When it comes to the public process in the borough these days, there seems to be two choices. No public process or the "The Good Ol’ Boy Public Process". Both of which smell like a spawning salmon washed up on the shoreline on a hot summer day. And both lead to extraordinarily bad public policy.
TO BRING YOU UP TO SPEED…
Take the recently passed version of the Borough subdivision code, Title 43 for instance.
Last summer, Assembly member Jim Colver, a surveyor by profession, led the borough down an ugly, muddled path when he initiated a reversion to the old, badly outdated and widely discredited subdivision code (aka Title 16). Under Title 16, subdivisions were developed according to low standards for things like roads and fundamental infrastructure such as placement of utilities. We have referred to Mr. Colver’s subdivision obsession as the Bad Roads and Taxpayer Exploitation Act. The end result is that the borough now has a new subdivision code… named Title 43, presumably to remove the stigma associated with Title 16.
THE HEAD CHEERLEADER
In his zeal to dismantle the code, Mr. Colver got everybody in a tizzy: staff, planning commission, platting board, road service boards…. all frantically trying to figure out the implications of reverting to this lax and woefully inadequate Title 16 code; trying to identify and patch up the worst of it. Mr. Colver, taking the lead, convinced a large majority of the assembly to jump on board. It didn’t take much convincing, though, since most of the assembly’s policy decisions are driven by an extreme ideology of development with no rules and a get the public out of the way attitude.
So, instead of listening to the pleas of the platting board, planning commission, road service boards, and staff recommendations to fix the relatively few problems with the then current Title 27 subdivision code… Jim Colver pushed on, not just with the old Title 16, but with the old Title 16 as modified by the Mat-Su Business Alliance, a special interest organization with a narrow focus, one that is not exactly concerned with the broad public interest. It was the MSBA version that replaced Title 27 and became the working copy of the subdivision ordinance.
Thus, Jim Colver and company supplanted the public interest with a narrow special interest. That was pretty easy to do when you have an Assembly that doesn’t care much about either the public interest or the public process. This switch to the MSBA version, complicated and made more unwieldy the public, staff and board review because there wasn't a clear connection, through amendments, between the Colver version introduced in June/July and the MSBA version. Not to mention this kicked to the curb the then present Title 27 subdivision code, which on the whole did a pretty good job of providing for the orderly development of the borough while protecting the taxpayer. Oh and let’s not forget that developers, surveyors, engineers and the public drafted and supported Title 27. The underlying problem is that lax rules give the developer a break at taxpayer expense. Relaxed subdivision road standards (a la Title 16) means, among other things, bad roads and infrastructure (you know…. mudholes, bad drainage, poor road material, etc.), which the taxpayer must ultimately pay to fix, while the subdivision developer enjoys umbrella drinks in Vegas.
Most everyone acknowledged that some modification to Title 27 was in order but that changes should be considered in a thoughtful, straight-forward, clear manner, so that the public knew how our subdivision code was being changed. The result would be a better code. But no, not good enough for the assembly wrecking crew who chose to throw Title 27 out entirely. You know the throw the baby out with the bath water scenario, which seems so popular these days.
THE BACKUP SQUAD
To make a long and painful story short, at the last meeting, your assembly by a 6-1 vote, listened largely to a narrow special interest group rather than paying meaningful attention to the general public, planning commission, platting board and road service boards. (which soundly opposed the roll back in code) And then the good ol’ boys contingency of the assembly in one dramatic instance ignored the advice from their own borough attorney and created their own subdivision code from this growing paper pile we would wager few of them had even read or had a good grasp of.
More astonishingly, the Assembly, also by a vote of 6-1, turned down a request by their own planning commission presented to them to run the final subdivision code by the road service boards, planning commission, and platting board and to hold a public hearing. That’s right…. after the substitution of the MSBA version of our subdivision code and after several months of amendments BY A VOTE OF 6-1, THE ASSEMBLY SAID “NO” TO A PUBLIC HEARING…. So much for the public’s basic right to participate in the decisions that affect them.
The result of this horrendously flawed process was the outright repeal of Title 27, a code that was not perfect but one that had been developed over a number of years with broad public and stakeholder participation. This was summarily cast aside and replaced by the Bad Road and Taxpayer Exploitation Act, otherwise now known as Title 43.
This raises the question… WHY? Why would the assembly steamroll this process so it could force on the citizen’s of this borough a Subdivision Code that favors a narrow special interest over the public health, safety, and welfare, at the expense of orderly development of our borough. I think you all can figure it out..
JUST GIVE IT A NEW NUMBER WITH THE OLD RULES
Here are a couple of glaring problems with the new subdivision code that the assembly even saw fit to give a new code number (Title 43) much like that touted lipstick on a pig.
1. Serial Waivers are now allowed, even though according to the borough attorney and an outside law firm this practice is illegal under state law. Sounds complicated but really isn’t. Specifically allowing the practice of serial waivers [a Waiver Subdivision is the division of a single lot into not more than four lots, as allowed under Alaska state statute, where normal subdivision rules are “waived.” A so-called “serial waiver” a series of waivers of previously waivered parcels, enabling the creation of far more than the four lots.] facilitates the development of a full fledged subdivision without having to comply with normal subdivision development rules. This has in the past and will no doubt in the future lead to road quality, access, utility, drainage, water and septic problems…..just the “Full Monty” of issues. Issues someone has to suffer through and more importantly pay for long after the developer has made his money.
2. Public notice period “mailing at least 15 days before a public hearing” reducing it from 21 days in the previous Title 27 code. This means the public, and in particular the road service boards, the fire service area boards, and the community councils, is, as a practical matter, now effectively deprived of the opportunity to be heard on platting issues. The shorter comment period will in many cases conflict with meeting schedules, doesn’t account for mailing time or the need for the platting department to receive the comments in time to prepare and distribute the platting board’s packet.
MAD ENOUGH YET?
There is much, much more to be stunned and outraged about, which you’d see and hear if you sat through the scattered and disjointed meetings that the assembly held on this issue over the last 9 or so months. Chances are you didn’t since many of them were scheduled during a time of the day not likely to have much of an audience other than their cheerleaders for development with no rules.
It is a sorry state of affairs, but the voters elected them…. we only report on it. It is decided at the ballot box. It is time to get mad and get active.
Just to be clear, Assemblyman Colver had plenty of help getting this hot mess through the goal posts. The ceremonial mayor has reminded us repeatedly we need to "take care of the people that pay the bills" because apparently in his monarchy homeowners and small business owners are the "takers" of the borough. Even with Assembly member Arvin giving his personal assurance that "this didn't go idly by the public and get slipped into code one dark night" just doesn't begin to pass the straight face test. We can understand his confusion though as he is largely participating telephonically from a different time zone. We're guessing his attendance record at community council meetings, road service boards and other opportunities for public input is not impressive on any day or night. Assembly member Salmon seemed pretty uninterested in the whole process, the inefficiency of it all and agreed that the lack of urgency at this time of year will have little effect on the upcoming construction season. However he completely reversed himself at the final vote and gave it a shove through.
At the end of this debacle, comments by some assembly members such as, we know there may be problems with this code but we need to pass this, we can fix the problems as they come up and we need to get it passed because of the construction season are all bloviated, empty gestures and an admittance that they didn’t do a very good job.
This failing patch quilt of an ordinance was brought to you by one assembly member, guided by a few fellow surveyors, a handful of noisy small time developers wanting access to more land on the cheap, and a "big hat no cattle" so called business organization. Well they got the full attention of the assembly and the process that they wanted. The rest of us get to live with and later pay for the results of what can only be described as a pretend process and decisions made by elected officials that will be long gone down the well traveled political road.
Once again..You voted them in. We only call it like we see it.