Thursday, May 23, 2013

Part I of II: Questions for District 8 Candidates

First let me preface this with the fact that these initial questions are not my own. I have followed an AZ ex-pat blogger/journalist for many years now, Jon Talton, who was recently asked by a group called "Democracy for America-Maricopa County" to offer a few questions for Phoenix City Council candidates. Mr. Talton currently calls Seattle home, but he once wrote a business column for the AZ Republic and he apparently still owns property here in Phoenix -- plus, he writes his own blog that keeps tabs on our fine city, and I read every post. While we do not see eye to eye on all issues (Loop 202, for instance), I greatly respect his views on downtown Phoenix and other vital issues that impact our city/metro region. Therefore, I found it entirely appropriate to ask if I could perchance borrow his questionnaire to ask our District 8 candidates where they stand on important issues.

While I may no longer live in Laveen, I still live right down the street in District 8 and therefore have a few opinions myself about these issues. So I'm starting this two-part series by offering my responses off-the-cuff (as Socrates said, "an unexamined life is not worth living"), and will continue this miniseries with the responses from our candidates in a later post. Here are the questions, followed by my 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?

My personal response: I work in real estate as a residential agent (realtor); my wife and I own our previous Laveen residence and rent it to a wonderful tenant, plus I own a vacant lot in south Phoenix that will hopefully soon become the future home of our business, ZonieBaskets; I have in the past served on the LVPC and on a city of Phoenix development services ad hoc taskforce. I feel that these experiences, as well as my past work related to hotel real estate, are valuable in my ongoing learning about land use and regional planning. To the best of my knowledge, I have never profited from policy decisions related to real estate, although I'd like to think that my public involvement has helped preserve value in the neighborhoods where I've volunteered my time and energy, including my own.

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

My personal response: Yes, yes, and yes. The ongoing light rail corridor study for S. Central is vitally important to the greater south Phoenix area, including Laveen. I am a strong advocate for its furtherance, and I'm optimistic that it will move forward. Same goes for the western extension along the I-10 corridor, which will likely provide an important link to future transit options that benefit Laveen.

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

My personal response:  Yes, absolutely. Please see my above response. However, I'm still frustrated by the choice of 27th Avenue and Baseline for Laveen's first park & ride, instead of 35th Avenue and Baseline (see my previous blog post here). I also think we can better utilize Laveen's greenbelt system for biking and walking, by providing better major roadway crossings (see here).

4. What is your position on additional annexation?

My personal response:  County islands? Sure, why not. Further annexation for the sake of growth? No thank you. Please let Scottsdale, Cave Creek, and Peoria fight over further annexation to the north.

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

My personal response:  This to me is paramount. We all benefit from a stronger downtown, and our current downtown lacks residential density. If we want the amenities that a strong and vibrant downtown can provide, then we must support and encourage infill growth there.

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.

My personal response:  Firstly, we need to keep supporting and promoting local businesses, which our current mayor and council appear committed to do. We need to do more with business incubators that help provide resources necessary to scale up existing local companies, and this needs to happen in our core and elsewhere throughout our city. A couple of vital components in helping local businesses are our treatment of adaptive reuse projects and creating more streamlined permitting processes. While we have made progress in these areas, much work remains to be done.

Secondly, our city government needs to better appreciate the comparative advantage of areas like Laveen when competing for greenfield development against Phoenix's suburban areas -- especially once we get a decision on the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway. One way that we can make this happen is to ensure that our city's own economic development department is well versed in promoting our positive attributes, but we also need to exert more pressure on our regional partners, like GPEC and the Arizona Commerce Authority.

And finally, we need to support our local businesses by getting far more creative in recognizing when they are doing something good -- even when we don't really understand it. For a prime example related to Laveen, please see my post regarding the automotive businesses located on Broadway, titled "Laveen-SoMo, Motor City?" As our streets and transportation department struggles with plans to beautify the area, they've made clear that they completely fail to understand this street's occupants and their needs. Meanwhile, our city planners are hearing from multiple people that plans for city redevelopment needs to do more to "celebrate unique communities" in Phoenix, whether residential, commercial or otherwise (as was shared with me recently by a city planner). Thank goodness they're listening!

7. Do you support expanding the downtown biomedical campus?

My personal response:  As a graduate of UA, I'm a tad biased in favor of the biomedical campus. But simply for the sake of our downtown and nearby areas like Laveen, I'm even more for it. High paying jobs, education, research... What's not to like?

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

My personal response:  Getting away from the fundamental issue of individual property rights, this kind of question conjures a carrot and stick analysis in my mind -- incentives versus disincentives. While I do not care for the prevalence of vacant lots in our city, a problem that our municipal leadership itself has exacerbated over the years, I also don't think we can get as far with disincentives as we can with incentives. We don't desperately need for all of them to start building immediately, but we do need to see some progress in this arena.

Increasing the utility of those lots, which can be done by either developing them or at least helping to make them more useful to their surrounding neighborhoods, would offer a big step in the right direction. We could make significant progress by helping the owners of vacant lots mitigate their liability from allowing neighbors to use them. This is a far more detailed discussion than I care to expound upon here, but I think that the city could help facilitate the temporary "borrowing" of vacant lots by neighbors and community organizations -- in part by insuring land owners against liability (or at least helping them to do it on their own) and by promoting such activity in targeted neighborhoods. This provides an incentive to land owners by not only helping to alleviate maintenance issues, but also by adding value to those lots through community strength.

Here are a few Laveen-specific questions of my own:

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

My personal response: Read my blog (yep, I just linked back to this blog), or check out the group that I co-created with fellow community leaders several years ago: Friends of the South Mountain Freeway.

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

My personal response: 1. Traffic/infrastructure (Loop 202, HAWK signals, safe routes to schools, etc. -- all detailed in past blog posts like this one); 2. Business/economic development (again, as outlined plenty in the past, and very much related to the Loop 202 discussion); and 3. Enhanced social services, like healthcare (again, related to the 202) and recreational amenities for kids in the community.

Related to the last one, please expect a forthcoming blog post about suburban poverty and how it has impacted the Laveen and Ahwatukee areas. This was inspired by a recent national report on the subject, published by the Brookings Institution.

Those are all of my questions and answers, so I'll next reach out to our candidates for their responses and then publish those without commentary as "Part II of II" (am I the only one who thinks Roman numerals are fun?). I'll also see if they read my blog and, if they do, suggest that they perhaps try to get a jump on #10 by checking out our recent community survey results from my last post. But first, did I forget anything? What would you ask?


PHX Rail Food said...

Talton no longer lives in Phoenix, and you no longer live in Laveen, so this is a case of one expatriate borrowing from another. At least you have a relatively balanced view of the neighborhood you left behind, as opposed to Talton's unrelenting negativity toward Phoenix. I actually agree with Talton on almost all issues, including the South Mountain Freeway, but I haven't read his blog in years due to his bitter, caustic tone. Regardless of their dubious origin, these are good questions, so I'm glad someone is asking them, even if you and I favor a different response on the SMF question.

PTB said...

I've long anticipated that criticism about my authenticity (and have received it from a few Laveen neighbors in the past) -- not to mention having dished a bit of it to Mr. Talton in a similar tone as you describe. However, given Talton's past credentials and his genuine ongoing interest in Phoenix (which is not always negative), I still look forward to his posts about our city, whether I agree or disagree with their message or tone. As to the question of whether I've left Laveen behind, I disagree with that sentiment. We moved a few miles east, into the South Mountain Village, and have remained involved in the Laveen community where we still own our home. When we lived there, we were very much "New Laveen" people, living in a newer subdivision despite having been initially attracted to the "Old Laveen" that is and always has been tied to south Phoenix in many ways. Right about the time that we got our current home under contract, I posted this response to a request to contribute to a Fronteras/NPR story about south Phoenix: I agree now more than ever with what I wrote almost two years ago. Since settling into our current house (still a work in progress), I have learned that our neighbors here are as much a part of "Old Laveen" as anyone I've ever met. On one side, we have Wes and Polly who once farmed various properties throughout the area, growing radishes for Basha's and other produce -- plus, it turns out that their family grew up knowing some of the same old Laveen families that I got to know in my childhood. Our other neighbors, Bruce and Carol, own or did own a large piece of land in Laveen that was handed down from past generations. They still attend Laveen Baptist Church, and their kids/grandkids switched places with us when they moved out of our current house and into into a newer Laveen subdivision. From all that I have learned about the area, this is not an entirely unique phenomenon; Laveen-SoMo have remained connected out of necessity and simple convenience/proximity throughout the years, and I hope to see those ties strengthened rather than weakened as we go forward.