Durham: Scottsdale Prop. 420 opponents rely on misinformation, falsehoods

Ballot pamphlets for the Nov. 6 election will soon be hitting the mailboxes of Scottsdale citizens.

Tom Durham

The ballot pamphlet contains numerous statements regarding Proposition 420, both pro and con. Prop. 420 would require a citizen vote before the City Council could alter the natural state of the McDowell Sonoran

Preserve through construction or other activities inconsistent with the Preserve’s desert environment. Until now, Scottsdale’s citizens have had a vote in all major decisions concerning the Preserve. But now some members of the City Council are trying to shut out Scottsdale citizens from major decisions concerning the future of our Preserve. In view of the overwhelming popular support for Prop. 420, Mayor Lane and Councilwoman Klapp are now in favor of Prop. 420, and we thank them for their support.

The opponents of Prop. 420 are basing their case largely on the repetition of misinformation and falsehoods. In this commentary, I would like to highlight some of the most common misconceptions regarding Prop. 420, as stated in the ballot pamphlet.

Prop. 420 is “risky” and would have “unintended consequences”

Not true. The language of Prop. 420 couldn’t be simpler. Please read it if you haven’t already done so. It provides that the natural state of the Preserve must be maintained, but allows for new trails, maintenance of existing trails and trailheads, and appropriate restoration efforts as necessary.

It also allows for completion of trailheads already under construction. Finally, it provides that Preserve funds cannot be used for projects that would be inconsistent with the provisions of Prop. 420. In other words, it simply requires that the Preserve be kept in its current, natural state.

That’s all it does. It doesn’t change the city’s ability to manage the Preserve; it doesn’t allow “an unaccountable citizens’ group” to manage the Preserve, as Councilwoman Korte claims; it doesn’t require a public vote for normal maintenance of the Preserve; and it doesn’t restrict access to the Preserve.

We shouldn’t amend the City Charter

Opponents of Prop. 420 have compared the City Charter to the U.S. Constitution, arguing the Charter shouldn’t be changed. But the U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times. When the U.S. Constitution has required changes, we have made them. So too with the City Charter. To protect the Preserve “in perpetuity,” as the Preserve Ordinance commands, the Preserve needs stronger, permanent protection.

The City Council should decide the future of the Preserve

No. The Protect Our Preserve PAC believes this claim is wrong for two reasons. First, Scottsdale’s citizens — not the Council — created the Preserve through their decision to tax themselves to acquire the Preserve land.
As Bob Cafarella and Art DeCabooter have written, “Citizens have been the driving force behind Preserve decisions.” We couldn’t agree more. Since the citizens created the Preserve, we believe the citizens, not the Council, should make decisions affecting the future of the Preserve.

Second, some decisions are just too important to be left to the whims of four council members. The Preserve Ordinance provides that the Preserve will be kept “in as pristine a state as possible … in perpetuity.”

This promise to protect the Preserve “in perpetuity” is hollow if four members of the City Council can alter the pristine state of the Preserve. The Preserve is an extremely valuable asset, and it is inevitable that various special interests will seek to exploit the Preserve to their own advantage.

As the drafters of the U.S. Constitution recognized, some rights, such as the right of free speech, are so important that they must be placed outside the political sphere. If the Preserve is to be protected “in perpetuity,” it too, must be placed outside the political process, which could otherwise lead to exploitation by special interests.

The Preserve Ordinance protects the Preserve and therefore Prop. 420 is not necessary

We wish it were so. The Preserve Ordinance requires that the Preserve be kept in “as pristine a state as possible.” But some members of the City Council have chosen to ignore this clear command of the Preserve Ordinance. As currently written, the Preserve Ordinance allows “improvements” to be made to the Preserve.
This provision was added to allow trailheads, restrooms, parking lots, trails, and other modest changes necessary to access the Preserve. No one claimed that “improvements” would include a gift shop, a café, or an event center with nighttime events.

But now, the city attorney has claimed that “improvements” includes “whatever” four City Council members decide is an “improvement.” he city attorney even said the City Council could build a “nuclear waste dump” in the Preserve if the federal government would allow it! If you don’t believe it, check out the records of the Jan.11, 2016 City Council meeting.

Therefore, if four City Council members decide jeep tours, a hotel, or a tramway to Tom’s Thumb is needed to provide better access to the Preserve, they could allow these items as an “improvement.” The only way to protect the Preserve from these “improvements” is a charter amendment placing the Preserve outside the political process.

Prop. 420 would prevent restoration of the Preserve following a natural disaster

Totally wrong. Councilwoman Korte, who makes this argument, apparently hasn’t read Prop. 420. If she had, she would know it explicitly provides for “restoration efforts within the Preserve” in section 12.B(4)

Prop. 420 would remove control of the Preserve from the City Council

False. Prop. 420 does not change a single word concerning the City Council’s ability to manage the Preserve. It merely requires that the city maintain the natural state of the Preserve. f Prop. 420 were to limit the council’s control of the Preserve, it would only do so because the council is trying to alter the “pristine” state of the Preserve in a manner contrary to the Preserve Ordinance.

Prop. 420 would require a public vote for normal maintenance of the Preserve

Nope. Prop. 420 merely requires that the Preserve be kept in its natural state as it exists today, and it explicitly provides for maintenance of the trails and trailheads.

Prop. 420 has been funded by “dark money”

Wrong. Prop. 420 has been funded primarily by hundreds of small contributions from concerned citizens who wish to protect the original vision of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. Anyone who attended one of Protect Our Preserve PAC’s fundraisers would have seen dozens of their friends and neighbors. And most of the work to put Prop. 420 on the ballot was performed by hundreds of dedicated volunteers who donated thousands of hours of their time.

Prop. 420 was truly a grassroots movement, one in which all Scottsdale citizens should take pride.

Prop. 420 would require that all decisions affecting the Preserve be put to a public vote

Not so. This false claim is exemplified by Councilwoman Virginia Korte, who claims that “to do anything in our preserve beyond maintaining existing trailheads or developing new ones already identified” would require a public vote. Council member Korte’s statement is obviously false. If Prop. 420 passes, the City would maintain the Preserve in the same manner as it has since the Preserve was created.

Prop. 420 would turn the management of the Preserve over to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission, an “unaccountable citizen’s group” which would be controlled by special interests

Not so.

This claim would be discarded as laughable if it did not come from Council member Virginia Korte. Prop. 420 has absolutely no effect on the management of the Preserve–please read the Charter amendment if you believe otherwise. It provides that the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission would approve new trails, which has historically been the Commission’s function. Prop. 420’s only effect is that critical decisions regarding the future of the Preserve–decisions which would alter the “natural state” of the Preserve–would be placed in the hands of all of Scottsdale’s citizens.

Prop. 420 would prevent access to the Preserve for firefighters

Of course not. Once again, this argument would be laughable if it were not coming from Council member Milhaven, who should know better. The Preserve already has a fire management plan in place, and Prop. 420 does not change this plan. n order to keep the Preserve in its natural state, as required by Prop. 420, the City would be obligated to fight fires in the Preserve .

The city could not address invasive plants that threaten native species

Wrong. Again, this claim by Council member Milhaven is absurd on its face. Since Prop. 420 would require the City to maintain the Preserve in its natural state, it would actually require the City to deal with invasive plants that would threaten the “natural state” of the Preserve. And Prop. 420 also provides for “restoration” of the Preserve, so if it were overrun by invasive plants, the City would be required to restore the Preserve to its natural state.

Special interests are behind Prop. 420, which has been put forward by a small group

False. Over 37,000 Scottsdale citizens signed the petitions which put Prop. 420 on the ballot. These citizens don’t reflect “special interests,” but simply want the Preserve to remain in its natural state as was originally intended.

Ironically, the opponents of Prop. 420 as reflected in the ballot pamphlet include contractors, developers, employees of the Desert Discovery Center, and others who have profited and will continue to profit if the Desert Edge goes forward. “Special interests,” indeed! And, to top it off, many of those submitting “NO” statements in the ballot pamphlet don’t even live in Scottsdale!

Prop. 420 was put on the ballot by paid signature collectors

Mostly false. Over 300 volunteers spent thousands of hours collecting the signatures needed to put Prop. 420 on the ballot. We did retain some paid collectors to make sure we had enough signatures, but in the end these paid collectors were not necessary. The volunteers collected more than enough signatures to put Prop. 420 on the ballot, with volunteers collecting over 30,000 of the 37,000 signatures submitted.

The “natural state” of the Preserve has already been altered

True, but all prior alterations to the Preserve have been explicitly approved by the voters. In 2004, voters agreed to allow “improvements” to the Preserve. The ballot pamphlet which accompanied this vote made clear that “improvements” included only those “improvements” necessary to provide access to the Preserve, such as parking lots, trailheads, restrooms, water fountains, etc. This naturally leads to our next point, which is that:

The citizens have already voted for the Desert Edge

Wrong again. While the plans for the Preserve have always included educational and interpretive elements, nothing remotely approaching the scale of the Desert Edge, with its café, shop, and event center with nighttime events, has ever been on the ballot. The Preserve does contain educational and interpretive trails at the Gateway, Brown’s Ranch, and Lost Dog trailheads.

Perhaps more are needed. If so, by all means let’s build them. They will cost a fraction of the $68 million planned for the Desert Edge.

Prop. 420 would restrict access to the Preserve

Wrong. Prop. 420 has absolutely no effect on access to the Preserve. Proponents of the Desert Edge, however, claim that better access is necessary for young families, the elderly, and the disabled. But they neglect to mention that the Desert Edge will charge these individuals $47 for access to their Preserve! The Preserve already has three ADA accessible trails for use by the elderly, the disabled, and young families. If more are needed, then let’s make the necessary improvements.

But we can do so without spending $68 million on the Desert Edge and without charging our citizens $47 to enter their Preserve.

Editor’s note: Mr. Durham is a resident of Scottsdale

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