Karen Lawfer focuses on securing capital, revitalizing downtown

Karen Lawfer focuses on securing capital, revitalizing downtown

Posted: Thursday, September 17, 2009

Karen Lawfer's first big experience with electoral politics was supporting an initiative to overturn the Juneau Assembly's decision to remove fluoride from the city's water supply.

Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

That didn't go well, with a well-funded fluoride advocates losing 60-40, but it was part of a long history of community involvement by Lawfer.

Now she's making an even bigger try, running for the Assembly herself in an effort to reverse what she sees as a dangerous trend for Juneau as a whole.

"I think Juneau is really at the precipice," she said.

Among the problems, she sees are prices that are too high, especially for housing, and a downtown that's too focused on tourists.

"I really don't like when Juneau is open from May to September, and the whole downtown boards up the rest of the time," she said.

Lawfer is challenging two-term incumbent David Stone, one of the Assembly's fluoride opponents, but said her motivation to run was to revitalize downtown and protect the capital, two closely related issues.

"I don't think Juneau will survive another capital move vote," Lawfer said.

What Lawfer said she wants to do is use the power of the city, possibly through a cap on property taxes, to change the kinds of businesses downtown.

"Why can't they have local hire, and provide a service or clothing, things for local individuals in those spaces?" she said.

Legislators and their staffs will lose their connection to Juneau and won't protect it as the capital if they don't see a vibrant downtown, she said.

"If you want to bring a family down and integrate it into the community of Juneau, we need to make it as pleasant as possible," Lawfer said.

Assessed values downtown are exorbitant, making it impossible for anything other than high-profit tourist-oriented businesses to survive, she said.

"If you provide affordable housing or space for a business year round, we'll cap your property tax at a certain level," Lawfer suggested.

Lawfer said that wouldn't drive away the jewelry stores, they'd just switch to items for locals, such as Carhartt or North Face clothing, after the cruise ships depart.

She declined to say where temporary workers, such as legislative aides or jewelry sales people, would live if downtown's temporary housing was converted to year-round housing.

Reducing housing prices for both low-end and high-end housing would help keep the capital, and opening new land on west Douglas could help, she said.

Lawfer said she'd like to see mandatory recycling, and innovative strategies such as a waste-to-energy plan which she said was her favorite among several alternatives proposed by city staff.

"That one looked the most promising," she said. "The one thing we know is that we can't do nothing."

While Lawfer's voter registration is "undeclared," she's contributed mostly to Democrats, including former Gov. Tony Knowles.

Lawfer opposes the Juneau road.

"I can't see extending the road to another ferry terminal," she said. "I think we need to have a viable ferry system, a public transportation system, I don't see it coming from a half billion dollar road."

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