At Thursday’s Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Assembly candidates were probed about an issue that many of them know quite a bit about: Juneau’s economy.
Six of the eight candidates for four City and Borough of Juneau Assembly seats participated in the Chamber’s forum. District 2 candidate Emil Mackey was traveling for work, and incumbent District 1 candidate Loren Jones was not included because he’s running unopposed.
Of the six, four of them are currently running businesses, one is working on a patent after a long career in the public and private sector, one has a master’s degree in public policy and all of them have extensive thoughts on Juneau’s economy.
While they disagreed about some topics, they all agreed that a second crossing to Douglas Island could help boost Juneau’s economy. Michelle Bonnet Hale, a District 2 Assembly candidate and former director of the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Water, was the first to bring the idea of a second bridge to Douglas into her answers.
“We need to be looking at what kind of infrastructure we can fund,” Hale said. “A second crossing is a real possibility. It’s a real possibility for us to pursue that.”
Voters rejected the building of the North Douglas Crossing, but just this summer, the CBJ Assembly committed $250,000 to study the possible effects of a second crossing. The city’s 2007 overview plan for the second crossing listed goals as improving emergency response to Douglas and improving access to the possible development of housing, industry and recreation on West Douglas.
At the close of the meeting, moderator Mike Satre asked a trio of yes-or-no questions to the candidates. He asked them if they supported a second crossing, and all six of them raised their hands.
The other two questions did not elicit unanimous responses. Neither Hale nor Areawide Assembly candidate Carole Triem raised their hands in support of the Juneau Access Project. Triem — an economic advisor for the Department of Economic Development — was the only person to raise her hand in support of Ballot Measure 1, which would implement a new system of laws protecting salmon-bearing waters.
Earlier in the forum, when asked directly about Juneau Access, both Hale and Triem said the project “doesn’t pencil out,” and Triem said she would rather Assembly members focus on projects they can control rather than the Juneau Access Project that depends so heavily on federal and state commitments. Both Hale and Triem specifically pointed to a second crossing and developing West Douglas as alternatives.
Other candidates spoke vehemently in support of building a road, including District 2 candidate Don Habeger. Habeger drew a laugh from the packed room at the Moose Lodge when he repeated himself for a full minute saying that he was in support of Juneau Access and would do everything in his power to make it a reality.
The majority of the forum was not so specific, as Satre asked about how to prioritize spending on the Assembly, how to address homelessness and how to promote job growth.
Of prioritizing spending, Areawide candidate Tom Williams — the chief financial officer at Ward Air who also runs a vacation rental with his wife — said he believes the three essential areas of spending are public safety, education and infrastructure, and money must go to those before anything else. Others had similar sentiments.
Candidates were especially animated when talking about how to fuel job growth. District 2 candidate Garrett Schoenberger spoke both at Tuesday’s Get Out the Native Vote forum and at the Chamber’s forum about wanting to see Juneau diversify its economy and not rely so heavily on state jobs. Schoenberger is a managing partner in the real estate firm Juneau Legacy Partners.
Habeger, who is working on getting a patent for a fishing lure and finding it difficult to get supplies to Juneau, said the Assembly has to make it easier for businesses to start and stay alive in Juneau.
“I think entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in this community,” Habeger said. “Letting it flourish is absolutely necessary.”
District 2 candidate Wade Bryson, who owns two Subway restaurants, had a very specific step in mind to improve business downtown. He suggested painting parallel parking lines on the streets downtown to make it easier for people to park efficiently.
“Parking is a big issue, and everybody in this room knows that a parking space equates to a sales transaction,” Bryson said. “If you go downtown, and I was already downtown today, every block has somebody that parks kind of in between a space.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.