The brass tax of issues facing the city of Scottsdale

Most issues in Scottsdale boil down to long-term economic sustainability for all versus short-term gain for developers and favored property owners.

John Washington.

John Washington.

Sustainability is driven by tourism, which is attracted by our low-scale, open space nature of our physical character juxtaposed against high quality of infrastructure, public services, and amenities.

All those are products of decades of careful planning and citizen involvement which are encapsulated in the 2001 General Plan, one of the best such documents ever written … and the model for state legislation which now requires it for all large municipalities.

Those who wish to more immediately capitalize on Scottsdale’s attractiveness do so via zoning attorneys and campaign contributions aimed at creating loopholes and exceptions to the General Plan.

Those mechanisms erode our community character via taller buildings, higher density occupancy, higher density of deleterious land uses (e.g., bars and night clubs), less real open space, and reduced building quality.

Most of the apartments under construction are wood-framed, thanks to recent changes in state building code that now allow taller buildings to use wood construction in lieu of steel and concrete.

Sub-issues which connect back to the main issue (and to each other) include:

  • Debt: Highest per-capita debt of any major city in the Valley, roughly equal to financially troubled Glendale.
  • Deficit: Years’ worth of deficits have been masked by transfers from reserves to “balance” (verb) the budget, rather than having a structurally balanced (adjective) budget.
  • Infrastructure maintenance backlog: Probably a billion dollars’ worth, thanks to years of short-changing the capital improvement project fund. This in-turn is driven partly by… Subsidies to private businesses (in the form of cash, no-bid contracts for services, no-bid sales and leases of city property, etc.), like the Super Bowl host committee, the PGA, Phil Mickelson, and polo promoters.

We can’t solve any problems in Scottsdale — let alone maintain our residents’ quality of life — without a clear understanding of where we are and how we got here.

We must be critical consumers of information. We must get beyond sounds bites like, “This is good for Scottsdale so we should do it,” by demanding real return-on-investment analysis of proposed expenditures, and by demanding and examinin

g their performance measures.

The job of government is not to build hotels (e.g., Phoenix), or hockey arenas (e.g., Glendale) which waste taxpayer dollars while simultaneously competing with the private sector.

The job of government is citizen safety and quality of life. Let’s focus on that before we go chasing “big ideas,” and the big ideas will come to us!

Editor’s note: Mr. Washington is editor of the Scottsdale Trails website.

Mr. Washington is a local community advocate and editor of

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