Snow removal, homelessness and economy among topics at State of the City Address
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Mayor Dave Bronson gave his annual State of the City speech Monday in downtown Anchorage, addressing a variety of accomplishments and challenges including snow removal efforts, homelessness and the economy.
November’s record-breaking snowfall tested the limits and preparedness of the city’s snow removal crews, Bronson said.
“I know that many of you have been frustrated as the snow has impacted your daily lives, your businesses, our schools and the safety of our roads,” Bronson said. “I hear you loud and clear. I agree with you. Trust me, I really do hear you.”
Bronson had been criticized for moving snow removal assets from residential areas to help with state-maintained roadways. After his speech, the mayor defended this.
“We have to keep the public roads, the high-speed roads, open, “Bronson said. “So people can get food. So the ambulances can get in. Now the ambulances were coming into the neighborhoods and having challenges. I understand that, but why would I plow a neighborhood when you could get out of your neighborhood and out of your driveway and then you get to a major road that’s impassable?”
There are more snow removal resources, and staff, this year compared to last, Bronson said.
“Last year it took us nearly 50 days to get emergency procurement contracts in place so we can get more resources,” Bronson said. “That usually means graters to help with the snow hauling and the snow plowing.”
The mayor’s administration will be having roundtable discussions about this winter’s snow response, so far, and said he’ll be sharing those findings.
Anchorage Assembly Chair Chris Constant said he agreed with a lot of the mayor’s speech and disagreed with other parts.
“When you hear issues relating to limited snow hauling and all the issues we had last week, we had multiple vacancies,” Constant said. “We have 49 vacancies in maintenance and operations, and so it’s no wonder the services can’t be delivered in a timely manner. You know, the mayor’s message in October was, ‘If we get a snow like we had in December, we are ready.’ Well, we had less snow so far in November than we did last December. And so, we weren’t ready. Why? Because we don’t have workers in the jobs.”
The mayor also talked about the homelessness crisis in Anchorage.
“Our initiative to transform the solid waste service admin building to a cold weather shelter have protected numerous Anchorage residents from our unforgiving Alaskan winters and we appreciate the Anchorage Assembly for supporting our recommendation to expand the number of available beds.”
Both the mayor and Constant said they have both been working together on a variety of issues.
“The one area that I think we have the closest alignment with the administration, I think his words were pretty accurate, are issues relating to housing policy,” Constant said. “The Assembly has been very aggressive at working on jumpstarting the housing economy to make sure everybody has a place to live in this town.”
The mayor also talked about 2023 being a record-breaking year for local tourism, calling the topic “the shining star.”
“The heart of our city, downtown Anchorage, is finally emerging from the challenges we face during the pandemic undergoing a renaissance with the establishment of the mushing district and significant business developments that bring energy and vitality to our urban core,” Bronson said. “People are coming back to downtown.”
Alaska’s News Source asked the mayor about safety issues we’ve been hearing about from downtown businesses. Kaladi Brothers Coffee, said in a Facebook post, they’d be closing their downtown location on Dec. 1.
“It’s a big hindrance,” Bronson said. “But we’re still having — we had a very robust year, a very good year. Best tourist year yet.”
Alaska’s News Source also asked Constant about the safety issues downtown.
“There’s no question that, yes we had a record year of tourism, more visitors than ever and we had great revenue that comes from it,” Constant said. “And there’s also no question that there are issues in the community, in the downtown streets, that people aren’t feeling safe. And how we manage that is through a public safety response at this point. We have our outreach. We have our other services relating to people who are unhoused. But we also have issues of crime that are going unmanaged in the downtown.”
In his speech, Bronson also talked about economic development.
“Landmark projects like NorthLink Aviation’s new cargo terminal breaking ground at Ted Stevens International Airport, just several weeks ago and global power players like Amazon building new facilities within the municipality,” Bronson said.
Bronson also talked about his increase in funding to snow removal in the city, in his proposed budget, and increasing pay for the Anchorage Police Department, giving them “the largest pay increase in the history of the municipality.”
The mayor also talked about securing funding to modernize and repair the Port of Alaska.
Anchorage Assembly Vice Chair Meg Zaletel also talked about the mayor’s speech afterward.
“We have some areas of agreement,” Zaletel said. “But what it really doesn’t drill down into is that what’s been keeping the city moving for the past year is the work of the Anchorage Assembly. A lot of the accomplishments that the mayor is taking credit for often are because the Assembly is overriding vetoes or bringing forward legislation. It is not coming from his administration.”
Alaska’s News Source asked the mayor about this criticism.
“We partner on a lot of things,” Bronson said. “But we provide the path forward and they support us. They’re saying things that they do that we support them on too. The Title 21 reforms that, you know, Kevin Cross is working on. That’s really good. I met with Kevin this morning. The contest isn’t as deep as people think.”
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