A group of people gathered in the shade behind Mountain View’s Juba Halal Market, passing a bottle. It was 2 p.m. on a Wednesday.
Across the street, Jamico’s Pizzeria was quiet; the front parking lot nearly as empty as the cozy booths inside the restaurant. It’s been three years since Jose Diaz bought the iconic neighborhood pizzeria he and his wife run alone. Diaz works in the kitchen and doubles as the delivery driver while Teresa Ingram waits tables, takes orders and answers the phone. But these days, customers are increasingly few and far between. Ingram blames the crowd across the street—the public drinking and the littering and the loitering. It never seems to go away.
Mountain View has an image issue, and neighborhood businesses are taking a stand, hoping for change.
“The problems that we’re seeing are really, I think, hurting this area,” Ingram said.
After three years, she’s never sure who will walk through the front door. Most of the time, it’s a hungry customer. Too many other times, she says, it’s someone who’s had too much to drink, or maybe a little of something else; someone who wants to use the bathroom or cop a free meal or stand in the middle of the restaurant, yelling and chasing off diners.
One person stripped naked in the middle of the pizzeria during a visit by a campaigning politician. Another spat on her window when the free water she gave him wasn’t hot enough for his liking. Ingram’s had enough.
“We’re not going to have this,” she said. “It really doesn’t help the business.”
She’s seen drug deals in the back alley, drinking out front and prostitutes on the corners. Once, there was a man and a woman having sex on the ground by the back door. Another time, a man walked in with an eight-inch knife and asked to wash it. On another occasion, someone wandered in off the street and grabbed food off a customer’s plate. Ingram has a lot more stories like that. There’s no telling what each day will bring.
The problems seem to have a few common denominators, though. They all involve booze or drugs or the mentally ill, Ingram said. And they affect everyone in the neighborhood.
At New Asian Market, just down the road from Jamico’s, owner Sai Lee fights an ongoing battle against broken glass and litter in his parking lot. The back of his building is a popular place for people to sit and drink, and they leave cigarette butts and shattered beer bottles and empty plastic containers of cheap whiskey.
“My customers, they don’t like it,” said Lee, who’s owned the neighborhood market for three years now.
His landlord doesn’t like the litter, either. Lee tries to keep it clean, but running a small business doesn’t leave much extra time for monitoring the public parking lot outside. He calls the police every week or two, he says, but it can take hours for an officer to arrive. By that time, the troublemakers are usually long gone. So how can you make any kind of permanent change?
“That’s a tough one,” Lee said. He has no answers.
A few blocks away, Mountain View’s Credit Union 1 faces the same challenges. On any given afternoon, a handful of people sit along the concrete planters in front of the credit union on the corner of Mountain View Drive and Bragaw Street, sipping from bottles tucked into jacket pockets, occasionally asking passersby for cigarettes and spare change. Sometimes, the corner is blocked by a white Anchorage Safety Patrol van, picking people up and taking them to the city’s sleep-off center about two miles down the road.
Mountain View Branch Manager Kelly Smith says CU1 works with the Anchorage Police Department to try and discourage loitering and drinking outside the credit union, but it can be difficult because the planter boxes are public property.
Earlier this year, the credit union took it a step further, partnering with the Anchorage Community Land Trust and a cohort of other Mountain View businesses to pay for third-party maintenance services along the neighborhood’s commercial corridor.
The three-month initiative kicked off July 1. Three “maintenance ambassadors” from the Anchorage Downtown Partnership spend three hours a day power washing streets, picking up trash and removing graffiti, cleaning bus stops and calling the police or the service patrol when they run into other issues. They work on Mountain View Drive from the Glenn Highway to Boniface Parkway, Commercial Drive and Bragaw Street between the highway and Mountain View Drive. The contract cost approximately $19,000, according to the community land trust.
Nearly a dozen local businesses—including Red Apple, McDonald’s, Alaska Mining and Diving, SignCo, McKinley Services and others—teamed up with Credit Union 1 and ACLT to pay for the maintenance services. Smith hopes they’ll have an impact.
“With [the ADP maintenance crews] cleaning up, it makes it that people will want to pick up after themselves,” Smith said. “I just hope it makes everybody take a little more pride in the neighborhood.”
The effort has made a noticeable difference. There’s definitely less litter.
Yet some things aren’t so easy to fix. The empty bottles might disappear for a time, but the people who sit and drink on the corners keep coming back. Therein lies the real problem, Ingram says. The community has let it go for too long. Police can only do so much—the same goes for the hired maintenance crews working along Mountain View Drive. Real, lasting change will take the entire neighborhood.
“Down here, you have to protect yourself,” she said. “It takes a community to really stop all this.”