Assembly votes down cruise

Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The Assembly voted (6-2) against authorizing the Mayor and City Manager to go on a four day cruise offered by Norwegian Cruise Lines.

They would have journeyed on the maiden voyage of the new cruise ship 'Joy'.  City Manager Rorie Watt said other cruise destinations will be on the cruise and it presented an opportunity for the CBJ to learn about how other communities handle certain fees for cruise ships.  "I think there is value that could be gained and the value would outweigh the negatives.  I will not push you very hard on this."

Assembly member Rob Edwardson said he opposed the idea.  He said they should not accept an extremely discounted ticket. 

Assembly member Loren Jones also opposed the offer.  "I don't think anybody on that cruise will pay $99 for four days.  If the manager's reasons for wanting to be with other port people to meet with Norwegian to understand the operation, it would be just as easy to have an all day seminar when it is docked in Juneau."

"It is meant to influence and I think that works both ways.  I don't think this would past the red face test.  I couldn't defend this before the public and not blush a little bit.," he added.

Assembly member Wade Bryson said he sees an extremely high value of the Mayor and Manager getting more understanding of the cruise operation.  "This is not a pleasure trip to Hawaii.  It's not a Caribbean cruise.  Sometimes the cruise lines extremely discount cruises.  I fully expect the Manager and Mayor would be working all four days, acting as dignitaries for the city and meeting critical personnel in the cruise line industry."

Bryson said the information could not be gained in other ways.  "Being on board, being behind the scenes when they go through the ports, speaking with crew members, and having other city officials in your position in a setting that can't be duplicated, I absolutely could defend this to the public.  I see the City of Juneau benefiting from seeing the cruise industry from this point of view."

He said it could build and repair some relationships between the CBJ and the cruise line industry.

Assembly member Mary Becker said she felt the CBJ could have a lot of influence on this cruise.  "If we could have one of the cruise lines see our point of view and then advocate for them, I think it could be beneficial.  I'm not concerned about the $99 but I would like to find one of those cruises."

She amended the motion to have the city pay the $99 for each ticket and authorize the Mayor and Manager to take the cruise.  That motion failed (4-3).

Kirby Day of Princess Cruises gave an update on tourism best management practices.  1.3 million tourists are expected to visit Juneau this year.  He said there will be challenges moving these tourists through the community.

"We are working closely with the Department of Transportation on possible realignment of crosswalks."

They are also working on improvements to Seward Street and other projects.

"We can find ways to improve our operations to make them less impactful to the community and neighborhoods."

They've also worked with whale watch boats and fishermen to make them less impactful on the water.

He added they are proud of the industry and they need to continue to be better.  "This is an important summer.  It's significant growth but I think we can do things to help the community absorb and embrace it."

The Assembly approved a resolution (6-3) to disband the Affordable Housing Commission.  The Assembly found it had completed its mission.

Commission Chairman Dave Hannah said some of the work still needs to be done.  He said in the last year they have focused on workforce housing issues.  He said he was unsure if they had met all the goals of the Juneau Housing Action Plan.  "Some folks feel the business community is meeting the action plan without help from the city.  It appears a Juneau housing needs assessment needs to be done every couple of years so we can target where we are deficient."

Hannah said the economic climate could change dramatically in the next few years.  He said instead of new housing they might have to focus on making existing housing more affordable.   He added the commission wants to make sure the affordable housing fund meets the needs of the community.

The majority of the Commission had passed a resolution to continue their work.  He suggested they could meet less often but still accomplish a lot.  "We should have a panel to consider any application for the housing fund.  Some of our expertise could be very helpful.  Somethings haven't gone right in the last couple of years."

He mentioned the Eagle Rock project as an example of where more in depth review could have helped the project remain viable.

"It's not fair to expect city staff to have all that experience and expertise.  It would be unwise to turn down the offer of that expertise free of charge."

He said a new review committee might be able to assist the city on housing issues.  He said the members of the Affordable Housing Commission would be interested in serving on this committee.

In other actions;

The Mayor issued a proclamation to honor the American Legion for its work on behalf of the United States.  The Auke Post 25 was honored for service to the community, Juneau members of the armed forces, our children and youth, and fighting for the rights of veterans.  The American Legion celebrates its Centennial this year.  Mayor Weldon proclaimed March 15 as American Legion Day in Juneau.

The Assembly approved $ 1.3 million for the Bartlett Regional Hospital Pharmacy and Clean Room Capital Improvement Project.  The money comes from fund balance in the hospital budget.  It brings the hospital into compliance with regulations on the handling of certain hazardous drugs.


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