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

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.