Following a year marked by both unprecedented political engagement and extreme divisiveness, Scottsdale is heading into 2019 with a bevy of issues to address – including how to pay for much-needed infrastructure repairs, addressing community concerns over new development projects and restoring trust in the school district.
In the year ahead, City Council, SUSD Governing Board and City Hall will play a significant role in steering the direction of the city over the next 12 months. However, they are not the only ones.
Many citizens who found their voice during the last election plan to carry that momentum into 2019.
Ultimately, the biggest issues in Scottsdale in 2018 fell on the shoulders of the voters as residents took to the polls to decide the fate of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve – and, by association, Desert Edge – and approve a 0.1 percent sales tax increase to fund transportation projects.
In 2019, the City Council will take center stage as it addresses the city’s infrastructure needs. Despite the sales tax increase, the city still has hundreds of millions of unfunded capital improvement needs that the City Council will likely have to address in 2019. One avenue to fund at least a portion of those needs is via a bond request.
The sales tax increase is projected to raise around $71 million and unlock approximately $170 million in county matching funds for transportation needs.
Scottsdale voters have been historically skeptical, and unsupportive, of bond requests and sales tax increases to support infrastructure.
There is also the unresolved question of Proposition 126’s impact on the sales tax. City Council is joining a lawsuit seeking to clarify whether the proposition affects that increase.
Solange Whitehead was inspired to run for the City Council by the McDowell Sonoran Preserve issue and with that decided by voters in November, development and the city budget are her top priorities as she prepares to take office.
Whitehead said that the city needs to take a close look at its estimated $800 million in unfunded capital needs and prioritize projects based on need. She also said she would like city staff to work to negotiate lower costs with vendors and contractors and that the city should only borrow money for long-term projects, not ongoing costs.
Whitehead has also expressed a desire to increase development fees on apartment developers to cover the infrastructure costs of new development.
And she wants the city to adhere to planning guidelines in the 2001 General Plan – which she thinks should be updated. The city has not adopted a new plan since voters turned down a proposed update in 2012.
“It shows the disconnect between City Hall and the community,” she said.
Several developers will quite literally shape the way Scottsdale looks in 2019 and beyond as they transform some of the city’s most iconic properties and remaining open spaces.
The Southbridge 2 project will likely go before the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council later this year. The project will include new walking paths and pedestrian connections to encourage walkability.
Developer Carter Unger said the goal of the project is to increase traffic in the area for local retailers during traditionally slow months and provide extra parking during peak season.
“The project, which features retail, multiple hotels and a Class A office building along with 1,500 parking spots, would run along Fifth Avenue from the Arizona Canal to Scottsdale Road. It would bring increased height and density, especially near the canal and Scottsdale Road and Stetson Drive, the site planned for the hotels and office building.
In southern Scottsdale, the developers behind the Papago Plaza redevelopment recently received the zoning approvals they needed from City Council to move forward with a new mixed-use development that will feature retail, a grocery store, a hotel and lots of residential housing.
Though the project received approval, the City Council required the developer to hold additional meetings with neighbors, many of whom expressed concerns about the amount of residential space going into the development.
Further north, Nationwide will break ground in 2019 on Cavasson, the massive mixed-use development that will include Nationwide’s new regional headquarters near Loop 101 and Hayden.
NoDDC and Protect Our Preserve
Howard Myers, president of Protect Our Preserve, said his group will focus on making sure that Prop 420 is implemented and will work to ensure that City Council and city staff abide by the Preserve Ordinance and work appropriately with the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission.
Myers also said he would like to see the council reverse its decision to impose a two-term limit on preserve commissioners.
Another pro-Prop 420 group, NoDDC, has plans to remain politically engaged in 2019 and beyond. Founder Jason Alexander said those issues could extend well beyond the preserve.
Though he lives in the northern part of the city, Alexander recently echoed some concerns from neighbors down south about the Papago Plaza redevelopment. He showed up at the City Council meeting on the project and sent out an official NoDDC newsletter expressing concerns that the project included too much residential and not enough retail.
Like those political groups, many residents like Emily Austin were galvanized by the Prop 420 issues and plan to remain politically engaged.
Austin, a jewelry designer who has lived in Scottsdale for over 30 years, said she first became interested in local government when a developer proposed a new housing development on 20 acres near her home in 2017. She then became involved with the push to put Proposition 420 on the ballot.
Austin said she took a year off from her job, became a notary and oversaw a team that collected over 900 signatures. She has remained politically active since the election and is currently concerned that the city’s new scooter ordinance does not go far enough to address safety issues. She also hopes to promote new regulations requiring candidates for office to recycle campaign signs.
Austin has also set up the Save Scottsdale Facebook page as a place for residents to share information and become engaged with local government issues.
After once being considered a temporary steadying hand for the district, John Kriekard, interim Superintendent at Scottsdale Unified School District, is a potential favorite for the permanent superintendent position after the governing board expressed displeasure with its current superintendent search and threw its support behind Kriekard.
The final decision on Kriekard, whose contract runs through June, and any other potential candidates for the job is now up to the new board.
One new member of the SUSD board will be Jann-Michael Greenburg, the 24-year-old Arcadia High graduate who took an interest in the district’s governance during the administration of former Superintendent Denise Birdwell.
Greenburg, a law school graduate, said that in the short term he will focus on ways that the board can increase accountability and transparency.
“Anything that can help attack those issues and restore that trust in the community and between students and district will be key,” he said
He would also like to see public comments take place at the beginning of board meetings. The previous board pushed back public comments to take place after information and discussion items.
Patty Beckman joins Greenburg on the SUSD board in January and the two share several policy positions. “Our number one priority is to regain the trust of our community,” Beckman said.
For Beckman, that means starting with simple things like changing the time for public comments at meetings.
She also feels there is too much uncertainty surrounding which schools will be rebuilt and when – a concern shared by Greenburg.
“We are suffering because we have not named the schools and the order in which they will be rebuilt,” Beckman said. “We are losing parents because they do not know what is going to happen with their school.”
Since winning the state Senate race in District 23, Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita has wasted no time letting people know she intends to make waves in 2019.
She has already come out against the controversial new $32 vehicle registration fee that is supported by Gov. Doug Ducey and will be used to fund the Highway Patrol and introduced legislation to appeal it, according to Capitol Media Services.
Ugenti-Rita said she also plans to challenge state and local governments’ ability to tax digital services.
She said that the Arizona Department of Revenue and cities and towns currently tax digital services without legislative authority, and she plans to introduce legislation defining what digital services are exempt from taxation.
And she said election reform is on her agenda.
She said she is looking at some reforms to reduce wait times and speed up vote tallying, including prohibiting individuals who receive mail in ballots from returning them in person at polling stations.