It has been almost a year since I was elected to the Juneau Assembly. What a year it has been: a once-in-a-century pandemic, a canceled cruise ship season, painfully high unemployment, increased political polarization (and decreased civility) and many local businesses hurting. Add in one of the rainiest “summers” on record, and I know most of us are ready to say “bye bye” to 2020.
Yet through it all, I’ve seen and heard inspiring stories of our community coming together: Neighbors getting groceries for the at-risk senior down the street; residents buying more goods and services locally; drive-by graduations and birthday parties; fundraisers for struggling families and organizations. These are tough times, but the goodness in our community is real, and it makes me incredibly proud to serve on the Juneau Assembly.
Here are some of my perspectives from the past year:
— Our community cares. Evidenced by the thousands of emails I’ve received this year (sorry to those I have not yet responded to!), phone calls, sidewalk conversations, discussions on social media and service by hundreds on our boards and commissions, we care about our community and the people who live here. While we don’t always agree on the how, we definitely want our town to remain a great place to live.
— We work well as a team. Unlike the state or federal governments, the CBJ doesn’t have multiple branches: the city administration and Assembly are united in working on your priorities. The Assembly, as the elected body, listens to you and does our best to represent the whole community. Assembly members also don’t always agree, but I am immensely impressed by the respect and appreciation we all show toward each other.
— The Assembly did several good things. While 2020 is a year many of us want to forget, the Assembly did take some positive steps forward. With your help, we kept coronavirus infection rates low, allowing businesses to mostly stay open. We provided small businesses nearly $15 million in financial assistance. We balanced the budget without increasing tax rates. We made long-term and immediate investments in child care and senior housing. We imposed stiff penalties for property owners that continually cause problems. We took (and will continue to take) action to address systemic racism. There is always more to do, but there were some good things.
— We’re still struggling with other issues. Downtown disorder hurts our businesses and downtown appeal. Housing prices and rents remain too high. The high cost of living squeezes paychecks. Regulations and restrictions hamper, and sometimes prevent, needed development. The crime rate, though decreasing, still leaves too many of our neighbors as victims. We need to address our solid waste/landfill problem. We need to reduce our climate impacts. We need more good-paying, year-round jobs. Again, there is always more to do.
— The Assembly can’t fix everything. Criminal sentencing and prosecutions are mostly decided at the state level. FEMA flood maps and mass wasting (think avalanches and landslides) severely restrict our ability to build multifamily housing downtown. Our economy is hugely affected by things like Chinese tariffs, the price of oil and the stock market. I’m not trying to make excuses, but please consider the many issues outside our control.
— City staff work incredibly hard. Through our many, many meetings (so far in 2020 the Assembly has had 41 regular and special assembly meetings; in all of 2017, there were 24), staff have been there, staying up late to help us find the best solution. And then there are the hundreds of city employees working every day making sure city services are functioning, services like running water, 9-1-1 responses, good education for our kids, and plowed streets. These public servants are a huge reason why Juneau is so great; I thank them for all they do.
— We are all in this together. At the end of the day, we’re an isolated community in an isolated area of an isolated state. Let’s be kind to one another, respectful to those who disagree with you, work together on solutions, and not make this difficult world any more difficult for each other. We live in a special and wonderful place; thank you for all you do to keep it that way.
• Greg Smith was elected to the Juneau Assembly in 2019. He was born and raised in Juneau.