State Rep. John Kavanagh

State Rep. John Kavanagh said he may look at including enforcement actions in the General Plan law to prevent cities like Scottsdale from ducking the 10-year renewal requirement.

Scottsdale voters have not approved an update to the city’s General Plan in nearly two decades – an apparent violation of state law that could result in action by the Arizona Legislature.

Saying “it’s really depressing” when cities don’t follow the law, state Rep. John Kavanagh said he disagrees with Scottsdale officials’ contention that it’s okay to operate under a General Plan that Scottsdale voters approved nearly two decades ago.

Arizona law requires cities like Scottsdale to adopt a new general plan or update an existing general plan every 10 years and have those changes go to the voters.

Scottsdale is currently operating under a plan that voters approved in 2002. That plan has not been re-approved by voters since.

Legislative Council staff, which provides nonpartisan research services to legislators, looked into the issue at the request of Kavanagh, whose district covers a large swath of Scottsdale.

It concluded that Scottsdale is likely in violation of provisions of general plan law, but that the law has no enforcement mechanism for them.

That could change in the next few years.

“It’s really depressing that we have to have enforcement in there to stop governments from breaking the law,” said Kavanagh, who looked into the issue following an inquiry by the Scottsdale Progress.

“We ask citizens to obey the law, but then governments can break it with impunity,” he added.

Kavanagh said it is too late to introduce new bills this session but that he could take up the issue in the future.

The Scottsdale City Council adopted General Plan 2011, but it was shot down by voters in 2012.

The city then convened a task force to formulate General Plan 2035, but that never received a council vote.

 The council in 2016 directed city staff to retain the 2001 plan with new state-required elements added to it, said Erin Perreault, the city’s long range planning services manager.

Until a theoretical enforcement action is passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, there is little the state can do to force the city to expediently update its current plan, according to the Legislative Council.

In a memo to Kavanagh, Legislative Council attorney Anthony Tsontakis concluded that Scottsdale was required to resubmit the failed plan to voters or submit a new plan following the failed vote in 2012.

“The structure of the statute appears to be as follows: If a city adopts a plan and submits it to the voters, and the voters reject the plan, the city is then required to either resubmit the plan or submit a new plan to the voters,” the memo reads.

However, Tsontakis acknowledged the state’s hands are tied as to what happens if the city does not do one of those things.

“There is no follow-up provision that contemplates what is to occur if and when a city does not pass a motion or reconsider a motion to readopt a plan or adopt a new plan,” the memo stated, adding:

“Accordingly, we are unable to state whether or not the City of Scottsdale is required to take further action on the general plan under these circumstances.”

The city has long maintained that it fulfilled its obligations under the law.

Perreault said, “Planning staff has been advised that the 2011 General Plan update process satisfied Scottsdale’s 10-year state required General Plan update requirement.”

Perreault said the city believes the 2011 process satisfied the 10-year update requirement in the law.

Kavanagh said he did not agree with the city’s argument but that the whole discussion is moot until an enforcement provision is added.

He said that provision would provide an avenue to deal with the issue “assuming our analysts are right,” but that a court decision would be needed to come to a definitive conclusion as to whether Scottsdale is in violation of the law.

Perreault said the city’s next targeted update to the general plan is in 2021.