Flightseeing critics resort to initiatives

Assembly votes to tighten up review process for initiative petitions

Posted: Tuesday, May 02, 2000

Juneau resident Ray Preston and others are turning to the citizen initiative as a means of bypassing city staff and the Juneau Assembly.

Preston submitted an initiative to the city clerk Monday that would severely limit Juneau flightseeing operations, as well as deal what could amount to a death blow to building additional heliports locally.

The people fielding the initiative feel they aren't getting the government they want, according to assembly member Tom Garrett. ``They clearly feel we're being ineffective, since we don't do what they want,'' the Planning and Policy Committee chairman said.

``It's an easy thing to say nobody's doing anything about (flightseeing issues), when actually the PPC has taken a lot of time to address these very issues,'' Garrett said.

At its Monday night meeting, the assembly passed a measure -- promoted by Garrett -- amending the election code to tighten up review of initiative petitions submitted to the city clerk.

Preston's view is that the assembly and city hall have a ``company-town mentality,'' and he questions ``whether we have a representative democracy down there.''

Preston has been the ubiquitous fly in flightseeing operators' ointment at a number of local meetings dealing -- or as he says, purporting to deal -- with noise complaints. He has repeatedly, publicly registered his objection to the ``incessant'' aircraft noise over his home and elsewhere, and to the apparent unwillingness of city officials to address the problem.

Dennis Harris is another habitue of assembly meetings and a vocal critic of what he characterizes as that body's inaction vis-a-vis tourism impacts.

``I've got a bunch of (initiatives) in the works, a couple already drafted,'' Harris said. ``They deal with a Saturday port closing, reclassifying (city) land for disposal, and one that would result in better neighborhood representation in elections.''

Harris, a perennial fixture at public meetings, said he was fielding the initiatives because ``the current regime represents big-money politics.''

At the local level, the growth of the initiative is entirely because the government is not in touch with the people's will, he said.

Wings of Alaska President Bob Jacobsen's take on the multiplying initiatives is that most of the noise is coming from a small group -- and they're not flying aircraft.

``Obviously there are a couple of lawyers in this town with too much time,'' Jacobsen said. ``And a lawyer with too much time is dangerous.''

Preston is a lawyer, as is Robert Reges, founder of Cruise Control, an organization that aims to mitigate cruise ship impacts on the community.

``We have surveyed the community over the years,'' Jacobsen said, ``and it's our sense that a small percentage of the population is driving this issue.''

Bob Engelbrecht, President of NorthStar Trekking, a helicopter flightseeing operation, echoed Jacobsen's sentiment. The city is doing ``a really good job'' gathering information on flightseeing impacts, he said. ``It's frustrating that the people (who are fielding initiatives) are opting out of the process.''

Almost all of the initiatives have been brought forward by citizens who feel their elected officials haven't been paying attention, assembly member Garrett said.

As for Preston's initiative, Garrett said he was sure it would make it to the ballot, but was unwilling to predict its fate afterward.

The initiative ordinance passed by the assembly Monday night encodes the city charter prohibition banning initiatives that seek to establish budgets, fix mill levies, or appropriate funds. In addition, the ordinance includes restrictions already defined in the Alaska Constitution: Initiatives may not dedicate revenues, make or repeal appropriations, or create courts or define their jurisdiction.

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