My Turn: Juneau's waterfront plan left high and dry

Posted: Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Stop, look and listen up. It's not too late. There's a proposal, legislation even, to construct a huge state government office building on the downtown waterfront. Its purpose is politically pure but oversimplifies complex, multifaceted issues. And its location is offensive.

There's another proposal, derailed by funding challenges, for a new performing arts center in Juneau. A venue long dreamed of, its purpose will be to highlight cultural events and displays in this richly artistic community.

Now, with the creative smarts here in Juneau, why hasn't there been a plan developed to help ensure the quality of life and community support for both of these projects?

Answer: Because collaborative leadership has been lacking.

Standard leadership follows a tactical or positional model. Special interest groups righteously stake out positions. Typically they advocate for particular solutions to the problems that concern them. This creates a political climate that leads to polarization. When consensus is lacking, hostility develops.

Paraphrasing contents of the book "Collaborative Leadership," I want to urge a new direction.

Collaborative leaders are sustained by their deeply democratic belief that people have the capacity to create their own visions and solve their own problems. If you can bring the appropriate people together (being broadly inclusive) in constructive ways (creating a credible, open process) with good information (bring about shared understanding of problems and concerns), they will create authentic visions and strategies for addressing the shared concerns and values of the community. The leadership role is to convene, energize, facilitate and sustain the process.

Juneau has attempted this goal with public process, such as its walkable communities, waterfront plan and waste management. Private tourism organizations have succeeded to an impressive extent with "Tourism Best Management Practices." But our elected officials fall flat with implementation. Politics and special interests intrude and the reports of hired consultants and facilitators are shunted aside. The opportunity is missed for Juneau to experience not simply the determination of office holders to solve problems, but to create a new civic culture and a renewal of community.

The city's waterfront plan states that the big and intrusive Marine View Building and Library Parking Garage were planning mistakes that should not be repeated on the waterfront. The proposed new office building design does not comply with preferred use of that prime area or the 35-foot height limit on waterfront construction. It would add even more congestion to an already problematic situation.

An alternative site for a new office building on the other side of Egan Drive would be consistent with existing large office buildings in that area. Exploration of a land swap between city, state, private properties and Mental Health Trust lands should be explored.

And, as for a much desired new performing arts center, collaborative leadership can bring together supporters from the arts and humanities organizations, Parks and Recreation, Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Clubs, the University, Alaska Native cultural groups, the Juneau Economic Development Council and a broad spectrum of citizens who cherish the unique arts community here in Juneau. Along with being and maintaining a viable state capitol, Juneau is a state and regional center for the arts.

The Mental Health Trust Board and our three Juneau legislators have all jumped on a band wagon with the government office building proposal along the waterfront, but the wheels are wobbly. The city's waterfront plan is being dumped in the ditch. Don't let that happen. And don't give up in despair and cynicism.

On Tuesday, the Planning Commission considered three applications. One was for an allowable use permit and variances regarding parking spaces and building height for the proposed office building. At the requested 75 feet in height, it would be as tall as the Sealaska Building, which is more than double the limit set forth in the waterfront plan.

Hundreds of stakeholders and dedicated citizens participated in a three-year collaborative process with city officials. It's time to let the planning commissioners know that we want that process and resulting ordinance respected.

The legislation supporting this office building is now being held in the Senate Finance Committee until the next session starts in January. Contact Sen. Dennis Egan, who is serving on the Finance Committee, or contact Rep. Beth Kerttula and Rep. Cathy Munoz and urge all of them to engage their constituents with collaborative leadership.

A deeper sense of empowerment, collaboration and community will grow out of the interaction.

• Dixie Hood is a longtime Juneau resident and active citizen.



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