According to e-mails and documents obtained by the Alaska Landmine, Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration ordered the Municipality of Anchorage Traffic Department to install over 200 anti-panhandling signs that cite an unconstitutional statute at city intersections. In a meeting earlier today, Municipal Manager Amy Demboski stated that the city had installed 68 signs and spent $8,689 on the project to date.
In a December 31, 2021 e-mail sent to several Assembly members and to Assembly Council, municipal Ombudsman Darrel Hess states that Brice Wilbanks, Mayor Bronson’s deputy chief of staff, contacted the MOA Traffic Department in July 2021 to request assistance with the administration’s anti-panhandling signage project. After Hess began receiving messages from constituents in December 2021, the e-mail says, he looked at the statute cited on the signs and found that it had been ruled unconstitutional by the Alaska Superior Court in 2014’s Ballas, et al. v. Municipality of Anchorage. In the e-mail, Hess states that he contacted Public Works Director Lance Wilbur, who acknowledged that he had provided the statute for the signs but had not requested a legal review of the signage and was unaware that the statute had been ruled unconstitutional.
Hess states in the e-mail that he contacted APD Deputy Chief Michael Kerle to inquire about the anti-panhandling signs, and was told that APD had not been consulted about the project. In today’s municipal meeting, APD Chief Kenneth McCoy stated that APD had stopped enforcing Anchorage’s panhandling prohibition after the 2014 ruling and would not do so now.
The signs also cite Alaska 13 AAC 02.180, a state law prohibiting distraction of drivers or pedestrian solicitations on roadways for business, employment, or contributions.
Mayor Dave Bronson made combating homelessness a key element of his 2021 mayoral campaign. On his since-removed campaign website, Bronson vowed that “those who choose to live a homeless lifestyle will not be allowed to ruin our businesses and neighborhoods. They will be removed from our parks, public streets, and our business and residential areas.” A page about panhandling in the Mayor’s section of the Municipality of Anchorage website states that “it is illegal in Anchorage to lure panhandlers into the roadway because it is dangerous,” and encourages Anchorage drivers to donate to charities instead.
Multiple administrations have struggled to address panhandling on Anchorage streets. A system of fines and other penalties for panhandlers and those who gave to them was put in place by the Sullivan administrataion in 2011, but had mixed results.
The Landmine reached out to the Mayor’s office to request a comment about the current signage project, but did not receive a response in time for publication.