Thursday, May 31, 2007

Scottsdale City Council bobs and weaves...

...and again chooses the easy way out of a politically tough decision.

And the kicker is, they didn't have to wimp out last night. Waiting a few weeks would have been fairly painless, and could have given them real evidence to support the decision they made. As it is, the decision could come back to bite them.

Last night's vote is being spun as a victory for a neighborhood; in reality, it's just a short-term reprieve. At best.

Summary -

March 20 - a petition with 1300 signatures, primarily from the residents of the Villa Monterey neighborhood, was presented to the City Council. It asked that the Council not consider the condemnation of homes along, and widening of, Chaparral Road, as an option that could be considered to improve traffic in and around downtown Scottsdale.

April 10 - the Council heard the petition and punted it to city staff, directing them to do a preliminary study of the options available to address the City's transportation needs and present the results on May 29.

May 29 -
In a far less contentious meeting than I expected, the Council last night voted to not condemn any homes on Chaparral Road to facilitate widening it. Part of the motion that passed included an amendment that the City also would not do anything to increase the vehicle/traffic capacity of Chaparral Road.
Both the amendment and the overall motion passed 6 - 1, with Councilman Ron McCullagh dissenting both times.
He felt it was more appropriate to wait until the City's transportation study is complete before making such a decision. The full study is due in July (approximately six weeks.)

There were a number of public speakers who addressed the issue; they were pretty evenly split on the issue. Let's be clear though - none were advocating the condemnation of homes; they just supported waiting until all of the facts and studies were in before making any decisions.
Most of the public testimony in favor of eliminating widening as an option came from residents of the Villa Monterey neighborhood, which has approximately 50 homes on Chaparral. Those homes are the ones that would be in jeopardy if the City decided that widening the road was the best option.
A number of the residents of one other neighborhood, Scottsdale Country Estates, showed up to express their opinion that the Council should hold off on its decision until the updated transportation study is done.
Their primary concern is that anything that is done to Chaparral to lower traffic volume on it will result in increase traffic through their neighborhood.
In essence, they believe that 'solving' the problem only on Chaparral wouldn't 'solve' anything; it would just move the problem someplace else.

As evidenced by the final vote, the Council members supported Villa Monterey's position. A couple of them, such as Councilwoman Betty Drake, acknowledged the possibility of other neighborhoods being negatively affected by their decision, but decided that those effects were minimal compared to Villa Monterey's concerns.

The residents of Villa Monterey may have gotten their way last night, but they should keep two things in mind:

1. Because they goaded the Council into taking a piecemeal approach toward the City's transportation problems, all that was accomplished was to make it likely that the problems in their neighborhood won't be solved, they'll just move to a different neighborhood.

2. Regardless of the outcome of last night's vote, their neighborhood is no more protected from the wrecking ball than it was before the meeting. During the discussion of the amendment (no increasing capacity on Chaparral) one of the council members, Tony Nelssen I think, asked what would happen if, by "some miracle", a plan was put forth that would allow increased capacity on Chaparral while preserving the neighborhood. The answer, provided by Mayor Mary Manross, was that the Council could simply take another vote.

Guess what? The same applies to the pledge to not condemn homes. They can change their minds at any time.

My guess is that they (the members of the council) are busy praying that the new transportation study doesn't give evidence that contradicts last night's vote; more importantly, they're praying that by the time this decision has to be reconsidered, they'll be long gone from the council or other elected office.

If the residents of Villa Monterey really wanted to ensure the preservation of their neighborhood, they would have worked *with* the other neighborhoods in the area and pushed the council toward a holistic, not piecemeal, solutions to the city's transportation issues.

Instead, however, they have just perpetuated the city's long-standing (though unwritten) policy of 'divide and conquer' when it comes to dealing with the concerns of south Scottsdale neighborhoods.

I'm not advocating the taking of the homes in question. I despise 'eminent domain' and the way it has been abused by many municipalities. However, one of the few legitimate uses for it is for necessary road improvements.

More importantly, I *do* advocate the idea that elected officials should make decisions based on documented facts, not on political expediency.

The Scottsdale City Council failed in fulfulling their responsibilities.

EV Trib coverage of the meeting is here; commentary by Trib writer Mark Scarp is here.
AZ Rep coverage here.

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