Heath: Cities like Scottsdale die at the City Hall dais

On the outside chance you’re unfamiliar with the term NIMBY, it stands for “not in my backyard,” and it’s a myopic disease that’s contagious in Scottsdale.

It turned into a plague during Scottsdale’s last election, after a group of citizens banded together to throw a wrench into the planning process for a Sonoran Desert museum before final plans were ready for public consumption.

Larry Heath

I understand that the Protect Our Preserve PAC (i.e. Prop 420) recruited neighborhood captains, hired professional petition takers, and created a social media network that enabled them to muster a crowd at a moment’s notice.

Scottsdale citizens who are not regularly engaged in politics have no similar database, so unbeknownst to them they’re lacking equal representation. That’s largely because the most cynical members of the Scottsdale City Council will latch onto organized groups like this in order to get elected.

Kathy Littlefield and Solange Whitehead jump to mind.

The head of the Prop 420 action committee is a man named Jason Alexander. His PAC won a landslide election, so he’s falsely interpreting that to mean that he has a mandate to spread his message elsewhere.

He and his friends are now showing up at public hearings to make sure development projects underway in Scottsdale are up to their standards.

He set his sights on Papago Plaza recently, which is 18.2 miles south of the Gateway Trailhead. Undaunted by the notion that redevelopment plans were already unanimously approved by the City Council at the end of last year, Alexander and 130 of his angry friends visited a Scottsdale Planning Commission meeting earlier this month, to demand that Scottsdale improve their outreach process for public hearing cases.

I assume that means he wants residents of north Scottsdale to be invited to weigh in on south Scottsdale projects, no matter how far away they are from their homes.

One brave commissioner — a volunteer — called the meeting a political stunt and reminded the crowd that most of them didn’t live anywhere near Papago Plaza. Apparently, Alexander doesn’t like being scolded, so he filed a dodgy ethics complaint against her.

She resigned a few days later.

Who can blame her after coming face to face with madness? Personally, I think she deserves her portrait to be hung at City Hall for standing up to such nonsense. Scottsdale needs more like her.

I don’t believe a Planning commissioner has ever been run off by someone who is running for City Council, so this episode gives us a good idea about how Alexander will conduct himself if he is elected in 2020.

From his online postings (there are many), he appears to have understood the owners of Papago Plaza intend to redevelop the center, but he appeared frustrated with the approved plans. I wonder if it has yet dawned on Alexander and his supporters that the developers of Papago Plaza intend to invest millions of dollars of unsubsidized capital into south Scottsdale and create hundreds of jobs?

I read a PR piece on Alexander, as well.

It indicates that he’s trained in computer science and has only lived in Scottsdale for eight years. Given that background, I suspect he may not fully grasp how a well-functioning zoning and planning process works. When anyone suggested that a Sonoran museum at the edge of McDowell Mountain Preserve would be good for the greater community, he refused to listen. And if you pressed too hard, intimidation tactics would ensue.

Case in point. The political signs in the attached photo were displayed side by side at Hayden Road and Raintree Drive during the last election.

(Submitted photo)

The Prop 420 sign was out of compliance with Scottsdale’s political sign ordinance, so the city removed it more than once. Every time they took it down, an identical sign popped back up.

From this we can observe at least four important things.

Alexander and his friends are proud of themselves for collecting 30,000 signatures in a one-sided argument. They are telling a sitting councilwoman that they intended to crush her, because she didn’t agree with their position. Someone in the PAC has an affinity for homemade signs that look like ransom notes. Rules apply to others.

Tactics like these sent a chill through City Hall, and instead of responding directly and assertively, I am told that staff and museum volunteers were instructed to stand down.

That was a grave mistake in my opinion, because Alexander and his overzealous friends now believe they have a mandate to run the city. If you pull up websites related to Prop 420, you can read for yourselves how convinced they are with that notion.

With potholes in our city streets and Scottsdale’s coffers dry, the last thing Scottsdale needs is an angry mob of community activists running around Scottsdale telling trained city staff and private developers what to do.

If things keep going down this path, developers, entrepreneurs, vacationers, and prospective residents, alike, are going to take their time and talents elsewhere.

There’s lots of other great places where they can invest their capital, without an organized mob telling them what to do. At least the mafia does things like this discreetly.

Someone besides me please sound the alarm; it’s past time for a town hall or a group of local business leaders to get to together and explore ways to calm this group down. Otherwise, we will one day be reading about the downfall of Scottsdale.

Here’s a suggestion. Council districts based on resident population.

It would confine NIMBYs to their home turf, and insure citizens who are happy with Scottsdale don’t get underrepresented by distant city council members who have pledged their loyalties to others.

Editor’s Note: Larry Heath is a resident of Scottsdale.

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