Empire editorial: Thumbs down to state GOP legislative leaders, thumbs up to the city

Posted: Sunday, November 14, 2004

Thumbs down to the Alaska Republican legislative leaders who continue to undermine democracy by demanding that GOP members vote not with their conscience, but with their party. This week House Republicans did away with the pledge legislators were forced to sign to indicate that they would vote with party leaders on budget and procedural matters. Majority lawmakers are still expected to vote with their party, but leaders will take them at their word, rather than force them to sign a paper.

Rep. Bob Lynn's experience is a classic example of what's wrong with this system. Last spring the party took way the Anchorage Republican's committee chairmanship because he dared to maintain a campaign promise and voted with Democrats on the Longevity Bonus for seniors. The current system makes campaign promises more of a joke than they already are. Don't believe that a Republican lawmaker is really going to carry through with a pledge to his constituents if it doesn't line up with the will of party leaders. In other words, lawmakers can't really do what's best for their community if it clashes with the party line.

Thumbs up to developers of the wharf at Yankee Cove, who will make it easier for commercial fishermen to offload their catch without losing valuable fishing time. Marion and Naomi Hobbs have planned a 30,000-square-foot wharf near Adlersheim Wilderness Lodge. The wharf also will serve as a base for whale-watching boats and provide a transfer site for log and construction materials. Developers expect about 100 to 200 people and 20 tons of fish or other goods to pass through the facility each day, although it will not be designed for any overnight moorage.

Juneau Planning Commissioner Jim Scholz criticized city staff for imposing too many conditions on the project. Still, the Planning Commission has done right to give the green light to a promising business proposal, but to include environmental protections for the nearby fish stream and aquatic life. Development at any cost isn't going to fly and ultimately backfires against developers; instead the Planning Commission needs to support business proposals that include safeguards to minimize the environmental costs of development.

Thumbs up to the city for considering alternate plans for housing. Anyone who ever even thought about owning a home in this overpriced market knows this town desperately needs it. The city has been working on developing an ordinance that would allow homes to be built more densely if more open space is preserved on part of the land. The city also is working on an ordinance that would encourage cottage housing - small homes surrounding a courtyard with detached parking. These homes would be no larger than 800 square feet on the floor prints and 1,100 square feet in the interior.

Increasing housing density is particularly important if Juneau wants to avoid the urban sprawl that has devoured far too much of this country's landscape. If this community is to preserve the vistas and open space important to so many Juneau residents, the city might do well to consider an even higher density than the one proposed in the first ordinance. Clusters of small homes or condos, built around green areas, offer hope for avoiding the suburban sprawl that plagues the Lower 48.

The cottage housing concept is a good one for Juneau. One problem with the city ordinance, however, is that it will encourage the building of homes more for upper-middle- to upper-income households instead of those who really need them. One of the problems with housing in this town is the dearth of affordable homes for lower- and middle-income residents.

Developers may prefer to focus more on housing projects for higher-income families, but the city's job is to look out for all residents and the community's overall well-being. The city's economy could be stymied if it becomes too expensive for working-class people to live here.

As the city looks at housing options, it needs to keep lower- and middle-income residents in mind and come up with viable proposals for the Juneau residents who really need them.

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