In her column, entitled "Community Attempts To Fight Back After Brush-Off By Assembly", she discusses the decision taken at the Rogers Park Community Council meeting on Monday March 12th to oppose Proposition 9. A standing-room-only crowd voted overwhelmingly 92-1 to recommend a "No" vote on this proposition.
And just what is this Proposition 9 that has unleashed such overwhelmingly community antagonism? At first glance, the proposition seems like a simple, innocuous land exchange between the city and the Alaska Jewish Historical Museum and Community Center.
The city would give one acre of Jacobson Park to the museum group for the construction of a 12,600-square-foot synagogue, museum, kosher deli and community center aimed at attracting tourists and hosting events like weddings. The parcel is next to land the group already owns; a 600-square-foot traditional bath house, or mikvah, is there now. In return, the city would receive a half-acre of residential land in nearby College Village that would be converted to parkland -- a net loss to the city, and the park, of one-half acre.
However, there are two issues complicating this proposed deal. Many people raised questions abouts environmental and public nuisance impacts. They asked about drainage and hydrology (the neighborhood is home to Otis Lake). They wondered about increased traffic on 36th Avenue, between Lake Otis Parkway and the Seward Highway. They wondered what value the city puts on protecting parks and wetlands in urban areas.
And there's also a potential church vs. state aspect, originally stemming from an $850,000 grant allocated to the project by the Alaska State Legislature. Mixing a state grant into a project that would establish a place of worship is wrong. As proposed, nothing more than a few interior doors would separate the museum from the synagogue, and certain features such as a boiler room and electrical room would be located on the secular side but would be used by the religious side.
"Is the museum masquerading as a synagogue, or is the synagogue masquerading as a museum?" resident Michael Bleicher asked at Monday's meeting. Murmurings about "separation of church and state have already been uttered and heard," he said. Bleicher identified himself as a Jew while stating his objection to the project. His intent was clear: Opposing the land exchange doesn't make a person anti-Semitic.
Rogers Park Community Council President Heather Ireland said a number of residents have told her they're nervous about voicing their objections for fear of being labeled as prejudiced. Some took offense when project supporters came to one meeting wearing stickers that said, "Yes! Yes to land exchange. Yes to Jewish museum. Yes to cultural bridges. Yes to tolerance and diversity." Said resident Larry Fay, "I resent the fact that if I'm pro-parks and pro-wetlands, I'm considered anti-Semitic, anti-tolerance and anti-diversity."
Ireland said enough residents were uneasy about raising their hands in objection to the proposition that when the council passed a resolution last month asking the Assembly to postpone the ballot measure, it used a secret ballot. The Assembly ignored the resolution and put Proposition 9 on the ballot anyway. That prompted Monday's resolution recommending a "no" vote. Assemblyman Dick Traini, one of two Assembly Members representing the community, said that the museum group will pay for studies addressing those issues, but only if voters approve the proposition. However, that's almost like buying a car sight unseen.
What's interesting is that the same Assembly which essentially rubber-stamped Proposition 9 raised hell last year over the efforts by the Anchorage Baptist Temple (ABT) to continue the property tax exemptions for some of their properties not used for worship. Those properties are occupied by full-time non-pastoral ABT employees. Interesting that the Assembly would rubber-stamp the Jews, but subject Christians to microscopic-like scrutiny.
Another minor complication: No one has even bothered yet to seek an opinion from heirs of the Jacobson family, which left the land in question to the city to be used in perpetuity as a park.
Voters should heed the advice of the Rogers Park Community Council. Too many important questions remain unanswered about the proposal, designed to clear the way for a project putting a synagogue and a commercial enterprise under the same roof in a residential neighborhood. The 92-1 vote is far too authoritative to ignore.
Voters should know as much as possible about what impact the project will have on residents and the land. Not every question needs an expensive study. The ones that don't should have been answered before the Assembly decided to send this to voters.
Voting No on Proposition 9 won't stop the project. It can return to the ballot next year. In the meantime, the museum group can keep raising money for what appears to be a worthy project but one that state grant moneys should not be used for. And residents can keep seeking answers to their questions.
Beth Bragg's opinion column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
Specific ballot language appears below, from the Election Page of the Municipality of Anchorage website:
PROPOSITION 9 - A DISPOSAL BY EXCHANGE FOR FAIR MARKET VALUE OF ONE ACRE MORE OR LESS OF DEDICATED MUNICIPAL PARK LAND IN JACOBSON PARK, LOCATED IN THE SOUTHWEST CORNER OF TRACT A-1, COLLEGE VILLAGE #9 SUBDIVISION, FOR LOT 14, BLOCK 14, COLLEGE VILLAGE #9 SUBDIVISION
Shall the Municipality of Anchorage dispose of approximately one acre of dedicated municipal park land from the southwest corner of Tract A-1, Jacobson Park, located on 36th Avenue, for a one-half acre residential lot known as Lot 14, Block 14. When transferred, Lot 14 will be dedicated as park land, added to Jacobson Park, and preserved in perpetuity. The land exchange shall be based upon fair market values estimated by appraisal.
The Alaska Jewish Historical Museum and Community Center proposes to use the one-acre parcel of park land for public parking and access to Jacobson Park, and for private parking for new facilities. The exchange of the two (2) parcels is conditioned upon all required public approvals for the new facility being obtained from all federal, state and local agencies including, without limitation, a wet lands analysis with consideration of drainage and water levels in Otis Lake and the adjacent neighborhood as required for a permit from the Corps of Engineers; a Traffic Impact Analysis including consideration of pedestrian access to and from David Green Park; a Site Plan review by Planning and Zoning including a parking analysis; and Building permit review and issuance of all required building permits.
Upon completion of the land exchange, the Alaska Jewish Historical Museum and Community Center agrees to donate $100,000 to the Municipality for park and trail improvements in Jacobson Park.
There is no cost to the taxpayers and no decrease in property values result from this exchange.
To be voted upon by all qualified voters residing within the Municipality of Anchorage, (AO 2007-32 as amended)
Commentary: In light of the myriad of contradictions, shell-gaming, and rubber-stamping which have emerged pursuant to this measure. Alaska Pride also recommends a No vote. The fact that so many community members have shelved their fears of being labeled "anti-Semitic" to stand up against this "pig in a poke" proposition is truly gratifying. It shows that Jewish supremacist groups like the ADL and AIPAC, who have relentlessly shoveled Holocaust propaganda at us, extorted billions from our treasury as tribute (foreign aid) to Israel, and have vigorously promoted anti-constitutional dissent-quashing hate-crime proposals have finally overplayed their hand.