[Editor’s note: I served as Patrick Flynn’s staffer on the Assembly from 2011-2014.]
The Anchorage Assembly is supposed to be accessible. Phone numbers to assembly members are listed with their public profiles. Citizens can request public appearances to speak to local issues that haven’t been addressed sufficiently or have been ignored outright.
Last night, Pat Krochina — a partner at Nvision Architecture, located at the intersection of 13th and Gambell in Fairview — called attention to the downtown area’s growing problems of alcoholism, decreased emergency response, and an overburdened non-profit sector rendered unable to provide the necessary care to a swollen community in dire need.
At the time I purchased and renovated the four-story building, the paper hailed our investment as evidence that Fairview was on its way for [a] brighter economic future. In reality, the unchecked inebriate issue in Fairview is having a disastrous effect on the business climate, and it won’t be long before the effects are felt elsewhere in Anchorage.
To give you some examples about 13th and Gambell, notorious for unchecked, end-stage alcoholism; scores of inebriates congregating, drinking, passing out; serious public safety issues. I have seen numerous inebriates walk onto Gambell street and get hit by other vehicles. Until a few weeks ago, liquor stores openly [have sold ] to chronic inebriates and [allowed] them to drink on the property. Every person detained at the sleep-off center [is] released within walking distance of the Fairview liquor stores. APD [spends] most of their budget responding to alcohol related calls, dealing with the same folks over and over. APD budget and staff cut backs, not enough detox facilities and no mechanism for funding them.
Drive through the blocks surrounding the Fairview liquor stores, you’ll see a deteriorating neighborhood; a lot of realtor signs in front of empty properties, including mine.
Meanwhile, Carr’s Safeway, the big corporate neighbor on 13th and Gambell has a corner on the market, quite literally, and hasn’t been sufficiently motivated to make overdue and necessary changes to their stores or practice.
Most alarming, everybody is relying on APD to provide the fix. APD says they can’t go after the real bad guys because the alcohol related calls on 13th and Gambell are taking up all their time. Each time they must deal with inebriates, they’re tied up for two hours on the street or at the ER. That’s time away from the real emergencies at other parts of the city. APD tells us that we must address the issue of availability of alcohol, but then they’re told from higher up to back off the liquor industry. And, Mayor Sullivan, you keep cutting back APD’s manpower and budget.
Over the past six years, I’ve gone to my Fairview Community Council, Fairview Business [Association], Assembly and state representatives, APD, community patrols, CSP, and the mayor’s office. And all assure me we are working on the problem and it just takes time.
Assembly and Mayor, I’m out of time. I lost two-thirds of my tenants directly due to this problem, and I may lose the building because of the alcohol activity at 13th and Gambell. Must I resort to a public nuisance lawsuit? I may be left with no choice. I urge you to become informed about the problems because, as goes Fairview, so goes the rest of the city. Particularly downtown. Go on a ride along with APD and see for yourself the amount of time spent trying to fix the problems that rightly belong to other groups, including the liquor industry. And when the package store [licenses] come up for renewal, I hope this body doesn’t just rubber stamp an approval. After all, this is your problem as well.
Assemblywoman Amy Demboski of Eagle River asked if he had seen any difference since the Assembly stepped up the CSP services. Krochina agreed that there was a difference, but not a helpful one. “They’re limited,” he told Demoski. “They only have a certain amount of time.”
Night time, it turns into a zoo. I have a janitor that lives in a house adjacent to the building, and he says at night they take over. He comes out to tell them to calm down – he’s trying to get sleep in the morning – and they swear, throw stuff at him, he had belligerent guys come up to him in a car. He calls the police. They come, you know, when they can. And obviously they’re busy.
Krochina said that, by the time police get there, the people causing the problems have scattered. Once the police take the report and leave to attend other matters, the offending party inevitably comes back and pick up where they left off. The last time this happened, he said, they defecated on the front door.
Demboski mentioned that she had recently spoken with a Las Vegas fire fighter who had let her in on how they had cleaned up the strip (which is news to me). However, she failed to specify a single option relevant to Anchorage. Instead, she offered ambiguous solutions requiring “out of the box thinking.”
Assemblyman Paul Honeman, who served from 1986-1989 as a Community Service Officer and 1989-2008 as an APD officer, has a unique understanding of the woes currently centralized in the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods. Honeman pointed out that Alaska does retain a state law that permits authorities to force alcohol and drug abusers to undergo treatment. “But there’s so many [people in need] and it’s so rampant, [and that is] very costly.”
Patrick Flynn, whose district encompasses the vast majority of the affected area, offered a sharp rebuttal to Demboski’s optimism:
With all due respect to some of the thoughts of my colleagues, we don’t need to go ‘outside of the box,’ we need to get back inside of the box. 12 years ago, the state dramatically increased the alcohol tax in the state of Alaska. The ostensible purpose of that was to provide more funding for detox in the state of Alaska.
Flynn reminded the body that only about 50 percent of the revenue generated from the sizable alcohol tax increase actually went toward the funding of detox facilities. A request to the state legislature, to fully appropriate tax revenue for the purpose of treating chronic inebriates, is pending.
“It’s simply a matter of will,” Flynn told Krochina.
That will is currently not there, on a state or local level. Businesses and residents are noticing, picking up, and leaving out of sheer desperation. The increases in our crime rate haven’t escaped local communities or national news, and isn’t helping our recruitment levels for civilian or law enforcement ranks. This is a big problem that needs and deserves a better response than the vague excuses and faulty prescriptions residents have been offered over the past several years. Meanwhile, the problem keeps getting bigger, publicly, while becoming quieter, legislatively. That’s not helping anyone.