Politicians seek more scrutiny on parking garage

Assembly members want to expand public input on land deal

Posted: Monday, September 01, 2008

A few Juneau Assembly members who seem to be in a minority position say they are concerned recent developments on a downtown parking project are not getting enough public attention.

Assembly member Bob Doll last Monday failed in his attempt to schedule an additional meeting on negotiations between the city and state of Alaska for a land deal at Telephone Hill, where the city plans a $14 million transit center and parking garage.

Doll made the motion to expand public discussion as much as possible, he said Thursday. It failed under a tie vote.

"The content (of the land deal) is fairly detailed, and no one has had a chance to quiz us," he said.

Assembly member Jonathan Anderson voted for Doll's motion because he also wants to give the public more opportunity to understand the specifics of the deal, he said.

An ordinance introduced Aug. 25 would authorize City Manager Rod Swope to negotiate the deal.

"I'm not in favor of giving the manager carte blanche to go ahead before we have all the information," Anderson said.

The state in an Aug. 11 letter offered a 30-year lease on property it owns at the corner of Egan Drive and Main Street so the city can build the project. It also offered to transfer the land title to Juneau in exchange for forgiveness of a $6.5 million debt.

Anderson supports a lease agreement so the city can build the garage but doesn't like the idea of the city owning the property, he said.

Telephone Hill has been identified as a site for a new Capitol. Immediate plans call for the parking garage, which is being designed to allow additional future development.

"I feel that if we take possession of that land we're letting the state off the hook for building the new capital building there," Anderson said.

The debt comes from a 1984 cooperate-use agreement between the two government entities, in which Juneau paid the state $2 million to acquire private property in the area through eminent domain. If the state did not develop the property in 10 years, Juneau could be reimbursed or receive a portion of the land.

The city's initial investment is now worth about $6.5 million.

Both Doll and Anderson said the land-transfer deal would increase the price of the parking project to $20 million.

"By adopting this ordinance we're rolling over and playing dead," Doll said. "Effectively, the cost of the parking project just went up by six-point-four million."

Doll does not support the parking garage, calling it a solution looking for a problem.

The Assembly met in executive session twice this month to discuss the state's offer. Parking garage opponent Dixie Hood protested the first private meeting on Aug. 4, calling for more government transparency.

Assembly member Sara Chambers, who also supported Doll's motion Monday, said the Assembly has the political will to move forward on the parking garage, but the public needs more time to understand the land negotiations.

The public has been disenfranchised on many issues lately, she said.

"We're giving the impression to the public that we want our primary economic engine to be government construction projects," she said.

The ordinance will be considered at the Sept. 8 Assembly meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in City Hall.

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

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