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Anchorage Assembly considers pushing controversial vote on building purchase to next week

People gather outside the Loussac Library while waiting to attend the Anchorage Assembly meeting on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. Bill Roth / ADN)

After hearing hours of impassioned testimony from residents, the Anchorage Assembly considered pushing a vote on a controversial plan to purchase four buildings for homeless and treatment facilities to next week.

On Thursday morning, Assembly chairman Felix Rivera asked the Anchorage Clerk’s office to forward an email to all Assembly members, saying the proposal’s sponsors request postponing the vote. Public testimony on the plan continued Thursday evening, following two nights of testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Fellow sponsors Meg Zaletel and Chris Constant confirmed they want the vote postponed to next week. As a whole, the body has 11 members.

“That way we have some time to go and process what we’ve heard,” Zaletel said.

Through his spokeswoman, Carolyn Hall, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said he does not object to postponing the vote.

In the first two nights of testimony, about 60 people testified, largely against the proposal. Some residents near the proposed buildings passionately argued they believe the city cut them out of the conversation and is moving too fast, and the plan could bring increased crime and lower property values to their neighborhoods.

“The testimony has had an impact on me insofar as I want to go back, and I want to be able to better understand the issues that people are bringing up and see if there’s any way we can address those issues,” Rivera said.

The buildings are the Best Western Golden Lion Hotel on 36th Avenue just east of the Seward Highway; Americas Best Value Inn & Suites on Spenard Road; the former Alaska Club building at Tudor Road and Gambell Street; and the downtown building housing the Bean’s Cafe soup kitchen at Third Avenue and Karluk Street.

The Golden Lion building would be a substance misuse treatment facility, the Americas Best building would be a transitional housing facility, the Alaska Club building would provide day and overnight shelter, and Bean’s Cafe would be run as a day shelter.

Testimony in the first couple hours Thursday was mixed, with most people opposed to the Assembly allowing the city to move forward in the process of purchasing the buildings. Echoing sentiments voiced Tuesday and Wednesday, some who testified said the city was rushing the process.

Constant responded, saying the Assembly is voting on whether to allow the city access to money to purchase the buildings. If it gets Assembly approval, city officials can start vetting the proposed buildings to see if they are right for the projects and in line with the budget, Constant said. A vote on this ordinance does not mean the city will purchase the buildings, Constant said.

Other testifiers said the public has been shut out of the process. State Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, testified that he has heard from constituents who are concerned about the projects, and the lack of information from the city.

Tuck implored the Assembly and city officials to help bring the community along to better understand the proposal.

Rivera said he wants the community to be more involved, but that likely will happen in the next step, as the city moves forward with selecting treatment providers to operate programs in the facilities.

Rivera said he expects the current ordinance will be voted up or down based on its merits.

“I don’t imagine that we would vote down the ordinance that we have before us in lieu of an extended process,” Rivera said.

Three of the four buildings would be purchased using federal COVID-19 relief funds. On Friday, the Assembly has a day-long meeting to discuss how those funds should be used. Constant said it makes sense to have that discussion before voting on spending a portion of the money on the buildings.

Rivera said if deliberation and a vote is postponed, it would take place next Thursday at 6 p.m.

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