The real estate and development communities have poured a significant amount of money into Scottsdale’s City Council election, new quarterly campaign finance statements show.
Of the total funds raised by all five candidates between July 1 and Sept. 30, over half the contributions came from individuals or political action committees with ties to real estate or land development.
The bulk of those contributions went to incumbent Councilwoman Linda Milhaven, who significantly out-raised her opponents in the third quarter by amassing $76,019 in contributions during the time period.
The next closest council candidate, Bill Crawford, raised $36,150 in the third quarter.
Over $60,000, or approximately 80 percent, of contributions to Milhaven came from individuals or political action committees with ties to real estate or land development companies.
They included executives from The Wolff Company, Grayhawk Development, Trammel Crow and Stockdale Capital Partners – a Los Angeles-based real estate investment firm that has an office in Scottsdale and owns the Scottsdale Galleria.
Milhaven also received $5,000 from the Realtors of Arizona PAC and $1,000 from Arizona Multi-Housing Association PAC.
Pro Prop 420 groups have argued that projects like Desert Edge – the proposed $68-million educational center that would be located on the preserve and was the genesis for the push to put Prop 420 on the ballot in the first place – would ultimately open the preserve up to commercial development.
“When you get that kind of money from individuals in the development community or real estate, they expect a return for that investment and they usually get it,” incumbent Kathy Littlefield said last Wednesday at a council candidate forum hosted by Scottsdale United Methodist Church and the Scottsdale Progress.
Opponents of Prop 420 argued in the city’s voter pamphlet that the commercial development argument is a red herring and that the existing McDowell Sonoran Preserve Ordinance contains ample protections to stop traditional commercial development from occurring on the preserve.
In the pamphlet, attorney James Derouin, a longtime resident who has worked on city task forces in the past, wrote:
“The McDowell Sonoran Preserve Ordinance (MSPO) applicable to the Preserve states: ‘The Preserve will not contain traditional facilities or improvements associated with a public park, but may contain facilities or improvements that the city determines are necessary or appropriate to support passive recreational activities. While allowing for “educational opportunities,” the sale of food and beverages or “other merchandise” is prohibited.”
Beyond the Desert Edge issue, Milhaven – who had a long career as a community banker and also chaired the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce – said donations do not dictate her decisions.
She said that the donations are a result of her long history as a pro-business candidate and that her relationship with developers helps her advocate for residents when new proposals come to the council.
Milhaven pointed to the Scottsdale Fashion Square rezoning case from 2017 as an example. She said she met with local residents who were concerned about the changes and brought those issues to the mall.
“Fashion Square agreed to do road improvements beyond what was required,” Milhaven said at the forum. “They agreed to do meaningful open space more than what was required and where they wanted to increase their height, they agreed to decrease the height (in other areas) to offset it.”
She also said she is not afraid to push back on development she sees as bad for specific communities.
She said she helped kill a project called Stadium Lofts that was seeking amendments within an infill incentive district to build a 90-foot building at Miller and Osborn Roads.
“I said ‘I can’t imagine an incentive to make Miller and Osborn make sense for this project,” Milhaven said.
Milhaven is not the only candidate to receive funds from the real estate and development industries.
Fellow incumbent David Smith, who also opposes Prop 420, received $8,900 in contributions from PACs or individuals with ties to the real estate or development communities in the third quarter. That accounted for about 41 percent of contributions to his campaign during that time.
Smith received contributions from individuals employed by Trammell Crow, DMB Associates, Clayton Companies and HCW Development – a Branson, Missouri development company.
At the forum, Smith said that in the past he supported limiting the amount of contributions individuals could make to council candidates to $500 and correctly pointed out that he did not receive any single contribution exceeding $500 from individuals related to the development community.
He did receive $5,000 from the Realtors of Arizona PAC.
The swell in contributions gives ammunition to the pro-Proposition 420 crowd that has long accused Milhaven and other opponents of the measure of being in the pocket of real estate and development interests.
A candidate’s position on Prop 420 was not the sole deciding factor relating to contributions from these groups, though.
Crawford, who supports voting yes on Prop 420, received a total $14,150 from individuals and PACs tied to real estate or development during the third quarter, accounting for about 39 percent of his contributions.
Crawford received $5,000 from the Realtors of Arizona PAC and $500 from the Arizona Multi-Housing Association PAC.
He also received contributions from individuals with links to construction or real estate development like Clayton Companies, Jokake Companies, A.R. Mays Construction, Levine Investments and HCW Development.
Incumbent Kathy Littlefield and candidate Solange Whitehead, who both support Prop 420, received $7,523.50 and $21,309.50 in contributions during the third quarter, respectively.
Neither received significant contributions from the real estate or development communities.
Over the course of the campaign, Littlefield and Whitehead did receive contributions from some individuals associated with pro Prop 420 campaigns. Jason Alexander and Howard Myers both donated to Littlefield and Myers also donated to Whitehead.
Their donations accounted for a small fraction of overall donations made to the candidates.
Milhaven pushed back at the assertion that money is the single deciding factor in elections, noting that Littlefield and Smith defeated incumbent Dennis Robbins in 2014 even though Robbins raised more money than both of them combined.