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: Felix Rivera
Occupation: Assembly member
Why are you running?
I’ve been honored to serve my constituents over the last three years. I’m running for reelection because I’m not done yet. There is still important work to do when it comes to homelessness, public safety and revitalizing Midtown. We must have an Assembly that’s ready to get the job done. I’ve been proud to be a part of this Assembly and would be honored to continue this work for three more years.
What is your overall vision for Anchorage?
The Municipality of Anchorage is making huge headway on the issues facing us. We will continue making progress on homelessness and public safety. More than this, we must be a place that attracts the next generation of young workers to live, work and play in our great city. To do this, businesses will continue investing in us. That’s why we saw $40 million in investment from the Rasmuson Foundation, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, Providence Health and Services Alaska and Weidner Apartment Homes to address issues of homelessness and $110 million in investment from UPS at the airport. We will continue encouraging development, especially in affordable housing. We will finish up work at the Port of Alaska so Alaskans all over the state continue receiving goods. Overall, the municipality will be a more multi-modal, accessible, safe, affordable and attractive place to live.
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?
I’ll continue working with state legislators to do everything possible to mitigate the decline in state revenue. But assuming the decline will continue, the municipality must become more self-sufficient and independent. That’s why I sponsored an alcohol tax for the voters to consider. It is also why I’ve put forward a variety of audits that will be conducted in 2020, including overtime, to see if there are any areas we can be more efficient within the municipality. The days of state largess are over. State leaders have made that clear. That means we must be willing to step up. I’m confident we will.
Should the city cut its budget? If so, where specifically would you cut spending?
While there may be ways to find efficiencies within the municipality, simply making widespread budget cuts without understanding the impacts is the most regressive way of reducing spending. In fact, most departments have seen cuts year after year for a decade, most recently to bolster the budgets for the Anchorage Police Department and the Anchorage Fire Department. Instead of irresponsibly cutting the budget, the powerful audit power of the Assembly should continue to be used. That’s why I’ve put forward a series of audits in the 2020 Audit Plan to explore areas for efficiencies. The other tool available to the Assembly is prioritizing spending. That’s what I did in November when we approved the 2020 budget. A budget amendment I wrote passed, which created a new bus route to service the Loussac Library, which lost service in 2018. Funding for this amendment came from prioritizing spending within the budget.
What specific steps should the city take to address homelessness? If your vision requires funding, where would the money come from?
Public health and safety is the area of responsibility for the Municipality of Anchorage. Shelter needs to be a priority. We know that there is a need of 50 to 100 more shelter beds within the municipality. A shelter in Midtown would help alleviate this concern. Funding for these efforts would be paid by allocations in the 2020 budget as well as passage of the alcohol tax. Another priority within our responsibility is substance misuse treatment. Without effective treatment, we won’t be able to make real headway on the issue of homelessness. That’s why the Assembly approved a stipulation of the Anchorage Municipal Light and Power sale which included $15 million for the creation of an Alaska Center for Treatment. Funding for part of the operational costs of the treatment center will be paid for by passage of the alcohol tax. A competitive request-for proposal process would designate a provider to run the treatment center. Outside of these direct efforts the municipality is leading, we must continue to be an effective and collaborative partner with the other agencies within the Anchored Home efforts, including the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness, United Way and the Homelessness Leadership Council.
What is the biggest issue facing Anchorage, and how would you address it?
The biggest issue facing the Municipality of Anchorage is the continued lack of confidence in the state. The deteriorating fiscal situation of the state is trickling down to the municipality. The state backed out of its promise to fund school bond debt reimbursement. That’s why property taxpayers are going to see a hike in taxes of about $150 this year. We’ve done everything we can to keep our AAA bond rating. But if the state doesn’t get its fiscal house in order, we are going to see more and more issues trickle down from the state to residents of the municipality.
What specific steps should the city take to address crime in Anchorage?
Since 2015, the municipality has increased the budget for APD and AFD to allow for increases in staffing to these critical departments. Since I was elected in 2017, I’ve voted to continue this trend. That’s why we’ve seen a decrease in crime in some important categories, including property crime, vehicle theft and burglary. We must continue to increase the number of officers, but we should also look at ways to prevent some of the most heinous crime within the municipality for which we rank high in the country – including sexual assault and domestic violence. That’s why the alcohol tax I sponsored made a concerted effort to fund preventative work to address sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.
2019 was the warmest year on record for Alaska. What should Anchorage do to address climate change?
Climate change is real and those of us in Alaska are at the forefront. That's why I voted to adopt the Anchorage Climate Action Plan. We must take this issue seriously. The potential economic and public safety impacts are too important for us to just ignore. I look forward to continuing work to achieve the goals of the Climate Action Plan.
How is the current Assembly doing? Are there any issues you would raise if elected?
This Assembly is the most transparent, forward-thinking and solutions-focused body I’ve ever seen. During my tenure as chair of the Assembly from April 2019 to January 2020, I engaged in a dialogue with my colleagues to figure out how we could best serve our constituents. I’m proud of the work we’ve done and look forward to the significant improvements planned within the Assembly Priorities 2019-2021 document.
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 only way the Port of Alaska will be paid for is by all parties coming to the table and chipping in. That means the state of Alaska, the federal government, residents of the municipality and port users. We’ve already seen some significant investments from the federal government in the tune of $45 million. I led an effort to encourage the state Legislature to put forward a general obligation bond to fund repairs for the port. Thanks to recent work done by the Assembly, administration and Port Users Group, the port modernization project is aligned and ready to move forward to secure funding.
Describe an ordinance or legislative issue you plan to bring forward as an Assembly member, and any funding it might require.
In the coming year, the Midtown Community Council should be ready to bring forward the idea of creating a Midtown Partnership, modeled off of the Anchorage Downtown Partnership. I look forward to continuing my work with the business leaders and property managers of Midtown as we continue to finesse this idea to eventually bring it forward to the Assembly and the residents and businesses of Midtown for a vote. Funding for creation of a tax-improvement district would be through property taxes, which the property owners in Midtown would agree to pay.
There is a movement in the Eagle River/Chugiak district to secede from the Municipality of Anchorage. Where do you stand on EagleExit?
I’ve met with Michael Tavoliero, chair of EagleExit, and will repeat what I said to him: Right now, Chugiak-Eagle River is engaged in an internal conversation about their future. That is a conversation I don’t need to engage in and look forward to the results. If EagleExit becomes a reality and goes from an internal conversation to a community-wide conversation, then EagleExit needs to be ready to come to the table and negotiate. In the end, all parties must be made whole and tough discussions will take place.
What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
Public transportation and roads are huge issues the Assembly faces.