Anchorage Assembly commits to using facilitator to reach agreement with Bronson administration on homelessness plan

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 10:41 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - After much heated debate, the Anchorage Assembly passed a resolution during their regular meeting Tuesday that commits it to a facilitated collaborative process to come to an agreement with the city administration on a short and long-term solution to housing the city’s homeless population.

Brought by assembly members Meg Zaletel, John Weddleton and Vice Chair Christopher Constant, the resolution states the city will engage a third-party facilitator to work with assembly members and members of Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration to that end. The deadline to engage a facilitator is Aug. 1, according to the resolution.

Zaletel said the resolution came about after collaborating with the administration, the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness and other stakeholders.

“It recognizes that we need a plan to go forward and that we don’t have a lot of time,” she said.

Two weeks ago, the assembly failed to introduce an ordinance brought by the Bronson administration that would have asked for $15 million to build a large homeless shelter in East Anchorage. At the time, assembly members cited the need for more precise planning and cost estimates.

Bronson also recently declined to go through with a deal set up by former Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson that would have had the city purchase the old Alaska Club building to be used as a 125-bed shetler.

The resolution passed Tuesday night states that the assembly commits to designing a homeless shelter or shelters that includes a navigation center, and states that the assembly will identify capacity needs so that they can be considered as part of the 2022 municipal budget process.

According to the resolution, the assembly will commit to identifying existing buildings or designing facilities, and will identify the costs for their purchase or construction by the time first quarter budget revisions roll around in April 2022, so that they can be considered for remaining CARES Act funds and the second allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The assembly will “produce deliverables” and a public engagement process by no later than Oct. 1 of this year, according to the resolution, that identifies the design and site criteria and homeless service delivery.

The measure elicited strong arguments from both assembly members and members of Bronson’s administration. Bronson proposed an amendment to the resolution which would have had the assembly and administration agree to a 400-bed facility at the previously identified location near the intersection of Tudor and Elmore Roads.

According to the amendment, the assembly and administration would “agree to build and operate” the 400-bed facility upon the passage of the resolution. The amendment stated that the administration would provide a revised budget for design and construction at the assembly’s Aug. 10 meeting.

“This amendment asks the assembly to blindly agree to a 400-bed shelter at a location without cost, without all of the details that caused us to not introduce the appropriation that was originally before us,” Zaletel said. “This makes no sense, frankly.”

Craig Campbell, Bronson’s chief of staff, argued that the amendment was simply asking the assembly to give the administration the green light to move forward on a new proposal for a scaled down shelter that would be brought back to the assembly with a more detailed budget for design and construction. He said the assembly would still hold the power to reject what the administration came up with.

Weddleton said he didn’t disagree with the proposal in Bronson’s amendment, but that he didn’t think the proper place for it was in the resolution.

“There’s two things that happen every winter in Anchorage and they always will,” Bronson said. “And that is people play hockey and homeless (people) freeze to death. That always happens. This solution solves both of those problems.”

“We need to get the Sullivan Arena open, so our kids and our college age kids can play hockey,” he continued. “So the Ben Boeke is a safe place for our young kids to play hockey and the parents don’t have to worry about problems with homeless (people) in that area.”

Bronson asked who on the assembly he is supposed to negotiate with when it comes to a plan for addressing homelessness. He said he’s spoken to a number of assembly members and “the story keeps changing.”

On the other side, Zaletel and Constant expressed frustration at what they characterized as lack of collaboration from Bronson’s administration. Zaletel said she regularly attends city meetings on housing and homelessness and expressed frustration that she rarely sees Bronson’s homeless coordinator, Dr. John Morris, in attendance.

“So it is time for the administration to show up and truly be collaborative,” Zaletel said,

Bronson’s amendment failed 2-8, with assembly members Crystal Kennedy and Jamie Allard supporting it. Kennedy also moved to postpone the resolution indefinitely, which also failed 2-8.

The original resolution eventually passed in an 8-2 vote, with Kennedy and Allard voting against it.

Before the final vote, Kennedy said she felt like engaging a facilitator to help the assembly and administration come together on a plan would just be another obstacle and that it wasn’t necessary. Constant said he had hoped the city could reach an agreement without a facilitator, but that “it’s clear that we need somebody to record our agreements and bring them forward to us at the next meeting so everyone is on the same page.”

“Because that’s been the hardest part in the process for me, is to understand who is making the call and why (does) the ball keep moving, which as we heard from the administration, they feel the same way,” Constant said.

Other Alaska cities have used third-party facilitators to reach agreements on large capital projects. In 2018, the city council in Homer used a facilitator to help them come to certain agreements regarding the design and construction of the city’s new police station.

“Perhaps the facilitator is what we need, because there seems like there’s not a lot of trust in this room right now,” Zaletel said at Tuesday’s meeting.

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