At its Monday meeting, the Juneau Assembly adopted a plan recommending the construction of nearly 2,000 new housing units in the next 30 years to lower the city’s high cost of housing.
With a 7–1 vote, the Assembly adopted by resolution the Housing Action Plan, a comprehensive document laying out the tools the city needs to unclog its “stuck” housing market.
The only dissenting vote came from Loren Jones, who wanted the plan to be rolled into the city’s Comprehensive Plan, as was originally recommended by several city officials, including the city manager, community development director and planning manager.
Jones and several other Assembly members, including Jesse Kiehl, said adopting the plan by resolution gives the plan fewer teeth to take a bite out of the city’s perennial housing problem. Unlike Jones, Kiehl voted to adopt the plan by resolution anyway.
“It was time to put it on the books, even if it wasn’t the perfect plan or the perfect place in the books,” Kiehl told the Empire over the phone Monday afternoon. “Nothing gets implemented unless we do it, so it’s time to start doing it.”
Opponents of adopting the plan into the city’s Comprehensive Plan, such as Assembly members Debbie White and Mary Becker, argued at a November Assembly meeting that doing so was government overreach. The plan, White said, would interfere with the free housing market if folded into the Comprehensive Plan, where it would’ve provided a consistent set of housing-related directives for all of city government.
On Monday, White moved to send the plan back to the city’s Land’s and Resources Committee where it could be worked on further before being adopted at all — either by resolution or ordinance.
Mayor Ken Koelsch and Assembly members Jerry Nankervis, Beth Weldon and White voted in support of that motion. Becker — who has spoken out against the plan before — was absent Monday night. Without her, White’s motion split 4–4, failing to secure the five votes required to pass.
A whale of a donation
Juneau’s Whale Committee, the body behind the life-sized bronze whale sculpture next to the Douglas Bridge, presented the city with an oversized cardboard check Monday.
The $365,000 check will pay for an infinity pool that will surround the sculpture, and it will pay for and the fountain waterworks that will spray water from the whale’s fins.
It has been nearly 10 years since former Juneau mayor Bill Overstreet founded the Whale Committee for the purpose of creating the massive sculpture. During that time the committee has raised about $1.7 million to bring Overstreet’s whale-sized dream to life. Several “key players” of the whale project — including committee treasurer Kay Diebels, supporters Romer Derr and Bill Ruddy, and Overstreet himself — died before the whale was erected, according to committee President Bruce Botelho.
“In some respects, I have to say that the whale, which was supposed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of statehood, has also become a memorial to them,” he told the Empire Monday.
Jean Overstreet, Bill’s widow, presented the check to the city during the Monday evening Assembly meeting. Botelho and committee members Paul Dick and Jim Clarke also attended the meeting.
Since the check was written about a month ago, the committee has raised an additional $150,000 for the project, Botelho said. He and his fellow fundraisers hope to secure an additional $50,000 to $100,000 to pay for the fountain pumps, water treatment system and control panel.
“We’re trying to fill the hold to make sure the city has enough to go forward and complete the project by next summer,” Botelho said.
• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or firstname.lastname@example.org.