Anchorage Assembly candidate Q&A: Forrest Dunbar

The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for Anchorage Assembly to answer a series of issue questions. Read all of them here.

Forrest Dunbar | District: 5 | Age: 37 | Occupation: Attorney, Army Guard Officer |

What is a short summary of your background?

I’ve been honored to represent East Anchorage on the Assembly since April of 2016. I’m a lifelong Alaskan, originally from Eagle on the Yukon River and Cordova on Prince William Sound. My mom was a special-ed teacher and my dad worked for Fish and Game, and they raised my sister and me to work hard, stand up for those who need help, and try to give back to our community. Before the Assembly, I was the Vice President of the Scenic Foothills Community Council and helped found the Muldoon Farmers Market. I am a commissioned officer in the Alaska Army National Guard, where I serve as a judge advocate, and helped write the Alaska Code of Military Justice. I am a member of the Alaska Bar Association, as well as Congregation Beth Sholom in the district.

Why are you running?

I’m running because there is still work that needs to be done for my district, and because I want to make Anchorage an even better place to live. We need experienced leadership to get us through this tumultuous period, tackle affordable housing, homelessness, and workforce development, and get our economy back on track. I believe Anchorage can be an exciting city with strong public safety, thriving businesses, good-paying jobs and a top-tier education system. Our community has advantages few cities share, including world-class trails, a deep Indigenous history, and an incredibly diverse population. Those advantages position us for a strong economic recovery and long-term growth thereafter. Despite the difficulty of the last two years, I still believe that our best days are still ahead of us.

What makes you qualified to serve on the Anchorage Assembly?


The most important qualification for the Anchorage Assembly is an ability and desire to serve your constituents, as well as the will to stand up for them, regardless of who a proposal comes from. I have demonstrated those qualities during my time on the Assembly, responding to countless constituent messages, getting road, drainage, and pedestrian projects funded and built, directing Municipal resources towards problem properties and misused parking lots, working with the community to fund park improvements, from Kilikiti facilities in Dave Rose Park to the new Chugach Foothills Connector near the Tudor-Muldoon Curve, and more. I stood up to the prior mayor when he tried to put a bus barn too close to residential areas in Muldoon, until we found a less harmful location, and stopped the current mayor’s plan to put a 1000-bed megashelter on Tudor. Now the Assembly and Administration are working together on better solutions to homelessness, for both the clients and the neighborhood.

What is the most important problem facing Anchorage? How would you address it?

Public safety and homelessness remain our most pressing challenges. Because homelessness is addressed below, I’ll use this chance to highlight our public safety issues in Anchorage, from violent crimes to the quality of life issues presented by thefts and vehicle break-ins. That is why over the last six years I have supported adding 100 more officers to APD, which has led to a three-year decline in crime. But we are not yet where we need to be. Last year, I helped create the mental health first responders, a program that has worked in other cities to both improve outcomes for residents and free up police officers to focus on more serious crimes. I will continue to support our fire department as well, who respond not only to fires but to our medical emergencies, particularly in East Anchorage’s large senior community. When an Anchorage resident dials 911, I want them to know that help is on the way. That means fully funding our public safety agencies.

What is the most important problem facing your district? How would you address it?

East Anchorage has the same public safety concerns as much of Anchorage, but another pressing issue in our district is affordable housing and cost of living. We are a heavily residential district, one of the densest in the state. As everyone knows, the price of housing has increased substantially, driven primarily by a lack of supply. In addition to using the ML&P sales proceeds to offset property taxes, I also voted in 2017 to increase the residential property tax exemption from $20k to $50k, the maximum allowed under state law. There is a bill now at the state Legislature to increase that to $70k; if it passes, I will vote to adopt that increase in order to lower taxes. I am also a strong supporter of the proposal to provide $1300 of relief per-person to address the price of fuel. Finally, I will continue to support efforts to make it easier to build, including changes to Title 21 and Title 23, more accessory dwelling units (mother-in-law apartments), and a permit fee holiday.

What is your vision of the role of local government in Anchorage?

Local government is primarily about providing basic public services: police, fire, snow removal, road maintenance, and other things that help a municipality function. Most of the work we do on the Assembly is unexciting and wonkish, but essential. For my first four years on the body, when we did have significant public testimony it was usually about rezones, liquor licenses, or the other neighborhood issues that folks turn to their local government to address. Unfortunately, shortly after the start of the pandemic, we started to see national political rhetoric increasingly brought into the debate, as bloggers, talk radio and social media groups saw an opportunity to rile people up and score political points. As the pandemic subsides, I am hopeful that we can get back to the core functions of our local government. Of course, that will not happen if the same forces that nationalized our politics over the last two years succeed in winning this Assembly election.

Rate Dave Bronson’s performance as mayor. Explain, with specific examples.

I am committed to working with Mayor Bronson on policies that will benefit East Anchorage, and standing up to him when his actions are harmful. His attempt to put a 1000-bed megashelter in East Anchorage was bad for the neighborhood and for people experiencing homelessness. He attempted to cut every park improvement in East Anchorage, cut the school resource officers program (then went onto social media and claimed that he wasn’t), cut $1,000,000 from pre-K, and tried to eliminate the Mental Health First Responders Program, all while increasing the number of expensive political appointees. He has violated long-held norms that have kept the city running, including attempting to control the Assembly Chambers and standing by as his deputy dismissed security and cut the video feed to our meeting. I’m glad we can work collaboratively on fixing the Port, a better homelessness plan and keeping Anchorage safe, and hope in the coming year he pivots to a less divisive approach to governing.

Rate the performance of the current Assembly. Explain, with specific examples.

While our process can take too long, and there is always room for improvement, in general we have an experienced group who understand the issues, take the work seriously, and strive to do right by Anchorage. The Assembly restored funding for school resource officers, reversed cuts to pre-K education, passed a balanced budget, and directed tens of millions in COVID aid to small businesses, residents through rent relief, and nonprofits like Covenant House and the Food Bank. In addition to increasing the size of APD, we sold ML&P and put the money in the Municipal Trust, to generate long-term revenue and offset property taxes. We approved plans for the Port and the new petroleum and cement terminal is almost done. Over the last two years we have done the city’s business – approving bonds, rezones, and the normal items that keep our municipality functioning – in the face of disruptive, organized efforts to nationalize and politicize our work, which my opponent participated in and supported.

What’s your vision for improving and diversifying Anchorage’s economy?

Anchorage can and should be a vibrant city that attracts and retains a trained and talented workforce, with world-class outdoor recreation opportunities and walkable, bikeable neighborhoods where our cultural diversity is on full display, where child care is accessible and housing is affordable. Anchorage can be a city where students get a top-tier education, starting with pre-K. We can be a city that exports value-added products, while importing visitors who will add hundreds of millions of dollars by staying longer. As we compete with the rest of the country for workers, we need to make Anchorage the obvious choice. That means incentivizing and removing barriers to affordable housing, investing in and marketing our world-class trail and parks system, cultivating the independent visitor economy, revitalizing our downtown, fostering a sense of Indigenous place, partnering with the university, and going to bat for every opportunity that will bring jobs to Anchorage.

What do you see as the most effective strategies to address homelessness in Anchorage going forward?

First, it is NOT building a massive, concentrated new shelter in East Anchorage or anywhere else. Time and again, studies and examples from other cities demonstrate that smaller facilities targeted at specific needs work better for people experiencing homelessness, get to the root causes, AND are better for neighborhoods. The current facilitated process between the Assembly and administration recommends a multi-pronged approach, with treatment, workforce housing, a facility for medically fragile and complex care needs, and smaller shelters that serve different populations with different needs. While I am still opposed to the size of the “navigation center” that the mayor is attempting to put at Tudor and Elmore – 50% larger than the Brother Francis Shelter at its height – the other portions of the plan appear sound, and are similar to the plan passed by the Assembly in May of 2021, which the mayor initially discarded.

What’s your assessment of Anchorage’s transportation infrastructure? How would you improve it?

Anchorage’s transportation infrastructure clearly needs a lot of improvement. In most cases, that doesn’t mean large new roads or massive highway expansions, but rather repairing and improving the facilities that we have. In East Anchorage, we particularly need better snow removal, better drainage, and better pedestrian facilities. I am disappointed in the mayor’s decision to end progress on a stormwater utility, as that would have moved funding for drainage projects off of the bond and reduced residential property taxes. Still, in the years ahead I hope we can effectively go after state and federal funds for these kinds of neighborhood road projects, so that property taxes are not the only funding source. In addition, we need to continue to fund and improve both the trail and bus systems, and promote multimodal transportation options.


Does the city do a good job of running municipal elections? Would you push for changes? Explain.

We recently passed changes to improve transparency, communication, and certain election timelines, so there are always ways to get better. However, in general, yes, our clerk’s office runs our municipal elections well. I was very disappointed to see some of the harassment of election workers that took place last year, and it has been disturbing to hear my opponent question the legitimacy and integrity of local elections and vote-by-mail, without evidence. Vote-by-mail is secure, has tremendously increased turnout, and has worked particularly well for elderly residents and people with mobility challenges. In addition, this year’s “Track My Ballot” system should help people understand if their ballot has been received, which I know can be stressful.

The past two years have been marked by increased civic discord in Anchorage. How would you improve the quality of civic discourse in the city?

We need everyone in Anchorage to stand up to anger, hatred, and misinformation, and not allow our community to be dominated just by those who yell the loudest in person or on social media. Most Alaskans and Anchorage residents are independents and undeclared, and are not interested in endless partisan battles. At our meetings, we need a return to basic decorum and respectful discourse. And when we are crafting our policies we must always base our decisions on facts and truth, not conspiracy theories or things pulled out of context and twisted for political gain.

Do you acknowledge the results of the 2020 presidential election? Also, what are your thoughts on what took place on Jan. 6, 2021 in the U.S. Capitol?

Yes, Joe Biden won the 2020 election. Just saying “Joe Biden is the president,” or similar statements, without acknowledging that the election was legitimate, is a dodge. Efforts to delegitimize the election are fundamentally attacks on our democracy, which should be opposed regardless of whether you voted for him or not. Those kinds of attacks came to their logical conclusion on January 6th. Because if people truly believe that the election was stolen, and are being fed that “Big Lie” over and over, then violence is predictable. What happened on January 6th was an attack on our republic, was not “legitimate political discourse,” and should be denounced loudly and clearly by every elected official and political candidate.

What’s one thing that makes you hopeful about Anchorage’s future?

Put simply: Anchorage’s people. Every summer when I volunteer at the Muldoon Farmers Market, folks come up to me and speak to me about our community. With very few exceptions, these talks are thoughtful, respectful and optimistic. Anchorage’s people love Anchorage, love the unique quality of life we have here, and believe in our future. We are coming out of a very tough time, and there are certainly daunting challenges ahead. But if we believe in ourselves, continue to invest in our community, and foster a civil discourse in our neighborhoods and local government, this will continue to be a place where people want to live, work, raise families, and pursue their dreams.


What other important issue would you like to discuss?

I spoke about it above, but I want to reiterate: The rising costs of housing, fuel, and everyday items are a tremendous burden for our residents, particularly working families in East Anchorage. We have passed residential property tax relief in the past, and I hope the state will give us the tools to do so again soon. I also urge the state Legislature to pass the $1300 energy relief check, in addition to a full PFD, and I will again focus the municipality’s second batch of federal relief funds on our hardest hit businesses, families, and the nonprofits that serve them. Long term, we need to build more housing, provide additional workforce training, and ensure that we have a functioning Port to bring food and other goods into Anchorage as affordably as possible.