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Anchorage Assembly allows pot displays at city facilities, moves toward trash utility sale

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published May 12, 2015

The Anchorage Assembly voted Tuesday night on issues ranging from the sale of the city's trash collection utility to the possession and display of marijuana in city facilities.

In a 6-4 vote, the Assembly voted to allow Mayor Dan Sullivan's administration to take steps toward the sale of the city's trash collection utility. The administration would have to return to the Assembly for approval before initiating a bid process, and again to present the final terms of a sale, according to Tuesday night's resolution.

Also Tuesday night, the Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to allow vendors and event promoters to possess and display marijuana in city facilities on a contractual basis. The resolution comes a few days before the city's first marijuana trade show, the Northwest Cannabis Classic, is set to take place at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center.

Cory Wray, organizer for the Northwest Cannabis Classic, said after the meeting that the Assembly's decision was "the right step in the right direction." He said the show would have happened either way, but said the resolution allows for demonstrations on topics like manicuring and trimming buds and operating lighting equipment.

The Assembly resolution does not allow for the consumption of marijuana at the trade show. It does outline "safeguards" and conditions for displaying and possessing marijuana during trade shows, as well as insurance requirements for organizers and vendors, as the state of Alaska of works to develop regulations for the legalization of marijuana.

Earlier this year, a different marijuana trade show announced its cancellation after the Sullivan administration said it would not allow marijuana at marijuana-related events in city facilities.

City to continue exploring Solid Waste Services sale

Recent efforts by the Sullivan administration to explore selling Solid Waste Services' trash collection operations has generated backlash, particularly from labor unions. Many people wearing stickers with the word "sale" crossed out testified at the meeting to say they were worried about rate increases and lost jobs that could result from a sale.

But it's not clear if and when a sale proposal will materialize. With the resolution approved Tuesday night, the Assembly gave the Sullivan administration the ability to hire a consultant and prepare bid documents. The administration needs to return to the Assembly for authorization to solicit bids.

If bid documents are issued and a buyer is identified, the Assembly would also have to approve the final terms of the deal, according to the resolution.

Assembly members generally voiced doubts about whether privatizing the trash collection utility will ultimately make financial sense. But those who supported allowing the administration to move forward said they wanted to make sure public process was maintained.

"I'm not sure this would ever pencil out...that threshold has not been met for me," said Assembly member Amy Demboski. "But what I'm trying to do is preserve public process, and make sure without question that I know what's happening with this enterprise."

Demboski said Assembly members are acting as "trustees" in this case.

After the vote, Joelle Hall, director of operations for the Alaska AFL-CIO, gathered about two dozen union members outside the Assembly chambers in the Loussac Library to talk about what it meant.

"Frankly, it's a little less to do with the issue and more to do with the process," Hall said in an interview. "We're caught up in a power struggle between the mayor and the Assembly on who gets final say."

The utility reported $8.8 million in revenues and about $8.6 million in expenses in 2013.

In late February, the Sullivan administration hired a consultant to assess the value of the utility. At a work session April 24, Laith Ezzet, the senior vice president of California-based HF&H Consultants, gave a presentation to Assembly members and estimated the utility could be valued at between $19.3 million and $27 million in the event of a sale.

If proceeds were invested in a trust fund, the city could earn between $1.2 million and $1.7 million annually, according to a copy of Ezzet's presentation. Ezzet also noted $703,000 in overhead costs that would be reallocated to other city departments and utilities.

Ride-sharing ordinance tabled

In other Assembly business, ride-sharing services like Uber won't be able to operate legally in Anchorage anytime soon.

Assembly member Bill Evans had sponsored an ordinance to allow technology network companies, or TNCs, to operate in Anchorage. At Tuesday's meeting, Evans requested to put the measure on hold indefinitely, saying that reforms are needed in city code governing the taxicab industry.

"The way we've structured our taxicab industry ... almost prevents us from innovating," Evans said in an interview earlier Tuesday.

He said it may be several years before ride-sharing services are able to operate in Anchorage.

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