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A plea was made in this space last summer to encourage local citizens to participate in the public process of forming a long-range Tourism Master Plan. The CBJ retained the services of a team from Egret Communications to guide the process and make recommendations based on information gathered through a variety of methods.
Through Web polling, public meetings, and focus group sessions, a great number of people have actively participated in the process.
The editorial put forth the prospect that this plan would be different from others produced over the years in Juneau because a high level of public participation was a key goal in the beginning. And because input would be gathered from a broader base of community, meaningful conclusions would be drawn that would produce lasting positive action and results.
Last Thursday night, Egret Communications presented to the Assembly Committee of the Whole an outline of the Tourism Plan. The public testimony presented at this public meeting was overall very positive. It is clear from the dialogue at this meeting and several others held over the past two weeks that expectations are moving in the right direction. Although the plan is far from being completed, a critical point has been crossed and that is the establishment of trust in the process and in the key drivers of the plan.
Thursday's meeting, along with recent Public Policy Committee hearings on the proposed heliport locations, were characterized by respectful, productive and sometimes passionate comment by a good number of people representing a range of interests.
The issue of noise mitigation is unquestionably the most problematic aspect of tourism to be resolved and there are many questions yet to be answered before a viable solution can be formulated. The meetings have provided a refreshing confirmation of the democratic process as neighbors and neighborhood groups stood together to be heard in defense of their turf and their ideals. Aside from addressing parochial concerns about the impacts of tourism, many who testified offered creative ideas to improve tourism.
In the course of the meetings , a real sense of direction and mutual respect has surfaced overriding the differences of opinion that have polarized the community in the not too distant past. Juneau as a community seems to have reached a higher plateau of civility in dealing with its problems. The Assembly, too, has come far in the past few months in terms of its ability to compromise and move the people's business forward.
Mayor Sally Smith took a very progressive step last week in defining the community's relationship with the cruise industry as a working partnership sharing common goals. The mayor, Assemblyman Dale Anderson and Deputy City Manager Donna Pierce are to be commended for taking the initiative to travel to Seattle to meet with cruise industry executives.
The Tourism Plan Outline identifies the need for city staff to look inwardly on its own operations as it relates to tourism and consider changes if necessary to advance the recommendation's long-range plan.
There are a great number of considerations to be examined in the outline, but if the planning process yields nothing else, it has served to bring the community together with the common goal of improving our future.
It is not practical to expect that all will be satisfied with the final draft of the plan, but no one can say they didn't have a chance to be heard. Watch this newspaper for the dates of upcoming public meetings and Web polls or visit the city's web site at www.cbjtourism.com.