Here are some topics and storylines that are likely to dominate Scottsdale in the new year.
New Mayor and City Council
With a new mayor and three freshmen council members, the new City Council will look dramatically different than the one that presided over the city for the better part of the last decade.
Gone are Mayor Jim Lane and Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp, who each served three terms, and Councilmembers Virginia Korte and Guy Phillips, who each served two terms.
In 2021, the City Council will include holdovers in Linda Milhaven, Kathy Littlefield and Solange Whitehead alongside incoming Mayor David Ortega and newcomers Betty Janik, Tammy Caputi and Tom Durham.
The new council will likely prove more skeptical of developers – and their requests for city concessions – than its predecessor
Lane, Korte and Klapp were part of a four-vote council majority that voted in favor of controversial new developments like the Marquee office building, Southbridge Two and Scottsdale Collection.
With those votes gone, Ortega, Janik and Durham are likely to join Littlefield and Whitehead to solidify a five-vote bloc that will be less willing to approve exemptions to city building standards and increases in height or density without substantial benefits to the city in return.
Both Janik and Durham fought alongside Littlefield and Whitehead in the Prop 420 battle to prevent development in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. And, more recently, Ortega, Janik and Durham all opposed the downtown Southbridge Two redevelopment.
Council’s new bent is not a death knell for all developments, though.
Both Littlefield and Whitehead have proven willing to vote in favor of some developments, including those that have faced pushback from residents, if they believe the projects are in the best interest of the city, including Museum Square in 2019.
In addition to new leadership, the city will welcome new top cop to run the city’s police department.
Police Chief Alan Rodbell retired on Nov. 30 after 17 years at the helm in Scottsdale and 45 years in law enforcement.
The city is not rushing to find his replacement and is currently in the midst of a nationwide search.
The search, which began in November, is expected to take six to eight months, according to the city.
In the meantime, former Assistant Chief Jeff Walther, who retired in 2018, was named interim police chief by City Manager Jim Thompson.
Walther is not seeking the permanent position.
Scottsdale is scheduled to hold another election in 2021 to seek voter approval of a new General Plan.
The plan is the overarching document guiding the long-term growth of a city.
The city has a fraught history with general plans and has not received voter approval of a new one since 2001, despite a state law requiring voters to approve a new plan or re-authorize an existing plan every 10 years.
Council approved a new General Plan in 2011 but voters shot down the update the next year, leading the city to readopt the 2001 plan with state-mandated additions.
The city again attempted to craft a new General Plan 2035 a few years later, but that effort, the result of years of work by community members and city staff, was halted by Council in 2016 and never sent to voters following disputes over rural land use designations.
In 2019, following an inquiry by the Progress, the Legislative Council at the state Legislature found the city likely violated provisions of general plan law by failing to gain voter approval, but that the law has no enforcement mechanism.
The city has maintained that the failed 2011 process satisfied the state requirements.
This time around, the city is seeking approval of an updated version of General Plan 2035 that incorporates new legislative requirements and changes recommended by a citizen review committee made up of 12 representatives from city boards and commissions.
City staff and the committee spent the better part of a year reviewing the plan and gathering community feedback before the committee adopted the draft plan on an 11-1 vote on Dec. 14.
State law mandates the plan must now undergo a six-month public hearing process that will include public involvement and multiple presentations to the Scottsdale Planning Commission and City Council.
Council will then vote on the plan in June or July, according to the city.
If adopted by Council, the draft general plan will likely go before voters in November 2021.
Tourism and Events
The next 12 months will prove to be crucial for Scottsdale’s tourism and events industries, the main drivers of the local economy.
The pandemic and associated business shutdowns and mitigation strategies decimated the local tourism industry in 2020 and forced the cancellation, postponement or reduction in scope of many major events like Spring Training baseball.
Occupancy at area hotels dropped as low as 10.5 percent in March but has since rebounded to around 42 percent at the beginning of December, still well below normal rates.
With vaccines now beginning to circulate in Arizona, there is some hope that tourism will start the slow march towards recovery in 2021.
Right now, it looks like the pandemic will continue to drastically reduce the impact of local events for at least the first few months of 2021.
The Barrett-Jackson collector car auction already announced it is postponing its January auction at Westworld until March.
The Waste Management Phoenix Open will push forward with its tournament in January and February, but plans to reduce admissions by as much as 96 percent.
Only time will tell if the vaccine rollout will allow the city’s spring events to operate normally and generate something close to normal activity.
Major League Baseball announced plans to begin Spring Training baseball on Feb. 27 and the league’s current schedule includes San Francisco Giants games at Scottsdale Stadium.
That schedule is still subject to change.