Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Scottsdale City Council and redistribution of wealth

Sometimes the sh*tstorm that surrounds the Scottsdale City Council and Mayor can obscure the fact that at heart, they have far more that unites them than divides them.

At Tuesday's Council meeting, evidence of that unanimity of spirit was on display for all to see.

Specifically, evidence that all seven of them are Republicans who believe in the precept of "socialize costs, privatize benefits."

From -
Troon Highlands Estates will become a gated community after the Scottsdale City Council voted 7-0 to abandon public streets in the area and turn them over to the subdivision's homeowners association.

Troon Highlands residents have long wanted their subdivision near the McDowell Sonoran Preserve to become a private community.

The abandonment allows the Troon Highlands HOA to fence off streets that had heretofore been public streets that allowed public access to the publicly-owned Preserve.

The City Council voted to boost the property values of an area that is already one of the priciest in Scottsdale. By voting to give this private HOA the ability to restrict public access to public property, they've essentially added thousands of acres of pristine desert to the control of the HOA and the property owners, increasing the size of their practical holdings without the HOA or its property owners having to actually compensate the City or its taxpayers for the costs related to the acquisition and operation of that part of the Preserve.

In case some readers may believe that I am overstating the "privatizing of public property" aspect of all of this, please read the minutes of May 27, 2009 meeting of the Planning Commission. Residents of the area stated that they wanted the gating of the road in that area because of the "nuisance" of the general public accessing the Preserve along the public streets. They also stated that they might open the gate during the day to allow some access, but that they would close the gate early in the evening so that the residents of the HOA could "enjoy being outdoors."

Note: Planning Commission consideration of the abandonment was ultimately continued to the August 12, 2009 meeting, where it was approved by a 5 - 1 margin.

Of course, the motivation behind this de facto gifting of public property to private interests could be far more mundane than a shared reverse Robin Hood ideology.

The Troon Highlands area is in the 85255 zip code.

Since the beginning of the 2006 election cycle, the seven people who constitute the elected leadership of Scottsdale have received approximately $25,000 in campaign contributions from donors listing addresses in that zip code. More than $9,000, over 1/3 of that total, went to Jim Lane during the 2008 election cycle.

And that doesn't include contributions from residents of the area who gave from different addresses, nor does it include the contributions that Mayor Jim Lane and Council member Lisa Borowsky solicited to retire their campaign debts (I can't find Lane's report for that online, and Borowsky hasn't filed it yet, and she doesn't have to until the end of January.)

On the other hand, there might be one plus side - this whole thing could lead to greater acceptance of changing the organizational structure of the City Council to a district structure.

Right now, all council members are elected "at-large."

While the majority of the City's land area is north of Shea, the majority of its population resides south of Shea Boulevard. In an "at-large" system, influence follows campaign contributions, and the big money in Scottsdale is north of Shea.

So while the majority of their constituents, the people who paid for the Preserve, live south of Shea, the folks with the larger wallets get increased control of the Preserve.

Statistics note: There isn't a ready way to search for political contributions by zip code on the City's website. I culled through the reports submitted by the Council members and Mayor since the beginning of the 2006 cycle and tallied each contribution that listed an 85255 zip code in an Excel spreadsheet.

The final total that I came up with $24,902, but that number may be a little low. When Bob Littlefield ran for his seat in 2006, during each reporting period he would submit an updated complete list of contributors. I grew tired of trying to figure out which contributions I had tallied already.

Also, in the interests of both saving time and staying on point (the point being that contributions could be influencing *this* council), I didn't include contributions to candidates who ran in 2006 and 2008 but didn't win their races.

I can email that spreadsheet to anybody requesting it; just leave a comment with your email address.


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