Milillo: the McDowell Sonoran Preserve is well-protected by existing regulations

Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve contains 30,200 acres of land and is home to over 730 types of plants and animals. It is truly a beautiful natural treasure.

Michael Milillo

That is why activists, including myself banded together in the early 1990s to establish a land trust — now the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy — to urge protection of the McDowell Mountains and surrounding desert.

The Preserve has been secured through taxes supported by the citizens of Scottsdale and the vast majority of land for the Preserve has been purchased.

Now, a dangerous and unnecessary Charter amendment threatens the stability of city government needed to protect the Preserve. Proposition 420 is on the ballot due to a small group of people who are opposed to a desert education and research center at the Gateway Trailhead. Proposing a Charter amendment for every controversial issue is bad public policy that undermines the duly elected council and subjects the city to rule by signs and soundbites instead.

Prop. 420 poses a serious risk and is totally unnecessary because there are significant Preserve protections already in place by the Charter, the General Plan and city ordinances.

  • The Preserve is designated as “McDowell Sonoran Preserve” on the General Plan. Any change would be considered a Major Amendment that requires a super majority of six council votes (subject to a referendum) or a public vote to approve an updated General Plan.
  • The Preserve is zoned either as “conservation open space” or “residential,” which allows no commercial development. A zoning change would also be subject to a referendum requiring a public vote.
  • The Environmentally Sensitive Lands Ordinance adds another layer of protection.
  • The Charter already protects the Preserve by requiring a public vote to remove more than 6 acres of land from Preserve in any one year.
  • The Preserve ordinance provides strongest protections by allowing only those uses consistent with its purposes. Public access is allowed only “for educational purposes” and “to provide passive outdoor recreational opportunities for residents and visitors.” Any change to the ordinance is subject to referendum and a public vote.

None of the uses alleged by the proponents of Prop. 420: commercial developments, hotels, Walmart, etc. are allowed under the Preserve ordinance, the General Plan, zoning or overlay ordinances applicable to the property.

The proponents of Prop. 420 have misled the public and distorted the nature education center that was always planned to be part of the Preserve. No one considers Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden a commercial development and neither is the proposed nature education center. It is the same kind of cultural amenity as the DBG that enriches our quality of life.

The proponents of Prop. 420 have used scare tactics implying that the Preserve is about to be overrun with commercial development to justify a dubious Charter amendment that threatens not only the future access of all citizens to the Preserve but also stable city government.

If the amendment language turns out to be such a “terrible” thing, they have said, then “the council at the very next election can ask the voters” to change the language!

Also in their owns words, “a simple majority vote of the City Council can no longer control the dealings of the municipality.” To the proponents of 420, Charter amendments and public votes are the only way to govern the city.

In other words, governance by signs, slogans and soundbites rather than informed decision-making by the council citizens have elected. This is the danger of the precedent that this ill-advised and poorly worded Charter amendment would establish.

I was appointed by the mayor and council and served on the McDowell Sonoran Preserve Commission for the past six years because I truly believe in protecting our Preserve for all Scottsdale’s citizens.  Prop. 420 will not offer protection and will likely cost taxpayers more money in the future due to possible conflicts with existing regulations and potential litigation.

Please read the powerful arguments of the 51 preservationists and community leaders in the ballot pamphlet and vote NO on Prop 420.

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

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