Alley: Who really speaks for south Scottsdale?

I walked in to the standing room only council meeting about five minutes before its scheduled start.

It was Wednesday, Dec. 12, and on the agenda was the Papago Plaza redevelopment plan. The last one to turn in my speaker card, I glanced around the Kiva, trying to pick out the developers, the lobbyists, the residents, the power brokers.

Andrea Alley

Then I noticed them: a dozen or so people wearing round stickers with the word “Yes” on them. The South Scottsdale Alliance was looking to make their presence known.

The neighborhood has waited patiently while Papago Plaza sat vacant for years with no real plan in sight, knowing it had been purchased back in 2015. Then, late last month, my neighbor Allison posted on the Nextdoor app some screen shots of an email she got from the rebranded Scottsdale Gateway Alliance, now the South Scottsdale Alliance, asking residents to email the council to support this project and to show up at the meeting to speak as well.

Neighbors immediately had one question: “Why are they asking for support and not opinions? We had no idea the process had made it this far, and we do not support the current plan.”

There were 20 comment cards submitted, some in favor of the project, some not so much. If the speakers had anything in common, it’s that every last one of them wanted to see that corner redeveloped. If the speakers wearing “Yes” stickers had anything in common, it’s that they supported the project unconditionally — to them, the project was fine.

It was fine.

Comments ended and the mayor and council gave their opinions. And in a literal shocking turn of events, the most vocal supporter of the community was Councilwoman Korte.

Most everyone I spoke with considered her to be the last person to stand up for us. And yet, my favorite quote from the evening came from her: “That iconic corner deserves a higher standard than just good enough.”

This was followed by fully addressing the most common concerns from her constituents as well as questions to the developer on how to solve for them. As contentious as the 2018 election was, this was a surprising and welcome turn of events.

When all was said and done, the developer expressed a tremendous willingness to make adjustments to the plan, the community’s voices were not only heard but directly addressed, and Council members Korte, Klapp, and Littlefield stood up for us — collectively, for the first time, maybe ever.

The council unanimously approved the zoning request but with four important stipulations that help address the many concerns our community has over this proposal — including additional and more broad outreach to the community. It was a meeting where everyone — community, council, and developer — left feeling hopeful for the first time since my neighbors and I became truly aware of how close we were to losing the opportunity to give our feedback.

A week or so before the meeting, the South Scottsdale Alliance began sending emails claiming that a “small group of activists” were trying to stop the development.

Then they went into troop-gathering mode, scheduled a pre-party at AZ88, and formulated a plan to march into that meeting on Dec. 12, stickers and all, to fully back the just fine, mediocre, and highly-opposed plan, and drive home the false idea that it has “widespread community support.”

And yet, none of that stopped them from taking full credit for the outcome of Wednesday’s council meeting in a Dec. 13 email they titled, “The Gift That Keeps On Giving.”

In it, as if they were accepting some sort of award, they celebrated the outcome of the meeting and the stipulations on the approval. They wrote:

“This development has the potential to create the ‘togetherness’ that the entirety of Scottsdale needs. It is a plan that everyone can support. This is the real benefit, and we know that South Scottsdale Alliance’s members have been integral in that outcome. We are not a city of ‘good enough’, but a city of Excellence. Excellence begins with results that are considerate of all. Scottsdale is a shining example of the best-of-the-best in development.”

I don’t disagree with any of that, save one thing: that South Scottsdale Alliance members had anything to do with any of it. One member even stood at the podium, looked right at the developer, shrugged and said, “Nothing is perfect,” as if a community asking for what it deserves is a joke.

When given the chance to ask for better, the SSA asked for nothing. And now, after the fact, they want to take credit for the people who took a stand and countered their resignation to “good enough” and instead ask for the best.

Glad to see they are finally recognizing what our south Scottsdale community has known all along: that we are a community of excellence, not the mediocrity they were pushing the rest of us to accept.

The SSA claims to be built on things like “inclusion,” “listening,” and “discussion.” But the SSA was built on the old Scottsdale model — developer support and keeping the community ignorant. Their view of residents speaking up as nothing more than a nuisance shows that they must not be familiar with just how powerful our residents’ collective voice has become as we head into 2019.

Once again, Scottsdale has proven to be smarter than that.

It was our community’s united voice, the endless emails to the council, the speakers at the meeting, the face time with decision-makers, the heartfelt pleading for more for our community that made a difference.

It was neighbors like Allison who were the real MVPs.

Our community will no longer settle for take-what-you-can-get “revitalization” of our precious south Scottsdale. Even the developers could see further than the SSA could.

I’m angry they had the arrogance to speak on behalf of my neighbors and me. Beware of organizations attempting to push you into supporting something that you may or may not want. Beware an “alliance” that asks for blind loyalty instead of building on input and consensus. Councilwoman Korte was smart to publicly distance herself from them and stand behind her constituents.

And to the developer and architect who will be conducting this outreach, I ask that you consider this: the South Scottsdale Alliance wanted us to take whatever we could get, robbing you of the opportunity to build something incredible. You wouldn’t want that kind of short-sightedness running your outreach efforts on a project as iconic as Papago.

My neighbors and I absolutely cannot wait to see what we can build together.

Editor’s Note: Andrea Alley is a mom, wife, and South Scottsdale resident.

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