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What will it take for the public in Juneau to pay attention to what is happening in our community and to insist on being heard - and, beyond that, to be responded to?
Tourism management is an immediate issue. Most residents would recognize the important economic value of tourism to Juneau, but wish to maintain and improve the quality of life here. We do not want the environmental or social impact of relentless commercialism to destroy the quality of life for residents or the quality of the experience for visitors.
The CBJ Assembly spent a very large sum of money to have outside consultants evaluate our situation and prepare a draft tourism management plan. Now, it seems that the powers that be are having a difficult time in loosening the grip on control and supporting a collaborative process with the public.
Egret Communications clearly saw the urgent need for this change if Juneau is to flourish as a community and tourist destination. I believe this is very largely a matter of trust. The Assembly and the tourism industry must trust the Juneau public. Promoting public input must hold a high priority and there must be a commitment to a responsive process to resolve problems and plan for future developments.
A Juneau Tourism Partnership (JTP) to provide for such a process is one element of Egret's management plan. I strongly support such an independent entity, with one exception. As outlined, the membership of the JTP Board of Directors would include: One representative from cruise-related business; one from destination industry; one from the retail sector and three from the public plus one Assembly member and one Forest Service member as ex-officio members, without a vote.
I propose that, whatever the makeup of the board, residents have one seat more than the business interests. The direction of tourism development and its impact on our town has such importance in the lives of all the citizens that we deserve to have more than just equal representation with the tourism and business interests. I propose that the Juneau community seats on the board be chosen by the neighborhood associations. At present, there are 16 neighborhood associations which broadly reflect the geographical population within the borough. The associations could elect one representative from each of the "corners" of our community. These resident representatives should be selected with their commitment to a cooperative effort and conflict resolution in mind.
At present, residents of Juneau do not have trust in the existing public process regarding tourism management. The Assembly must act to restore trust. The Juneau Tourism Partnership with a resident majority on the Board of Directors would go a long way toward establishing more optimism about the future of Juneau. It could diminish the cynicism and the apathy that many residents have felt.
The Assembly Human Resources Committee (HRC) was assigned the JTP portion of the plan to review and make recommendations to the full Assembly. I urge HRC Chairman Don Etheridge to act without further delay in holding a well-noticed meeting to gather public input. Last week's meeting was not given adequate notice and only three citizens showed up to provide testimony on this critically important part of the Tourism Management Plan.
The chair keeps declaring that the tourism folks are in the middle of their busy season and that a meeting later this summer or early fall, "with mid-October as an outside timeline" would be more desirable. Is there a hidden motive here? I have attended many meetings regarding waterfront development, flightseeing and traffic and harbor issues. Representatives of the tourism industry never seem to have a problem in attending any meetings where their self-interest is at stake.
The Assembly and the public need to get together and do better on this. There is much more to come!
Dixie Hood is a professional mediator with a business in downtown Juneau and is a former candidate for the Assembly.