Homer City Hall. (Homer News file photo)

Homer City Hall. (Homer News file photo)

City Council votes to reinstate plastic bag ban

City manager authorized to negotiate Homer Spit lease with Salmon Sisters

The Homer City Council worked through a number of items during its Monday meeting, including setting a time for the city’s ban on certain types of single-use plastic bags to come back and allowing the administration to negotiate with popular local business Salmon Sisters for the lease of a lot on the Homer Spit.

Earlier this year, the council voted to suspend its ban on certain types of thin, single-use plastic bags temporarily. Little was known then about exactly how the COVID-19 virus spread, and local stores raised concerns about the safety, or lack thereof, of reusable fabric bags. It was initially thought that COVID-19 spread more easily on surfaces and fabric bags.

At its Monday meeting, the council voted to reinstate the ban starting on Jan. 1. Starting on that date, local stores must stop providing the thin plastic bags to customers. City residents voted to ban a specific, thin kind of plastic bags — store owners are able to provide thicker plastic bags if they choose to.

Two members of the public commented on the ordinance to reinstate the bag ban. Karin Marks, who chairs the city’s Economic Development Advisory Commission, said she wondered whether the move was a bit premature, given that cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in the state and on the southern Kenai Peninsula.

Another member of the public, Kalliste Edeen, spoke in favor of the ordinance.

“I feel like it absolutely should go back, now that we have more information about it,” she said.

The council voted unanimously to reinstate the bag ban on Jan. 1. Council member Donna Aderhold said suspending the ban earlier this year was justified, and was in response to confusion and concerns from the community.

“I think kind of setting the plastic bag ban aside for that time period, because of all those questions, was very valid,” she said. “I think a lot of those questions have been answered. We’re now in a time where things are flowing smoothly. We know how to act personally — we know how to act socially, and so I believe that it is time to return to the plastic bag ban.”

Council member Heath Smith ultimately did not object to the ordinance, but said he feels the plastic bag ban doesn’t actually achieve much in the way of reducing plastic pollution.

“There’s a lot of plastic that far exceeds what the bags produce that is sold in stores that ends up in our landfills and in our ditches,” he said. “This ultimately achieves nothing but a pat on the back.”

In the end, Smith said adhering to the vote of Homer residents by reinstating the ban is the right thing to do.

Also in the business realm, the city council voted on Monday to approve a notice to award a lease on the Homer Spit to Salmon Sisters Holdings LLC, and authorized the city manager to negotiate a lease with the company which will be brought back to the council for final approval. Salmon Sisters, a popular local food and apparel business run by commercial fishermen sisters Emma Teal Laukitis and Claire Neaton, had sought to assume the lease of lot 12C on the Homer Spit, located in the city’s Marine Industrial zone at the corner of Fish Dock Road and Ice Dock Road.

The lot lease, previously held by Harbor Leasing LLC, was assumed by Alaska Growth Capital BIDCO in 2008. Salmon Sisters has proposed to use the lot to expand its business.

When the lease transfer came up for discussion at the council’s Nov. 9 meeting, Buck Laukitis, speaking on behalf of his daughters, said Salmon Sisters wasn’t satisfied with the fair market lease rent listed in the lease. He requested that the council postpone the measure, which the council ultimately did.

The original resolution from the Nov. 9 meeting proposed to transfer the existing Alaska Growth Capital lease to Salmon Sisters, with an annual rate of a little over $29,700. The new resolution passed at Monday’s meeting allows City Manager Rob Dumouchel to negotiate a new lease amount with Salmon Sisters. That final lease will come back before the council for its approval.

According to its proposal submitted to the city, Salmon Sisters wants to use the building on Lot 12C for a seafood processing operation, a retail counter and commercial kitchen, a warehouse and space for e-commerce, and upstairs office space. The business seeks to focus on direct-to-consumer seafood marketing, expanding the sale of its own fish and products. The business also expressed a wish to sublease areas of the building to other local businesses to help fill out the space.

The city owns the land on Lot 12C, but not the building, which has stood vacant for some time.

Some members of the council expressed concern about allowing Salmon Sisters to negotiate a new lease at a lower rate.

Council members Aderhold and Rachel Lord said they would rather the lease go out through the city’s request for proposals process. During the committee of the whole meeting before the council’s regular meeting, Aderhold took issue with negotiating a lease that’s less than fair market value.

“I mean there are people who are paying for their leases out there who, they had down years this year too, and yet they still have to pay the same lease that they’ve been paying,” she said.

City Attorney Michael Gatti told the council that the city does have provisions in city code when it comes to leases and fair market value. The city can allow a lease at less than fair market value when there’s a public purpose, he said, which is described broadly.

“The idea of what constitutes a public purpose is very broad and vested in the discretion of your good officers and legislative body of the city in making those determinations,” Gatti said.

City resident Mary Griswold submitted written comment opposing the resolution, also citing the fair market value issue.

“Leases must be at least fair market value unless a reduction can be justified by a valuable public purpose, which is something that benefits the general public rather than private entities,” she wrote. “Bringing this property out of default and making it profitable is not a public purpose. Bringing a new locally-owned business to the Spit is not a public purpose. These actions are of benefit (to) the private enterprises involved. If such justifications were upheld in this instance, every leaseholder of city lands should apply for a rent reduction to make their businesses more profitable.”

Smith supported the new resolution, citing the fact that the council will get final approval of whatever lease the city manager is able to negotiate with Salmon Sisters.

“What this does is put the ball into the court of the administration to see what can be negotiated and whether they can come to terms,” Smith said. “And ultimately it will come back to us, and we’ll be able to make a determination as a council whether it fits or doesn’t within what we find reasonable.”

Ultimately, the council voted unanimously to approve the resolution.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

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