JoAnn Wallace: Assembly Areadwide Candidate
Bio shared by candidate: “I was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, and have lived in Juneau since 1982. After graduating from high school in 1982, I moved with my family to Juneau. I attended the International Air Academy in Vancouver, Washington in 1983 and went to work for Alaska Airlines in 1985. I retired from Alaska Airlines in 2018 after 33 years. During that time I also worked as a Realtor in the Juneau market. I have been with Re/Max of Juneau for 17 years and am still active in selling real estate. My husband and I have two grown children each and together we share 10 grandchildren. My husband and I love to travel and can be seen walking or riding bikes around the community of Juneau.”
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Why do you want to be a member of the Juneau Assembly?
It’s just to try to make some positive changes in Juneau. I’d like to see Juneau more affordable, my big focus is going to be on property taxes, lowering costs. My kids live in Juneau and my grandkids, and I want it to be affordable — and I think we’re losing that.
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.
I’ve been going to meetings, I’ve started going to the Assembly meetings, when the property tax issues came up. It just seems like there is a lack of transparency going on in our local Assembly, like decisions are made behind closed doors. So I’d like to see a lot more transparency, I would say that that’s definitely a weakness. And as far as strengths, I don’t really know right now.
I’m a real estate agent, so I deal with the planning department a lot and the permitting department. I find the permitting department to be completely not workable and that’s a big part of our housing shortage. People that I know, — contractors that I work with who are trying to add apartments — they (the permitting department) make it impossible, they make it to the point where people just give up. Really, to solve our housing shortage we have to have density, density, density. Every kind of housing is important and they need to make it easy.
That is one of the main reasons I’m running — I can complain about it all day, or I can try to do something about it.
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’m 100% against it. Because people just voted it down in October (2022), and I think it’s really disrespectful to the voters to just immediately go, “oh, by the way, we’re going to allocate ourselves $50,000 to educate you on why you need it.” It almost feels like your government is working against you.
If they were going to present both sides that would make sense — but I don’t feel like that’s what’s happening. While it would be great to have a new City Hall, the people have spoken and what I’d like to see is a lot more decisions be put to the people than just to our Assembly. This is a prime example.
They (the voters) said no and we need to go with that for now. Maybe it can be revisited in a couple of years, but I feel like there’s going to be a lot of commercial buildings available in Juneau in the next couple of years so there’s going to be a lot more options than we have right now. I’m an absolute no on the new City Hall right now.
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.
I was born and raised in Fairbanks and they didn’t have sales tax, and it’s obvious when you drive through their town, their roads are really poor. So I think paying taxes is very valuable, however, Juneau collects so much sales tax, property tax. It feels like we have more than other communities in Alaska.
So for me it’s not about what services we’re not getting. Because we take in so much money, how can we make it easier and less expensive for people that live here? We take in a tremendous amount of money, so why can’t we pass on some savings to the people that live here?
The mill rate would be the way to do it. The property values jumped up and I do think that our mill rate needs to come down. That’s something that I will definitely be investigating further and just want to be able to talk about it from an economic standpoint that makes sense. And we need to look at how we’re spending, because obviously we’re taking in a tremendous amount of money. So where’s all that money going?
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?
It’s a tough balancing act, but I think we do it pretty well. I love that we have tourism — I’m a fan, I’m a huge fan. I love to go down downtown and see all the tourists. I love all the shops that are open and all the food venues that are open, and it’s just during the summer and then they leave.
I do like that we have the Tourism Best Management Practices program, I really think that is very effective and I think they really are proactive. I do think the city is taking a stance on limiting the amount of cruise ships a day and, while I am on the fence on that, I think it’s probably a good idea because it would probably just grow to be more and more.
I think you have to manage it to a point, but I don’t want to scare the cruise traffic off because there’s a lot of communities in Southeast Alaska that would be like “ hey, come here” instead. I think you do have to balance it, but I don’t think that directly affects the affordable housing issue. We get a tremendous amount of money from every single person that steps on our dock, so we just need to figure out how to better allocate our funds. The affordable housing issue, to me, is a matter of density.
Are there any substantial matters that we didn’t get around to talking about that you think is pertinent to discuss?
What goes hand in hand with more housing is less regulation. I think the city tries to regulate everything too much and it’s felt like in the last few years in Juneau that everything is so highly regulated. A lot of things work themselves out, in my opinion, when you have less regulation.
Everything is about supply and demand, whether it’s houses for sale, or places for rent, if you have more, then the costs will automatically come down. We’ve had this crisis, there was a time in the ‘70s where people were living in tents, and it’s just growing pains and you feel it a lot in a small community where you’re landlocked. If we allow people to just do what they want, provide housing in various ways and not get them bogged down by regulations, I think the problem will fix itself.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at email@example.com or (651) 528-1807.