Our local “indy” newspaper printed a letter from Don Henninger a couple of days ago regarding the state of the local political climate, and Scottsdale’s aggravatingly-persistent General Plan Update.
It reminded me of a scene from the Ben Affleck film, Argo, about the CIA rescue of the US Embassy hostages from Iran in 1981, under the guise of filming a science fiction movie:
CIA operative Tony Mendez: There are only bad options. It’s about finding the best one.
CIA director Stansfield Turner: You don’t have a better bad idea than this?
CIA supervisor Jack O’Donnell: This is the best bad idea we have, sir. By far.
I don’t think I even bothered to comment on Henninger’s letter because most of it was nonsensical. But because of Nancy Cantor’s letter today, in which she offers token criticism that is largely ineffective, I was prompted to go back and read Henninger’s letter again.
My biggest takeaway?
“Anti-development is not a vision. There are no evil developers in dark corners waiting to make big bucks on developments no one wants.”
Mr. Henninger is a PR flack, and the former publisher of the Phoenix Business Journal. He’s also the interim CEO of the Scottsdale Chamber of Developers (aka, “Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce”). And he’s the executive director of the thinly-disguised Scottsdale Coalition of Today and Tomorrow (“SCOTT,” for short), that looks an awful lot like something the Chamber would set up to disseminate propaganda.
So, a lecture from Henninger on “vision” or “anti-development” is about the last thing that’s helpful to the citizens in determining how they want Scottsdale to look as we move toward our future
And, with regard to Ms. Cantor’s letter (which I will reproduce below, along with Henninger’s), she appears to be shilling for the “General Plan Update 2035” effort that the city is currently promoting.
The bulk of what the city is now calling “the 2035 General Plan Update,” is recycled from an earlier effort which was rejected by the voters at the polls in 2011. The 2011 efforts were themselves “updated” in 2014 in an effort led by the “Arizona Town Hall” organization. The civic-sounding name wouldn’t give you a clue that ATH is a bunch of zoning attorneys and real estate lawyers.
Looking back at the sanitized proceedings (mostly cleansed of objections from ordinary citizens like yours truly), you see sprinkled throughout a who’s who of those who feed at the development trough. In fact, I’d venture to say that developers and others who are employed in various land-use fields (who thus have a direct financial stake in the outcome) outnumbered ordinary citizens.
Cantor can’t say she doesn’t know this, because she was one of the shills embedded in the “Task Force” that was propped up in front of a process that wasn’t citizen-driven at all.
Even more importantly, our elected “representatives” have long considered the General Plan and our City Charter to be not guides to good development and good governance; but rather obstacles to be overcome for the benefit of their supporters, and mechanisms to extract campaign contributions.
Cantor makes vague reference to this in comments buried in her letter, and somewhat adapts language that I have been using for many years. But it’s a fair cry from criticizing her friends and benefactors to any significant degree.
Mike Kelly’s 2013 observations on this juxtaposition of effort and subsequent disregard of it ring just as true today.
The fact that Henninger sent in his letter to the editor, and that Nancy responded, indicate to me that we are soon going to see another push to get an “update” on the ballot and get it passed. And this will probably happen next year as a ‘special election,’ timed so as not to interfere with Nancy’s developer friends’ re-election efforts in 2020.
The General Plan Update in it’s current form is a really bad idea. I think we can do better. And we don’t have to choose from only bad ideas.
What’s your vision for Scottsdale?
As Scottsdale residents wrap up a tumultuous political and financial year and leave the recent city elections in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to focus on the new year ahead.
I appreciate the calls for unity that are being sounded by many around the city. This follows a year that was dominated by one of the most divisive issues the city has ever faced – the Desert EDGE project and subsequent approval of Proposition 420.
The issue split the city, damaged relationships and left people wondering whether we can move ahead together and get things done to keep the city healthy and prosperous. The issue did produce a solid grass roots win for Proposition 420 supporters though it’s not clear what that means for other issues moving ahead.
On the financial front, the city did little to solve its capital infrastructure needs. The political will to present a comprehensive bonding package to the voters simply wasn’t there. The voter-approved transit sales tax is a nice band-aid but doesn’t solve the huge infrastructure funding issue. There’s another $200 million in transit work needed, and $400 million more in non-transit work still unmet.
The plea for unity from so many is encouraging but is the will there to really meet Scottsdale needs through a difficult political process that is already under way for the 2020 council and mayoral election? Time will tell.
It’s pretty tough to develop a sustainable sense of unity when there is no vision to build it on. What is the vision for Scottsdale?
Scottsdale citizens have plenty to be proud of – the city remains the jewel of the Valley. But it needs to evolve and progress and that’s where the divides start, often over single issues. From an overall community good stance, where’s the common ground?
It’s easy to say no to a project. It’s a lot harder to say no and also offer a suggestion for a different solution.
Anti-development is not a vision. There are no evil developers in dark corners waiting to make big bucks on developments no one wants.
That makes for great headlines. It simply isn’t true.
Scottsdale is a city with three distinct regions. An urban core – south Scottsdale to Old Town. A suburban middle – north to Bell Road. And some of the most pristine rural landscapes in all of the Southwest in north Scottsdale. Is that the start of a vision that people can unite behind?
Yet when people talk about “the three cities in one” of Scottsdale they usually are referring to conflicting views for the city’s future. You can see the results on the fate of bonds at the ballot box. Voters in the north have rejected vital issues needed in the south (and often vice versa).
How does that foster anything that can be called community good? How does that contribute to a strong vision for the entire city?
All voices count. And facts matter if we are going to be a united community that keeps the city moving forward.
What’s your vision for the city? Let’s start the conversation. Let’s look for ways we can share our ideas together. In a true spirit of unity.
2035 General Plan Update envisions a well-rounded Scottsdale future
Oh, Mr. Henninger, it is complicated, isn’t it? It has just gotten away from the people who want power without working with all these different people with different ideas getting in the way.
Divide and conquer that is how you get your way.
Somebody sold that load of effluvia to would-be leaders in order to get “their way” for the future of our city.
For a while now developers and their individual visions for their individual projects without consideration for the people the project would immediately impact, that attitude has lead the way.
It’s not all one-sided because “we the people” have not paid attention to, or learned what we as taxpaying citizens must do to maintain the fabric of our community.
Participate or don’t participate, both have consequences.
A General Plan provides a guide for making these choices by describing long-term goals for the city’s future as well as policies to guide day-to-day decisions. These guidelines are not laws, but they do express the strong vision and values of the people, but in our city it seems to be very easy to ignore them whether long-term goals or making everyday decisions.
Zoning amendments? Give ’em what they want.
Codes and ordinances? Waive those whenever asked.
Standard Operating Procedures? Bend or ignore them they just get in the way.
We have the 2001 General Plan and the 2035 General Plan Update, both documents have Vision and Values statements offered by the citizens who worked on them; the last being collected through a Town Hall process and surveying over 1,000 residents.
Community Values in the year 2025, (contained in the 2001 General Plan approved by the “people”) states that Scottsdale will be a community that:
-Demonstrates its commitment to environmental, economic, and social sustainability and measures both the short and long-term impacts of our decisions;
-Creates, revitalizes, and preserves neighborhoods that have long-term viability, unique attributes and character, livability, connectivity to other neighborhoods in the community, and that fit together to form an exceptional citywide quality of life (i.e. the whole is greater than the sum of its parts);
-Facilitates human connection by anticipating and locating facilities and infrastructure that enable human communication and interaction; and by promoting policies that have a clear human orientation, value and benefit;
-Respects the environmental character of the city with preservation of desert and mountain lands, and innovative ways of protecting natural resources, clean air, water resources, natural habitat, and wildlife migration routes, archaeological resources, vistas, and view and scenic corridors;
-Builds on its cultural heritage, promotes historical and archaeological preservation areas, and identifies and promotes the arts and tourism in a way that recognizes the unique desert environment in which we live;
-Coordinates transportation options with appropriate land uses to enable a decreased reliance on the automobile and more mobility choices;
-Maintains or improves its high standards of appearance, aesthetics, public amenities, and levels of service;
-Recognizes and embraces change: from being predominantly undeveloped to mostly built out, from a young town to a maturing city, from a bedroom community to a net importer of employees, and from a focus on a single economic engine to a diverse, balanced economy;
-Simultaneously acknowledges our past (preservation of historically significant sites and buildings will be important), and prepares for our future;
-Promotes growth that serves community needs, quality of life and community character;
-Recognizes and embraces the diversity of the community by creating an environment that respects the human dignity of all without regard to race, religion, national origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, or physical attributes.
General Plan Update 2035 begins with a values statement that was created by the people, in a Town Hall process similar to the Scottsdale Town Enrichment Process that guided our city’s growth from the town of Scottsdale to the incorporated city of Scottsdale. It reads:
These values will be at the forefront of our decision-making in implementing our vision, community aspirations, and goals found in the General Plan and shall be the basis upon and shall be the basis upon which inconsistencies in the General Plan are resolved (values listed are of equal importance):
-Respect Character and Culture – Enhance and protect Scottsdale’s unique features, neighborhood identity, character, livability, southwestern heritage, and tourism through appropriate land uses and high standards for design. Create vibrant and attractive places that accommodate a variety of ages and incomes and support the arts and multi-cultural traditions.
-Conserve and Preserve the Environment – Lead the region in the stewardship and effective management of the Sonoran Desert environment and conservation of natural resources and open spaces for the visual, physical, and personal enrichment of everyone.
-Collaborate and Engage – Promote strong, visionary leadership that is transparent, responsive, and efficient; collaborates regionally; respects and honors our community values; recognizes the benefit of interactive community involvement and volunteerism; and embraces citizens as active partners in decisions that affect their neighborhoods and city.
-Foster Well-Being – Promote a culture of life-long physical and mental health, safety, and well-being for residents, visitors, employers, and employees.
-Connect the Community – Connect all community members across geographic, cultural and generational boundaries by cultivating a welcoming environment; respecting human dignity; recognizing and embracing citywide and regional diversity; and striving for cost-effective, adaptable, and innovative mobility options.
-Revitalize Responsibly – Vigorously evaluate the short- and long-term impacts of decisions to ensure that development and redevelopment support and maintain the unique features and identity that make Scottsdale special, and contribute positively to the community’s physical, fiscal and economic needs and high quality of life.
-Advance Innovation and Prosperity – Embrace a diverse, and innovative economy to sustain our high quality of life through a variety of businesses, health and research institutions, and educational, technological, tourism and cultural elements.
If you can restore the confidence of the people in the governance of the city you will have accomplished quite a bit, but that means dealing with the infrastructure funding in a way the people feel there are no hidden agendas. And if you can convince leadership that having and following a plan for future development is better than here, there, and everywhere, it would go a long way.
One last thing, the Town Hall that created the 2035 visions and values, had folks from all over the city, all socioeconomic levels, from McKellips Road to the Road to Bartlett Lake, students, and small business people who live here too and retirees new to our city and those who have lived here for decades. It was multicultural, multi-generational and all took the job seriously. Wish leadership did.