Two newly elected Juneau Assembly members sworn in Monday night made an immediate impact during a four-hour meeting covering a wide range of hotly debated issues, casting decisive votes in proposals related to use of the city’s hotel bed tax and legal action involving the proposed Huna Totem dock project.
Paul Kelly and Ella Adkison, after taking their official seats behind hand-lettered signs in the Assembly chambers, also joined their seven colleagues in discussions about the proposed redevelopment of Telephone Hill, the city’s new emergency cold weather shelter, and the final approval of a 9% increase in docks and harbor fees.
The meeting began with a ceremonial sendoff of their predecessors: Loren Jones, a temporary appointee after Carole Triem resigned in July, and a considerably longer tribute to Deputy Mayor Maria Gladziszewski who was ineligible to run again after serving three terms. That was followed by the swearing-in of Kelly and Adkison — in the presence of numerous family and friends — plus incumbents Alicia Hughes-Skandijs and Christine Woll who were reelected to their seats in the Oct. 3 municipal election.
The next three-and-a-half hours were considerably more contentious.
Public weighs in on Telephone Hill
Several residents signed up for the public comment period to express their opposition to four newly proposed preliminary design concepts for the redevelopment project of downtown’s Telephone Hill, presented during an open house meeting two weeks ago.
The Assembly couldn’t take action on the issue since it wasn’t on the agenda, but Maureen Conerton was among the residents signing up to say they want drastically different thinking from city leaders when it’s time to act than what is being proposed now.
“The four options that were given to the community are unacceptable because they slice and dice,” she said, referring to proposed additions such as townhomes, apartments, hotels and public gathering spaces in the 2.5 acres of rocky hillside in downtown Juneau that is considered a historic area.
Many residents live in the area on land the state purchased in 1984 with intentions of putting a new Capitol building there that were never realized, resulting in ownership of the land being transferred this spring to the city and subsequent redevelopment proposals. Project managers with the city and the Oregon-based design agency First Forty Feet have said they hope to have a master plan ready for Assembly consideration by December based in part on public input.
Joshua Adams, testifying remotely during Monday’s meeting, said the current proposals “fail to respect that green space of Telephone Hill which is such an integral part of its character and always has been for 142 years.”
“The first three designs were a mix of townhouses and apartment complexes with none of the now-existing homes in sight,” he said. “The last design was a mixed infill design that included the existing homes, but with additional infill apartments. That design was by far the best of the four simply because it at least included the historic homes on Telephone Hill. However, that design was also flawed because it fails to consider the context of the area. You don’t preserve historic homes by tossing them in with a bunch of modern construction.”
Kelly casts decisive vote against change in hotel bed tax
When it came time to debate and vote on some of the more contentious matters on the agenda, the new Assembly members were among those generally favoring more time to consider the issues involved.
Among the items was a resolution changing how the city’s 9% hotel bed tax is allocated, which was defeated by a 5-4 vote with Kelly among those opposed. Currently the split is 4% for tourism promotion, 3% for Centennial Hall operations and 2% for Centennial Hall improvements. The resolution would have eliminated the formula and based allocations on recommendations by the city manager that the Assembly acted upon as part of its annual budget process.
“This affords the greatest flexibility for the Assembly to meet community needs, address the volatility in the revenue stream, and provide greater budgeting stability for Centennial Hall operations and Travel Juneau’s tourism promotion,” a summary of the resolution states.
An amendment by Assembly member Greg Smith specifying the annual allocations should include “stable and adequate funding for tourism promotions and Centennial Hall operations” was adopted, after he argued those were the primary purposes presented to voters who approved the tax in 2019.
But the resolution itself was voted down, with Woll among those dissenting because she believed one of the purposes of the reallocation “was to provide more stable funding for affordable housing.” Kelly, during a break in the meeting, said that while he cast a decisive vote against the measure he “could be persuaded to vote yes on it in the future,” noting Smith has asked the resolution be brought up for reconsideration by the Assembly.
“I just kind of went with my gut on it,” Kelly said. “I read the text of the resolution. I don’t quite understand how it serves its purpose.”
New members break tradition by keeping a legal discussion in public view
Near the end of the meeting with the Assembly approaching its mandatory four-hour time limit, members took up the remaining “must-do” agenda item involving a motion by resident Karla Hart to disqualify a hearing officer in an appeal of a conditional use permit for a new cruise ship dock at the Juneau Subport.
Normally such items are considered in executive session, which was the recommendation of City Attorney Robert Palmer. But the Assembly broke with convention when Kelly and Adkison joined three colleagues in opposing going into closed session, arguing the matter should be discussed openly in the interest of maintaining public trust.
Hart, in her motion, requested “an independent hearing officer from outside of Southeast Alaska, and with no association with the cruise industry, nor with Huna Totem Corporation, nor Norwegian Cruise Lines, be appointed” — and the existing officer failed to meet that criteria. Huna Totem Corp., as the developer, submitted written opposition to the motion and the hearing officer’s official response was “he did not have a conflict of interest, and could be fair and impartial.”
Discussion about the matter was short due to the time constraint.
Assembly member Michelle Bonnet Hale expressed opposition, noting “maybe you can get somebody from Anchorage, but I just think that the reasons listed are frivolous and we yet again would be slowing the entire process down.” Questions by other members included what practical options exist for selecting a hearing officer meeting Hart’s criteria.
The motion to disqualify the officer was approved 6-3, with Kelly and Adkison both voting in favor.
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 957-2306.