Ella Adkison, pictured, is running as an Assembly Areawide candidate in the 2023 City and Borough of Juneau municipal election. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Ella Adkison, pictured, is running as an Assembly Areawide candidate in the 2023 City and Borough of Juneau municipal election. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Get to know a candidate: Ella Adkison

Assembly Areawide candidate in the 2023 Juneau municipal election.

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Ella Adkison: Assembly Areadwide Candidate

Age: 23

Occupation: Legislative Aide

Bio shared by candidate: “I was born and raised in Juneau, and I am excited to give back to our community in whatever way I can. I graduated from Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé High School and have a deep appreciation for our schools here. I also received my bachelor’s in international affairs from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon—but I made sure to come right back to Juneau, where I belong. After college, I began working as a Legislative Aide for Senator Jesse Kiehl, where I have mainly worked on education-related issues. I hope to also serve our community on the local level as a member of the CBJ Assembly.”

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Why do you want to be a member of the Juneau Assembly?

So I’m a fairly young person and I’ve lived in Juneau my whole life. I was born and raised here. I’ve noticed a lot of issues that have been here since I was a kid have only gotten worse. Housing is a huge one — I live with my folks and I don’t think I could live here in Juneau without being able to live with my folks. That’s not a privilege everyone has and it’s one of those problems that really spans age demographics. It’s a real problem for all of Juneau.

I really would love to work on that on the Juneau Assembly. I am also a staff member to one of the Juneau legislative delegation, I work mainly on education issues, and I’ve been seeing that there’s a lot we can do from the local side of things to sort of combat the attacks that the current administration is taking on our school system from the Juneau side of things.

So it just seems like a good time to throw in my hat and that’s really why I want to run for the Assembly.

Describe your knowledge and involvement with Juneau’s municipal government and what you think the strengths and weaknesses of it are based on those experiences.

Like I said I am a staff member for the legislature, and I’ve definitely worked with the municipality at times, especially with a lot of municipalities on education issues, getting information with them and working with them on the state side of things.

So I feel like I have a lot of good knowledge on what we can do and what the Assembly can do working with the school board, so I think that’s definitely a strength I bring to this, just in general, understanding how legislative processes work. and I think I’d be really an asset and advocating to the state on things from the municipality side of things.

Of course, I’ve been working on the state side of things, not the municipal side of things, so there will be differences, but I’m excited to learn what those are and see how my state experience can apply to the municipal experience.

I feel like the Assembly has certainly done a really good job. I don’t have any burning arguments with what they’ve done, but I think they can be pushing harder on certain things, especially in terms of the housing issue. I know that that’s been a priority of the Assembly for many, many years. But I think that we’d all like to see more progress on that and more of an active movement forward on it. They have started on that and they have good first steps, but I think we can really push on it.

I think moving forward to the Pederson Hill and the Telephone Hill redevelopment will be really huge. I think what they’re doing for the long term, like the Juneau-Douglas second crossing, will also be really important for the long-term housing future of Juneau.

There’s a ton of city land that would have been put out for RFP and, not that we need to flood the market or anything, but certainly we could be more active on that front as well. With housing density, I really think we can have much higher density housing here in Juneau than we do considering how little land we have. So I think they’re pushing in the right direction, but maybe not quite enough, and that’s really what I’d like to see more of.

Are you against, or in favor of the proposal for a new City Hall? What are your thoughts on the decision by the Assembly to both put it on the ballot again after it failed, and to fund an advocacy initiative?

I think we absolutely need a new City Hall. Our current setup is unsustainable — there is a reason no other municipality operates this way, we shouldn’t be paying almost a million dollars a year in rent, and putting city employees in places that could be better used for things like housing, frankly.

I think a more accessible City Hall where all city services are in one place, and there’s available parking is a proposal that makes a lot of sense for Juneau, and it’s a fiscally responsible thing to do. I am totally in favor of a new City Hall, even though again, I’m not going to have a ton of say on it other than voting when I vote.

Then in terms of it coming up again on the ballot, I know that there’s been sort of a lot of unrest about it and I get that — it doesn’t look the best. But from what it seems to me, they’re at this crossroads where there’s no real stopgap measure before they need to put it on again. They kind of had to put it back on right away, because they either have to invest a truly obnoxious amount of money into a building that is crumbling and has never suited City Hall needs, or they make a new one. I think that isn’t the best look, but I also think I get why they did it.

As for the advocacy initiative, optically, it’s not the best, I get why they did it again. I think it just sort of rubs salt in the wounds on it, coming up for another year, and then spending 50K on it. And so I totally get how it doesn’t look the best.

But I also think that it is also important that people understand what they’re voting on, I feel like it really does give everyone a better idea of what they’re voting on. And so this time they can be even more informed, or some people can be better informed, just so that they really know what the two choices are. And then what happens at the ballot will happen.

What is your assessment of how much the city taxes its residents versus the amount of public services it provides to them? Specifically outline what adjustment in each of those areas you’d advocate to change as a member of the Assembly.

A lot of people saw their property taxes go up really sharply this year because the housing market’s inflation has been astronomical nationwide, it’s not just a Juneau problem. But certainly with our high housing costs, it was exacerbated here so there was that sharp increase in taxes, property taxes.

I think that always the city’s tax amounts should correlate with the amount of inflation so that their buying power remains the same. But I also understand that the housing inflation was much more sharp. So the city did lower the mill rate, which I think was a really good action, and maybe they can do it again next year, just to kind of ease the burden on homeowners a little bit, especially because everything is rising in price.

I’ve also been hearing as I’ve been on this campaign trail that a lot of city services are sort of feeling a lot of pressure too — from the firefighters and police about their funding, and how they’re able to respond, and running short.

Taxes did go up, and it was a really hard thing for a lot of people in Juneau, but also we need to make sure that if someone calls an ambulance that they can get an ambulance. There’s all these city services that are feeling the hurt, and so I do think that we could be spending more on some of those things and making sure that everyone has the services that they need here in Juneau. But also looking at the mill rate and figuring out what we can do to balance the budget, but also provide the services that people really need.

How can the Assembly better balance the growing cruise ship tourism industry’s impact on the quality-of-life of residents, specifically regarding affordable housing, environmental impact and overall cost of living?

Tourism is definitely another issue that I’ve been hearing a lot about as I’ve been knocking doors. I think there’s a lot of people that have seen this sort of extreme bounce back of cruise ship tourism, specifically after COVID, and it’s definitely been hard for a lot of people and there’s been a lot of growing pains happening there.

I think that the city has done some really great things in their first steps, one of them is the five-ship limit that we’re going to see implemented soon. I think it’s a really great start and I hope that it really opens up a communication line between us and the industry, so we can maybe set boundaries and goals so that we don’t have this influx feeling.

Whether that’s spreading out cruise ship tourism, or if it’s maybe having only a certain amount of people at a time, or having certain sized ships dock at certain times of day — just continuing to make this as smooth as possible and so that locals are not as impacted.

I also think environmental impact is a huge issue with cruise ship tourism. I would love to see the city pushing more on certain things like maybe having the tourist bus be required to be a little more environmentally friendly and trying to help mitigate the environmental impacts.

Also working on sort of leveraging what we have, which is a resource. We are a tourist destination that people really want to be at — we can all tell that people want to be here. So using that to sort of mitigate the pretty extreme environmental impacts that the industry does have.

Are there any substantial matters that we didn’t get around to talking about that you think is pertinent to discuss?

As for tourism we’re seeing a lot of people on both sides of things going “we want way more,” or going “we need to cut significantly down” and so I think an important facet of figuring out our carrying capacity is listening to our local businesses. I worked retail downtown during COVID, and I can tell you how bad that was, and a real scare for a lot of local business owners that provide so much to our community and give back so much and are so important.

So, I would really like to see them and have an active seat at the table with the Assembly in trying to figure out how we can balance cruise ship tourism without hurting our economy and hurting those enterprising Juneauites bringing so much to our community.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651) 528-1807.

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