Bob Cappel, writing for the Winfield Home Owners Association in North Scottsdale, sent the following on the Southwest Gas franchise, the General Plan changes, and the City Charter changes that Scottsdale residents will vote on next month. Bob is also a member of the Greater Pinnacle Peak Association, and has a long history of engagement with city government to preserve our quality of life. You can also click through to my March 13 Election page for more information. John Washington.
Ballot Question 1: Proposed Natural & Artificial Gas Distribution Franchise
Shall a Franchise be granted to Southwest Gas Corporation, a California Corporation, to maintain and operate a natural and artificial gas distribution system in the City of Scottsdale and future additions thereto, in accordance with the Franchise Agreement submitted by the Mayor and City Council of the City of Scottsdale, Arizona, to the qualified electors of said City?
With no additional information available in the ballot literature, voters might wonder why a specific Franchise Agreement would be necessary with Southwest Gas Corporation, since Southwest Gas already provides this service. Reading the Franchise Agreement shows why voters should be concerned.
First, this Franchise Agreement is in effect for 25 years.
Second, a new tax is detailed in Section 6 called the Franchise Fee. Southwest Gas will charge each customer in Scottsdale a new 2% tax each month on their bill and pay that 2% tax to the City at the end of each calendar quarter. Thus, Scottsdale is collecting a new tax specific to Southwest Gas users that most residents know nothing about.
Third, if at any time during the 25 year term of this Franchise Agreement, Southwest Gas is charging any municipality a Franchise Fee greater than 2%, the 2% fee charged customers in Scottsdale will be increased to match this higher fee upon written request from the City.
Finally, under Section 7.2, in addition to and separate from the 2% Franchise Fee, the City and Southwest Gas agree that beginning April 1, 2012, the City shall allow an additional compensation fee of 0.5% to be charged to each customer’s monthly bill to be paid to City on the same quarterly basis. The City shall place these funds in a special fund labeled “Southwest Gas Capital Expenditures Fund.”
This new total tax of 2.5% on Southwest Gas users will bundled as “taxes and other fees” or “taxes and other charges” on customers monthly bills. Because residents had no opportunity to comment on these new taxes with either the City Council or the Arizona Corporation Commission, hopefully voters will vote “No” on this question on the March ballot.
General Plan Changes
In March, 2012, the Scottsdale City Council will ask residents to vote on approving the Updated General Plan. The General Plan is “THE MOST IMPORTANT DOCUMENT” for the residents of the City because it is supposed to be the resident’s plan for how they want the City to grow and develop over the next 10 years. The General Plan is supposed to be updated every 10 years and the Updated Plan must be approved by vote of the residents of the City. Once approved, the Updated General Plan then guides the City’s growth and development through zoning ordinances and defined amendment criteria designed to protect Character Areas and Neighborhoods by preventing inappropriate development.
An example of inappropriate development could be allowing the proliferation of bars with “Live Entertainment” permits in the “Entertainment District”, then exempting this area from the City’s Noise Ordinance, allowing bands with loud speakers outside that have ruined local resident’s quality of life and property values. Another could be creating Infill Districts or Growth Areas allowing tall (up to 150 feet) commercial, office or apartment buildings within or by Residential Neighborhoods, restricting resident’s views, degrading quality of life and property values, and adding traffic congestion and air pollution. Another could be changing the single family home zoning on two lots on the Southwest corner of Lone Mountain & Scottsdale Roads to allow building a commercial 80-unit specialized healthcare facility.
Scottsdale’s current General Plan, approved by the residents in 2002, involved over 300 residents and representatives from resident groups working with the City staff. Unfortunately, this Updated General Plan was the product of only the City staff working with select members of the current City’s Boards and Commissions. The past residents and representatives from resident groups were excluded. Thanks to the efforts of many residents, the City staff finally held public meetings where the staff received numerous concerns from the residents on this Updated General Plan.
Because of the large number of resident’s concerns, several positive changes were made to this Updated General Plan between the first public presentations and the City Council approval on October 25, 2011. However, despite these changes, this Updated General Plan falls considerably short of what residents wanted in this document that will guide Scottsdale’s growth and development over the next 10 years. Most problematic is that this Updated General Plan strips away some of the essential protections in the current General Plan, exposing Scottsdale’s Residential Neighborhoods, Unique Downtown and Character Areas, and its McDowell Sonoran Preserve to the threat of inappropriate development.
SPECIFICALLY, THIS UPDATED GENERAL PLAN FAILS IN THE FOLLOWING CRITICAL AREAS:
Vision: The Vision Statement in the Updated General Plan focuses on what Scottsdale is today, with no insight or goals for what the City should look like in 10 years. There should be some goals to be accomplished over the next 10 years, such as completing all land acquisition for the Preserve, finishing trail systems and access areas within the Preserve, building a Desert Discovery Center, adding amenities and tourist attractions around West World, more promotion of the tourist industry in Scottsdale, completing redevelopment of the McDowell Road corridor, and encouraging building of homes on vacant residential lots.
Amendment Criteria: The language in the Updated General Plan makes it easier for the Plan to be amended and, in fact, encourages doing so. Once the Updated General Plan is approved by Scottsdale voters, it becomes the overarching policy document that guides major development throughout the City for the next 10 years. It should not be easy to amend!
Character Areas: The treatment and protection of Character Areas needs to be strengthened, not weakened. Character Areas were one of the prime protection mechanisms against inappropriate development, particularly in the Desert Foothills, which also has a Character Area Zoning Overlay. This Updated General Plan eliminates Character Area components as considerations in determining if a proposed development project should or should not require a super majority vote of approval by the City Council.
Protection of Neighborhoods: This Updated General Plan should make it clear that Rural and Suburban Neighborhoods are residential in nature and non-conforming uses, such as commercial, retail and office, are not easily allowed in these land use categories. Instead, this Updated General Plan focuses on growing these essential, but oftentimes incompatible, uses.
Hopefully, enough Scottsdale residents will become aware of the significant shortcomings of this Updated General Plan, especially the flaws that could allow, and even encourage, inappropriate development throughout the City, and WILL VOTE NOT TO APPROVE IT. You can help in this effort by communicating these concerns to friends and neighbors. A “NO” vote on this Updated General Plan, Ballot Proposition 430, in March 2012, will require the City staff to work with the residents to draft an improved Updated General Plan that addresses all resident’s concerns, and will keep Scottsdale the unique city in the valley we all love.
Scottsdale Charter Amendments: Propositions 431-437
Proposition 431 asks voters to approve changes to the Powers of the City. Currently, the City is required to control surface and flood waters so as to “PREVENT” the loss of, or injury to, lives and damage to property. This Proposition would change the word “PREVENT” to “LIMIT”. The City should be held accountable if the staff & Council allow developments that produce flooding, resulting in loss of lives and property damage.
Proposition 432 asks voters to approve changes to the duties of the Mayor. These changes expand the powers of the mayor, allowing the Mayor to appoint members of the Council to represent the Council in intergovernmental relationships and appoint members of the Council Committees. These duties should remain with the all the members of the Council, not just the Mayor.
Proposition 433 asks voters to approve changes relating to the City Council’s Boards and Commissions. These changes would allow the Mayor and the City Manager to have voting rights on all Boards and Commissions. Decisions of the Boards and Commissions should remain independent of the Mayor and City Manager.
Proposition 434 asks voters to approve changes relating to the administration of finance and taxation.
Proposition 435 asks voters to approve changes relating to the execution of contracts with the City.
Proposition 436 asks voters to approve changes relating to Franchises. These changes would remove the current requirement that the utility requesting a Franchise Agreement with the City, which must be approved by the voters, pay for the cost of the election, thus making Scottsdale taxpayers pay this cost.
Proposition 437 asks voters to approve changes relating to the City’s Public Records.
I would recommend residents vote “NO” on propositions 431, 432, 433 & 436.
I would leave residents make their own decisions on Propositions 434, 435 & 437. While I don’t see anything that really causes immediate concern with these propositions, I’m still concerned about voting “YES” on them.