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: Pete Petersen
Occupation: Former restaurant owner and manager
Why are you running?
There are a number of issues that we have been working on that I would like to see additional progress on. I want to continue to rebuild the police force so we can lower the crime rates. Public safety has to be our top priority. Also, I believe the homelessness problem is reaching a point where significant progress can be made in the next few years. The private sector has committed $40 million over the next five years to reduce homelessness. The city of Anchorage has committed to using $15 million of the proceeds from the Anchorage Municipal Light and Power sale to build a rehab facility. These commitments are the beginning steps necessary to see a reduction in homelessness.
What is your overall vision for Anchorage?
A growing, thriving, vibrant city with a wide variety of opportunities for business and employment. The tourist industry has grown quickly to become an important segment of the local economy. Anchorage has improved our parks and trails enough that they are attracting tourists. I believe that we can continue to increase the number of visitors from Outside and overseas to further develop the tourist industry. Also, additional business development is needed to continue to diversify our economy and create more jobs.
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 amount of revenue we receive from the state of Alaska has been declining for over five years. The reality of the situation is that we should not expect state revenues to local governments to increase any time soon. The city is required to balance our budget every year. I believe that more revenue is necessary to maintain the facilities that the municipality owns. The 5% alcohol tax is on the ballot this year and I believe that if passed, that would provide an additional $11 million to $15 million per year.
Should the city cut its budget? If so, where specifically would you cut spending?
I have used my small business experience to help keep our budget down. When I managed my restaurant, I would put my monthly budget on the bulletin board in the office so all employees could see what the goals were for that month. The municipal budget has been cut for several years. If there are many more cuts, the city will not be able to maintain the roads, do timely snow removal, improve police protection and maintain the emergency services that our citizens need and expect.
What specific steps should the city take to address homelessness? If your vision requires funding, where would the money come from?
There were approximately 3,000 people who experienced homelessness for a period of time in Anchorage last year. That is around 1% of our population. The good news is that two-thirds of them were able to get back into housing. But reducing the number of homeless further will take additional investments by the community. The homelessness problem is not something that the Assembly can solve on our own. It is a community-wide problem and it will take a commitment from the entire community to continue to reduce the number of people who experience homelessness. The private sector has stepped up with a commitment of $40 million over the next five years. I believe that the citizens of Anchorage now have the opportunity to pass the alcohol tax so there is funding available to make the needed investments to help find housing for those who are homeless.
What is the biggest issue facing Anchorage, and how would you address it?
The biggest issue facing the Municipality of Anchorage is public safety. There was a perfect storm of events a few years ago that increased crime significantly. Anchorage’s number of police officers was allowed to get too low. At about that same time, the Alaska Legislature passed SB 91. That legislation lowered or eliminated jail time for many non-violent crimes. On top of that, the entire nation, including Alaska, found itself in an opioid crisis. To try and address the higher crime problem, the Assembly funded two police academies each year for four years to rebuild our police force to approximately the size it should be for a city with our population. Additional non-sworn officers were added to the budget this year to increase the number of 911 and 311 operators so call wait times can be reduced. Also, more evidence positions were funded so police reports can be received by citizens more quickly. The Assembly must commit to funding police academies in each year’s budget to ensure that our force continues to be at full strength.
What specific steps should the city take to address crime in Anchorage?
We have added 100 police officers to our police force. But we need to continue to fund police academies annually so we don’t allow the number of first responders to get too low again. As co-chair of the Public Safety Committee, we have been emphasizing the need to reduce the number of sexual assaults and rapes here in Anchorage. The state of Alaska is the leader in these types of crimes nationwide and has been for years. The prosecution of these crimes needs to be done faster. Right now, there is too long of a wait time before these cases can come to trial. The evidence collected at the crime scene takes much too long to be processed. But hopefully, the evidence can be processed more quickly now because another analyst was recently hired to work on the backlog of cases.
2019 was the warmest year on record for Alaska. What should Anchorage do to address climate change?
There are several actions Anchorage can do to lower energy usage and save taxpayer dollars at the same time. The city needs to continue to replace older, less-efficient street lights with new LED lights. The new lights provide more light and use a fraction of the electricity compared to the old ones. Also, additional solar panels could be installed on municipal buildings to lower power usage there as well. We should also consider buying electric buses to replace the old diesel buses when they wear out. I believe we could be able to get some federal funding to help defray the high price of the new electric buses. Also, individual citizens need to work to reduce their carbon footprint wherever possible. It will take a long-term commitment from governments and citizens to make progress reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.
How is the current Assembly doing? Are there any issues you would raise if elected?
The current Assembly works very well together. We had strategic planning sessions and adopted a vision of what we believe the future of Anchorage should look like. The plan sets our priorities and also short- and long-term goals. We have made progress in rebuilding the police force and put more ambulances into service. One reason I ran for Assembly six years ago was because the number of police officers had been allowed to get too low to provide adequate public safety. Over the last five years, we have rebuilt the police force and the number of crimes is trending lower.
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 first phase of rebuilding the port will begin this coming building season with the petroleum and cement terminal. This phase should be completed in 2021. We received grants from the state of Alaska and Congress to fund a good portion that project. The shipping rates were slightly increased for the first time in almost a decade to secure the rest of the funding for that phase of rebuilding the port. I would like to see the state Legislature put a general obligation bond on the ballot this November to help fund the next phase of the port project. Also, the Defense Department considers our port one of a few strategic ports in the Pacific region. It would make sense for the Pentagon to help with the funding necessary to rebuild the port. The Municipality of Anchorage needs to work with our congressional delegation to help get the Defense Department committed to help rebuild our strategic port.
Describe an ordinance or legislative issue you plan to bring forward as an Assembly member, and any funding it might require.
I advocated to get the Park Ranger program reinstated. We budgeted for four new sworn police officers to patrol the parks and trails all over town this year. I expect the results of this program will be to make people feel more safe in the amazing parks and on the many miles of trails we have here in Anchorage. I see this as sort of a pilot program. If we get good feedback on this program, we could increase the number of Park Rangers in the future. The budget is a little over $100,000 for each additional position.
There is a movement in the Eagle River/Chugiak district to secede from the Municipality of Anchorage. Where do you stand on EagleExit?
We have been a united city since the late 1970s when the borough and city merged. I believe we are stronger together than separate. I hope the people of Eagle River don’t leave.
What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
Dangerous driving is out of control on our streets and highways. I see a large number of red-light runners and hear from neighbors regularly about how many close calls or accidents they have been involved in here in Anchorage. I have heard from numerous neighborhoods about speeding in residential areas. We have had traffic calming measures installed in several subdivisions and more are planned in the future. The traffic unit at the police department should be increased to try and get a reduction in accidents caused by speeding and over-aggressive driving.