Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Floods and Public Records - Last night's meeting of the Scottsdale City Council

In an unusual occurence, Tuesday's Scottsdale City Council meeting was marked by a lot of agreement -

Public records requests, particularly those that result in lawsuits that the City loses: bad.

Flash floods that damage schools and homes: very bad.

The bulk of the meeting was consumed by a discussion of flood control in north Scottsdale. The item was rooted in the floods that damaged a number of homes and Desert Sun Elementary School in late July.

The purpose of last night's discussion was just that, discussion. There wasn't a motion to be voted on, just information to be gathered.

And information was gathered, as resident after resident stood before the Council to tell of the effects of the flood.

As each resident added to the litany of flooded streets, swamped yards, and mud-filled homes, a couple of significant contributing factors became clear -

1. Building a home in an alluvial fan area in the desert, like building on oceanfront property in a hurricane zone, is an open invitation to disaster; and

2. A pattern of lax code enforcement on 'upstream' builders has exacerbated the problem because each new homesite changes the path of runoff - even when downstream homes have been safely built out of the washes and known runoff paths, many are in jeopardy.

A large part of that pattern is the habit of allowing developers to hire the civil engineers that approve their site plans; as Bob Vairo of COPP noted, that's a "fox in the henhouse mentality."

Without strong oversight, developers have no incentive to do the job right, only to do it quickly and cheaply (and profitably.)

It would be easy to dismiss the concerns of wealthy people foolish enough to build expensive homes in an area prone to flooding, but the loss of a home is emotionally devastating, even for folks who can weather the associated financial burdens.

Personal commentary: Of course, I'd have even more sympathy for the flood victims if this area (Troon) wasn't part of the infamous Christopher Verde School District, formed as a school-less district to avoid paying the same taxes as the residents in real school district.

Funny that Mr. Vairo didn't mention that during his speech, given that he is also a member of the group behind the tax dodge, Citizens for a Unified School District.

[Note: the Verde district has been merged into the Cave Creek Unified School District; however, the original proponents of the scheme are suing to overturn the new law that invalidated their district. Stay tuned.]

Maybe it's irony when a group of citizens that disdain community responsibility when it benefits them later turn around and demand that the community take responsibility for their problems.

Or maybe it's just hypocrisy.

Anyway, the City Council requested that City staff come back by the end of the year with a plan to fight flash floods and protect homes in north Scottsdale.

EV Trib coverage here.

In other business, the Council voted unanimously to not appeal a court decision in a lawsuit brought by the East Valley Tribune that forces the City to release City Charter Officers' self-evaluations to news organizations under a public records request.

What with strip clubs, church schools and newspapers all getting their way in litigation over recent months, perhaps it's time for the City Council to reconsider when to fight lawsuits.

They keep losing.

Personal observation: While as a blogger and a citizen, I absolutely support open and transparent governance as vital to our freedom, as a realist I have to believe that the only real accomplishment of this exercise has been to guarantee that next year's self-evaluations will be written as meaningless pap. If the are written at all.

EV Trib editorial on the court decision here; Trib coverage of the actual self-evaluation of City Manager Jan Dolan here.


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