The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for Anchorage Assembly in the 2019 election to answer a series of issue questions. Many of the questions were based on suggestions from readers. Find all candidates and their answers here. We did the same thing with candidates for Anchorage School Board.
Candidate: Forrest Dunbar
Occupation: Attorney and Judge Advocate
Current employer: Chugach Government Solutions (2016), Alaska Army National Guard (2013), and Anchorage Assembly (2016)
Previous public offices held or sought/community leadership positions: Anchorage Assembly, representing East Anchorage; Vice-President, Scenic Foothills Community Council; Board Member, Anchorage Parks Foundation; Board Member, Muldoon Farmers Market; Board Member, Forget-Me-Not; Democratic nominee for US House of Representatives, 2014; Policy Director, Iraqi (now International) Refugee Assistance Program
Education: JD, Yale Law School; Master in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School; BA in International Studies and Economics, American University
What steps have you taken to prepare for this job? What strengths do you bring to office, and what in your life demonstrates those strengths?
Over the last three years, I have served as the Budget Committee Chair, Transportation Committee Chair, Vice Chair and Chair of the Anchorage Assembly. During that time, I have worked to foster an atmosphere of collegiality and collaboration. I have facilitated the work of my colleagues, while simultaneously putting forward ideas on behalf of my constituents in East Anchorage. I have also answered hundreds of constituent emails, and worked to address the specific concerns.
Describe an ordinance or legislative issue you plan to bring forward as an Assemblymember, and any funding it might require.
I have worked on a wide range of issues, many ongoing, from housing policy to marijuana regulation to public safety to large projects like the ML&P sale. One issue I hope to see turn into an ordinance by summer is the ongoing challenge of bear-human interactions. That’s a polite way of saying that our trash is attracting bears and those bears can be a dangerous. I’m hopeful that we can partner with the waste utilities to reduce these interactions.
What is the largest budget you’ve managed? State the amount, length of time and your level of responsibility.
I was Chair of the Assembly and Budget Chair for the Municipality of Anchorage from April until December 2018. The 2018 Municipal Operating Budget was approximately $506 million. Of course, no one truly manages a budget of that size on their own; I was grateful to work with Lance Wilber, head of the Office of Management and Budget, with other Municipal officials, and with my colleagues on the Assembly. I also gave regular updates to the city’s Budget Advisory Commission.
Describe your position on policies that affect the way Anchorage grows in the coming years.
I hope to see Anchorage continue to grow, though increasingly we will need to grow “up” rather than “out.” Infill development is challenging, and can be politically contentious, but as we have seen in other parts of the country, it is the key to a more livable, walkable city. It is also our only realistic option, given that we are tightly constrained by the ocean, mountains, and JBER. A good, sustainable place to live starts with safe neighborhoods, good schools, and affordable housing.
Do you support the alcohol tax proposed by the administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz? Why or why not?
Yes. I have been on several ride-alongs with the APD and like many of us I also grew up in Alaska. We all know that alcohol is a factor in many crimes and other social problems in our city. That doesn’t mean we should be prohibitionist or drive alcohol purveyors out of business. But it does mean that, when we look for a source of funds to tackle some of our toughest problems, including behavioral health and homelessness, an alcohol tax is one of the more equitable ways to raise those funds.
What should the city do to alleviate the problem of illegal camps in green spaces in the city?
The only long-term solution is appropriate, affordable housing, coupled with supportive services. If we focus only on abatement without having places for folks to actually go, then people experiencing homelessness will just move from park to park. There are also constitutional limits to what we can do, and appropriately so; people have a right to exist. That being said, it is not safe to have folks living in the parks, and I support the Community Action Policing and Mobile Intervention teams.
The cost estimate for modernizing the Port of Alaska recently doubled. What do you think the city should do?
There is widespread agreement that the Port of Alaska needs to be repaired, but there are also strong feelings that the project has to be closely tracked and contained. We are going to limit the project to only that which is essential. We will also investigate all options to fund the repairs, including pursuing litigation against MARAD for the prior expansion disaster and encouraging the Legislature to push for a general obligation bond, to help hold down the tariff rates.
There could be tough budget times ahead with state cutbacks. What can the city do to make up for those cuts?
There is no way for the Muni to make up for the level of cuts that Dunleavy has proposed. Anchorage’s legislators need to stand up for Alaska’s interests and resist radical ideology. A 40% cut to the University, a 25% cut to schools, and a massive cut to health programs would push Anchorage back into a deep recession. Regardless, we will continue our efforts to make Anchorage more financially self-sufficient, including using ML&P-sale revenue to pay down debt and bolster the Muni Trust.
What did you think about Alaska’s efforts at criminal justice reform, which began in 2016 with Senate Bill 91?
Clearly there were problems with SB 91, and implementation challenges as well. But those who say that SB 91 caused all our crime problems or that repealing it will solve all those problems are mistaken. Crime started to spike in 2014 and 2015, before SB 91 passed. What is needed now is a genuine investment in public safety, coupled with efforts to reduce recidivism. Swift, certain justice, well-staffed and trained police forces, and treatment and reentry programs are how you get actual results.
Describe your position on crime in Anchorage.
The Assembly has focused on increasing the size of the Police Department, both sworn and unsworn staff. We’ve purchased a new police headquarters downtown, proposed a bond to create new evidence storage facilities in the old HQ, passed laws to allow for easier prosecution of stolen vehicles, and invested in a fund to clean up vacant and nuisance properties that have become criminal hotbeds. In short, we have made public safety a priority, and made actual investments to back up our rhetoric.
How do you feel Anchorage performed in the recent 7.0 earthquake? What can the city government do, or what would you do on the Assembly, to improve seismic safety or emergency preparedness?
The people of Anchorage did remarkably well. Our Muni Employees performed admirably, as did state, federal, & private partners. As Chair of the Assembly at the time, I called a special meeting to extend the Mayor’s emergency declaration. We later passed an ordinance to use emergency funds. There was a real sense of coming together. However, we know it could have been much worse had the quake been stronger. Worth highlighting: repairing the Port is crucial to improving our disaster preparedness.
What do you think of the job Ethan Berkowitz has been doing as mayor?
I haven’t agreed with him on everything, but I think Mayor Berkowitz deserves credit for focusing on public safety, crafting balanced budgets that include appropriate revenue measures, and largely avoiding the divisiveness and drama that seem to consume DC and Juneau.
Overall taxation in Anchorage is....too low? Too high? Just right? Explain. If taxes are too high, what would you cut? If taxes are too low, what would you raise?
Everyone would like lower taxes, and we have taken steps like increasing residential property tax exemptions to see that the burden does not fall too heavily on one group. The ML&P sale will help as well, because revenues can be used to retire debt and increase the trust fund, offsetting some property taxes. At the same time, I supported the motor fuels tax to diversify revenues, and I support the alcohol tax because it will fund programs targeting homelessness and substance abuse.
Tell us your ideas about transit and infrastructure in Anchorage.
I want Anchorage to be a more livable, walkable, & bikeable city. I’m as guilty as anyone of being constantly in my car, but I also love using the Chester Creek Trail near my house. Our trail system is a tremendous asset, and we have invested in linking it together. As we continue to transition the People Mover to a ridership model, produce more housing in core areas, and build more bike & pedestrian infrastructure, we will have the ancillary effect of alleviating some traffic issues.
What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
The Dunleavy budget is the single largest threat to public safety, jobs, and home values in Anchorage. If it passes, we will see mass layoffs and deep cuts to services, resulting in another recession. It will mean larger class sizes, higher costs for seniors, and young people leaving the state. It includes slashes to the AWAIC shelter for survivors of domestic abuse, the Pioneer Home, and WWAMI. I urge our legislators to take a balanced approach and protect the well being of their constituents.
What is the most pressing problem facing your district?
Would you support a law allowing on-site consumption of marijuana?
Yes, so long as it protects employees.
What three places would you pick when highlighting Anchorage to tourists?
Downtown, Kincaid Park, Alaska Native Heritage Center.
Would you take steps toward reversing Anchorage’s plastic bag ban?
No. Our next challenge is implementation.
Do you support the Berkowitz administration’s efforts to create a climate change action plan?
If you were asked to cut the city budget by 10 percent in the coming fiscal year, in which three areas would you recommend cuts?
I prefer across-the-board, excepting police.