• This week: Spotlight on final two city council candidates, Corbin Arno and Incumbent Bryan Zak
By Naomi Klouda
The Homer City Council candidates bring forth lively debate this season, with four vying for two seats.
Election day is Tuesday, October 1, with polls open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. and voters can choose between candidates Gus VanDyke, Justin Arnold, Corbin Arno and Incumbent Bryan Zak. An upcoming debate hosted by the Homer Chamber of Commerce is set for Tuesday night 5-7:30 p.m. at the Kachemak City Community Center.
Corbin Arno has deep family roots in Homer where he has lived most of his 32 years. His grandfather is Pastor Ray Arno who raised his family in Homer since the 1960s. He is the son of Kari and Mike Arno.
His uncle, Pete Arno and aunt, Michelle Arno also remain here. Corbin works alongside his younger brother, Shane, at the family construction company Arno Construction; their mother keeps the books. He also married into another longtime Homer family; wife Chelsey is granddaughter of Rita Jo and Leroy Shoultz who own and operates Alaska Perfect Peony in Fritz Creek.
They have three children ages 7, 5 and 3.
This will be Arno’s first foray into politics, nudged there, he said, by a concern for the fiscal crisis in the country.
“I have been watching news for quite some time and I’ve been getting irritated with the politics going on in the country. Congress pretty much dismisses the average person,” Arno said. “There’s the attitude they know better than us. I see it on the city council level, too, where they want to micromanage our lives.”
The plastic grocery bag ban became emblematic of an attitude. “It is not their right to decide. That is a personal choice, whether to use recyclable bags or plastic,” he said.
Then there’s the issue of continuing discussions about rescinding the prepared food tax during the winter months. “If that comes up again, they should all be fired from the council. The voters have voted on this several times and they shouldn’t even be bringing up the seasonal sales tax.”
Like that issue, this ballot contains another resurfacing question: It is the fourth time to vote on term limits on the Kenai Peninsula Borough level. “Do they not get it when the people have made the decision?” he asks.
Corbin has studied the city council actions this summer, sitting through lengthy work sessions and meetings. The City of Homer seems to increase spending every year and he would like to get into office to help figure out how to stop the huge spending.
One is an $800,000 bill for the city PERS and benefits system. It keeps growing larger each year, he said. Another cost is the $1 million for the four new restrooms going up in town. Arno won the bid to break ground on the projects and said it’s hard to understand how brick and cement can add up to all that. The engineering work cost $200,000, he said, for outdoor toilets. “What can we do to bring these costs down? That’s the question I want to be able to ask.”
Arno also has other city contracts, such as widening and foundation work on Waddell Road and preparatory work for the new Kachemak Emergency Services firehall on Diamond Ridge.
It’s his experience as a businessman that leads him to believe that costs should be cut or the City of Homer will encounter fiscal problems soon that the tax base won’t be able to support. “I would need to look and learn where the money is spent to figure out where the waste is, but it’s something that has got to be done,” he said.
The proposed new public safety building to house both the police and fire departments may be a good idea, but $15 million is a lot of money to justify, he said. He also objects to the building’s proposed placement at the current site of the old Homer middle school on Sterling Bypass and Pioneer.
“That’s an area of heavy traffic, our main way out of town, a school right nearby and kids walking home,” Arno said. “I foresee a lot of problems with that location and fire trucks or police coming and going. We don’t even have a traffic light there.”
These are all matters that cause him to want to weigh into the debate from a city council seat.
One way to solve fiscal problems is to work with the private sector. Not all projects need to be paid for by the public coffer, he believes. Gaining a community center could be done by the private sector and in the process could create a location for the Community Recreation Program, perhaps even a home for the Homer Boys and Girls Club, which still does not have a place to meet.
Work Arno did at Nelson Lagoon provides a personal anecdote on government waste, in this case, federal dollars. He was the sub-contractor on a project to build an ice plant in the Alaska Peninsula village. “It was fired up once and then went to waste when it wasn’t used. You see it all up and down Alaska. The private sector would not have done that.”
Arno is a member of Homer Voice for Business, and is endorsed by them. He sees the group as coming into being at a time when there’s a growing consensus in Homer the city council is out of touch with the average citizen.
“We’re not just a bunch of dirt guys or hotel guys or restaurants – we are a huge variety of business owners,” Arno said. “The public is given three minutes to talk (at council meetings). I doubt they are listening, or perhaps they are listening, but not hearing.”
Incumbent Bryan Zak has served five years or two terms on the Homer City Council. Zak, 57, serves as the assistant state director, southwest region for the Small Business Development Center. He is retired from the U.S. Air Force and is married to Karen Zak.
During his time on the council, Zak said he learned the main issues facing the council on a regular basis.
“I don’t know that we’ve dealt with things effectively, and there are reoccurring issues that aren’t resolved yet,” he said.
One example is the new water-sewer rates, which Zak successfully argued needed to be analyzed more often than every two years. The council has since changed it to an annual look at the rates.
“I’m glad to see that at least now we will look at it every year, rather than every other year. I will continue to recommend a commission be formed,” he said.
Zak shares in credit on the outbuilding of a new natural gas line distribution service for Homer. He championed it as one citywide project rather than in parcels by individual neighborhoods. He also sees it as a way to bring down the cost of living and the cost of doing business here.
“That was an issue that could have gone either way. It’s going to mean big savings for the city, for the state and individual citizens, who will see a huge impact from that throughout the future that will make us more sustainable as a city,” he said.
He acknowledges some individual users will still say they weren’t in favor of it, but what was done was for the greater good and the city over all, Zak believes. “That’s the main flaw with the water and sewer – it wasn’t built at once. We avoided that with the gasline.”
Zak is also proud of work on the plastic grocery bag ban.
“We’ve learned a lot as a community and there are a lot of businesses who have understood. It’s a small step in the right direction, and I don’t feel it’s too much of a burden on the individuals,” he said.
This campaign season, the bag ban is the recipient of a lot of criticism. But Zak defends it for the good that came, such as people looking around for other changes they can make for a healthy environment.
“That’s up to individual citizens to figure out how can we be better stewards of our environment. The council stood up and said ‘this is not a bad idea. We should consider what we can do to be better stewards,’” he said. “Government needs to be a little bit insightful, without being proscriptive like a ‘nanny’ government. You also have to be able to communicate with the citizens and I perceived a lot of support for the bag ban.”
Zak was the lone ‘no’ vote on legislation moving plans forward on a new public safety building.
“We’re probably ahead of ourselves a little bit. It’s number two on our CIP list. I would have wanted to see more of the financial projections on what it would cost to build this. We need more ideas on where to place it. We need to do this in a responsible manner,” he said.
It’s not yet known how the building will be financed, if it will come from State of Alaska help or through a general obligation bond or from city funds.
Zak also wants more thoughtful discussions on the Capital Improvement List. Currently the purchase of land for a future water storage tank is on the CIP. He wants a commission consulted to let the council know whether this is a worthy priority. “That might be a ways out in the future,” he said.
He also felt disappointed that no nonprofit’s capital project made it on the City of Homer’s CIP list. Mayor Beth Wythe has said there will be a separate CIP list of nonprofit projects that the city supports. But projects like the Pratt Museum’s new building and the Kachemak Bay Wooden Boat Society’s plans for a structure represent community voices that get lost at the city council level, he said.
“We don’t have a community council here, but in some towns, they have a strong voice. They would be able to show equal support for a project, but we haven’t yet figured out how to make that linkage,” he said.
For much of Zak’s life, he has served on small government bodies. He grew up Redland, Calif., a town that at the time was just a bit bigger than Homer. It’s located near Loma Linda which became a big medical services area and grew immensely over the years. “I saw a lot of orange groves cut down and houses put up,” he said.
The Boy Scouts kept his interest all the way to Eagle Scout and the highest level. During high school and college, he served as vice president for the student bodies, and as president for fraternities while at Pepperdine University in Malibu.
“I learned that a group with a focus and a mission can accomplish quite a bit, where as alone, you’re never going to do it,” he said.
Zak graduated from Pepperdine in 1978 with a degree focus on Youth Agency Administration and soon became the district executive for the Boy Scouts. He entered the Air Force shortly thereafter, eventually serving as an instructor on B-1 and B-52 bombers.
During the 1990s in the Air Force, he was involved with the INF and START treaties between Russia and America that resulted from agreements on the limitations of nuclear warheads. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, INF, was a 1987 agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union signed by President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.
“We escorted Russian groups who came to look at our warheads and then we would go to Russia and look at their warheads. It was an interesting time to see how two countries interacted,” he said.
In 1998, Zak retired from the Air Force and moved to Anchorage in 1999, where he found work as a consultant. He and Karen bought property in Homer, then moved here after living in Anchorage for six years.
“I was drawn by the beauty, but I was kept here by the community and the people who are as beautiful as your initial view of the bay,” he said.
Volunteering for first the Planning Commission and then setting out for a council seat came natural to his sense of community.
If re-elected to a third term, Zak wants to work on a longterm solution to the lop-sided water sewer rates placing a larger burden on businesses.
He also wants to work on gaining more input from the community on the projects the nonprofits want to see and that the city wants to build.
“Right now, there’s not a lot of representation from the community to set the direction for the CIP list for the future. We need more of that connection between community groups and the city council to let them know they have more of a voice on that. It shouldn’t be the city versus the rest of the community; it is the community,” he said. The CIP list should include things like water-sewer projects, as another way to reduce a small group of citizens from shouldering all the costs of an under-used expensive system.
There are also problems the city faces that need state help, like the runaway retirement-PERS-benefit costs. Homer isn’t alone in its plight.
“That’s facing every municipality in all of Alaska. That’s why it’s important we stay active with what’s happening at the Alaska Municipal League. They, and Rep. Paul Seaton, are looking at new PERS legislation – that’s the way to approach it is through state legislation to reduce costs to the communities,” Zak said.
With no end of ideas for how to make living in Homer more affordable, Zak hopes to keep his place at the table.
Comments are closed