My Turn: Affordable housing can be remedied

People need to get informed, involved in North Douglas sewer expansion debate

Posted: Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I am taken back by the My Turn comments made by Gary Tigar of Tigar Properties ( on March 2. He wrote, "I believe the demand for affordable housing is greater than the demand to fix existing sewer systems."

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I am curious as to how Tigar is able to qualify this statement from his Northridge, Calif., office from where he buys and sells wholesale distressed properties nationwide. Juneau does not need developers with such an irresponsible mindset. I support the responsible comments of Ron Clarke (Feb. 26 My Turn) regarding the North Douglas sewer expansion. I encourage uninformed North Douglas neighbors to become informed and get involved in the sewer discussions to ensure responsible, informed expansion of the sewer.

I believe the affordable housing debacle can be remedied with an ongoing sewer expansion to all of North Douglas in collaboration with a revision to the land-use, zoning and density requirements. North Douglas holds many large parcels, some with fantastic views and good soil on which to build. Once the sewer is expanded to this area, many parcels will become sub-dividable creating smaller and more affordable dirt to build upon. It is a simple scale of economy, which is defined by as, "Reduction in cost per unit resulting from increased production, realized through operational efficiencies. Economies of scale can be accomplished because as production increases, the cost of producing each additional unit falls."

The sewer expansion has become an issue of politics and financing, which brings us to an even larger problem - the lack of affordable housing. If the city truly recognizes affordable housing as a grave issue affecting the community, our elected officials need to make some very basic decisions, most of which revolve around funding. Perhaps our elected officials need to consider shifting sewer priority from Industrial Boulevard - an area of boat condos, seafood processors and auto-body shops - to where it has a greater effect on housing costs.

Perhaps the funds can be shifted from the daily street sweeps of downtown during the summer, or from the numerous cruise ship-related expansions. After this incredible snow year, is it possible some funding can be shifted from Eaglecrest after years of subsidies? If it is an issue of being able to transfer revenues, perhaps switching the sewer from a special revenue fund to a capital fund and Eaglecrest from a capital fund to a special revenue fund would be appropriate and effective? Perhaps our mayor and city manager can work with the Legislature to increase Department of Environmental Conservation matching grants to expand sewer?

I am glad to see what appears to be progress on expanding the sewer to North Douglas. I hope it is not a short-lived Band-Aid but the beginning of an expedited plan to clean up Juneau's beaches and land, and create affordable housing. If the city can clean up downtown in time for tourist season each year, the city can facilitate a cleanup of the land on which we live.

Whether you are pro-development or anti-development, it benefits both sides of the spectrum. The pro-development landowners will have options to subdivide and create scales of economy benefiting the community as a whole by creating affordable housing; the anti-development folks will have somewhere to plant their gardens other than on a leach field benefiting the community as a whole.

For the folks that do not recognize the magnitude of the sewer problem, I encourage them to take a leisurely stroll along the beaches of North Douglas, enjoy the magnificent views and the underlying stench of raw sewage. Just step around the dark gray sludge.

On a more serious note, the underlying message to the public, specifically North Douglas property owners, is get involved in the process and discussions around this issue, if not for affordable housing, for good soils and the environment.

• Mike Bellevue is a Juneau land owner, commercial crab fisherman and licensed contractor.

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