A quick news flash, because I’m tired: Jerry Cleworth’s resolution, which I think would have kneecapped the downtown revitalization effort, failed — though only through a tie-breaking vote by the mayor. The final vote: For, Cleworth, Roberts, and Stiver; Against, Bratcher, Gatewood, Eberhart, and Mayor Strle. (News-Miner story here.)
As I posted Saturday, City Councilman Jerry Cleworth proposed a resolution (no. 4353) that would have halted the use of city funds for the conversion of Cushman Street from one-way to two-way. This conversion, however, was the linchpin of Vision Fairbanks, according to the city planners hired to draft downtown’s revitalization plan (Crandall-Arambula of Portland, Oregon).
From the start of Citizens’ Comments on Monday evening to the final vote, four and a half hours passed. At least three of those were spent on public testimony, including a little testimony on another other resolution before the Council. The testimony was largely in opposition to Cleworth’s resolution — though not so overwhelmingly as it was in favor of Vision Fairbanks’s passage at previous meetings.
Despite the good case that existed in favor of the resolution — and Mr. Cleworth seemed to make that case beautifully — it seemed plain to me that most of the citizens testifying in favor had not attended any of the original visioning meetings, had not read the final plan approved by the Borough Assembly, or had heard only spotty details through the newspaper or word of mouth. Of course, you could also say that most of the supporters had merely drunk the Vision Fairbanks Kool-Aid and that their testimony didn’t address the meat of Cleworth’s concerns either. Frankly, I was tired enough when he finally spoke that I couldn’t keep all the pieces together.
There was a relatively brief grilling of Fairbanks Public Works director Mike Schmetzer, City Engineer Bob Pristash, and Donna Gardino of FMATS (the Fairbanks Metropolitan Area Transportation System). They covered the history of certain appropriations and projects, and discussed the sources and allocation of various monies. It’s probably not over my head in principle, but it felt like it at 10:45 at night.
Councilwoman Vivian Stiver had what I thought was the most sensible suggestion of the evening: postpone the vote on the resolution until Wednesday’s work session and later public meeting with Crandall Arambula. If we can present our concerns to them, she reasoned, they may have a good explanation of how various projects will work, or at least convince us of the utter necessity of this current project. Cleworth was the only other person to support her, so it failed.
Some comments made by Stiver and Chad Roberts concerned me: they both seem to think Fairbanks’s chance of attracting major retail downtown is low to nil. They seem to think that, since the explosion of big-box chain retail outlets at Steese and Johansen, the City of Fairbanks has missed the boat. Of course, attracting a major anchor store on Cushman Street is supposedly critical to Vision Fairbanks’s success. If they’re right, then the plan is largely screwed — I hope not irredemably.
(This makes me wonder: Why, when V.F. was before the Council earlier, did they cower in fear at its suggestion that one regulatory tool of encouraging downtown retail might be to restrict big-box retail development elsewhere for a time? Why did their resolution’s otherwise tepid language condemn the inclusion of such a suggestion in the plan?)
I should mention that some of the City Council members seemed genuinely torn about what to do, most notably Bernard Gatewood and John Eberhart. And, when I talk about Jerry Cleworth “kneecapping” or “deep-sixing” Vision Fairbanks, that’s not really being fair to him. I think he’s a responsible public servant with a clear understanding of the budget, and he has responsible stewardship at heart.
My only real distrust — and this just as far as a vision for vibrant civic and commercial space — is for Chad Roberts. He seems genuinely to believe that downtown is just fine as it is. Also, during the Council meeting ten months ago, he expressed an admiration for the free market that seemed to preclude a community’s having any power to say what it wanted in a city center. Whatever his other virtues, he seems to disagree with me that communities have a right of collective self-determination that, where city planning is concerned, should usually supersede the right of the individual to build whatever civic monstrosity he likes.
I’m happy for now that Vision Fairbanks lives to fight another day.