Alexander: yes on Prop. 420 in Scottsdale enshrines intention of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Scottsdale Proposition 420 makes a small, but critical, change to our Scottsdale City Charter. It guarantees that any construction in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, or spending of Preserve funds, other than for trails, trailheads, maintenance, or restoration, must go to a vote of Scottsdale citizens.

Jason Alexander

A yes vote to Proposition 420 leaves in place the Preserve’s current management structure. The McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission and experienced city staff remain responsible for the Preserve’s daily operations. Access for first responders, remediation efforts, and expansion of parking facilities at existing trailheads are all permitted.

A yes vote to Prop 420 protects the Preserve from development. The charter change won’t prohibit Scottsdale’s City Council from proposing to build a Desert EDGE — it mandates that voters get to make the final decision. “Our Preserve, Our Vote.”

This is a fair compromise that respects citizens’ authority over land we taxed ourselves to buy, and allows council the chance to propose development not authorized on the 1998 or 2004 ballots.

A yes vote to 420 maintains Preserve access for all, supports current educational programming, and keeps entry to the Preserve free of charge. The Preserve has three magnificent interpretive trails, at Gateway, Brown’s Ranch, and Lost Dog trailheads, which are accessible to people with disabilities. The McDowell Sonoran Conservancy offers a robust schedule of free, hands-on, educational opportunities for people of all ages and levels of experience. These events take place in classrooms, seated under shade at the trailheads, and in the field. You simply need to get out of your car to enjoy the Preserve for free.

The Conservancy is a 700-plus volunteer, nonprofit organization that works cooperatively with the city of Scottsdale, and does not cost the city a dime. The Desert EDGE is proposed to have a $6 million annual budget and a $1.8 – $3 million annual operations deficit.

Our yes to 420 community believes in inclusiveness. We’ve heard from fellow citizens who think that the Preserve should provide more opportunities for all people to enjoy it. The day after this election, I vow to reach out to organizations like Ability 360 to continue this conversation and engage the thousands of members of our online and offline NoDDC and Protect Our Preserve PAC communities.

First though, we must ensure that the rights of every Scottsdale voter are secured.

Yes, there are those who oppose Prop 420. Most of the well-connected advocates for the Desert EDGE development recently submitted comments for publication in the upcoming election’s official ballot pamphlet. It seems they have two main contentions to “YES to 420.”

First, the Desert EDGE advocates say Prop 420 keeps people out of the Preserve. This is not true. The free access we all enjoy to the Preserve will continue. However, if a Desert EDGE is constructed in the Preserve, one barrier Scottsdale citizens and visitors will have is its $57 daily admission fee for a family of four, as proposed in the Desert EDGE’s business plan.

Second, opponents claim that Prop. 420 will cripple the management of the Preserve. I wonder if they have even read the proposition? Here is a link to the actual text:

https://www.scottsdaleaz.gov/Assets/ScottsdaleAZ/Elections/Proposition420Text.pdf

As you can easily see in this very short document, there is nothing in Prop 420 that would make any change to the current management or operations of the Preserve. Maintenance is permitted, restoration is allowed, new trails can be fashioned, parking expanded if needed, and management will continue to be overseen by city staff, City Council, and the citizen-led McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission.

Of note — 19 separate board members, officers and principals of Desert Discovery Center Scottsdale, Inc. (DDCSI) each paid $100 per comment to make sure their negative opinions were included in the ballot pamphlet. DDCSI pocketed $2.2 million in tax dollars to “study” the DDC/Desert EDGE, and would likely be the city’s pre-ordained partner to build and run the development, with a construction budget of $68 million dollars and an annual budget of $6 million or more.

These comments by officers and staff of DDCSI are an attempt to influence an election. They are flagrant violations of IRS laws governing the behavior of tax-exempt 501(c)3 charities. We called out this lobbying and electioneering last year in our 40-page complaint to the IRS, yet, what I believe to be illegal activity continues with the approval of City Councilmembers Linda Milhaven and Virginia Korte.

Here is a list of DDCSI officials who are attempting to influence your vote and our election. Nearly half don’t even live in Scottsdale:

  • Bill Peifer: Project Director, DDCSI, paid $125/hr for consulting on DDC
  • Diana Yazzie Devine: Board Member, DDCSI
  • John Flicker: Advisory Board, DDCSI
  • John W. Graham: Board Member, DDCSI
  • Lynne Lagarde: Secretary, DDCSI
  • Melinda Gulick: Former Board Member DDCSI, Director of Desert Edge Advocates
  • Tom Hennes and Amanda White: Designers of Desert Edge, their firm made $300,000 from DDCSI
  • Art DeCabooter: Board Member, DDCSI
  • Christine Kovach: Chair, DDSCI
  • DeEtte Person: Marketing Director, DDCSI, paid $125/hr by DDCSI
  • Jan L. Gehler: Advisory Board, DDCSI
  • Joan Fudala: Board Member, DDCSI
  • Loren Molever: Attorney, DDCSI
  • Michael D. Miller: Treasurer, DDCSI
  • Michael Surguine: Vice-Chair, DDCSI
  • Randy Schilling: Director of Development, DDCSI, paid $100/hr by DDCSI
  • Richard Bowers: Advisory Board, DDCSI
  • Steven J. Hilton: Board Member DDCSI

Make no mistake, those in this special-interest group have much to gain personally and collectively from developing and operating a Desert Discovery Center or Desert EDGE in our Preserve.

Voting yes to Prop. 420 is the best way to protect the citizens’ interest. Scottsdale citizens voted the Preserve into being, pay for it with our tax dollars, and currently enjoy it in a myriad of ways. Yes to 420 means citizens get to decide the Preserve’s future. Not the lobbyists, special interests, or a simple majority of our city council politicians.

YES to 420. Our Preserve, our vote!

Editor’s note: Mr. Alexander is a Scottsdale resident.

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