Anchorage

Anchorage Assembly approves new city homelessness plan, suspends ban on plastic bags

Anchorage Assembly

After weeks of Anchorage Assembly meetings fraught with acrimony, outbursts from attendees and a power struggle with the mayor, the panel returned to business as usual Monday — voting to suspend the city’s plastic bag ban, and approving board appointments and a resolution outlining the city’s homelessness policy, among other actions.

Assembly members unanimously voted in favor of the resolution on homelessness, which is a compromise between the Assembly and administration of Mayor Dave Bronson. The resolution outlines an agreed-upon “exit strategy” from using Sullivan Arena as a mass care homeless shelter and is the result of a monthslong negotiation process after clashes over a previous Bronson proposal for a 450-person temporary shelter in East Anchorage.

City business during the Assembly’s regular meeting last week was unexpectedly derailed by a continued heated debate over a public health measure requiring mask wearing in indoor public spaces. That meeting was continued to a special meeting last week, but with a lengthy agenda, the Assembly didn’t finish its business and held the second special meeting on Monday.

Plastic bag ban suspended until Jan. 1

In a 7-3 vote on Monday, Assembly members approved an ordinance that temporarily lifts a citywide ban on plastic shopping bags, suspending the ban until Jan. 1. Assembly members Felix Rivera, Meg Zaletel and Kameron Perez-Verdia voted against the suspension while Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson did not attend the meeting.

Mayor Bronson in September had requested the ban be suspended until May 1, 2022, after the city’s previous suspension on the ban ended. Bronson, who was present during the meeting, did not speak to advocate for a longer suspension.

The Assembly had originally suspended the city’s ban on plastic bags during the beginning of the pandemic, when people feared the coronavirus could spread on surfaces such as reusable shopping totes and paper bags were in short supply.

Member Crystal Kennedy said retailers and other businesses are still facing supply shortages, including for paper bags and toilet paper.

“This just allows some flexibility,” Kennedy said. “I don’t think anybody’s going to go out and buy a whole bunch of plastic bags so that they can start giving them out. I think vendors will use what they have in stock.”

City moves ahead with new homelessness strategy

The city’s homelessness plan was drafted during a facilitated negotiation process between three Assembly representatives and three representatives from Bronson’s administration.

Before the negotiation process, the Assembly and Bronson administration bitterly sparred over how best to approach the city’s burgeoning homelessness issue. A majority of Assembly members preferred to have several smaller shelters spread across the city, while the administration wanted to concentrate services and shelter in one large facility.

Now, the resolution outlines a strategy to handle the city’s homelessness issues using a “scattered site” model that would ideally accommodate the city’s homeless population and bring the need for an emergency mass care facility — currently at Sullivan Arena — to an end.

It does not specify where any shelter or service will be located.

Instead, it details five types of housing and facilities: a shelter and navigation center for single adults, a “special population facility” also with a navigation center, a medical convalescence facility, substance misuse treatment with housing and workforce and permanent supportive housing units.

“That is one of probably the most proud pieces for me in this resolution, is that it contains a housing component. Without housing, there is no solution to homelessness,” said Assembly member Zaletel, chair of the committee on housing and homelessness and a sponsor of the resolution.

Two of Bronson’s representatives in negotiations have resigned over the last month — Craig Campbell, former director of policy and programs, and Dr. John Morris, former homeless coordinator. Only Larry Baker, Bronson’s senior policy adviser, remains.

During discussion on the resolution, Baker said that Joe Gerace, current appointed Anchorage Health Department director, will take one of the spots on the negotiation team.

Baker called the resolution a unified effort between the Assembly and administration and said it is a policy statement the administration will honor as it moves forward and adds new members to the negotiating team.

“This is just the beginning,” Baker said. “... This is the policy. What will follow is appropriations items and other issues that will come before this body.”

The resolution on homelessness passed with two amendments — one adding language that ties the need for mass care to the pandemic, and another that removed language specifying five sites the team has reviewed for a homeless shelter. That information was instead included in a memorandum because a site has not yet been chosen.

The city has seen a recent shakeup of Anchorage’s homeless management team. Two other Bronson administration officials working on homelessness issues have resigned or been fired.

Shawn Hays, the city’s mass care branch chief, was fired the same day the Daily News published the account of a man whose daughter found him at the Sullivan Arena shelter in a severely ill and incapacitated state. Bob Doehl, director of development services who had previously overseen the Sullivan Arena shelter, also resigned.

Appointment confirmations

The Assembly unanimously appointed three people to the Anchorage Community Development Authority board of directors: Travis Frisk, Mike Mills and Adam Trombley.

The Assembly postponed the confirmation vote for Stacia Green’s appointment to the board to Nov. 9. City code requires that seat be filled by someone with a background in banking and finance, Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant said. It’s not clear how Green’s experience meets that requirement, he said.

“I’ve heard from a number of members of the public that this individual is very qualified to serve at ACDA, and so I believe there isn’t a problem, but we have to do the work to figure out if this is the right fit for the actual seat that’s available,” Constant said.

The Assembly finished all items on its agenda except for a measure that would change how executive appointments are made in city departments. That will be carried over to the Assembly’s next meeting on Nov. 9

Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. She earned her degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. Contact her at egoodykoontz@adn.com.

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