The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for Anchorage Assembly in the 2020 election to answer a series of questions, many of which were based on suggestions from readers. Find all candidates and their answers here. (We also surveyed candidates for Anchorage School Board.)
Note: This survey was sent and candidates’ responses were collected in February, before the first confirmed case of the new coronavirus was reported in Alaska.
Candidate: Austin Quinn-Davidson
Occupation: Attorney and Anchorage Assembly member
Why are you running?
Three months after I was sworn in to represent West Anchorage on the Anchorage Assembly, our city experienced the largest earthquake in recent memory. My neighborhood was hit hard. Many homeowners had damage in the order of tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency inspectors who came to help seemed unfamiliar with earthquake damage and offered payouts that were woefully small. An outpouring of appeals and complaints didn’t seem to make a difference. Before the earthquake, I didn’t know anything about FEMA, but I made myself an expert on disaster assistance policies and flew to Washington, D.C. to make the case to our delegation that my Anchorage neighbors deserved more. Not long after, FEMA changed its policies and began offering Anchorage property owners larger payouts.
I love this community and I’m eager to keep fighting for it. During the last year, I’ve worked to make our city safer by investing in public safety services, sponsored ordinances to support working families, and taken action to ensure that the Municipality remains fiscally stable even as state funding decreases. It has been an honor to work for my community, and I hope to have the opportunity to continue working to make Anchorage safer, stronger and more resilient.
What is your overall vision for Anchorage?
Anchorage is a special place. We have tight-knit and diverse communities, a world-class trail system, stunning natural beauty and hardworking and down-to-earth residents. We have all the ingredients to attract and retain a skilled workforce and businesses that increasingly value quality of life. But we must overcome our most corrosive challenges: We must become a city where all children feel safe in their homes and where everyone feels safe in our public spaces. We must be a city where someone who is ready to recover from addiction doesn’t have to wait weeks to get treatment, and where children enter kindergarten ready to learn. And we must become a self-sufficient, resilient city that can withstand crisis — whether caused by earthquakes, fires or state budget vetoes.
We’re making progress. Our investments in public safety are paying off. From 2017 to 2019, all types of reported crime other than sexual assault dropped dramatically. I regularly hear from constituents that they feel safer in Anchorage. We’ve increased shelter capacity for those experiencing homelessness and incentivized housing development. And the sale of Anchorage Municipal Light and Power will represent our city’s largest step to financial independence in recent memory. We are stronger and safer because of the sound decisions we’ve made, but there is more work to do.
What specifically should the city do to offset the decline in revenue from the state? Are you in favor of new taxes or revenue? If so, what specifically?
The state’s decreasing budget and corresponding community assistance has left the municipality with fewer resources to fulfill our obligations to the community. For example, in recent years the state’s contribution to municipal road projects has dropped by 94%, according to the mayor’s office. This has led the municipality to take a hard look at our budget and where we can make cuts or better direct resources, and also made us consider new sources of revenue. One area where our community has been hit by the state’s abdication of its responsibilities is homelessness. We’ve done our best to tackle this complex issue with the resources we have, but to make real and lasting change we need additional shelter facilities and treatment resources. That is why I support an alcohol tax, the funding from which would specifically be dedicated to public safety; programs that address child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault and resources for addressing homelessness. If the proposal passes, revenue from this tax would be placed in a separate fund and would only be spent after a comprehensive public process to determine how best to use the money.
Should the city cut its budget? If so, where specifically would you cut spending?
With drastic reductions from the state, the municipality has had to take a hard look at the services we can realistically offer. Non-safety related departments have absorbed difficult cuts for years. After consistent cuts to many programs and services, it has become more and more difficult to cut without causing a serious and noticeable impact on residents. If reelected, I will continue to support cost-saving measures while ensuring continued funding for critical services, including public safety and education.
What specific steps should the city take to address homelessness? If your vision requires funding, where would the money come from?
Homelessness is a complex issue that cities across the country are grappling with. Over the last few years, the municipality has laid the groundwork for a more robust and coordinated response. We now have an action-oriented plan that aligns the many providers, as well as shared and improved data to inform decision making. These system improvements have created enough trust for the private sector to pledge $40 million toward reducing homelessness over the next five years. The Assembly has also increased funding for public safety and homelessness services, including shelter and camp cleanup, and implemented zone abatement to more efficiently clean up camps.
In the short term, we need to expand the Mobile Intervention Team, ensure the camp cleanup process meets community needs and make sure the shelter system has the capacity to house everyone who needs it. But to make a real and lasting difference, we need to work with community partners to increase behavioral health treatment options, affordable housing and stabilization services. We need more day shelter space to draw individuals off of the streets and connect them with services. We need more supportive housing units to take the most resource-demanding individuals off the streets and out of emergency rooms and shelters. To succeed, this must be a community effort; the municipality should continue to bring together nonprofits as well as the private sector to do this work. To pay our share, I support the alcohol tax, which would raise funds for public safety and other homelessness-related needs.
What is the biggest issue facing Anchorage, and how would you address it?
Anchorage is at a critical juncture. For many years, we relied on the state to carry us — to provide services, to fix our roads, to pick up the slack. But that hasn’t been happening for years, and we don’t expect it to anytime soon. So we will need to decide whether we — like the state government — will let our institutions crumble and see resident after resident leave, or whether we will come together to build the kind of Anchorage we believe in. Will we find a way to protect each other, provide our children a solid education and raise the funds we need to become the thriving city we have the potential to be? Or will we follow in the state’s footsteps and continue to pull back from our obligations and responsibilities to this place and to each other? The biggest issue facing Anchorage boils down to a philosophical decision; the choice we make will shape who we become.
What specific steps should the city take to address crime in Anchorage?
The best way to adequately respond to crime and protect residents is to have enough officers on the ground. Since Mayor Ethan Berkowitz took office in 2015, he and the Assembly have grown the police force by approximately 100 officers. Between 2017 and 2019, crime in nearly every category — except sexual assault — went down dramatically. Making real strides in public safety requires an investment in our police force, but it also demands evaluating why crime happens in the first place. Ensuring that our kids get a quality education, that our neighbors and friends have secure, good jobs and that our population is healthy and cared for is essential to ensure long-term safety in our city.
2019 was the warmest year on record for Alaska. What should Anchorage do to address climate change?
As we saw this past summer, climate change is imminent and serious. In 2019, the Assembly approved the Climate Action Plan, a roadmap for improving community resilience. We should continue to implement the plan, which will result in substantial economic, environmental and community benefits. The Climate Action Plan encourages the implementation of innovative projects such as creating the state’s largest rooftop solar array, now located on top of the Egan Center, which will pay for itself in eight years and was completed at no cost to taxpayers.
How is the current Assembly doing? Are there any issues you would raise if elected?
The Anchorage Assembly is a group of hardworking, thoughtful people who have made this city a better place. In just the last year-and-a-half while I’ve been on the Assembly, we’ve made major strides in tackling homelessness, reduced crime in almost all categories, created a better system for communicating with the public, made sound fiscal decisions that will make our city more stable and resilient for years to come, supported education and other essential public services and approached complex problems in a thoughtful and nuanced way. I am proud to serve with each one of my colleagues.
Do you support the governor’s budget cuts?
The Port of Alaska needs at least hundreds of millions of dollars to modernize. How should port modernization be paid for?
The challenge of getting adequate funding for the port is twofold. First, the sheer cost of any port — regardless of the design — is an incredible hurdle. It will take major fundraising from a variety of sources to make the modernization program possible. And second, getting funding for the port requires a shift in how we view the port. It isn’t just Anchorage’s port; it is the Port of Alaska, which services nearly the entire state and is essential to our survival. The Assembly has been making strides toward making the Port of Alaska repair and modernization a reality. My colleague and I traveled to Washington, D.C. last year to speak with our federal delegation about funding opportunities. Since then, the municipality has been awarded $45 million in grants for this project, and we mobilized other cities and towns throughout Alaska to put in a request for funding with the state legislature as well. The Assembly has evaluated the administration’s proposal to find ways to save money, strategized a long-term plan to fund the repairs, and collaborated with the Port of Alaska user groups and other interested parties along the way. Through working together and acting strategically, we can create a realistic and reasonable path toward modernizing the Port of Alaska.
Describe an ordinance or legislative issue you plan to bring forward as an Assembly member, and any funding it might require.
Anchorage desperately needs more housing. Because of the limited options currently available, Anchorage residents regularly move to the Valley. Last year the Assembly approved a development incentive for downtown. This was badly needed and has already spurred new development, but we need to see development in other areas of Anchorage as well. I’ve been exploring additional incentive programs that would best suit Anchorage’s long-term vision and needs.
I’ve also been working on a comprehensive update to Title 2 of the municipal code, which deals with Assembly meetings and agendas. This update will include a proposal to increase opportunities for public comment and to add an indigenous land acknowledgement to the beginning of each meeting.
There is a movement in the Eagle River/Chugiak district to secede from the Municipality of Anchorage. Where do you stand on EagleExit?
I view EagleExit as a distraction from more important issues. Personally, I’ve been more focused on public safety, pursuing solutions to our challenges relating to homelessness and passing ordinances that benefit working families. I suspect EagleExit would do more harm than good for residents of Eagle River and Chugiak.
What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
Future Anchorage residents will look back on this moment as an important period in Anchorage’s history. We are at a juncture: Do we choose the state’s path of reducing services and investment, leading to crumbling infrastructure and an exodus of residents? Or do we invest in and build the Anchorage we know we can become? I choose the latter. I hope to be able to continue working hard to strengthen and build our city over the next three years.