Power of the people: Scottsdale citizen effort obliterates political status quo

The above photograph illustrates the core catalyst for the citizen-led effort to get Prop. 420 passed to ensure local voters have a say in how the McDowell Sonoran Preserve is managed. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

There is no question about it: Proposition 420 will become the law of the land in the city of Scottsdale.

Scottsdale voters, by an overwhelming margin, approved the citizen-driven ballot measure effectively putting to rest the great community debate of how best to protect the local interests of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

Furthermore, the success of the ballot measure has unequivocally put a stop to the proposed Desert EDGE project many say was the catalyst to a political movement that resulted in a ballot measure approved by at least 70 percent of those who cast a vote Nov. 6, unofficial results show.

Scottsdale resident Pat Shaler at the signature training event held in north Scottsdale. (Submitted photo)

“It really was a situation where you had about 25 to 30 people who got together from all different walks of life and they were able to work together on an issue and get it resolved,” said Brad Kunde, who served as president of the political action committee created to get Prop. 420 passed.

“As I told people in the field, we have volunteers and social media and the other side has lots of money. We had a really diverse group of people from engineers to people in the computer business, it was just amazing. I was more of a guy who can get signatures and get in the streets and talk to people. We were able to mobilize a lot of people.”

Mr. Kunde says you can call the effort “grassroots,” but the true point of Prop. 420 was to prove the power is with the people in a democratic society.

“We are not sitting back here thinking we are special,” he pointed out. “We did what we had to do and it was a lot of hard work. It was not fun,” he said. It is about the people of Scottsdale being able to understand the issue and being able to read between the lines. The misinformation campaign from the other side — they saw right through it.”

Community activists behind both the Protect Our Preserve and NoDDC campaigns provided Scottsdale City Hall more than 37,000 signatures forcing Prop. 420 onto the Nov. 6 ballot.

The proposition, now approved, requires voter approval for any construction and use of earmarked conservation dollars within the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Proponents say the proposition, and subsequent signature-gathering effort, is one born through the idea that all Scottsdale residents should have a say in what occurs within the boundaries of Preserve lands.

Those Preserve lands — made possible by residents first agreeing to a dedicated sales tax in 1995 for the purchase of conservation land — encompass 30,000 acres within the rough boundaries of the Pima Road alignment to the west, McDowell Mountain Regional Park to the east, Stagecoach Road to the north and Via Linda Road alignment to the south.

While the ballot question did not mention by name the Scottsdale Desert EDGE project, proponents of Prop. 420 say the proposal and subsequent municipal moves are what sparked the fuel to stop the project by any means necessary.

Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale unveiled its plan for a proposed desert-appreciation venue last July. The effort was spearheaded by Sam Campana, former mayor of Scottsdale, who is serving as executive director of the nonprofit charged with developing the Desert EDGE proposal.

That Desert EDGE proposal, which came at a cost of just over $1.6 million, will not emerge at City Hall again, people familiar with the matter contend.

A picturesque view of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. (File photo)

Putting the matter to bed

A public proponent of both the Desert EDGE and failure of Prop. 420 says what was first envisaged as the Desert Discovery Center, but later defined as something else is dead.

Lynne Lagarde

“I think the Desert EDGE issue just needs to be put to bed and we move on,” said Lynne Lagarde, a retired zoning attorney who serves on the Desert Discovery Scottsdale Inc. Board of Directors. “We just need to put aside this issue and get back to the community working together again. I hope we can move forward with civility — that is my hope.”

For Ms. Lagarde, the landslide victory points to a collective love residents of Scottsdale have for the Preserve.

“What I think is that yesterday’s vote really showed how much we all love the Preserve,” she said. “People were led to believe there was a threat to the Preserve and they voted to protect it but a nature education center was never a threat to the Preserve. People thought it was threatened, so they voted to protect the Preserve.”

Ms. Lagarde contends the pro Prop. 420 camp created a narrative of fear positing the desert appreciation center as a threat to the Preserve.

“I really think that is what it boiled down to,” she said. “But we don’t see a natural education center as a threat to the Preserve. The threat to us is that when you have a controversial issue you amend the Charter and, to us, that is the threat people just didn’t see.”

Principles of stark contrasts

Scottsdale Councilwoman Virginia Korte remains steadfast to the assertion Prop. 420 is poor policy and bad governance.

For Scottsdale resident Mike Norton, a staunch supporter of Prop. 420, the ballot question had little to do with a desert appreciation venue or the Preserve, but rather an American ideology.

Mike Norton

Mr. Norton contends Prop. 420 was about a resident’s right to vote.

“They might have succeeded in bulldozing the Preserve if they had not first tried to bulldoze voter rights,” he said.

“Five times we were asked to vote to create and fund the Preserve. Five times we voted ‘yes.’ Five times not a word was mentioned of the DDC in any of the campaigns or ballot pamphlets.”

Mr. Norton says when plans were unveiled for the desert-appreciation venue without the inclusion of a public vote and what appeared to be strong City Council support, he felt disenfranchised.

“When the DDC Advocates finally rolled out their intentions, we were told ‘this time you don’t get to vote’ and ‘this time we’re not listening to you, we’re doing what we want. Try to stop us,’” he said. “So in a very odd way, we are indebted to Virginia Korte, Linda Milhaven and the DDC Advocates. If they had not enraged thousands of people over voting rights, many of us might have remained apathetic.”

For Councilwoman Korte she remains true to her words: Prop. 420 is poor policy and bad governance.

Virginia Korte

“It was not about the Desert Discovery center. It wasn’t about commercial development. It wasn’t about bulldozing the Preserve. It was about poor policy and poor governance,” she said. “It is bad policy, poor governance and its redundant with the already existing protections for the Preserve.”

Ms. Korte says she walks what she talks.

“I have been a community leader for three decades and have been on City Council for the last six years,” she pointed out. “I believe I am a person of integrity and one of my values — most important values, is one of integrity and one of principal. I believe this proposition was being misrepresented as an assault on the Preserve and I believe that was not true.”

Ms. Korte says Prop. 420 passing at the ballot box is a sad day for the city of Scottsdale.

“I have been committed to this community for 30-plus years. I believe it is a fine community, but for our constitution (Charter) to be cluttered with an amendment such as this it is a sad day in Scottsdale,” she said. “I got involved because of the vitriol and the disrespect that was being paid to anyone that did not support the ‘yes’ perspective,” she said. “I, of course, became a victim of their insults and their name calling. What a sad day when that type of behavior is rewarded.”

But at the end of the day, Ms. Korte says, the people have spoken.

“The people have spoken and let’s move forward. Let’s put this behind us,” she said. “It is really time to put this chapter in the history books and move forward in a productive manner that is good for all of Scottsdale — I am more than willing to work with anyone to that end.”

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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