Local initiatives fail to get out of the gate

Lack of signatures, recent court decision end two ballot efforts

Posted: Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Two groups heading up ballot initiatives failed to return paperwork to the city clerk's office by deadline, so voters will not be asked to consider the issues during the municipal election on Oct. 7.

The Juneau People's Power Project wanted the city to take a look at buying Alaska Electric Power & Light Co., and citizen Dixie Hood led an attempt to get more review of the city's downtown parking project.

Neither issue will appear on the ballot.

Members of The Juneau People's Power Project said they were frustrated and angry at AEL&P, when the company more than quadrupled its rates this spring after avalanches in April destroyed part of the transmission line it was responsible for maintaining.

The group wanted voters to consider whether the city should look into buying the privately owned utility. Their deadline was July 28.

"We didn't get enough signatures," said member Bill Burk.

Burk said the group is still active, but did not have any future plans as of Tuesday.

Hood wanted more study and public meetings on the city's planned parking garage and transit center at the corner of Main Street and Egan Drive.

The initiative sought to amend city code to require public hearings in the event of any deviation from the Long Range Waterfront Plan.

The plan was adopted by the Juneau Assembly in November 2004 and outlines future development along the waterfront near downtown.

Hood's initiative aimed to put "backbone" into the plan by requiring that any proposal to deviate from it would require a public hearing.

She said the group dropped the effort to collect signatures three days before the deadline, when she received an eight-page memo from city attorney John Hartle telling her that, based on a recent court decision, he would advise the clerk to not certify the initiative.

"The city picked apart every part of the ballot initiative," Hood said. "We determined we couldn't pursue this unless we had legal counsel, which we don't have. Somewhere along the line, it looks as if there was a political effort to put the kibosh on this."

Hood declined to say how many signatures had been collected.

Hartle and his staff based their conclusion on a June 20 Alaska Supreme Court decision concerning a case in Homer that involved amending zoning through an initiative.

In the case, Griswold vs. City of Homer, the court found that a municipality can't amend a zoning ordinance without having planning commission review.

Hood's initiative would have attempted to do just that, Hartle said.

"The timing could not have been worse," he said, noting that Hood picked up the signature booklets on July 19 - one day before the court's decision.

"Any charge of a political kibosh is ridiculous," Hartle said.

No additional petitions are circulating or in the works for October's election, Municipal Clerk Laurie Sica said Tuesday.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.

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