Tonight (Tuesday, March 25), the FNSB Planning Commission will have a public hearing on the Vision Fairbanks plan for downtown’s revitalization. Below is my prepared testimony. (I’ll have to keep the pace up to deliver this in under three minutes.)
I realize that matters of taxation fall outside your official purview, but you do have the power to reduce one unjust tax, through your recommendation to the Assembly: the Fairbanks Citizenship Tax. You may not have heard of it, since doesn’t appear in our Code of Ordinance, but it’s quite real. It is the monetary price a person or a family must pay for first-class citizenship in our Borough.
Our land use in the Fairbanks North Star Borough is essentially suburban. I don’t mean that Fairbanks is a suburb to some larger city, as Eagle River is to Anchorage. The essence of suburban development is that different kinds of land uses are kept separate: retail and commercial uses may be allowed in one place; civic uses like schools and government offices in another; recreational uses in still another; and residences kept separate from them all. In the Borough, there is some small overlap of uses, but, by and large, we have zoned them apart.
The result of this is that the various needs a person might have to meet throughout the day are kept far apart — farther than is reasonable to walk. The person who cannot afford to buy and maintain a car has a choice: spend all your free time walking, bicycling, or busing from one remote destination to another, or stay shut up at home.
And it will not do for us to shrug off car ownership as just part of the cost of living here. I have seen the price of car ownership estimated from 15 to 30 percent of annual household income. And, with all the extra idling we do in the winter, I wouldn’t be surprised if the figure for the Interior were much higher. According to the 2000 Census, the median household income in the Borough was about $49,000. If we spend 25% of our household income on the care and feeding of cars, that amounts to over $1,000 a month — the equivalent of needing an extra 270 gallons of fuel oil — just to participate in society.
That is the price we are asking for first-class citizenship. That is our unwritten tax.
The Vision Fairbanks plan is a major first step in addressing this inequity. By combining residential, recreational, civic, and commercial uses tightly, it allows us at least one area of town where people may meet a wide variety of needs within only a few minutes’ walk. It is a plan for a complete traditional neighborhood and a true city center.
While not all people in Greater Fairbanks would like to live in such a neighborhood, they won’t need to in order to reap its benefits: under this plan, downtown will in time become a “one stop” destination that saves the time and money of those who come there. It will enlarge the world available not only to those who cannot afford a car, but to those too young, too old, and too infirm to drive.
So I urge you to say “no” to the Fairbanks Citizenship Tax, and to say “yes” to downtown planning that does justice to all our citizens.
Thank you for your time.