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Here are 5 things to know about this week’s Anchorage Assembly agenda

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: December 2, 2017
  • Published January 23, 2017

The Anchorage Assembly expects to talk about two well-worn city controversies Tuesday night: automatic cameras to catch traffic violators and water fluoridation.

That's two out of three from the warning that Assemblyman Dick Traini gave his newly elected colleague Eric Croft last year.

"There's things you don't touch: Cat licensing, fluoride, red lights," Traini said at an Assembly work session last week, recalling heated battles dating back to the 1990s.

Yet Traini himself is responsible for one of those items on Tuesday's Assembly agenda. Traini is proposing a ballot measure for red-light cameras to come to Anchorage after a politically disastrous run of their cousin, photo radar, in the 1990s; meanwhile, Assemblywoman Amy Demboski has proposed taking an advisory vote on water fluoridation.

"We'll see how Tuesday goes," Traini said Friday, with a chuckle.

Here's five things to know about Tuesday's Assembly agenda, posted online at The meeting starts at 5 p.m. in the Loussac Library.  

Red-light cameras

Traini wants to ask voters to allow the city the option of installing cameras as a way to enforce traffic laws against running red lights.

City charter says only uniformed police officers can write traffic tickets, a reaction by voters to photo radar. Those tickets also have to be written in person, city attorney Bill Falsey told Assembly members at a work session Friday.

Police Chief Chris Tolley said Friday that the "studies are still out" as far as whether cameras are effective at stopping people from running red lights. But he told Assembly members that more cameras could aid in police investigations, such as for stolen cars.

In the 1990s, an experiment with using cameras to write speeding tickets failed in about a year.  

Court fight over Spenard Road

The administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz is asking the Assembly to authorize eminent domain — the taking of private property for public use — related to construction on Spenard Road that is slated to start later this year.

The city is converting Spenard Road between Hillcrest Drive and 30th Avenue from four lanes to three, while expanding bike lanes, sidewalks and landscaping. Many businesses are losing between 2 and 8 feet of space up to front entrances.

More than 40 property owners reached settlements with the city after negotiations. But nine property owners have yet to settle, according to documents submitted to the Assembly.

Some have said they aren't being fairly compensated by the city, saying they and their tenants will suffer for lost parking and changes to business operations.   

The Assembly's approval after a public hearing Tuesday would allow the city to sue the property owners to force them to sell at market prices.

Fluoride advisory vote

If it gets enough Assembly support, April's city ballot could also include an advisory question: Should fluoride be used in city water?

Assemblywoman Amy Demboski, sponsor of the proposal, has said that while she personally supports water fluoridation, she thinks people should have a chance to voice their opinions.

As an advisory question, the outcome of the vote wouldn't change city law, but it could influence future Assembly actions.

Dustin Darden, the lead sponsor of the fluoride petitions, said Monday he "absolutely" supported Demboski's move. He said he didn't necessarily expect fluoride opponents to quit collecting signatures for two separate petitions related to fluoride that are currently circulating, however.  

"The more direct route would be an absolute vote," said Darden, who said an advisory vote would be second best.

But he added: "We'll take the advisory vote, because it gets it out to the open quicker."

Bed tax increase

Traini also wants to ask voters to support increasing the city bed tax, a tax paid on rental rooms in hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts — mainly by visitors — by more than 16 percent.

Traini's proposal, which also needs eight Assembly votes to go on the ballot, would increase the tax from 12 percent to 14 percent.

His measure calls for dedicating the increased tax revenue to public safety.

Pot lawyer tapped for city board

Mayor Berkowitz has appointed Jana Weltzin, a prominent Anchorage pot lawyer, to the city platting board, according to documents submitted to the Assembly.

The nine-member platting board holds hearings on subdividing land in the city and is also charged with enforcing regulations in subdivisions. Weltzin would be filling the board's sole vacancy.

Weltzin has numerous clients in Anchorage's nascent marijuana industry and has occasionally sparred with the city about land-use decisions.  

Weltzin was traveling in Cuba on Monday and couldn't immediately be reached for comment. Chris Schutte, the city's development director, said Weltzin applied online to serve on a city board or commission, and expressed interest in the platting board.

He said she was approved based on her qualifications and experience. In his letter to the Assembly, Berkowitz asked for confirmation at the meeting of Feb. 14.