A sign requiring masks at a local business in downtown Sitka (KCAW/Rose)

Sitka’s temporary mask mandate has been extended for another month. When the Sitka Assembly met last night (8-24-21) it voted to extend the mask requirement for all public indoor spaces. 

The Assembly issued the mask mandate in late July, a few weeks after Sitka’s coronavirus case rate spiked to its highest level since the pandemic began. It requires masks indoors, with some exceptions. Those who don’t wear masks in areas where they’re required may be fined $50 dollars. 

During public comment, six people spoke against a mask mandate. Most cited health concerns, skepticism about masks and vaccines, and concerns about personal freedoms. Linda Marlin said Sitka had to get “back to normal.”

“We have to get back to normal and start acting like neighbors. I’m so sad to see people fighting against one another, family against family. We all are good people,” she said. “You people on the city council mean well, but by God, we are the citizens of Sitka. And we do not deserve something like this.” 

Only one person spoke in favor of masking up–Darby Osborne said it’s the neighborly thing to do.  

“Even in the off chance that masks are not as effective as some say they are, why not put one on to protect your neighbors? she asked. “I think that one of the most important values that we can all share as a community is empathy. And I think wearing a mask not just to protect yourself, but to protect those around you shows that and helps make us closer as a community.”

During deliberation, Member Valorie Nelson who voted against the mask mandate in July, said she would stay that decision. 

“You can’t delegate morality and you can’t dictate to people,” she said. “And I think you’re just going to create more problems than not by approving this.”

But Member Rebecca Himschoot, who had been concerned about enforcement, said she hadn’t heard the mandate had caused any new problems.  

“I was prepared tonight to hear from people who would come with anecdotes of having been harassed or having suffered hardship from having worn masks in the last month,” she said. “And I haven’t heard that. I haven’t had any businesses contact me to say that their folks have been in the line of fire.”

The Sitka Police Department created a code for the mask mandate. City Administrator John Leach said that since the code was established, the department hadn’t received any calls about masking. 

Ultimately the Assembly voted 5-2 in favor of extending the mask mandate for another month, with Valorie Nelson and Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz opposed. It expires on September 28 or when Sitka’s COVID alert level shifts down from “high” to “moderate.”

Read the full mandate here

In other business, the Sitka Assembly…

-Authorizing the sale of the former Sitka Community Hospital Site, on first reading, 6-1 with Member Valorie Nelson opposed. Read more about the vote and what it means for this fall’s municipal election here

Authorized the lease of 4951 Halibut Point Road, a 17 acre portion city-owned property, to Shee Atiká Inc. for $60,000 a year plus revenue sharing. Read more about the corporation’s plan to develop the property here. The measure passed 5-2 on second reading with Member Thor Christianson and Mayor Steven Eisenbiesz opposed

-Authorized the transfer/sale of a portion of City and Borough of Sitka’s “Old City Shops” property located at 1410 and 1414 Halibut Point Road to the Sitka Community Land Trust (SCLT) for an affordable housing project, on first reading, on a 5-2 vote with Mayor Eisenbeisz and Member Nelson opposed

-Unanimously voted to amend Title 22 “Zoning” of the Sitka General Code by modifying Chapter 22.16 “District Regulations” for the Recreation District

-Unanimously voted to amend the official Sitka Zoning Map to rezone 4951 Halibut Point Road from Single-Family and Duplex Residential (R-1) to Recreation District (R)

-Unanimously approved a retail marijuana store license renewal application for AKO Farms

Unanimously voted to appoint Catherine Mohn to an unexpired term on the Health Needs and Human Services Commission