the opposition disturbing flyers in the same area where they were operating. More sinister actions were at play, as well, she said.
“The industry put the word out widely that they’d check names on the petitions and that there would be consequences,” she said.
Hart said that she thinks the cruise industry is misjudging the community’s sentiment about the industry.
“They don’t know the number of people who are quietly suffering,” she said.
“We are here, we are not going away, and we’ve expanded our network,” Hart said. “I hope the assembly will do the right thing.”
Reaction from Protect Juneau’s Future
Protect Juneau’s Future, a group organized to discourage residents from signing the petition, shared relief that the questions will not move to the ballot.
“Our community of supporters share an icefield-sized sigh of relief that Juneau Cruise Control failed to collect the signatures necessary to add the anti-cruise initiatives to this fall’s ballot,” read a release sent to the Empire.
Laura Martinson, the owner of Caribou Crossing and co-chair of the Protect Juneau’s Future committee, echoed the group’s sentiment.
“We are just really grateful. We heard the resounding voice of our community. People are in support of future generations and give everyone a fair shot to thrive here,” Martinson said.
Martinson bristled at the idea that industry suppression tactics prevented people from signing the petitions.
“I’m always a little surprised by the reference to our local family-run businesses, tribal organizations, and unions as the industry. We didn’t apply any tactics. We raised awareness. It was a priority to listen to our community,” she said, noting that making a choice not to sign the petition is “every bit of a democratic approach as the choice to sign it.”
Overall, Martinson said she is happy to be moving past the issue and to focus on business and recovery from the pandemic.
“We are coming out of the darkest months of our entire lives. Coming out of that darkness to a blow like this was really heartbreaking. Now we can focus on survival. It’s a long road to 2022, and we have a lot of work to do to get there,” she said.
• Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at email@example.com or 907-308-4891.