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Assembly passes controversial building purchase ordinance

After hours of debate with hundreds protesting outside, the ordinance passed in two parts
Published: Aug. 12, 2020 at 12:22 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly voted Tuesday night to pass the controversial AO 2020-66, which authorizes the municipality to move forward with the purchase of four buildings around Anchorage to be converted into homeless and addiction treatment services.

The decision came after hours of debate inside the chambers, and protests outside. Hundreds of people came out before Tuesday’s meeting protesting a number of different subjects, from an ordinance that would ban conversion therapy, to one that would codify limits on APD’s use-of-force policies, to the latest emergency order from Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. By far one of the most vocally opposed ordinances however was AO 2020-66.

Many there gave reasons for opposing the ordinance similar to what was said during the weeks of public testimony leading up to this meeting. Some argued that bringing a shelter and these service centers near neighborhoods with liquor stores nearby would raise crime, and lower property values. Others raised concerns that the purchase of three of these buildings - the fourth is to be purchased with proceeds from the sale of ML&P - was an inappropriate use of the $12.5 in CARES Act funds the ordinance authorizes, especially when Anchorage has allocated $13 million of the $156 million total funds the municipality received towards small business relief.

“If you’re going to shut down and target an entire industry of hospitality, you better have a plan in place, and they didn’t,” said Melissia Steen, a business owner who showed up to the protest. “So no, I don’t think they should be using CARES funds the way they are, they should be helping the people they just laid off.”

Inside the chambers, debate over the ordinance began with a motion to delay the vote by Eagle River/Chugiak Assembly Member Jamie Allard. Allard raised concerns that voting on the ordinance before the Municipality meets with an auditor from the Department of Treasury’s Office of the Inspector General could put the municipality and taxpayers in a position where they will owe the federal government money. That motion was ultimately voted down after the administration argued there would be time after the vote, but before the money is actually spent, to walk back the decision if the Department of Treasury concludes the use is inappropriate.

Officials also argued that if the vote were delayed much longer, the window to spend the funds would close.

“Starting that process in mid-September is going to put us very close to the December 30th deadline,” said Chief of Staff Jason Bockenstedt. “We don’t finalize a purchase and sales agreement by December 30th, we would not be able to legally use the funds for those purchases.”

The ordinance ultimately passed in two different votes. South Anchorage Assembly member John Weddleton moved to split the ordinance so that the purchase of the old Alaska Club location would be taken up separately. That purchase passed 8-3, with Weddleton and Eagle River/Chugiak members Crystal Kennedy and Allard voting against. The other 3 buildings were passed 9-2 with only the Eagle River members voting against.

Following its passage at roughly 10:30p.m. the remaining protesters made their displeasure heard. People repeatedly honked horns, slammed their fists on the Assembly chamber doors, and yelled through them at Assembly members and the Mayor, demanding to be let in or for the officials to go outside.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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