Compass: For more livable city, attend tonight's hearing

By JOHN BLAINEJanuary 14, 2013 

The Assembly is about to take action on Anchorage 20/20, the planning process that began more than a decade ago. Now it's called "Title 21." A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, the 15th, in the Loussac Library at 6:15 p.m. The length and detail of the process is making a lot of us either lose interest altogether or go a little crazy. It's like some old Western movie:

You've got this mayor who wants power and money. He's in cahoots with the gamblers and the saloon owners and other tough-guy types. He gives to the widows and orphans fund to keep in good with the widows and orphans; otherwise, he's pretty much in it for himself.

Then you've got the townsfolk who want to build boardwalks over the mud so the ladies don't soil their dresses and the kiddies don't get all dirty. The tough guys just bust up the boardwalks before they get anywhere. So the people put together a petition to get legal rights to build their boardwalks. The petition gets all the needed signatures, but the judge is in cahoots with the mayor. The mayor tells the judge to change a word here and there so the people will wind up with a fence around the school and no boardwalks.

No one can be against a fence around a school, but when the townsfolk find out they've lost out on the boardwalks, some of them scream bloody murder. The mayor and the tough guys accuse anyone who is complaining of being "Anti-Children, Anti-Safety, downright Anti-American!"

And so it goes in Anchorage. Townsfolk wanted a more beautiful, more interesting, more people-friendly town. They got together over a period of years and built a "petition" of sorts that spelled out what they felt would help make that happen. The plan called for sidewalks and trees and plenty of open space. It called for height limits on new buildings to save the sunshine. It strengthened the Urban Design Commission and put real restrictions on "site condos."

When Dan Sullivan was elected mayor, some of his friends and backers seemed more interested in profit than in a beautiful city. They gave to "the widows and orphans fund," but there sure seem to be a lot of "widows and orphans" left wanting.

The real money stays with the same people, whether it's the oil companies or their services companies, some of the developers or others whom we have come to know as "the 1 percent." Yes, they provide some good jobs. But they work against anything that would take a penny off their bottom line, whether it's taxes or trees.

Mayor Sullivan wasn't content with the townsfolks' work done over a decade, work provisionally approved along the way by the Assembly. He brought in his "tough guy," attorney Dan Coffey, who carved large pieces out of the plan. Those who support the Coffey version say they are doing it to keep housing affordable, so folks can live "the American Dream." But what kind of a dream is it if there's no place to park, no place for the kids to play. Sounds more like a nightmare.

But why not encourage more open space, trees, sidewalks and bicycle lanes? Why not demand that new housing follow northern design standards? Will people really stop buying new homes if these kinds of amenities force the price up slightly? Of course not. Let's legislate a more beautiful city, a safer city, a city that we can be more proud of.

The arrogant disregard of a 10-year process shown by the mayor, Mr. Coffey and others who would "build a fence around the school" is outrageous. Let's work to restore the provisionally approved Title 21 recommendations. We ought to condemn shoddy development and strong-arm tactics that work against the public good and really focus on what is necessary to make our city a world-class place for people to enjoy.

Everyone has a chance to speak out at the Assembly hearing Tuesday evening. See you there.

John Blaine is an Anchorage real estate agent and community activist.

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