Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Lines Drawn in the Sand

From the unpublished draft version of post that I had intended to write a while back:
First question: Do you think Laveen should be split into more that one city council district? That's the current plan, based on the final proposed maps from the city's consultants.

Second question: If Laveen is split into more than one council district, which parts should go where? There was one map in the initial proposals that had a somewhat objectionable vertical split, dividing Laveen from east to west. Then there was a map that divided Laveen from north to south, more or less along Baseline, as I recall. The city's current plan seems to have borrowed from both, but definitely has a stronger north-south split.

Third question: If Laveen is kept whole, which other areas of Phoenix should end up in the same district?
As noted in the second question, the city's plan -- based on the 2010 census -- was pretty well formulated to functionally divide Laveen Village between districts 7 and 8. Here are the maps of our new districts that took effect on January 1st, 2013:

And here we are, approaching the end of 2013, with Michael Nowakowski still serving in District 7 and newly elected Kate Gallego prepared to soon take office in District 8. Laveen has never had more direct advocacy on the city council, given that these two community leaders both live in or near Laveen and are involved in the community. 

However, this also raises the question of how Laveen is or should be divided. I feel particularly attuned to this issue, given that I recently moved from "Laveen District 7" to "SoMo District 8". The same folks who gave me grief for my audacious concern for Laveen from the north side of Baseline continued giving me grief after I joined them in their council district but left the village of Laveen (and somehow remained concerned about Laveen). Not only did I join the lower density south-of-Baseline folks, but I also moved into the true "South Phoenix" -- certainly a controversial name for our part of town in some circles. But then this evokes the notion that Laveen and the old South Phoenix are now more inextricably linked than ever. In fact, I even wrote a south Phoenix post in 2011, right before moving a few miles eastward, that still reflects how I feel about this topic. And here's the follow-up collaborative blog post with NPR's Nick Blumberg, with audio included.

I still maintain that I feel more connected to the old Laveen (Laveen 1.0) now than I did as a resident of the new Laveen (Laveen 2.0). I'm now anxious to see how the new-new Laveen (Laveen 2.1) evolves in light of this shift in political power and growth for the area. But that again evokes divisive terminology, just as high-density and low-density does. Given our area's glorious diversity, there seem to be endless opportunities to divide our community on any number of criteria... or unite for the common good. Good luck to Kate and Michael, who I trust to continue drawing on the area's strength in diversity and opportunities for future growth.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Laveen 2.1, Part I: Density

I wrote a post a few weeks ago that I knew would be contentious, but did not anticipate the level of divisiveness that it fueled. It was titled "Laveen's Delicate State of Housing, Density, and Growth". What's so delicate, you might ask? Well, aside from the obvious point that we are still in the midst of the housing recovery (and it has slowed drastically in recent months), there are many issues in which I see Laveen precariously divided and without a properly up-to-date strategy going forward.

This division became clearer in watching the videos from the October 30th city council meeting (here and here), at which many Laveen residents spoke both in favor of and against Butler Housing's plan for a slightly denser housing development at 43rd and Baseline (and yes that's me, very dressed down for a formal meeting, but it was a rather stressful day of going back and forth from the hospital and other commitments). So let's look at some of these issues as discussed and/or alluded to in the last few months and explore how they might hint at a shift not only from Laveen 1.0 (low-density, agricultural) to Laveen 2.0 (more suburban, with mostly low- to medium-density tract housing and neighborhood retail), but now to Laveen 2.1, which I think is a fitting name for the revised plan that we should envision after having experienced a full cycle in the housing market over the last decade.

This will be a brief series, starting with density and then exploring traffic, real estate values, and Laveen's overall "feel" -- all of which are recurring topics of discussion both here and in general. So here goes:


I get it, some folks don't like density. I once was on your side -- remember, I supported the legal battle against Berkana. I also fought the apartments planned for 35th Ave. and Southern. The memory of these past battles made me want to look back and reflect on what has changed since then, either about Laveen or my perspective. Here's a blog post that I wrote five years ago about the fight against apartments near Wal-Mart, which I'm glad I found. To this day I am concerned about the quality of development that we will see on that site if it ever gets developed. The high density only helps to facilitate and contribute to low-quality development at such a location in my opinion (although I suppose there's a chance that it could become affordable senior housing, which is pretty inoffensive and a popular, much needed multifamily product at present, as discussed in my last post). This is a separate issue from the site at 43rd and Baseline, largely due to the difference in surrounding amenities.

As was discussed quite vehemently by those opposed to the marijuana dispensary approved for 35th and Southern, Wal-Mart has brought something of a "bad element" to the community and we should be concerned about exacerbating this problem. Since then, the much celebrated C-A-L Ranch Store and others have decided to locate at the same intersection, which I see as positive for the area. I still, however, scratch my head in wonderment about how and why we pushed density toward that intersection. Without digressing too much on this particular example, let's bring it back around by saying that it's now there and it has most certainly changed things. I see the increased traffic to the area as a positive in the overall goal of crowding out the bad with the good -- essentially my overarching theory for promoting positive developments, which once again reflects MLK's famous quote:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
This brings me back to the overall tone of our discussion on density. Not only has my perspective on appropriate placement and levels of density evolved; not only has the execution of Laveen's overall plan evolved; but there was something else that made me want to jump into the fray on this issue. It was that I picked up on a darker, more insidious element to the anti-density argument. The Laveen faction that most opposed the density on this site seemed to most prominently feature the voices of those who bought larger homes on larger lots in newer subdivisions. These homes are now, for all intents and purposes, regarded as "low density" (although many folks who live on Laveen's rare remaining acreage in the area might call it something more of a "compromise"). In their arguments against density, I detected this precariously qualified notion that they don't hate all density, but they certainly hate it to south of Baseline if a project wasn't previously zoned for higher density. This realization made me question what was so inherently bad about density -- particularly in this location, near where I once bought my own home on a 5,500 square foot lot. Were they blaming homebuyers like me for Laveen's growth-related challenges, while escaping blame themselves? I cannot find a justification for this line of reasoning in the city's most recent annual heat maps of criminal activity, nor could I find justification in analyzing rental rates in newer subdivisions and I made this case in my previous blog post. Therefore, I could not bring myself to oppose the density on these bases or any others.

Urban Village of Laveen

This discussion is incomplete without a reexamination of the overarching paradigm of the Urban Village concept adopted by Phoenix during the heyday of the New Urbanism movement. So too must we reexamine our naively wide-eyed vision for New Urbanism, as well as the specific implementation we envisioned, way back during Laveen 2.0's formative years.... like this blog post that I wrote in 2009, which now seems like an eternity ago. Granted, the housing market and the stock market had already crashed by then, but I was still optimistic about the framework we had created in Laveen and other such enclaves of newly planned growth. Re-reading that post was fascinating to me, and I feel that I owe my audience a little insight into my perspective. Here are some places that I'd visited and studied in recent years prior, as at least somewhat analogous templates (even if wildly inappropriate as direct analogs) for our visions of planned growth:
There were many more, too numerous to list, as well as the trend toward "Traditional Neighborhood Development" that took root in these places and others -- especially suburban growth areas that feature quaint walkable town centers (or even neighborhoods that offer a neat mix of uses). For a great regional example of a truly traditional neighborhood, I'd offer downtown Prescott, AZ, which is often held up as exemplary urban design. However, I can't help but note that downtown Prescott developed largely organically, on its own, in a very different time before the days of zoning and it started with density at the town center (newer growth in Prescott is an abomination to the city's original charm, IMO). Conversely, all of those above named places feature some sort of justifiably powerful centralized planning control (not to mention a great deal of economic resources), which allowed the artificial co-development of high density and low density for their own manifest destinies.

Guess what Laveen lacks: centralized control and clarity of vision. Not only must Laveen struggle with the modern execution of Phoenix's urban village concept, but we tend to erode the legitimacy of Laveen 2.0 with each inappropriate compromise that we allow and each smart compromise that we block (like our Wal-Mart apartments versus smarter SFR layouts near quality amenities). In every such controversy over compromise, we find this vocal minority talking about the prescribed density that we can live with -- density at the future village core, to be located between Baseline and Dobbins along 59th Ave. (see 2002 general plan here). Remember that this is the same density that was shoved down Laveen 1.0's throat a decade before most of our development started.

I'll go into Laveen's overall "feel" in another post, but end this one on a note that the above argument is misguided, possibly even spurious, based in part on our perception of what Laveen is and can be. The anti-density crowd holds onto its false belief that Laveen 2.0 remains "rural", while also rejecting the apparent truth that people tend to move to Laveen seeking housing value. To take it a step further, one of the parties fighting new density in Laveen cited a bit of smart-sounding research about current trends toward higher density mixed-use development (see here, here, and here), but falsely rejected that it matters to Laveen. Note that millenials and aging baby boomers are largely credited with leading these shifts away from the typically suburban toward more urban neighborhoods. When I ran an analysis of Laveen's demographics and community "tapestry" on esri.com, I confirmed that our population has experienced a sea change from "Green Acres" (Laveen 1.0) to "Up and Coming Families" (Laveen 2.0), with additional changes anticipated for the years since the 2010 census information was cited. Laveen does, after all, offer the closest swath of new housing to downtown and the airport, which differentiates the area from other such suburban locales in our metro housing market.

Moving forward, I find it increasingly difficult to toe the line on our expectations for a glorious village center that only makes sense once our embattled Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway gets formal approval. If we seek to preserve that plan, then I propose that we hold firmly against low-density suburban development in the target area, which hasn't been an issue (yet). But to oppose good density elsewhere looks foolish and backwards, especially when Laveen 2.0 is but one interpretation of an ideal balance between high and low density, and it's long overdue for an update. We can and should do better than our already corrupted Laveen 2.0 plan as we move forward, and one such way that we can do that is to squeeze increased density and positive flow closer to fun open spaces as a means to amplify that very benefit that we all agree is most critical to Laveen -- open space. Here's a wonderful article that might just blow your mind if you opposed the project at 43rd and Baseline: "Using urban density to support parks, and vice versa".

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Senior Housing in Laveen

Firstly, we need more senior housing in the 85339. This thought occurred to me as I drove down Baseline about a week ago and saw a couple of elderly folks on their electric scooters headed to the park and ride facility at 27th Avenue. Not only was I surprised to see people using that facility, I was reminded as well that the major influx of new Laveen residents tends to be young families, so we may have to remind ourselves every once in a while to offer resources as well for our elders. Then I started doing the calculations in my head and realized that the closest senior housing facilities that I know are:

Amber Pointe (independent housing on 7th Ave. and Broadway)
Maravilla Care Center (nursing care on 7th St. and South Mountain)
Life Care Center at South Mountain (assisted living near 7th St. and Baseline)

There are a few more home-based facilities scattered around the area, mostly toward the east of Laveen (as are those three above) and some places downtown. There is a plan to bring senior/assisted living to the NWC of 51st Ave. and Baseline (you know, supposedly "farm" land, where crops all too often go to die so that the owner can keep a low tax basis on vacant land -- no offense, but that's how it appears). I would strongly support this property owner's efforts if it means bringing more activity and resources to this intersection soon. That said, I remain skeptical yet hopeful after having watched this site for the last eight-plus years sitting in waiting for a developer. Now that they are working on entitlements with the city, however, there must be hope after all.

2010 census data tells us the following about the area:

Total Population: 35,586
30-54 Population: 13,020 (36.6%)
55+ Population: 4,300 (12%)

Total Population: 54,947
30-54 Population: 18,046 (32.9%)
55+ Population: 7,556 (13.8%)

That's a total of 90,533 people in these two ZIP codes (for comparison's sake, the city of Goodyear has a total population of 65,275). Of those 90,000 residents, 11,856 (13%) are 55+ and another 31,066 (34%) are in the 30-54 age group. This means that there's a total market of almost 12,000 residents who may soon be looking at retirement options that might include senior housing, plus another  31,000 who may need nearby senior housing options for their parents in the next two decades (or themselves later).

I don't work in this industry, nor have I ever, but I did once work with some smart folks who develop senior housing throughout the country. From what I understood of their business model, this might just be an opportunity worth pursuing further based solely on the numbers. I was actually rather fascinated by their development strategy, as it aligned closely with the interests that I represented at the time (hence why we were talking) and, if done right, follows demand like clockwork -- for a lucrative business model that also serves as a valuable amenity to the communities where they build.

What about Downtown? It's Not Too Far....

Imagine my surprise when I learned from Wayne Rainey, owner of monOrchid (where I was married, btw), that he had teamed up with the already familiar Reid Butler to build an interesting mixed-use development on the city-owned site adjacent to monOrchid, but that another project appeared to be winning: a low-income senior housing project. This is in the heart of Roosevelt Row, downtown, where I'd least expect to see senior housing as a preferred development type. So of course it piqued my curiosity, and it turns out that I'm not the only one. The AZ Republic editorial board chimed in with its column, Let’s get this downtown Phoenix project right; and the Downtown Devil reported on the story as well: ECCA meeting focuses on proposals for historic Knipe House and nearby properties.

Mr. Rainey has gone on to build support against the senior housing project, by starting a change.org petition and rallying his contacts throughout the city. I'm with him on this one and suggest that others should be as well. Aside from the fact that I'd like to see that senior housing spread out a little toward our corner of the city, here's my reasoning that I offered for supporting Rainey and Butler (and I think this is only the second time that I've actively supported Butler on something, which is a strange coincidence given that the last time was just a few weeks ago):

First, a few assumptions about senior housing:

1) Senior housing and assisted living facilities are still in demand as the baby boomer generation continues shifting toward retirement.

2) Affordable senior housing is particularly needed.

3) Ask any major senior housing developer about their strategy, and they will tell you that they generally prefer locations surrounded by and/or accessible to large residential neighborhoods that are not yet adequately served, as most people looking at such an option seek as minimal a life change as possible and want to remain near their families/friends. 

4) Affordable senior housing is easier to finance than other product types, thanks often in part to tax incentives, but also largely due to special HUD financing.

Now a few assumptions about downtown Phoenix: 

1) Part of what everyone wants (or says they want) is residential diversity downtown. 

2) Downtown Phoenix is one of the least densely populated areas of our entire metro housing market.

3) Downtown Phoenix needs more full-time residents in order to continue attracting residential amenities to the area, thus improving quality of life for current/future residents and fortifying the regional appeal for the area by breathing more life into it.

4) A vast majority of people who work and/or attend school downtown commute to the area.

And now for the basic analysis:

When exploring from a blank slate what is most needed downtown, I would recommend looking into current ratios of senior housing (particularly affordable senior housing) downtown as compared to other parts of Phoenix. Sure it will likely run a little bit higher, but this seems like a valid test of need for this targeted development type in this location and my guess is that the need will not be demonstrated by a comparative analysis.

Next, given that the city owns this site and is essentially serving as the invisible hand of the market, I'd ask what the market will most likely produce without the help of the city. My guess is that affordable senior and student housing will win this battle, thanks largely to the already available special HUD financing and back-end investment demand for these product types.

And finally, what segment remains under-served in the subject area? Sure there are the artists, but I'd also suggest that there's a sizable enough segment of the downtown workforce population that would prefer to live downtown if they had better options. What about them? Isn't it in the city's best economic interest to nudge this segment along every once in a while if it means increased competitiveness for attraction of high-wage employers? As a side benefit, it would also help reduce traffic/commuting costs elsewhere in the city.

Most of these questions/suggestions could be much better supported with data that should be gathered and analyzed, and I simply don't have the time right now. But my gut tells me that we don't need the affordable senior housing on this site and I don't think that's an unkind sentiment at all. I just don't see how the city as a whole or this neighborhood in particular benefit by concentrating so much senior housing in this particular area.

Monday, November 11, 2013

When Tragedy Strikes

Dear Laveen:

Let's start with a big kudos for the generally positive and concerned tone with which the community responded to awful news of a shooting that occurred on Saturday night on our turf, in which an innocent young woman was murdered. Now how about a brief moment of silence for the victim Nora Osman -- may she rest in peace and may her family and friends find the justice they deserve for such a tragic loss.

As is too often the case in such situations, the internet tends to erupt with horribly vitriolic commentary that does nothing to help; I am grateful that our community FB group refrained from engaging in the vitriol this time around, despite coming close. As has been the case in the past, news unfolded almost in real time, with neighbors updating the group and seeking additional information after calling police about the mayhem unfolding around them. It brought back a rather vivid memory of when I experienced something similar back in 2007-2008. I remember feeling back then that my peaceful community had been victimized; it angered and concerned me, and it served as a catalyst for meeting as many of my neighbors as possible and starting a block watch. In our case, no one was killed, but it most certainly left scars and left us asking, are we still safe here? So let's get right past the question of whether geography matters -- it does not, as is often pointed out rather quickly in these cases. This is not common and I refuse to accept that it might become common in Laveen or anywhere else. The frightening truth is that this probably could have happened almost anywhere. Bad guys with guns showed up to a party that got out of control, and they shot people. We still don't know who they are or how close police are to catching them, but we blame them and no one else.

So how did the party get out of control? According to the neighbor who reported this to our FB group, a couple of neighbor kids knocked on her door earlier in the evening (at their parents' request), and asked if loud music would be ok. I can't help but again put myself in that neighbor's shoes and think, "Wow, these kids are considerate!" Nothing could go wrong, right? But it did go wrong, very wrong, and it happened somewhere outside of the neighbor's house party on the street, sometime around 11:00 PM. According to the neighbor, shots were fired and "kids" were running through her front yard trying to hide. Then the police showed up as the "kids" scattered ("kids" is in quotes because it sounds like they were mostly young adults). Prior to this turn of events, it sounds like there was nothing to indicate a problem.

Details are still emerging and the police are still investigating. Concerned community members likewise sprung to action -- some of us started immediately investigating upon hearing that it was a young woman who died, in part because the news media were not yet reporting this information and we couldn't help but want to learn more. My first thought was to visit her facebook profile (now inactive/blocked) to see what was written there. Sure enough, the RIP messages supported our guess that it was indeed Nora Osman. I then checked some of her contacts who had recently posted on her profile. From there I found a troubling post by someone who looked like a current/past boyfriend and a few other disturbing comments/images from others (for instance, a young woman kissing a pistol and her friends commenting on her "thug" style) -- but nothing that made me think that the victim might have brought on any sort of violence to herself. In fact, when I checked her twitter, instagram, and ask.fm social media accounts, I was touched to read the following assessment of where she thought she would be in ten years: "Married doctor kids big house for my mama nd siblings" [sic] is what she said. Sadly that will not happen now because someone murdered her in the street, in an otherwise safe neighborhood.

I may have already invested too much effort looking into something that is ostensibly none of my business, but I sincerely feel that we owe it to our each other to get concerned. As one member of the FB group commented, this kind of violent crime has become too common in recent years. This is not a comparative statement, warranting the obvious correction that we experience relatively low crime in Laveen when looking at the entire city's crime rates, but an absolute one. We do need to own up to the recent increase in gun violence and make it go away -- not by calling people names, trying to blame entire categories of residents (new vs old, rent vs own, and similar), but by doing whatever we can to help.

As MLK famously observed: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." In this spirit, I say do whatever you can. Some have suggested that residents attend the monthly "Coffee with a Cop" event, others call for greater vigilance overall, but I'll suggest an ever so slightly different angle: Do those things if you can or are so inclined, but mostly just get to know your neighbors and care enough to be a little bit nosey. Saying hi to fellow community members and recognizing their faces enough to do so tends to help the rest naturally fall into place. Let's also remember to consistently reject the glorification of violence -- I'm sure we'll eventually learn that the suspects were young men proudly "thugging" or (gang) "banging" or similar. While it would be ridiculous to blame anyone but the shooter(s), I believe that our community can learn from this event, come together a little closer than we have been recently, and just maybe prevent the next tragedy from occurring. We owe it to Nora to try.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Historic Laveen-SoMo, Part Two: Pioneer Luncheon

If you're keeping track, here was part one of this series, about the Sachs-Webster House on Baseline. Today let's look at a really cool, if not very well known, annual tradition in our community. It is the Pioneer Luncheon, happening today, and it honors those who have lived in the south Phoenix area for at least 50 years. Judging from this past article about the 37th annual luncheon that was sponsored by Lowman's Funeral Home in 2011, it must be the 39th this year.

Once you get past the obvious, if darkly humorous, notion that a funeral home sponsors this luncheon (no idea about their involvement this year, btw), let's think about some of the other details that make this such an interesting event. Firstly, given that so many of our current residents have moved here in the last decade, isn't it cool to remember every once in a while that plenty of people have been around here far longer than that? Second, isn't it cool that this takes place at Corona Ranch? What a cool reminder of the old Laveen-SoMo community. And finally, how did I just learn about this as my neighbors were leaving to attend today (btw, they happily get in for free for having long surpassed the 50-year requirement)....

Having heard stories from one of my neighbors about the good ol' days of getting together with all of his friends at the no longer existent bar next to Del Monte Market (near Laveen in SoMo Village, at 27th and Dobbins), this is a group with which I'd love to break bread someday. Therefore, I'll have to keep an eye out for it next year, as all are welcome to attend (but us newbies must bring a donation of some sort). And in case you didn't bother to follow the above link to the South Mountain Villager article, I'll post it again so that you too might get excited about catching this event in the future: http://southmountainvillager.net/tag/pioneer-luncheon. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Do Something! Anything! (Because You Should)

I have fond memories of reading Shel Silverstein's books as a kid, so I've begun reading his poems to my preschool-aged son recently. Today, I came across a particularly good one in "A Light in the Attic":
Put Something In
Draw a crazy picture,
Write a nutty poem,
Sing a mumble-gumble song,
Whistle through your comb.
Do a loony-goony dance
'Cross the kitchen floor,
Put something silly in the world
That ain't been there before.

This was the motivation I needed to write a post about ways in which Laveen residents can get more involved. Contrary to some of the often inadvertently judgmental pleas that I've seen recently in our Laveen FB group to "show up to public meetings or forever remain silent" on community issues, I'm going out on a limb to suggest that there are plenty of valid but often ignored opportunities to contribute. And they don't necessarily involve attending "boring" meetings, although that certainly helps sometimes (and the troopers who do it sometimes need a break). So let's try and explore those options.

First, are you an artist (of visual media)? If so, you could have stopped at the first line of the above poem and moved on to the Laveen Art League (and you probably did). If performance art is more your style, how about coordinating with LAL or setting something up with the Laveen Stage (open mic night), Tempe Dance West, or someone else in the community? There are plenty of opportunities that are already somewhat structured, and I bet you could get creative and do something totally different: flash mob, random public art installation, or otherwise. The possibilities are endless, and society relies upon you creative types to push the boundaries of what we previously thought were the limits.

Are you a shopaholic, foodie, or otherwise love a good excuse to go out and patronize local businesses with fellow community members? Then check out the Laveen Farmers Market, Laveen Cash Mob, or similar. Are you the active type? If so, I recommend the "Laveen Isn't Lazy" Activities Group. Aspiring crime fighter or otherwise concerned about safety and neighborhood security? Try the Laveen Village Blockwatch and PNP (logical prerequisite: get involved with your neighborhood block watch too).

Eh, maybe you are the type that goes for boring meetings.... I know you're out there because I'm one of you. There are a variety of options and I've tried many of them myself. Remember my post in 2011 about my unfortunately successful run for the HOA board? Yeah, I'm still on my HOA board until at least next year, even though I don't live there any longer.... If I weren't on the board, I'm sure I'd still be involved in HOA matters because the HOA exists and it represents me whether I like it or not. That said, the HOA exists for owners and not necessarily for residents -- an important if sometimes frustrating distinction. Therefore, I like looking for other opportunities to get involved with neighbors, like starting a neighborhood association, block watch, or simply holding informal and unofficial neighborhood picnics/BBQs. When I lived in and served on my HOA, we merged these two worlds by attempting to forge community bonds in line with the HOA mission of maintaining and preserving our subdivision. That said, I'm not really much of an HOA guy.

If you are into HOAs (and I mean really into HOAs), then you can take it a step further by getting involved with LAHOA, which is the Laveen Association of HOAs. I jumped on-board when LAHOA first began because it spoke to the "New Laveen" subdivision-dweller in me and offered an opportunity to launch an economic development initiative that focused on attracting businesses to Laveen -- one of my passions that didn't have much of an outlet elsewhere. After a year or two, I realized that I didn't particularly care to remain involved with LAHOA and couldn't commit the time anyhow.

The same thing happened when I tried getting involved with the more "Old Laveen" group, the Laveen Community Council, which has done more than most other groups in Laveen to support the community. The LCC is a great organization, but more appropriate for those of you who are into planning fundraisers and coordinating with schools, churches, and such (speaking of which, there are plenty of opportunities in those places too). I wasn't really cut out for the LCC, but if you are then please get involved there.

What I finally found that appealed to me in my search were the planning and development focused groups. The LPC/LCRD is a volunteer group that meets monthly to discuss county/city development issues in Laveen and often contributes to the discussion at meetings of the Laveen Village Planning Committee (LVPC) and elsewhere. I enjoyed serving my time on the LVPC and elsewhere for the city, as it offered insight and a platform to speak on forthcoming developments in Laveen. If this is where you too enjoy participating in the community dialog, then I recommend getting involved there.

Or, you know, maybe none of those options seem particularly inviting or attractive to you. That's fine. It should be obvious here that I've found more reward over the years in my overlapping blogging/facebooking activity that complemented my other community involvement. You might consider these avenues valid/valuable or not, and you may or may not engage with me in these forums. That's fine. However, I tend to disagree if you knock it because at least it's something and, as has been noted previously, the dialog can be imported or exported from these various avenues of discussion as needed.

So I love a general appeal to "Put Something In". What's your something? If you haven't found it yet, then I say keep looking. Just try not to be negative about others' choices of how they choose to engage in the community dialog; we do not need that.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Laveen's Delicate State of Housing, Density, and Growth

This site plan for a new subdivision at the corner of Baseline and 43rd is causing quite a stir, depending on your social circle. This site plan is otherwise known as Case # Z-152-03-7(8) in the city of Phoenix's planning department. There is a rather vocal group of Laveen residents headed to the Phoenix City Council meeting this Wednesday, October 30, 2013, at 3:00 PM, to oppose this site plan (agenda item 74, in case you're interested).

For the record, I spoke at the PHO hearing a couple months ago, partially in favor of this project and partially opposed to it. I really can't decide if I'm energized enough about this to attend the upcoming council meeting. And here's why: What I hear being described as the most contentious part of this site plan is the housing density (we're still talking single family, here).

Firstly, I don't mind higher density single-family homes. I own a home very close to this property, where my family and I once lived. We intentionally bought small and wanted to be situated between the shopping centers at 51st Avenue and Baseline and the beautiful park/school/library complex at 39th Avenue and Baseline. That brings me to a related point, which is that I think there should be more density in such an area as this. And further, when I think about density in this area, the first thing that comes to mind is the 80-unit community of duplexes that already sits directly adjacent to the subject property, known as Vistas Montanas (a part of the Cheatham Farms subdivision).

In thinking through this mental image of the area, I immediately went to google maps to try and settle my cognitive dissonance. No such luck, and here's why: When I look at the map, I immediately remember several other medium to high-density single-family developments in this vicinity. Many of the builders who built subdivisions along Baseline Road, both north and south, combined lower and higher densities together, which has proven an overall good strategy for most of them. In this image, I have circled all of those in the immediate area:

Here's a list of the communities by name, as well as the total number and percentage of lots in each that are less than 6,000 square feet -- generally an agreeable cutoff size for small versus medium residential lots.

The total number is 2,081 in the surrounding subdivisions. The total number of residential lots under 6,000 square feet in all of Laveen (85339 only) is approximately 3,633, which means that they tend to be concentrated in this area. This makes sense to me, given those amenities that I already mentioned and the common sense notion that we should want to concentrate populations nearest shared amenities like parks, schools, libraries, and such. But it doesn't make sense when I hear my friends who are opposed to this project say that the density was never supposed to go here and that the general plan is the holy grail. Oh how I want to agree.... I too have fought in favor of the general plan as a static instrument in the past.... But I can't. I sincerely think the GP could use an update -- in part because of this very area and this contentious issue!

Remember a few years ago when we fought Berkana? That turned into a pyrrhic victory if ever there was one! We fought density at 27th Avenue and Baseline only to find out a few years later that Valley Metro was moving forward with a transit facility at the same intersection. Generally speaking, transit = density (or it should, anyway). While that experience made me feel a little disheartened by the process of challenging proposals such as this one, it also forced me to reconsider what I think are the most important concerns related to city planning and when we should intervene in the planning process on someone else's private property.

Should we be concerned about small lots, small houses, cheap houses, or any of that stuff? That's what I wanted to know, and particularly with regard to this area. This means it's time to test some assumptions, starting with density. One claim that I've heard is that higher density means more rentals, but then we could say the same about smaller homes and cheaper homes -- the latter two being set aside momentarily by the builders' claims that they plan on building market-priced average sized homes on these smaller lots. Whether you think rentals are good or bad for a neighborhood probably depends on your perspective, but it's sort of a foregone conclusion in this debate. 

Here's what I found when I ran some rudimentary statistics on tax-record data available through a web-based database program called Imapp, comparing various homes built in Laveen (85339 only) after "the year 2000" (yeah, that's a gratuitous Conan reference):
  • Of all lots that are less than 6,000 sq ft, 1,497 or 41.2% are rentals.
  • Of all lots that are at least 6,000 sq ft, 1,854 or 27.8% are rentals.
  • Of all homes that are less than 2,200 sq ft, 2,113 or 36.9% are rentals.
  • Of all homes that are at least 2,200 sq ft, 1,238 or 27% are rentals.
  • Of all homes that sold for less than $180,000, 2,742 or 38.6% are rentals.
  • Of all homes sold for at least $180,000, 599 or 18.9% are rentals.
*2,200 sq ft and $180,000 were selected as dividing lines based on the recent average size and price of homes sold in Laveen.

From what I can tell based on that information -- and if there are any statisticians who disagree, please let me know -- it looks like price is a better indicator for whether properties will likely become rentals. Only a multiple regression analysis would likely indicate the strength of any one variable, but this makes sense to me based on common sense.

So what if "we" lose the battle for low density, which in my mind amounts to a spurious concern for this particular area based on the information above. Why not focus on something else, like the quality of construction, that directly influences the builder's bottom line and can more meaningfully impact the surrounding community? After all, this is the excuse given for why we don't mind the adjacent duplexes -- "But they're pretty nice!" we say. This is also how we agreed to let another developer adjust its site plans to allow patio homes as a part of the planned Carver Mountain subdivision -- they look like they'll be beautiful (and I'm a fan of patio homes in many cases). This is why I maintain that this fight ought to be about the characteristics of the construction, specifically the 4-sided architectural focus and other elements of landscaping and overall design that are mentioned in the approved stipulations.

When I combined price and lot size in my analysis of past sales, guess what I found? Small lots (under 6,000 sq ft) that have sold for at least $180,000 resulted in 184 rentals, or a rate of 27%, which appears to be an improvement on lot size or building size alone. So can we encourage this to happen? Yes, I think so, and I'm sure the builders do as well or else they wouldn't be building again. For data support, let's look to current market activity for new homes in Laveen only:

According to MLS data as of today, of all the homes built and sold since 2011, the average size is 1,980 sq ft, average sale price is $180,630, and the average price per sq ft is $92.35. Pending listings have jumped to an average sale price of $222,650, based on an average increase in size to 2,107 sq ft and an average listed price per sq ft of $106.43.

You can see that the active listing numbers have slipped a little bit for Laveen on a slight reduction in the listed price per sq ft to $99.73. It makes sense based on the fact that the Cromford Report shows Laveen having already entered "balanced" territory as of early this month, with a contract ratio of 102 (down from 191 last quarter) -- meaning that demand has slowed and fewer new listings are being sold as quickly (note the increased days on market). After the last couple of years, this should be expected; buyers tend to seek value in Laveen. Home values have increased dramatically during the almost seemingly savage pricing recovery that we've enjoyed, thanks in large part to those controversial institutional investor purchases in the last year. This is likely to scare away some buyers temporarily, as mortgage rates have increased over the same period and negatively impacted housing affordability.

Another indicator that I like to use when looking at Laveen for contextual market performance is to compare it to the nearby 85042 ZIP code, located slightly east of Laveen in South Mountain Village. As has been the norm lately, 85339 lags 85042 by about 30% in price per sq. foot. That said, the recent monthly median price of $172K (as reported by Cromford for October 1st) is identical between the two ZIP codes, which further validates the value-seeking motive behind sales in the 85339 ZIP code. As does the fact that more resale transactions are still happening in Laveen, as distressed inventory continues getting bought up.

This looks to me like a generally healthy point for the market to take traction -- especially considering that Laveen's sales activity, more than other areas, has temporarily slowed as cash investors have started disappearing from the Phoenix market. The fact that buyers once again have some negotiating power, as reported here, likely bodes well for a continued housing recovery.

So please do not be afraid of density, Laveen -- at least not for density's sake when we're comparing similar new subdivisions of single-family homes. None of these are really comparable to the "old Laveen" that consists of ranch ramblers and lush green open spaces. If you want to talk about Laveen's rural character, that's a different discussion -- one that is very worthwhile, as Laveen faces something of an identity crisis in light of future development plans. One thing is certain: We are not seeing any indicator of a trend away from new HOA developments, which tend to be far more similar within the subset of newer communities than when compared with the older low-density neighborhoods in Laveen. And that ship has sailed anyhow -- most large tracts of farm land in Laveen are already platted for new subdivisions, some with different characteristics than others, but still very different than what you see now when you drive down the older neighborhood streets in Laveen. By going to battle over slight modifications to these plans, we're looking at the potential for little more than another pyrrhic victory. 

10/31/2013 Update: The Laveen residents who opposed this developer have won their case, on a council vote of 7-1. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Historic Laveen-SoMo, Part One: Sachs-Webster House

In a series titled, "enDangered Dozen Historic Places List", the Phoenix Historic Preservation Coalition names Laveen's Sachs-Webster House as the #5 most endangered historic place in Phoenix. Here's the azcentral.com write-up about it: www.azcentral.com/community/phoenix/articles/20131007endangered-historic-phoenix-home-prog.html

As discussed with reporter Paulina Pineda, it's a little disheartening that this property is endangered. It is, after all, already owned by the city. The city, however, fails to maintain the property -- in part due to its relative isolation, but also because there is a lack of momentum behind restoring the structure. In 2011-2012, there was a lot of discussion about moving forward with a community-based initiative to restore the home and find a use for it, but that hasn't really progressed. What are your ideas?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Hunting in Laveen?

How in the world did I miss this?! When I looked up the applicable laws back in 2009-2010, I was surprised to find that there was almost no easily accessible hunting/shooting area nearby (unless you know someone with a large property on a county island). Then this happened and I wasn't paying attention:
Hunters rejoice, you now have access to approximately 1 million acres of public and state trust lands within municipal boundaries this hunting season, but there are regulation changes that relate to these new opportunities and public safety that hunters need to know.
--from http://azgfd.net/artman/publish/NewsMedia/Arizona-s-hunting-regulations-amended-to-incorporate-expanded-hunting-areas.shtml

Imagine my surprise when Laveener Bryan Blake shared this information in the Laveen FB group, in response to a discussion about all the dove hunting going on now. Those shotguns you hear out there (between sunrise and sunset) may very well be from law-abiding hunters in the designated area south of the I-10 and west of 51st Avenue. Here's a map, with further information about our various hunting seasons in Unit 25M. What are your thoughts about this recent change?

Please read the entire article from AZ Game and Fish, as well as all applicable laws if this is of interest to you. For instance, it's still illegal to fire pistols and rifles within city limits, you must have an appropriate license and tags to hunt in AZ, and no shooting within 1/4-mile of any structure without the express permission of the property owner. It looks like this is primarily for dove/pigeon hunting and certain archery hunts only -- also not applicable to "target shooting" if I understand it correctly.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  I plan on looking into this further, as I don't fully understand the laws, so please DO NOT construe this as legal advice, but do feel free to discuss anything that I might have missed here so that we can be better informed. And always err on the side of caution -- guns are dangerous and safety precautions are paramount, some of which are codified into our state's hunting regulations, so maybe a class or two would be in order before you run out and join the action. Capisce? 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Retail Update September 1, 2013

I'm all about taking short cuts..... So while I would love to elaborate on all the exciting progress we've made in recent retail growth, I'll instead provide the following email I sent to an area representative for Harbor Freight Tools, as inspired by Mike Hernandez in our Laveen FB group. The only major development that comes to mind that I missed in this email is the opening of Sinbad's Grocery, just outside Laveen in SoMo (27th Ave. & Baseline) -- go check it out on a weekend, when they have huge spreads of prepared Middle Eastern food available for take-out or (standing) dine-in. We also just got Chipotle and Barro's Pizza, both near Fry's at 51st Ave. & Baseline, so we are finally getting more dining options!

Without further ado, here goes (please let me know what I might have missed):

To: Chris Malherbe
(405) 306-7774

As a former regional director for Choice Hotels International, I know how challenging it can be to manage a large territory and constantly keep up with every corner of every market (mine was essentially "the West" at one point). Therefore, I hope you are as receptive to local insight as I always was in that role, especially if it makes your job a little easier in identifying ideal submarkets with solid locations available. So I have one for you: 

Laveen Village Center, NWC of 35th Ave. & Baseline
Managed by Hinkson Company, LLC
Property Flier: http://hinksoncompany.com/13_0506_laveen_vlg_marketing.pdf
Space available: 15,600 sq ft in-line with monument signage in a newer shopping center

Other major tenants: Big 5, 99 Cents Only, Big Lots, Circle K, Wendy's (just announced), and several local businesses

Key demographics (from property flier): 
1 Mile: 10,685 population, $68,915 avg income
3 Mile: 60,508 population, $72,206 avg income
5 Mile: 146,657 population, $61,764 avg income

Traffic (from property flier):
Baseline Road  29,275 CPD
35th Avenue 17,813 CPD

More about the area:
  • Proven demand: Home Depot located 2 miles west at 51st Ave. & Baseline, Lowe's located 2 miles east at 19th Ave. & Baseline.
  • 1, 3, 5-mile radii can be misleading; as you can see from the street/freeway configuration and the area's population growth, There is a rather large residential population located to the south and west (85339 ZIP) that travels Baseline Rd. for their daily commute, many of whom turn north on 35th Avenue or 19th Avenue, toward downtown and the large government complex located directly north-northeast of this site.
  • Large population to the east in ZIPs 85041, 85042, 85040 may also be drawn to this location.
  • Large industrial area to the north and interspersed ranch/agricultural properties indicates significant likelihood that lifestyle/psychographic analysis will yield a sizable DIY market, where Harbor Freight will likely thrive.
  • C-A-L Ranch is currently opening a location 1 mile north (35th Ave. and Southern) to reach a similar demographic. 
  • This site has direct visibility to the large municipal area directly across the street: park, library, golf course, and school(s); this means great weekday and weekend traffic/visibility

Please let me know if you have any additional questions about the area. I am passionate about this part of town and involved with a great group of like-minded volunteers who come from professional backgrounds and are able to help provide more contextual area information, (besides that readily available to you through ESRI and CoStar reports). This could be helpful if your client, Harbor Freight, decides to pursue this option further. I think it's a slam dunk for you, and this shopping center's owner/manager are working to get deals done quickly, so please do look into it as soon as possible. 

Best regards,

Patrick T. Brennan
@Home Properties and Management
Direct | 480.559.9429
Fax | 602.467.3165

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Primary Results Are In - Go Kate!

Ok, so there are still a few ballots to count, but probably not enough to change anything in this election. The only remaining uncounted ballots are early mail-in ballots that were dropped off at the polling places -- mine included -- and provisional ballots. So how'd the candidates do? From the city of Phoenix website (as of last night):

My predictions last week were a little bit off. I honestly can't imagine how this is turning into a runoff between Kate Gallego versus the supposedly well-intentioned campaign with a case of Tourette's. I seriously thought that Robinson would come in 2nd. I'm also a little appalled at our voter turnout, which was the worst of the four districts (2, 4, 6, 8)..... That said, when I see the numbers 2, 4, 6, 8, I can't help but follow up with, "Who do you appreciate?" Well, naturally Kate!!! (and maybe Warren Stewart for running such an ugly, divisive campaign that will surely lose in the general election). So here's the deal: let's show the rest of Phoenix that we care more than they do by delivering Kate a decisive victory in the general election, and let's throw in a high voter turnout for good measure. Sound good?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

District 8, Vote Now, Vote Smart

The time is now upon us, D8 residents. If you haven't yet voted in the city council primary, you can go today (Saturday), or Monday or Tuesday, to one of our city's polling places -- here's an interactive polling place locator -- and cast your preference. If you received an early ballot and are still holding onto it, please don't mail it now, but instead drop it off at a polling location. Here's more info about where and how to vote.

I've attended two of our local candidate forums and have otherwise followed this election by asking several of the candidates to complete a questionnaire for my blog (read their responses here), as well as following others' coverage of this race. My wife Catherine and I have chosen to support our friend, Kate Gallego. I encourage you to do the same -- but only after learning more about the five official candidates and their platforms. Click their names below for links to their campaign websites, and note that the following order is my prediction of popular vote turnout, based purely on my gut instinct about the candidates' support base and campaigns thus far (and maybe a little personal bias between #1 and #2, which will likely be close):

Kate Gallego
Lawerence Robinson
Warren Stewart
Luis Rodriguez
Carolyn T. Lowery

This election should rightfully come down to a choice between Kate Gallego and Lawrence Robinson, who I hope to see in the runoff election if there is one, and here's my reasoning, based on each campaign:

Carolyn T. Lowery

Let's start on a positive note about Carolyn T. Lowery, who has run a purely grassroots campaign and probably doesn't stand a chance of winning. If you attended any of the earlier candidate forums (sadly, she didn't attend the Laveen forum), then you know that this lady is passionate, entertaining, and absolutely deserves a seat at the table. It's hard not to cheer for her and her focus on special communities in district 8 that often lack a voice, like the elderly and the economically disadvantaged. To be clear, she's not just some bleeding heart begging for handouts, but she actually seems to pick up on some important nuances about localized issues that affect neighborhoods. I also appreciated her appeal to voters (paraphrased): "Who knows, maybe you'll decide to take a chance on that nice lady, Carolyn."

Luis Rodriguez

Next we have the Tea Party favorite, Luis Rodriquez, whose campaign message at the candidate forums was essentially, "District 8 is a scary horrible place; get out now, but vote for me first." His campaign will likely take offense to this characterization, as Rodriguez touts his military record, plus his focus on "eliminating red tape" and promoting more sound fiscal policy from the city. In all fairness, I thought he brought up some very solid points about how we could better manage the city's finances -- he sold me on hiring him on city staff to tackle waste, but not as a candidate for council. His message came off more negative than positive and was rife with logical inconsistencies about his perception of the city government's role in managing a city.

Warren Stewart

Speaking of ugliness and negativity.... Who would have suspected that so much would come from the campaign of the only clergy member running in this race?! While the Stewart campaign would very much like to forget these episodes, it's hard not to recall the turmoil unleashed by his supporters over racial politics in District 8, most notably this one that employs ugly racial name-calling and this one featuring Stewart supporter and allegedly corrupt politician, Mary Rose Wilcox. And let's not forget this article that kicked off the unflattering but mostly truthful coverage of south Phoenix, while also highlighting Stewart's work with the "old guard" -- mostly behind closed doors. Sorry, but this campaign seriously fails to connect with younger voters and new transplants to D8, which includes a significant portion of Laveen. Speaking of Laveen and the greater south Phoenix area, did anyone else catch his comment at one of our forums regarding his "first term" on council? Whoa now, settle down there, Mr. Candidate! I'm not sure that you're as entitled to this office as you seem to think. And if it seems that I'm giving too much attention to this candidate, it may be due to the fact that his campaign took almost a week to respond to my May 26th request for comment, only to say that he would follow up a few days later and then never did. That response came from Stewart's campaign director who, according to his corporate filings, lives all the way up north of the 101.... so maybe I was a little hasty in expecting my email to travel that far in the amount of time I expected. Oh well, they didn't want my support anyway I guess -- they certainly haven't been out in the community, asking for it, like the next two candidates have...

Lawrence Robinson

Robinson's campaign is practically synonymous with The RISE of South Phoenix, which is something fierce of a grassroots community group with some very smart, capable, passionate folks involved. I respect these guys and see many more young politicians in the making here -- not to mention at least one kingmaker in the mix, who I presume wishes to remain nameless, but he knows who he is and I'm happy to give him credit if he will accept it. To be clear, I have a good deal of positive sentiment for Robinson and his campaign, which I don't attempt to hide. He's charismatic, he's running a smart campaign, and he's an ideal 2nd place candidate.... After all, as much as I like the guy, I think he's got enough on his plate already.

Shortly after moving here from NY in 2009, Robinson went to work as a staffer for the Democratic caucus in the state house of representatives and later left that position for a teaching role at the private for-profit college, Phoenix School of Law. He also serves on the Roosevelt School Board, although it is not reflected currently on his linkedin profile, and his school district bio reads like a campaign announcement (go ahead and read it for yourself). Do you see where I'm going with this? I might just be a little sensitive to the fact that Robinson ran for school board and then within a month or two of being elected he announced his candidacy for city council. Judging by Robinson's response to questions at public forums (like responding to one question by pointing out that it's his constitutional right to run for another office while serving), he seems to be a little bit sensitive about this topic, too -- as he should be! The Roosevelt School District, like many school districts in political hotbeds like ours, has long been the victim of neglect by self-serving board members with greater political ambitions. Whether this is a fair assessment of Robinson or not, we need to keep him on the defensive about it.

All that said, I generally do like most of Robinson's policy ideas.... except where I think he lacks depth on issues related to economic development, zoning, and real estate. Not to make too little of social issues, but these issues are by far the most critical in a city council district that includes Phoenix's population-growth juggernaut, aka Laveen, as well as the airport, the light rail corridor, and important redevelopment corridors in the downtown and south Phoenix areas.

Kate Gallego

That brings us to Kate. She is a friend and an admirable community leader, and yet I feel that I've failed her up to this point by making myself too busy to publish this post or volunteer, and also by hamstringing myself with a promise to remain somewhat unbiased in the public sphere regarding this election (which I inadvertently extended for far too long). That said, I am quite biased in favor of Kate -- not just because of my wife's and my friendship with her, but also because she's one of the very few people in this world who will indulge me with technical conversations about zoning, economic development, and other such issues. She's also one of the few people in this world who gracefully yet commandingly interrupts my tangential diatribes to keep our discussions on point. But this isn't just about me -- it's about Laveen and District 8, so back to that....

We need someone who understands Laveen and south Phoenix, particularly the more subtle growth dynamics that impact our community, both in contrast with and in light of those other subtle growth dynamics in redevelopment areas like the light rail corridor and downtown. Kate's experience as an economic development professional and her work on PlanPHX have given her an almost unfair advantage over the other candidates in this arena. She brings a well rounded perspective, an impressive resume, and an ability to take charge of issues by dominating the details. She runs a political race against a pastor and a non-practicing attorney, yet she manages to bring home almost every point far more effectively than these silver-tongued wordsmiths -- that's because she knows her stuff! Also, she's been the only candidate to make meaningful contributions to Laveen-specific issues and reliably show up at community meetings/events in Laveen. And remember how I mentioned that she knows how to keep discussions on point? Yeah, that will help tremendously when it comes to fighting for limited resources from the city -- which we need in D8. As far as I'm concerned, we are by far the most important district in the city, and Kate understands this and knows how to leverage it. She will not stand by and let double-speaking buffoons like Sal DiCiccio dominate the discussion.

And back to my personal take for a moment, I can't help but comment that Kate's team wins the contest for door-knocking at the Brennan house. This is notable because a) no one ever bothers to solicit our quiet out-of-the-way street and b) door-knocking is critical when it comes to connecting with people.

And finally, I am in a unique position to comment on another issue: There's at least one Laveen community member who has repeatedly and incorrectly called Kate a "carpetbagger". Ahem, you must be kidding me! I've been talking to Kate and her husband Ruben for at least three or four years about moving to the Laveen-SoMo area from their old downtown condo, also in District 8 (both before and after redistricting, btw). A mutual friend of ours worked masterfully on their behalf to snag them a beautiful home earlier this year, following a lengthy search. The Gallegos, their realtor (my friend Victor Jett Contreras), and I spoke on many occasions about their planned move, and I can promise that they landed right where they wanted to be because they love the area. It's not quite Laveen, but we can't always hit the bullseye. And Kate is the only candidate offering more than lip service about her commitment to Laveen. So it is with pleasure that I announce my endorsement of Kate Gallego and encourage the rest of District 8 to do the same -- especially Laveen.... and downtown.... and SoMo.... and anyone else. Eh, you get the idea. Go Kate!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Laveen Real Estate Update

Can you feel it? The pains from the real estate boom and bust are gradually easing, and more and more of us are finding ourselves back in the black every month, as far as home equity is concerned. Market distress is easing in Laveen:

Distressed inventories have diminished rapidly over the last two years, as more and more people take advantage of our low housing prices and centralized location with great amenities nearby. As this trend continues, builders have also come back to get in on the action. We've all observed renewed activity at some of our incomplete and "zombie" subdivisions, and I just learned of another major land deal that will hopefully be announced tomorrow, for the 20-acre parcel located on the northwest corner of 19th Avenue and Southern. According to a confidential source, at least two homebuilders bid against each other for the opportunity to build there. Things are most certainly heating up this summer, even in land transactions, which tend to lag the resale residential market.

Why all the hype? First, we offer a great value. Take a look at this recent post from my real estate blog, titled "South Side Special Report". I'll add here that while 'Tukee has had its day in the sun, I predict that it is now Laveen's turn to shine. This is owed in part to all of the good that's happening in Laveen and SoMo, but there's another reason as well: Take a look at this other post, titled "New Market Stats for July!", which features recent figures from ARMLS that point to an overall tight market in the Phoenix metro area.

The rising tide truly is helping all ships rise, and Laveen, like other "newer" communities, is seeing a return of boomerang buyers -- folks who lost their homes and are starting to buy again. According to this morning's real estate article in the AZ Republic, this group now makes up about 25-30% of all buyers, even as interest rates have risen steeply in the last month (but are still a phenomenal deal compared to historical rates). I know from my experience that this appears to be true and I am a huge fan. While I'm outraged that our state housing department didn't do more to help these folks when they needed it most (read more here), I see their desire to commit to our community as a tremendously positive sign. Local boomerang buyers are making a choice to reinvest where they already got burned once, and that takes faith and courage (not to mention, common sense).

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Part II of II: Questions for District 8 Candidates

As promised a couple of weeks ago, I am now sharing responses to the 10 questions that I posted at that time, eight of which were borrowed from Jon Talton, plus two more that I added. This time around, there is an 11th question, thanks to Laveen resident Stefany Scovell's request via our Laveen community FB group that we add disability resources/enforcement into the mix. I asked three of the District 8 candidates for their responses and have received them from Kate Gallego and Lawrence Robinson thus far. If I receive more in the next couple of days, I may add those as well. Here are their responses:

1. Please detail your connections to the real-estate industry: Properties you own; do you work in the industry and if so, doing what?; have you served on boards that make recommendations on land use?; have you profited from land-use decisions made by public bodies, including the approval and siting of freeways?

Gallego: My husband Ruben and I own our own home and have invested in rental property.  I am very interested in land use and volunteer my time serving on a village planning commission and as Vice Chair of MyPlanPHX, the Phoenix General Plan Update Effort.  I have not profited from land-use decisions, but I have gained the experience I need to represent this community.   While other candidates will need to rely on developers or staff, I have firsthand knowledge of the development process and the tools we have to improve traffic, invest in economic development, and protect quality of life.

Robinson: I have owned my home in South Phoenix since 2009. A licensed attorney, I work as a law professor at the Phoenix School of Law, and was elected to the Roosevelt Elementary School District Governing Board in November. I have not faced land-use decisions in that role. I have not served on any boards or commissions that work on land use, nor have profited from any. I have however served on the city’s Community Engagement and Outreach Task Force and the City of Phoenix Water Roundtable. I have served on the boards of non-profits, such as One n Ten, an organization that provides services for LGBT youth.

2. Do you support light rail, including expanding the system and adding more frequent service?

Gallego: I whole-heartedly support the expansion of light rail, and I have been the most active in making sure District 8 gets its fair share of our transportation dollars. I have pushed for our district through my role as one of the leaders of the Phoenix General Plan update, and I have also supported light rail through my work as Chair of the Environmental Quality Commission and on a village planning commission.  As the most experienced candidate, I am best positioned to deliver results.

District 8 is an area that relies more heavily on public transit than others, but the southern portion of the district was left out of the original plan for light rail expansion. I support extending light rail south along Central and adding more frequent and longer service.  Light rail needs to be part of a multimodal system that includes bicycle lanes and space for bike share, which haven’t been included in recent extensions.

I would also like to offer additional tools for patrons to use their phones to know when future trains will be arriving (text messaging service and smart phone apps). I would also support including commercial space in light rail stations—it would be great to buy a cup of coffee while I am waiting at the station.

As the only candidate who has lived and worked near light rail, I know that we can do a better job protecting existing businesses and residents as we build new projects.

Robinson: I wholeheartedly support extending Metro Light Rail into District 8. Strengthening our existing local businesses and opening new ones in the area – which will create the jobs we need - will depend on building and developing public transportation connections between our neighborhoods, both within the district and citywide. A meaningful public transportation network will attract new visitors and residents to our area, providing increased foot and vehicle traffic for our small and local businesses, and serving as a catalyst for the development of empty lots along the train line and in the Discovery Triangle region.

To maximize the benefit to our neighborhoods, we must plan sustainable development along the Lightrail line. This means offering smart incentives for the development of the vacant lots along the train route. It also means working with all the stakeholders involved in the area’s development to ensure the area is pedestrian and bike friendly, with bikeable, walkable, and shaded areas. Buildings should be built with shade and pedestrian use in mind – to be truly sustainable, we must always think sustainable. We need to think creatively to ensure we make the most of the structures we already have by using incentives for redevelopment and adaptive reuse, and explore creative private/public partnerships wherever possible.

3. Do you support increasing transportation options in Phoenix with better bus service, and connecting the suburbs with commuter rail?

Gallego: I want Phoenix to be an extremely accessible city. To achieve this goal, we must have a more connected and diverse transportation network. To increase the efficiency of the bus system I’ve proposed adding smart stops with electronic arrival signs, more busses and more routes. Additionally, I will fight for commuter rail to make Phoenix a greater hub for economic activity.  I have worked regional transportation planning through my role in SRP’s economic development group and as a leader of the Phoenix General Plan, so I have the experience to deliver.

Robinson: As well as extending Metro Light Rail into District 8, we simply must expand bus routes and alternative modes of transportation, as well as ensuring new developments are pedestrian and bike friendly. Public transportation options from the Lightrail to buses to biking will be the most successful when we develop a high-quality, interconnected system where the different modes of public transportation support one another. Varied transportation options that connect to one another and allow people to move quickly around the area, as well as come to the area from other parts of the city and state, is central to our long-term economic development and growth.

4. What is your position on additional annexation?

Gallego: I would like to see Phoenix grow up, not out. Our priorities should be building on vacant lots in the city and redevelopment, not annexing new lands. I support annexing the county islands within the city if the owners of those lands are interested in being part of the city. Annexing county land will give the city more ability to plan across South Phoenix and Laveen and improve service to residents.

Robinson: Additional annexation of county islands can make sense when it meets the needs and wants of residents that live there. It can also be a more fiscally responsible and effective way of managing those areas, and residents should have access to city services such as police, fire, and waste. I would not support additional annexation of county lands outside the city, but rather promote infill development on existing city land to make denser, safer and more sustainable neighborhoods. Each particular decision of annexation must be based on the specific and specialized needs and wants of residents of the area and the financial budget of the city. When it comes to growth and development, there is no appropriate one-size-fits-all approach. Each decision must be evaluated on its relative advantages and disadvantages, and be made in conjunction with all the interested stakeholders.

5. What is the city's role in downtown economic development?

Gallego: The city government needs to take an active role in ensuring that we have a vibrant, safe, and sustainable city core.  My first priority will be implementing the many plans and programs we have already created from the Shade and Tree Master Plan to the Downtown Form Based Code.   Unlike the other candidates, I have been involved in developing these plans, and I want to make sure we devote the resources needed to execute them.  I have lived downtown and serve in leadership positions such as the Central City Village Planning Commission and the Board of the Arizona Latino Arts and Cultural Center.  I have the experience needed to continue the progress Phoenix is already making downtown—to make downtown a much-visit destination for business, recreation, and tourism.

I have been involved with many dialogues and policy developments downtown, and most stakeholders agree that we want a dense, walkable downtown with unique businesses, academic, arts, and cultural institutions.  We need more residential development, corporate headquarters, and street-level uses.  I would like to see fewer vacant lots and surface parking lots.
Downtown Phoenix has an extensive group of stakeholders including businesses, residents, and non-profits.  The city council and mayor represent all of these stakeholders and are most accountable to the public, so the elected officials need to make sure stakeholders work together.  However, we need to listen to these stakeholders and respect the progress they have already made.  The city manages many public funds for downtown development, and fiscal responsibility is also key.

Robinson: A vibrant downtown area is at the center of a strong city, and an ongoing commitment to a variety of downtown accommodations, restaurants and amenities is central to that vision. Our downtown area has transformed before our eyes over the last decade, but we cannot rest here. We must ensure continued growth and development that makes sense, as well as the creation and expansion of important amenities like bike paths, shaded areas and connected public transportation options. The continued development of our downtown area will strengthen our local businesses city-wide. To allow this development, the City must ensure new businesses have the tools they need to be successful, and that the City serves as a partner rather than a roadblock to new amenities and services opening and operating. Our city leaders must also focus on a long-term vision for our downtown area that they use to inform their everyday decisions that relate to the development of the area. 

6. What is the city's role in creating more effective economic development for Phoenix as a whole? As things stand, Phoenix keeps losing assets and jobs to the suburbs, and it lacks the headquarters companies, high-paid jobs and economic diversity of other large cities, or even many smaller ones such as Seattle, Denver and Portland.

Gallego: Economic development is a regional business, and we need to compete with other regions and countries, not other cities in the Valley.  I will use my experience as a member of the Arizona Association for Economic Development and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce Economic Development to make economic development a higher priority.   

Arizona now has new tools to attract high-value employers such as corporate headquarters and research facilities, and I will work with GPEC and the Arizona Commerce Authority to ensure District 8 gets its fair share of these jobs.   I will also make sure we invest in the infrastructure we need to pursue high-wage industries such as technology, healthcare, and mission critical business services.

We need to do more to support the growth of our existing companies. I would like to see Washington Row and the Warehouse District become the leading area for startups, and I want to see a new business incubator south of the river.  We should to leverage community development finance institutions, state programs, and private sector partners to ensure companies have the capital they need to grow in Phoenix.  We also need to make it easy to do business with the City of Phoenix, whether the business needs a permit or upgraded water service.  

Companies want to locate in cities with strong infrastructure, qualified workforces, and livable communities.  We should understand that investments in our educational system, arts, and the environment also contribute to the decisions that business leaders make about where they want to locate their operations.  

I list additional economic development ideas at www.gallego4phoenix.com.

Robinson: We must foster an environment that is conducive to both allowing our existing businesses to grow and attracting and retaining the new high-wage industries of the future to Phoenix. This means a continued commitment to streamlining our licensing and permitting processes for new businesses and always seeking to provide our existing businesses the tools they need to thrive. It means that we must be the kind of city that attracts new businesses and the diverse talent needed to fill the jobs they create. This means strong and safe neighborhoods, excellent local schools, and a variety of amenities and attractions such as arts and cultural opportunities and clean, open park space. And it means we must be aggressive about recruiting new businesses to Phoenix, and promoting the great things our city has to offer. 

7. Do you support expanding the downtown biomedical campus?

Gallego: I support expanding the downtown biomedical campus and utilizing the city-owned parcels that have been reserved for the campus.  I will lobby for more state and private resources to expand the campus and leverage the city’s investment.  Phoenix has the potential to be a leader in many medical fields such as personalized medicine, and we need to leverage resources such as the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) to create more high-wage jobs.  

In order to succeed, the campus needs to work closely with the many strong neighborhoods near it. 

Robinson: Yes, education is important to attracting and retaining high quality jobs and the employees to fill them, and as a member of the Roosevelt Elementary School District Governing Board, I am strongly committed to ensuring all of our children have access to a high-class education that will fully prepare them to compete for 21st century jobs - from Kindergarden all the way to post-graduate schools. Business owners - of small and large, local and national companies - are more likely to locate to vibrant areas with strong, safe neighborhoods with high quality local schools. The quality of our schools and neighborhoods directly relates to supporting and opening new businesses, and I will fight without compromise for both. 

Furthermore, the medical and bioscience fields are exactly the kind of growth industries we need to attract and retain to Phoenix. Expanding the campus will serve as an important catalyst to allow us to realize our full potential to become a hub for these fields. 

8. What would you do to address the problem of empty, blighted land in the Central Corridor?

Gallego: The city owns several parcels in the central core, and we need to be very careful that we are only land banking for well-defined and strategic projects.   The city may need to package its small and oddly shaped parcels together so that the private sector can afford to buy and develop them (generating much needed revenue while reducing blight).

District 8 also includes land that has not developed due to local environmental problems.  I have an environmental studies degree and have supported the city’s brownfields revitalization program, so I am well positioned to push for the cleanup and development of contaminated parcels.  

Some of the land is approved for uses that are struggling to get financing in this market, and I will work with each landowner to push them to develop buildings that make sense in this economy (even if those buildings do not use all of the height to which they are entitled).  I will encourage landowners who do not develop their land to allow temporary uses such as events and community gardens.  I also support eliminating the tax break for undeveloped land.

Robinson: We must address vacant lots by encouraging new, sustainable development. Vacant lots are everywhere in District 8, lowering property values, leading to higher rates of crime, and exacerbating respiratory problems that reduce the quality of life in our city. Infill development on existing lots should be encouraged through smart economic incentives that make sense and serve to further our economic development – I am not talking about useless tax giveaways or incentives for the sake of it. Additionally, we should promote community-based initiatives, such as community gardens, on vacant lots, and make the most of engaging the non-profit community and private/public partnerships. And we must engage with residents about the importance of reporting issues like dumping, littering, and crime in vacant lots – and inform them how to do it.

9.What do you think of the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway?

Gallego: I support building the South Mountain Freeway.  The recently completed environmental impact study concluded that the freeway will reduce congestion and pollution while delivering economic development to the district. I would like to work with the Gila River Indian Community to develop a route that does not go through South Mountain Park if it is possible to do so without delaying the project.  

Robinson: I support the Loop 202 but want to address environmental and Native American concerns. I am committed to sitting down with all stakeholders to find a solution that meets the need of all groups.

10. What do you think are the three most important issues facing Laveen in the immediate future?

Gallego: Laveen needs additional economic development.  The nearest hospital for most Laveen residents is a 30-minute drive; this is an unacceptable hurdle for medical emergencies. We need an emergency medical center in Laveen as well as more doctor and dental offices.  I would like to see more family entertainment options such as a movie theater and more local restaurants.  We also need additional high-wage jobs such as professional services firms, which will be key to supporting these additional restaurants during the week.  We need to take advantage of our great tourism resources such as South Mountain Park (recognized for its great hiking trails by National Geographic) and Aguila Golf Course, which Golf Digest rates as one of the top municipal courses in the country (same score as The Boulder’s Resort and JW Marriott Desert Ridge).   I would also like to see more educational resources including support services for students with learning disabilities and a full community college campus.  As an economic development professional, I am the best suited to develop local businesses and to help bring in new investments.  I understand how businesses make investment decisions, and I know the tools that cities have to bring desired economic development while honoring Laveen’s history.  

Second, I think Laveen needs additional investment in transportation infrastructure.   I support expanded bus routes, shaded bus stops, adding bike lanes and improving sidewalks.  We need to build the 202 and make improvements to manage traffic associated with the Vee Quiva Casino.  There are several areas that need traffic lights, and we need to improve safety and traffic flow near several schools including Betty Fairfax.

Third, I think Laveen needs its fair share of city resources.  We need to improve response time for police complaints in Laveen.  The City of Phoenix should build the Laveen Recreation Center and the same types of dog and splash parks that the city has built in other districts.  We should also get more city investment in canal beautification projects.  I will fight to bring Laveen the resources that it deserves.   During the last boom, city investment did not keep up with growth.  I will use my experience working with the city to make sure we do not make the same mistake twice.

Robinson: Laveen is the home of my mother and grandmother. In my mother’s words, she moved into the area under the promise that “it would be built up, but it hasn’t happened”. Three issues Laveen needs to overcome are economic diversity, accessibility of transportation, and educational opportunities.

Laveen is home to many skilled workers that travel outside of the neighborhood for work. We need to look to attract new, high-wage jobs to the area, allowing families to work in their own community. Greater access to quality public transportation options will both attract new businesses to the area, and allow for people who live in the areas surrounding Laveen to easily travel to new jobs in the area.

Laveen is also home to many young families. We need to make sure that the city is supporting the education of these students in every way possible – as they are the leaders of tomorrow. As your City Councilman, I will fight for the restoration of funding for vital afterschool programs and important amenities that aid learning such as open libraries and learning opportunities like museums and cultural events.

11. What about disability issues? Enforcement of ADA standards? Inclusion to all events for the disabled? Monitoring the number of tickets written for parking in the handicap spots and education?

Gallego: I have a strong record in this area.  I have pushed Phoenix to develop a Complete Streets policy that accommodates all users including people who use wheelchairs.  I have also led the Inclusion Committee for the Arizona Commission on Service and Volunteerism, which works to include people with disabilities in national service and volunteer projects.  

The City of Phoenix needs to develop its streets so that they are accessible to all types of traffic. This includes wheelchair accessible sidewalks and smart traffic signals that allow people using mobility aids to travel more safely. Additionally, I will hold the city responsible to make sure we are adhering to ADA standards, educating the public and our employees about disability issues, and enforcing current ordinances such as providing wheelchair-accessible parking. 

Robinson: I am running for the Phoenix City Council to ensure a fully inclusive city that protects, promotes and represents ALL residents equally. It’s the same reason that I led the team that drafted the early version of the comprehensive non-discrimination policy that the City recently adopted, which expanded the existing ordinance to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability, sexuality and gender-identity. Other cities – our competitors nationwide - that have passed similar ordinances have found holistic non-discrimination policies to assist them in attracting, retaining and promoting a diverse and talented workforce and community, which is good for business and good for our local and regional economy. 

Truly representing and promoting every resident means going beyond preventing discrimination and also actively promoting policies that affect our under-represented communities, such as enforcement of ADA standards wherever possible in new and existing developments, and protection of important amenities for disabled people – like disabled parking spots.