Citizens pushing ballot initiatives

Proponents want energy company buyout, downtown parking garage put to vote this fall

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2008

You can't fight city hall, but with enough signatures you can try and tell the officials what to do.

Two separate ballot initiative efforts are under way that would give voters the opportunity to formulate city law when they head to the polls this fall.

One ballot initiative would have the city take a look at buying Alaska Electric Light & Power Co., the private electric utility that recently more than quadrupled its residential electric rates after avalanches destroyed part of the transmission line it was responsible for maintaining. The other initiative would put up roadblocks to building a parking garage downtown.

The idea for having the city look into the feasibility of making AEL&P a public utility grew from a "coalescing of frustration, anger and fear of what happened in the wake of the avalanches," said one of the co-sponsors of the initiative, Mike Orford.

He said a ballot initiative would help raise the public's consciousness about how AEL&P is managed and offer a look at potential alternatives that might be better for the city's electric rate payers.

AEL&P has no interest in being bought by the city, company spokesman Scott Willis said, adding that its sticker price could be more than $200 million.

"We believe that AEL&P has provided good service to the community of Juneau for 115 years, and we believe we're in the best position to continue to do that," Willis said. He added that the company would be watching the ballot initiative process closely.

The other ballot initiative would require public hearings before building a parking garage downtown on Telephone Hill.

The project strays from the city's long-range waterfront plan, said initiative sponsor Dixie Hood, and it hasn't been properly vetted by the public. The city attorney recently approved the wording of Hood's initiative after rejecting an earlier version.

Hood said she has talked to Juneau residents who know little about the city's parking plans, which she said is not in the best interest of its citizens.

"They express total surprise," Hood said.

Voters approved $7.7 million for a parking garage project during the 2005 city election by passing a temporary sales tax extension, which will fund part of the garage.

Supporters of both initiatives have 30 days after they pick up petition materials from the city to collect the 2,485 signatures needed to get their ideas before voters. The number of signatures needed is a quarter of the total number of votes cast during the last municipal election.

Last year, voters rejected fluoridating the city's water supplies in one of the most expensive ballot initiative fights in the city's history.

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or e-mail

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