With few details, Bronson hopes to dodge public input on mass shelter

He's asking the assembly to fork over $15 million on a shelter that they're calling a "short-term" fix for Anchorage's homeless population.

Happy Friday, everyone! I’m writing this from an excellent view down in Homer/Sterling this weekend for some beach time and hopefully some successful fishing, so a shorter edition this week (and please forgive the half-baked ideas and typos, I’ve got beach to go enjoy).

In this edition: The Hypocrisy of Bronsonville, polling on the fiscal plan and weekend watching. You can also find the latest edition of Friday in the Sun with some other gossipy bits here.

Bronsonville

The better the look we get at Bronsonville, the 400-ish-bed shelter proposed by Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, the less I feel like we really know about it. This week’s special meeting of the Anchorage Assembly’s Committee on Housing and Homelessness was particularly illuminating/befuddling. Befuddling because the pieces, the cost, the lack of details about the plan, the timing, logistics and the longevity of the project don’t really add up to anything beyond another costly Alaska boondoggle. Illuminating because the whole thing puts a fine point on the hypocrisy of a group that spent the last 18 months screeching about the alleged illegality of using CARES Act money to support people experiencing homelessness and brought recalls and death threats to the apparent lack of public input on the process. 

On Tuesday, the administration is going to be asking the Anchorage Assembly to approve the $15 million of mostly CARES Act money to build Bronsonville all without a public hearing. Without a public hearing! I thought the city had attempted recall and a pending recall over just that. But now that Bronson hopes to skirt public input on his detail-light plan, there’s no similar outcry (Wait, are you telling me it was performative politics with very little regard to the actual underlying policy?!?). 

And, sure, as several progressives have told me, the Bronson administration is at least kinda sorta adopting what they’ve been pushing for in the last year by utilizing public funds to invest in a shelter, but even those details as we learn them aren’t looking all that great.

With a price tag of $15 million—$5 million for the tent-like structure and $10 million for the construction, which includes a $4 million cost to relocate the police department’s evidence impound lot—Bronsonville would be three times the cost of the Midtown Alaska Club, a Plan B proposal teed up by former acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson that would house about 150 people along with a navigation center aimed at getting people back on their feet. The Bronsonville approach would also have an eye-watering operating price tag of $12 million annually, which would swallow up most of the revenue from what I have been told was Anchorage Assemblyman Forrest Dunbar’s personal (voter-approved) alcohol tax (Gah, the hypocrisy of it all is rich even for today’s hypocritical politics). 

What stood out the most about this week’s hearing is that Bronsonville isn’t even a long-term solution. Chief of Staff Craig Campbell and Homelessness coordinator Dr. Michael Morris threw around the word “temporary” and “short-term” a lot at the hearing, conceding that this $15 million plan (well, $27 million plan once you factor in one year’s operating costs) is intended to last just two years and is aimed primarily at keeping people sheltered during the winter. After that the tent-like structure could be used for, um, other emergencies? (Because there’s not a load of schools and other city facilities that could be used for mass emergency shelters in a pinch.) 

To me, the whole thing reeks of a steep opportunity cost. If the city is really going to invest $27 million in one year into assisting people experiencing homelessness, aren’t there better, more effective, longer-term investments that the city could be making? After all, this is largely just a shelter with what sure sounds like a litany of sole-sourced contracts along the way. This isn’t transitional housing or a path to permanent housing solutions, and what kind of room would there be for those kinds of services if the city goes all in on this? 

You can find the whole hearing shoddily recorded here, but I think it was all best summed up by one of the final public testifiers.  

“It seems like there’s this threat that if we don’t build this mass shelter that people will die because they have nowhere to go. It seems bananas to me. I understand stopping and reassessing something when a new administration comes in. I don’t understand saying that if we if we don’t move forward with this giant project with very few details immediately that people will die this winter. It seems like a hostage situation,” she said. “I don’t have a lot of opinions on how the shelter should or shouldn’t be except for that I don’t want to spend a ton of money on something that won’t work well. It’s not the building that makes it work or not, it’s the details and we don’t have the details.” 

If the assembly heeds the viciously angry threats they’ve had to endure from the Save Anchorage crowd over the last year, then it’d have no other choice but to postpone the upcoming vote in order to have a public hearing. Ya gotta hear from the public, after all. If the assembly doesn’t ultimately fork over the big bucks to Bronson, as several assembly members asked this week, then the administration conceded it will try for something smaller. 

Oh, the deadline for that smaller Plan B (the Midtown Alaska Club building) is today.

The rest of the picture

The big issue with the state's entire fiscal plan isn't so much the PFD as it is the what comes next and who pays. No one but the most deluded of the Legislature believe a substantial PFD of any size can be paid without significant changes to either the state's services, which would require statutory changes to program-driven spending like K-12 funding and Medicaid to even begin to get close to the magnitude of cuts needed, or new taxes. Dunleavy and allies have been insistent that they first need to box in the state's options by constitutionalizing the dividend and setting a strict spending limit before they can even consider the other options. In a newly released polling commissioned by the House Majority Coalition and conducted by Dittman Research explains why. Find the full results here.

The takeaway is that large constitutionally guaranteed dividends are extremely broadly popular... if that's the only thing you're asking. When you start to ask about the what's next with what's next consisting of either cuts or taxes, the popularity of the plan plummets a significant amount. 

Weekend watching

Going back to the well with Gus Johnson, who does a video every year with his increasingly over-it mom. They’re silly and sweet.

Have an excellent weekend, y’all!