Thursday, February 05, 2015

Dan Coffey Says Housing, Public Inebriates, And Fiscal Problems Are His Top Priority

I got a flier and a robo-call inviting me to Don Jose's for a Dan Coffey for Mayor meet and greet.  Since that's reasonably close and walkable, and since I have never really had a chance to talk with Coffey, and since I'm a blogger, I figured I should go.

I got to talk to Dan with the camera running and so I want to share our conversation.  I've done a rough transcript of the video so you know what's on each section.

Quick Summary
Key Issues: (he told me and then repeated to the gathering)  Housing and public inebriates. And the fiscal problems that have arisen recently.

Others he mentioned to the group:  Labor costs, developing Fairview, and fixing Title 21.

The video (with rough notes below) [The video is taking forever to upload to Youtube so I can embed it here.  I'm going to post this now and add the video when I get up in the morning.]

The Main Issues 00:00 - 2:25
What Do I Know?  You’ve had a successful career as an attorney so I presume that you’re comfortably well off. So why would you want to be mayor?
Coffey:  I’ve been here a long time, I know the challenges we face.  Things like housing,
Housing,  chronic public inebriates - we’ve talked about it a long time. I have a lot of . . .
I don’t want to say solutions. That’s the wrong word. I have ways that can be ameliorated. And we can be humane and we can save money.
Housing First works - I’ve spent about two years looking into this. Housing first saves substantial amounts also humane.
None of these folks started out at age ten saying “I’m going to be a street drunk.”
Love your neighbor as yourself. It’s just necessary because the impact they have on the community is devastating. I don’t condone their behavior and I don’t condone their action, but I sure as heck know we need to take steps to deal with it. Housing first seems to be the best possible alternative, but other things are involved. I know about these things because I made a study. I’m qualified, capable, and ready to take that action.
Then we need to build housing, and I don’t say affordable because I don’t mean subsidized. I say workforce housing. What is workforce housing? It’s for people who work for a living. They don’t get government help, but they’re capable of paying reasonable rent and housing themselves and family and so on. OK, we have to build more and more of that. I’ve spent a long time in the business of development of housing, commercial property, and subdivisions as an attorney. So I have a depth of knowledge. Those are the real qualifications and they happen to be the real challenges.
What Do I Know? : So those are the two big issues?
Dan Coffey: And the fiscal situation. What has come on since I started this in October of 13 is the fiscal situation. I’ve run businesses. I’m still in business. I run the Express Lube with my partner Terry. I used to on Dollar Rent A Car. And we own the Anchorage Aces. I’ve got lots and lots of business experience. That gives me business and managerial experience. The city is a billion dollar enterprise, so you want somebody who has at least some concept of what we do and how we do it in the mayor’s office. So there you go.

Respect Your Workforce And Coffey's Business Experience  2:25-3:05
What Do I Know? : But government is different from business. . .
Dan Coffey: Of course it is. But management of people is not.
What Do I Know? : No.
Dan Coffey: You respect your workforce. You train your workforce. You rely on your workforce. You run a cooperative enterprise that’s meant, in our case, provide services. In the city that’s 85% of what we do, provide services of all sorts.

Snow Plowing, Out of the Office Listening, Community Councils  3:30 - 7:05
Then I Complained about snow plowing today. I moved the car when I heard the plow, but he’d already done my side of the street and when he came back on the other side and saw my car in the driveway, he didn’t pull over and remove the big berm behind where my car had been.   Coffey at first didn’t have much sympathy for me. The guys in the plows are rushing to get all the neighborhoods.That happens to us all. Do you really think that’s a mayor’s job? (Introduces his wife.)

I counter that this happens all the time. People have to park on the street in my neighborhood and we never know when the plows are coming so we can move our cars. We have technology now to notify people Dan: Now you’re talking about making it work better and that is the Mayor’s job. We’ve got to do a better job of providing the services because we’re going to have less money to provide the services. Then I suggested notifying people better - using robo calls say - when plows are coming. Coffey liked that idea and then goes on to say that there are lots of ideas out there and that he’s not going to spend his time on the 8th floor. He’s going to be out there talking to folks and getting good ideas. He can’t go to every community council meeting, but he can stop in every three months or so and listen.

Road Through The University - $20 million could be saved  7:05- 9:45
So I brought up an issue for the community councils in the area - they all strongly oppose the road through the university land. He countered but there were others who like the idea - Providence, UAA, and APU. I talked about how Central Park was in the news lately and I saw that land around Goose Lake as Anchorage’s Central Park in the future. He said, well APU is going to develop all that. Well, just on the east and north - he rightly corrected me - on the south. Then he asked what I thought about the bridge over Seward Highway at 36th. We agreed that probably didn’t need to be built and he had to run to someone else. And my camera battery light was blinking hard that it was just about out of juice. When he came back to me he said his job is to work for his client - the people of Anchorage. I said that was easier if you only have one client instead of a whole city of clients with different ideas. That’s the job of the mayor he said - to listen to people and then make a decision.

Later, he talked to the crowd and repeated some of what he said to me almost word for word. So those will be some of his talking points I’m sure.
Dealing with the public inebriate issue and more housing. The inebriates are a big nuisance, but they are ill and many are mentally ill.
He talked about the unions. Dan Sullivan inherited a problem from Begich who gave the unions too good of a deal. Not the union’s fault - their job is to look after their members. But we can’t afford those contracts.
Develop Fairview - once we get the inebriate problem taken care of. Does that mean gentrification and moving out the present residents and building more expensive properties close to downtown? He didn’t talk about it like that.
He did say that they built Karluk Manor (the residence for homeless inebriates) too close to Fairview to they go back to their old friends.
Fixing Title 21 was another issue he raised. Coffey had been hired by Dan Sullivan to review Title 21 and make recommendations. There was a big battle over that. After years of developing Title 21 with broad public involvement, the developers got together with Sullivan and then Coffey to rewrite it more to their liking. At least that was how I saw things. So I asked what specifically he had in mind in changes to Title 21. That was one of the first things he had in mind with changing Title 21.
The only one he mentioned was the R4 - highest density areas, up to 30 units per acre - had a height limit of 3 stories. I’m thinking of a four plea in my neighborhood that is on 1/4 acre and is two stories. four like that, with three stories could have 24 units. And if they were designed better without the space between the lots, they ought to be able to get 30 units of mixed sized apartments on an acre.

My impressions? I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with him before. When I watched him present his Title 21 recommendations he seemed to be an attorney presenting his case and swatting down any opposition. That’s what an attorney is supposed to do. But he was paid by the city - by all of us - to make those recommendations and the sense that I got was that he was reflecting the construction industry and not the rest of the folks in Anchorage. Tonight he was charming and he looked me in the eye. Was he really interested in what I had to say or was I just a fish nibbling at his election hook? I have no idea. He said he’s worked as an attorney for construction of residences, commercial property, and apartments. He may well believe that construction is both good for Anchorage and for his own pocketbook. Win-win.  And to a certain extent it is. But it’s not everything. What’s the interest in Fairview? To help the people already there to have a safer neighborhood?   Or are developers saying, “There’s lots of cheap real estate near downtown where we could buy up existing homes, tear them down, and rebuild it as a much more upscale neighborhood?”

While he talks about respecting his employees, he's set on taking on the labor unions.  The US did well in the 50s and 60's when taxes and union membership were highest.  But now the wages of executives have gone way, way up.  In part, they do this by cutting benefits, making jobs less secure, and holding down wages.  That results in a lower standard of living for today's workers than for their parents.  And a huge income disparity between the middle class and the rich.  And it increases the power of the relatively few rich over the rest of us.  A robust middle class keeps the economy humming.  Are there issues with some labor contracts?  Sure.  Letting some police and other workers  double their salary through overtime is a problem.  Especially when it greatly increases their retirement.  But that's a supervision problem, not a union problem.

I’m glad he’s talking about the illness of alcoholism and the mental health problems of the street people. But from what he said tonight, if they weren’t a nuisance to other people, if they didn’t cause problems in Fairview, where he’d like to do some development, then they wouldn’t be his top priority.

Can he get things done? Probably he can. Are they the things I’d like to see get done? That’s a bigger question. As I fly back and forth between Anchorage and LA to spend time with my mom, I look at the craziness of the building there. The density, since I left LA pushing 40 years ago, has increased dramatically and traffic is horrendous. Neighborhoods that were single family homes now have high rise condos. Areas that were wetlands and open space are masses of four and five story apartments. All the extra people driving the same old roads raises the stress level of everyone who has to drive. The Costco parking lot near my mom is a nightmare and the traffic inside the store makes our Costcos seem like vacation resorts.

Where I see green space and a chance to save $20 million (land at UAA and Goose Lake), he sees a chance to develop.  It's easy to think we don't need the in town green space because we're surrounded by the nature.  But kids need to get to parks by foot and by bike.  We shouldn't have to drive every time we want some natural space.  It's what make Anchorage so livable.

I think about Pete Zamarillo who figured out how to make lots of money building strip malls. And when the economy tanked, he continued to make strip malls, because that’s what he knew how to do. I’m afraid that what has worked in the past for Coffey - helping developers get their projects done - needs to be countered by preservation of open space, views, and making sure the population density doesn’t begin to overrun the infrastructure. He understands the parts of Title 21 that irritate builders. But does he understand why the non-builders want the builders to have restrictions on what they can do? Does he understand that we don’t want a schlocky city created by builders who cut corners to increase their profit and then they retire to Palm Springs?

[Updated 6:00 am:  A couple more thoughts on the video as I watched it again to get the times for each section.  I like, a lot, that he recognized that we don't get solutions for things like public inebriates, but rather we can ameliorate the situation.  I've heard very few politicians who have voiced that important distinction.  I'm concerned a bit that he declares himself an expert "because I studied the problem."  I think studying helps, of course, but I've studied issues for years and recognize that there is so much more I still don't know.  I'm better informed than most, but humility about one's level of mastery is the best way to keep open to the many subtleties still to be grasped.  But studying the problem at all is more than many politicians do.]

I don’t know.   He said he has five or six more of these community meet and greets scheduled. Go talk to him yourself and let me know what you think.


  1. Giving Coffey consideration isn't a responsible act.

    Coffey deserves not even a figment of credibility.

    He's unfit for office.

    He's not anyone sane people would want to see put in a position to effect public policy.

    there's more, but enough's enough, Coffey is not a viable candidate.

    No how, no way.

  2. Replies
    1. My actual personal contact with Dan hardly exists, but you and anon below seem to have had long term and not too good experiences. It's the long term contact with someone that gives you a better sense of how trustworthy they are.

  3. Dan Coffey hasn't changed since I first met him waiting tables in 1970 in Girdwood.

    He would come to sit in the dining room at the old hotel, spend hours drinking, getting more obnoxious and treating the females who didn't fawn over him with utter contempt.

    No one crossed him and lived to tell about it; well, almost no one!

    His rudeness, vulgarity, sense of entitlement and hair-trigger temper were out of control even as a young man. Nothing about him has changed other than his paunch.

    He couldn't control his alcohol consumption and whatever else he might have ingested.

    He felt he could charm and deceive anyone because he had money to toss around and so many people were intimidated by him; he reveled in the power of it all.

    Same Danny Coffey, just older and still scamming his adoring public.



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