Alexandra LaJoux is a relative newcomer to Fernandina Beach, but she feels like a “part of the town” and believes she can help a good town be even better, so she will be on the ballot for the City Commission’s Group 2 seat in November.
LaJoux said she began visiting the city in 2015 and moved here in 2017. Her son and grandson soon followed, moving in with her and her husband. She did not immediately become interested in local politics, although the loss of some trees in her neighborhood did get her attention. She said she became interested in organizing local people who were resisting the plans of a developer to build an auto-centric resort at Amelia River Golf Club.
“I sent two people,” LaJoux said. “They came back on fire to resist this, and were getting petitions. I said I could do this, that’s grassroots. I got on a roll and got 137 petitions, and the organizers said I should think about getting more active in the community. So did Conserve Amelia Now and the Amelia Tree Conservancy. They said they need someone so passionate about saving trees.”
Saving trees, LaJoux said, is her number-one priority and what motivated her to go to Fernandina Beach City Commission meetings. She said she also learned about several other “fascinating” issues facing the city, and has ideas on how to address those issues.
“Architectural preservation, community values, the marina, the golf course, the airport, the budget – it goes on and on,” she said. “The way I really see it, the commission itself has far more leverage to make positive change than it even realizes. I think it’s not using all its potential, mainly because it’s been divided. I’m convinced that with a slightly different membership of the commission, greater things can happen.”
LaJoux said she wants to improve city finances by addressing expenditures and leveraging the city’s positive financial situation.
“One solution is additional outside financing,” she said. “When they see our financials are as square and honest and as healthy as they are, we are not bleeding money. We have a lot of debt, but we are managing it well. I think if we can do some restructuring of our debt and get some help from some outside interests who are interested in us as a barrier island, a place where we have a very important maritime forest, in addition to the wonderful support we are getting from all kinds of nonprofits, such as North Florida Land Trust, we could do even more in that respect.”
The city’s waterfront and marina on the Amelia River have been points of heated discussion for decades. The City Commission recently approved a plan for a new park along the waterfront that includes an event venue and other amenities. LaJoux said she thinks the city should consider the plans slowly, to ensure the park reflects the needs of the entire community.
“For 40 years, a number of pillars of this community have worked very hard to come up with a vision for improving the waterfront, and it would be outrageous for me to disrespect their efforts,” she said. “The design (the city commission) chose included a performance venue which will be two-stories tall and involve paid events.
“One of our commissioners stated there was some opposition because of the height of the structure blocking the sunset, and also the fact that it depends on paid events when non-tourists are used to free events. That’s been weighing on my heart.
“We all talk about invasive species. I think we have invasive, tourist-oriented, millionaire-oriented design, in-your-face design projects that do not reflect Fernandina. Fernandina is a working class town with a lot of diversity at all economic levels. I would love to keep it that.”
The city’s marina has not been profitable for years and carries a multi-million dollar debt incurred by borrowing money from other city accounts. LaJoux believes the city needs to look at marina management (currently contracted out to marina management company Westrec) to improve revenues in order to keep a working marina.
“We have to ask (Westrec) to tell us what they plan to do in the future to improve revenue for the marina, to get outside support, to market it – all the things that need to be done to make the marina more viable,” she said. “At the same time, we ought to be open to an open bid process where we might get others to manage the marina. Another problem is a lack of land to support a working marina. I don’t want to disrespect the (waterfront park) plan, but at the same time I am very nervous about taking up parking spaces because people who are using the marina will need that parking.”
A working marina is an example of diversity, which LaJoux thinks is an important aspect of Fernandina Beach that she would work to maintain, while keeping the city socially responsible.
“My heart is more oriented toward keeping us a working-class place that has jobs for people and has unique offerings such as a marina, an airport, even factories,” she said. “I’m proud of our factories. We have an unusual horizon. We’re not just a retirement community, we’re not just a tourist town, we’re so much more.
“I am pro-business. I know businesses have to make a profit. Profits are not evil. Profits are good. Businesses are all about serving society and serving the consumer. That said, there are two ways to run a business. You can be socially responsible and responsive and care about our community or you can ignore your community and look for short-term profits. The kind of business person I am is the community-based business.”
The need for affordable housing is part of maintaining diversity, she said.
“I think it’s a very, very, very, very important issue because we want to keep diversity of economics, we want to keep diversity of race, we want to keep diversity of age. We can’t all be wealthy retired persons here or we will lose that beautiful small town diversity,” she said. “But how I look at it is this: for one thing, it doesn’t have to be in the city. If it’s elsewhere, the city can be part of the solution, possibly for transportation somehow.
“People talk about Habitat for Humanity, and that’s well and good. However, Habitat, to build new houses, generally speaking will take down trees to do so and of course I want to preserve the trees. So, if anything, if we had a Habitat for Humanity ‘cluster’it might be on Eighth Street where there’s a large vacant lot. I don’t know the ownership of the lot, but there are no trees. If we can find places to build affordable housing where there are no trees, I’m all for it.”
LaJoux said she believes having both conservative and liberal ideals makes her a strong candidate.
“Nassau County is roughly 70%-plus Republican, but the city is almost flipped. If you look at the people who have made political contributions in the city, the vast majority are Democrats.
“I’m lucky, because I am a candidate for both parties. Because of my strong environmental commitments, I will appeal to Democrats with my commitment to the working class. On the other hand, I have very conservative values. If it ever came up to say, private schools were not allowed, or you had to have an abortion clinic, or had to have gambling, I’d be dead set against it. I’m either going to get very few votes or a lot of votes. Either the Democrats aren’t going to vote for me because I’m a registered Republican and the Republicans aren’t going to vote for me because I’m always talking about poor folk and the environment, or both folks are going to say, ‘What she’s saying – I think I can work with her.’”